Having ratified the Association Agreement with the European Union, European Atomic Energy Community and other ally states Ukraine stepped into a new era – era of new challenges leading to radical changes. The incentives to tackle the challenges are numerous: not only Ukraine will benefit itself by reforming outdated governance system, it will also get closer to the EU membership having implemented the demanded reforms, known as the Copenhagen criteria. Decentralisation is one of the reforms and it is high on the government’s agenda right now.
Decentralisation and the Constitutional Reform
One of the objectives of approved by President Poroshenko’s Strategy for Sustainable Development “Ukraine-2020″ is constitutional reform. Following this step, on Tuesday, March 3 President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree by which the Constitutional Commission was created. Commission was established to propose amendments to the Constitution that would build the ground for satisfying the needs and aspirations of Ukrainian society. The President insisted that formation of the Commission was “a very important phase of constitutional reform”.
The Constitutional Commission consists of three groups and is working on the following issues:
- Reform of the Judiciary (appointment of judges, immunity of judges, etc.);
- Reform of the Prosecution Service.
Reinforcement or rather total rebuild of the local self-governance in Ukraine is an important contribution to realising democratic principle of decentralisation of power. Unfortunately, creation of truly independent and autonomous territorial communities, enshrined in the Constitution, was not always implemented in practice. Reformers encountered a lot of problems trying to distribute power between local state administrations and local councils. But the lack of political will has not been the only impediment to the successful decentralisation. In addition, the mechanisms to achieve independence and autonomy of local self-governance bodies, especially with regards to decision-making, was not precisely defined in law.
On 16th of July, 2015 288 Ukrainian MPs voted for sending Constitutional Amendment Bill to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to assess whether it contravenes the current Constitution or not. The document was also sent to the European Commission for Democracy through Law, or Venice Commission, with a view to receive its opinion as well. The latter has provided its point of view (preliminary opinion) very quickly. The Venice Commission concluded that:
«The draft amendments introduce a form of decentralization in the exercise of state power which is largely compatible with the European Charter on Local Self-government. Overall, amendments are well drafted and deserve support. To overdue abolition of the supervisory powers of the Prosecutor General is particularly welcome. The article on local finance should also be highly supported».
Provision on local referendums is of particular significance. It represents the democratic vector of Ukrainian governance system reform. Further, there are safeguards against abuse of this process: a comprehensive list of issues that can be voted on in a referendum is included in the Constitutional Amendment Bill. These include: budget approval, socio-economic and cultural development programmes; establishment of local taxes, etc.
Amending the Constitution is the first step to decentralise governance in Ukraine, and solid moves in this direction have been made. Further steps on the road to deeper and more comprehensive governance reform – and possibly EU membership – include changing the way the Constitution works (if the amendments are approved). Since 1996 the very first article of the Constitution has defined Ukraine as a democratic and welfare country abiding by the rule of law. If it was the case we would never have had two Maidans. The European Union expects Ukraine to prove that decentralisation efforts are not just «reforms for the sake of reforms» or superficial compliance with Minsk agreements (pacta sunt servanda after all), but that country will root out the old system of governance and build a modern European one instead. The challenge has been accepted – the results are being expected.