Ukraine is making “progress” with protecting freedom of speech despite its Government backing the censorship of journalists, the European Commission has insisted.
The body was responding to a question regarding European Union support for the country despite its poor record in terms of corruption and free expression.
“Despite skyrocketing levels of corruption and the deteriorating rule of law in Ukraine, the EU has decided to increase the Ukraine Facility by an additional €50 billion,” Identity and Democracy Group politician Dr Gunnar Beck said in a written question to the EC.
He added that the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, requested last year that journalists refrain from reporting on corruption in Ukraine until after the war, ordering them to maintain “silence until victory” over Russia.
“This raises serious concerns about the independence of the media and freedom of speech, which are supposed to be key pillars of the rule of law in Europe,” Beck said.
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— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) September 1, 2023
Responding to these concerns, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi acknowledged that Ukraine has traditionally had an issue with corruption and free speech but was now working to remedy the situation.
“The country report prepared as a part of the 2023 enlargement report notes that Ukraine has made good progress in strengthening its legal framework, in particular with the adoption of the law on media in December 2022,” the senior Eurocrat argued.
Várhelyi also emphasised that the nation saw its global media freedom index rise by 27 places from 2022 to 2023 to 79th spot.
Drawn up by NGO Reporters Without Borders, the index is meant to give an idea about the level of freedom journalists have to operate in each country worldwide.
Ukraine now sits between Guinea-Bissau and Ecuador in the international rankings. It remains substantially behind most of Western Europe, with Germany and France coming in at 21 and 24, respectively.
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— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) January 22, 2024
The Enlargement Commissioner also emphasised that the EU was taking measures to protect its financial investments in the country against corruption.
He added this latest injection of funding would come with additional reporting requirements for the Ukrainian Government to ensure transparency.
“The EU financial assistance to Ukraine is being delivered in accordance with well-established and firm financial scrutiny procedures,” he said.
“In addition, the Ukraine Facility proposal includes even more comprehensive audit and control frameworks to ensure the protection of the financial interests of the EU, taking into account the unprecedented size and scope of the instrument,” he added.
These new rules also include the establishment of an “independent audit board” which will “report regularly to the Commission on possible mismanagement of EU funds”.
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— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) January 3, 2024