By: Eva-Maria Liimets, Head of Democracy and Rule of Law at ESTDEV
In light of European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen’s recent visit to Kyiv and the subsequent decision of the Commission, Ukraine’s negotiations to join the European Union will undoubtedly begin soon. The EU’s political support is vital to Ukrainians, as those who have been there and spoken with them can attest—this support keeps alive their hope for a better future, though their loved ones have been killed in the war and only ruins remain of their homes.
According to the World Bank, Ukraine needs around 400 billion euros over the next ten years to rebuild infrastructure damaged by the war and revive the economy. The bill may be higher as accurate assessments can only be made once the war ends. It is nearly an insurmountable challenge for one country to manage alone. Therefore, at this summer’s Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, the EU promised Ukraine 50 billion euros over the next four years to aid with reconstruction. Despite some opposition, the EU will not withdraw the additional aid funds promised to Ukraine. Opposing countries will come around, one way or another, and the EU will be able to back its political decision with substantial financial support in the coming years.
The EU will not be acting alone. This year, for example, Norway promised to allocate 6.5 billion euros for reconstruction over the next five years. Japan pledged an additional 5.1 billion to address Ukraine’s humanitarian challenges. Of the 71-billion-euro US aid package, 61% has gone to strengthening their defence sector and the rest towards humanitarian aid and reconstruction.
The international community understands the cost of rebuilding Ukraine. After this week’s decision, we must ask ourselves how this aid will contribute to Ukraine’s integration into the EU. The sad fact remains that foreign aid will need to be spent on the country’s defence until they win the war. At the same time, Ukraine also needs aid money to fill its budgetary gaps and support the economy until it can once again generate enough tax revenue on its own. These two spending lines will siphon away the foreign aid funds desperately needed to make the reforms necessary for EU integration. Even so, Ukraine has consistently forged ahead.
Before Russia’s full-scale attack, Ukraine had started reforming the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office with support from Estonian legal experts and international aid. They had to complete the project in May 2022 because of those initial devastating months of war. This year, nearly a hundred senior officials from Ukraine attended training programmes in Estonia developed by the Estonian Development Cooperation Center – ESTDEV to learn more about the EU and prepare them for future negotiations. They came to Estonia to learn firsthand from those involved in Estonia’s negotiations with the Commission.
As the Commission decides how to allocate those 50 billion euros, Brussels must consider Ukraine’s desire to join the EU and support its work in implementing the reforms needed for integration. Unfortunately, support for reforms in democracy and the rule of law often gets left out when aid packages are distributed. Aid must be set aside for implementing these reforms, not just towards budget deficits and economic investments. The EU and its member states can provide Ukraine with the institutional support they need to carry out these reforms; now, they must provide financial support, too.
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Estonian Centre for International Development is a government foundation that manages and implements Estonia’s participation in international development cooperation and humanitarian aid projects, with the aim of increasing Estonia’s contribution to global security and sustainable development.