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A Vice Prime Minister responsible for European Integration

January 16, 2016

Several times over the past few years, since December 2014 when Prime Minister Yatseniuk originally and rightly suggested the post of a Vice Prime Minister responsible for European Integration, has the absence of the post creation been mentioned in passing.  It is going to be mentioned again – but not in passing.

The Prime Minister indeed offered, the then and currently still non-existent post to the then Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yeliseyev.  Mr Yeliseyev has since been sucked into the Presidential administration, leaving Liubov Nepop as acting Head of Mission to the EU since 15th July 2015 when Mr Yeliseyev became Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration.

An appalling state of diplomatic affairs that a Mission as important to Ukraine as that of the EU, has an acting Head of Mission for 6 months (and counting).

Of course President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, Foreign Minister Klimkin are far from ignoring the EU, and the Ukrainian political class more generally are oft in Brussels – and undoubtedly a lot of Ukrainian political time is physically spent there – but that does not excuse the absence of an appointed ambassador.  Protocol, good manners, and common sense would dictate an acting Head of Mission for so long with a key and irreplaceable partner would dictate the diplomatic necessity of an appointed ambassador – perception demands it!

This, in combination with the lack of a politician of significant official office specifically tasked with coordinating and managing the gargantuan effort of European integration via the Association Agreement and DCFTA pathway after that nation-changing ratified treaty has already come into full effect – notwithstanding matters that fall outside that framework – is unfathomable.

Every Ukrainian ministry will be effected, to a greater or lesser degree, by the legally binding agreement between Ukraine and the EU that is now in full effect.  Indeed every Ukrainian ministry has a Deputy Minister charged with European integration, and has had for months.

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Numerous EU Member States are now openly making noises about the absence of the proposed, and long expected, Vice Prime Minister for European Integration – and rightly so.  In fact it the absence of both the post, and a suitable incumbent, will feature on 18th January at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers.

Such an office should already be in existence and filled with a competent politician – no differently to the requirement to fill (post haste) the vacancy at Ukrainian Mission to the EU with a competent diplomat appointed as Ambassador.

So why hasn’t it been done?

The first question to answer in relation to the political Vice Prime Minister post is whether legislatively such a position can actually exit – and what powers any such position will have.  It is a separate question for Messrs Poroshenko and Klimkin regarding that of ambassadors (or not in this case).

Prime Minister Yatseniuk is known to take micromanagement to a level beyond extreme – even if taking similar measures to avoid personal responsibility and accountability – and thus will want to be exceptionally careful in the powers any Vice Prime Minister for European Integration is given – lest that individual act, or orate, anything without his personal clearance.

Ukrainian foreign policy, constitutionally, is a presidential matter (as is national defence and the upholding of, and adherence to, the Constitution itself) – hence the President appoints the Foreign Minister.

A Vice Prime Minister for European Integration, presumably a parliamentary appointment within the executive bodies, therefore may smudge some existing (and perhaps constitutional) lines, thus occasionally stepping upon both presidential and Foreign Ministry toes if role and responsibilities/accountabilities are not prudently and thoughtfully given to the post – and clearly defined.

The post will almost certainly be managerial, and not in any way policy setting – yet it will need to have real power within the corridors of the Verkhovna Rada and within the Cabinet of Ministers.  It will undoubtedly become a central node for foreign interlocutors thus requiring the ability to match the priorities of the Europeans to those within Ukraine when it comes to what are deemed “hot” integration issues – and deliver most of them in a timely way.

It will be a post that requires frequent and unfettered access to all ministries and the Deputy Ministers that already lurk within each, charged with the European integration of their particular ministry.  It will also be a post in which the incumbent must cope with the extreme micromanagement – and blatant interference – of Prime Minister Yatseniuk.

So who can take, or perhaps equally as important, who would want to take this role, as and when/if there is a legislative foundation for the post with a comprehensive, clear role created (with the necessary real power to fit the job description)?

There are the obvious and less-obvious that will be touted for the role.

The previous, and longstanding Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN, Yuri Sergeyev, whilst undoubtedly suitable for the role is perhaps unlikely, for the position is political and not diplomatic (though he would be a fantastic EU Ambassador) and such a capable and internationally well connected individual entering the top of Ukrainian domestic politics would sit far too uncomfortably for the existing domestic political elite.

It is very unlikely to be a position offered to Odessa’s ambitious Governor Saakashvili either considering the poor relationship between the Prime Minister and Governor.  Notwithstanding that, the role is almost certainly “managerial” and Governor Saakashvili is not a “manager”.  Further, should early Verkhovna Rada elections manifest, Governor Saakashvili will launch a political party and do well – which the President will want in any coalition.  For now the Governor is best left outside the ruling elite from a Poroshenko viewpoint, and co-opted as “new untainted blood” for any future coalition.

Having previously been offered the currently non-existent post, could Mr Yeliseyev be persuaded to leave the Presidential Administration and assume the Vice Prime Minister for European Integration role?  He certainly knows everybody within the Brussels bubble and is extremely well acquainted with “how Brussels works”.  He is clearly on good terms with the President and Foreign Minister, and is unlikely to be viewed as a threat by any of those within the existing/projected Cabinet of Ministers.

There are a few other possibilities, (and favoured political souls), as well as improbabilities too, that will be touted in the near future.  Perhaps a more complete “runners and riders” list will be necessary anon, however there is yet another domestic political hurdle to address and overcome.

The allocation of ministerial posts within the Cabinet of Ministers is on a party quota system (forget meritocracy or ability), dictated by the composition of the coalition.  Under which party quota would a new post of Vice Prime Minister for European Integration fall – or will any incumbent take upon an “independent” political label to avoid squabbles ?

Whatever the case, the pressing issue now is not who, but to define the role and its parameters, agree and assign the powers needed, and create the legal basis for the position from which those powers and role are born – all in a timely manner when the absence of such a position is already a political and diplomatic own goal for which there is simply no excuse.  (And appoint an ambassador to the EU Mission and sort out all the “channels” whilst at it!)

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