22:00 27.04.2024

MEP von Cramon: Ukraine should include opposition in decision-making process at executive level

12 min read
MEP von Cramon: Ukraine should include opposition in decision-making process at executive level

Viola von Cramon (Germany, Green Group/European Free Alliance) is Deputy Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee (PAC), an outspoken defender of Ukraine in the EU. In the light of the upcoming elections in the European Parliament, which will be held from June 6 to 9 in EU member countries, the European Parliament held in Strasbourg its last plenary meeting, during which Interfax-Ukraine spoke with the politician.

Text by Iryna Somer, Brussels


How would you evaluate the work of the Ukrainian delegation to the PAC?

First of all, I think my colleagues have done a very good job overall. I mean in those very difficult circumstances - the war, the lack of personnel, security, financial, and then, of course, social pressure regarding the law on mobilization and everything else... in these conditions they were working on the European agenda, trying to stay in line with a time schedule and fulfill all conditions from the EU, receiving additional requirements from the European Parliament and other institutions. It's not that simple. If you look at it from a technical it was a super job, but that’s not all.

We also talk about democracy, we also talk about how democratic institutions function, and whether the plan for Ukraine, for example, was put together only for reasons of efficiency or also for inclusiveness? And here we are missing a lot. The Ukraine plan has not been discussed sufficiently with the relevant committees, civil society, or some other actors. Now we distribute money, which mainly goes to support the budget, so there is not many conditionality. But when it comes to recovery, when it comes to the next stage, especially when you look at judicial reform and everything else, we need a lot more work from civil society and parliament. And that has not happened enough. Also, regarding the fight against corruption, there are some improvements, there is no doubt about it. But here, too, I see that there are certain corruption skims, especially when it comes to state-owned companies, state-owned enterprises, and half and half state enterprises - there is still a large potential for corruption in the field of procurement, which is not sufficiently monitored and controlled in our country. We need more civil society here, we need critical journalism, and we need activists who understand what's going on.


About critical journalism. In Ukraine, TV channels report the same news in the so-called “Unified News”, and it also looks like the press does not criticize the current leadership because of the war. What is your assessment, do you consider the Ukrainian press to be free and objective?

You cannot compare Ukraine with Russia, Belarus, or Turkmenistan. I would say that the press is free, but there are some restrictions and, of course, a lot of subcensorship. It's more like you're thinking, “If I publish this, if I criticize this, it might end up in Putin's hands or help Putin discredit Ukraine,” and of course that's not in the best interests of most journalists. But I would not say that there is some, let’s say, a red line that cannot be crossed, that there are limits, there are taboos. I met many journalists who trying and working, revealing, and investigating. However, there is a tendency in the presidential office not to give the floor to the opposition or critics. With this marathon, they actually included all journalists and made sure that the pluralism of the media landscape practically disappeared. This unity does not reflect the diversity of the political landscape, and this can be criticized. I criticize this. But I would not say that there is no free and objective media.


If not for the war, Ukraine could have held presidential elections. And because of the war, one political party remains in power longer than required by law. How useful is this for democracy? There are cases in history when, during crises or wars, some kind of government of national unity was created. What is your opinion about this situation?

At the moment I do not see the possibility of holding elections. I think we are far from thinking about this. Also, the Constitution does not allow elections to be held during war. But perhaps it would be possible to discuss or think about local elections in those territories, in those regions that are not occupied. But I’m not sure if there is a debate, and it’s not for me, as a European, to talk about it. If there is an inner desire, of course, this discussion may be useful. When Republican in the United States were looking for reasons, especially MAGA people - right-wing Republicans - for not voting on the next Ukraine aid package, they were looking for all sorts of reasons, and one of the reasons was this: how can there be a democracy without holding elections? " Here I would say: “Come on, we are in the midst of a war, the Constitution does not allow this. Why should Ukraine do this now at this difficult stage?”


Don't you think it is time to include the opposition in the government?

Yes, this is what I think is needed. But I think we should have put this precondition at the very beginning… You saw how Netanyahu from the very beginning, 24 hours after the attack created a war cabinet. He made sure he included everyone to speak with one voice and one could have expected the same from Ukraine. I was wondering why doesn't it happening. There are many speculations why it does not happen. But I would say this could be demanded by the United States, the EU, Germany, and other donors. I think to make sure that everyone in the political arena gets the same attention, gets the same access, and the same financial overview. So, they know what kind of money goes in and out, and why are certain decisions being taken. I would be in favor of including opposition much more in the decision-making process at the executive level.


I guess you are aware of cases when members of the opposition were not allowed to go abroad

…yeah, we are very much aware. We are fighting for the rights of my colleagues. This is not OK. But it's not only the opposition. Interestingly enough after one of the votes also those people who did not vote in favor of a certain law were faced with the same treatment. So, it's not just about opposition. It's really used as a political instrument against those MPs who did not follow the presidential line, and that is a problem. Also, the speaker of the parliament doesn't decide on anything. So, you have an elected speaker of the house of the Ukrainian Rada and then you have a general secretary (Viacheslav Shtuchny) who is appointed by the presidential office, who makes all the decisions, earns a lot of money – EUR 13,000, and does not have to disclose his assets and his valuables. That is what really worries me.


Verkhovna Rada still works behind closed doors for the journalist. What will be your assessment of this situation?

It's not up to me to make a judgment here. I think in general they don't have anything to hide and the debates are public anyway, they are shown during the night. So, you have the parliamentary TV, all those speeches are being recorded and you can watch it in the night from 2:00 to 6:00. I think it would be fair to keep the door open and to give room for journalists who have an interest to reporting directly from the debate, to get the little bit of the spirit, the dynamic of the debates but as I said I don't think it's up to me to comment on that.


What will be your general assessment of the cooperation between the European and Ukrainian parliaments in the frame EU-Ukraine Association committee?

I really faced a lot of competence, knowledge, interest, and commitment from my colleagues. So, for me, there is no reason whatsoever to complain. I'm really glad because all the three we had at the end on the board of the committee – Vadym Halaichuk, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Inna Sovsun - are high top-level politicians. Every time you send them a message you get immediately an answer, and that is not true for everyone here (EP). I think we had a very trustworthy relationship, we really talked a lot, we met a lot, we tried to solve things internally, and to be honest I couldn't imagine having better colleagues than those and also some other colleagues in the Rada. I don't know many but I would say I know quite a lot and with the majority of them I work really closely and I can really see that there is a genuine interest in bringing the country forward.


In your opinion, the European Parliament has done very well, but what could have been done better?

I would give us credit because especially at the beginning of the war, before the war we were in Ukraine, we were in Mariupol, we were in Zaporizhia, we talked with Ivan Fedorov (Chairman of the Zaporizhia Regional Military Administration) and many other people from the South, East. Three weeks before the start of the war we talked to all the interlocutors in Kyiv and tried to warn them, trying to say: “Hey, guys, the war will start soon. Have you figured this out yet? Are you prepared? Have you taken all safety measures? "I would say that in fact, the European Parliament was very sensitive when it came to the danger of war. In our resolutions, we asked for weapons much earlier than anyone else. So here, when it came to supporting Ukraine, we were the first to go there. It was Roberta Metsola, it was us, then Ursula von der Leyen. Each time the Parliament was at the forefront of supporting Ukraine, with military, financial, legal, and humanitarian support - everything that was then picked up by the European Council or the Commission - it was mainly conceived here at the beginning. Therefore, as for Ukraine, I think we have a very strong team. I'm not so much afraid of mistakes, because I don't see us making big mistakes, but I'm very afraid of the future, if many of us are not re-elected, if the right is stronger, support for Ukraine may decrease. So, everything may look different, and that is what I am very afraid of. For now, until Election Day, I think we are very safe and have achieved a lot.


Do you really think that we face a big danger from the radicals, and the parliament can change substantially?

Every time somebody from AFD or one of the other right-wing parties took the floor at the plenary it was the voice of the Kremlin. The more of those voices you have, the more difficult in general it becomes to have strong support. You still will have support here - I have no doubts but to form this strong support amongst almost all groups, but then if you have more voices pro-Putin, pro-Kremlin, and pro-Russia I think it will become more difficult and it will be more scattered. I'm still optimistic, but I'm also a little bit worried.


On this background how big is the risk that with time passing by the EU will fail to support Ukraine? How fast Ukraine’s war fatigue will spread through Europe?

This is also a little bit difficult to answer because we do not have a playbook that could help us. Now you see Gaza, Iran, Houthis, this and that. With all the destruction coming up, it will be super difficult to get the focus on Ukraine. Now you see Georgia, the next one is maybe Armenia, Azerbaijan. Again, and every day something new is coming up and it is our task to make sure that the support on Ukraine stays at the same level.


Is there an understanding in the EU of what the win is for Ukraine?

I can't speak for everyone in the EU but I would say that it's very clear - it is the moment is fair when Ukraine is able to determine over their own territory be it through military terms or be it through negotiation terms. But at the moment they're rather on the defensive. So, to make sure that they become able to determine and to rule over their own territory it will take some time.


Ukrainians are talking about 1991 borders how realistic is that?

This is up to the Ukrainian and majority and executive level to figure out what is acceptable for them or not, this is not up to me. For me it is clear that 1991 is the target, is the goal. If they have any other strategic goal fine but that is not up to me to decide this.


What is for the EU if Ukraine fails?

Ukraine will not fail. So, it is more the question as I said before what will they define as a victory, what they will what will they define as a success? But I'm pretty sure that Ukraine will not fail.