The debate over Ukraine joining the European Union has had many opponents as well as supporters. It has been a matter of discussion both among the Ukrainian citizens and European community. After long arguments, there is no unanimous decision about this problem. While Ukrainian side mostly supports this integration, Europeans have many objections, which include economic, political, and environmental issues. There is plenty of reports and investigations to find evidence for this case. After studying some current information, I believe that the fact that Ukraine does not comply with European environmental standards is enough not to support its joining the European Union. However, some analysis of the problem is necessary to make further conclusions.
The Nature of the Problem
The European Union is known for high interest in global environmental issues. Thus, the EU has high environmental standards for its member countries, which are difficult to achieve for the states seeking for EU integration, and Ukraine is among them. One of the core problems related to environment in Ukraine that restrains its joining the EU is noncompliance with the norms promoted by the union. The EU promotes a set of Green Norms, which are supported by the environmental acquis (Braun 42). Therefore, all new EU member states are expected to adopt the existing environmental policy model. The EU promotes five major norms, such as “ecological modernization, sustainable development, precautionary action, environmental policy integration, and multilateralism” (Braun 43). In different extend, they are related to EU chemical and climate policies. For example, REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) regulations accept the norm of sustainable development through seeking ways to increase the responsibility of chemical industry, which implies both health and environment issues (Braun 75). In addition, the EU pays much attention to the climate change mitigation policies. Consequently, it is important that the countries with intentions to join the EU accepted its Green Norms and adjusted environmental legislation to meet the existing demands.
Even being a member of the EU Energy Community, Ukraine did not manage to absorb European experience in environment protection. Thus, during 2017, the President vetoed “two draft laws to protect environment and citizen health” (“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation”). These draft laws were supposed to regulate the application of the European approach to evaluation of projects, which are potentially dangerous for the environment, and stimulate the development of a tool for strategic environmental assessment to contribute to the efficiency of strategic decisions in the sphere of environment. In fact, Ukraine is the only country in Europe, which does not have an accepted procedure for a complete environmental impact assessment (“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation”). Consequently, there is a number of problems in the environmental policy of Ukraine, which does not allow it entering the EU at present.
Environmental Situation in Ukraine vs the Demands of EU
The demands for changes in Ukrainian environmental policies and their deadlines are defined by Article 363 of the Association Agreement, which states that “Gradual approximation of Ukrainian legislation to EU law and policy on environment shall proceed in accordance with Annex XXX to this Agreement” (“Limitations of Implementation of Environmental Acquis Communautaire in Ukraine”). The country is expected to develop its environmental policies to comply with the EU norms and demands and complete the environmental reforms within the identified period of time. Nevertheless, the country faces some challenges created by the country itself, which do not allow considering Ukraine as a possible member of the EU unless the situation with environmental policy changes. Currently, there are many problems preventing Ukraine from being a desirable member of the EU. They include the lack of regulations and accepted standards in policies for small and medium enterprises, absence of mechanisms for the effective waste management, and global corruption, which makes the whole situation even more complicared.
One of the significant factors influencing the Ukrainian environment is the activity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (“Promoting Better Environmental Performance of SMEs”). While individual environmental footprint of every SME may be not meaningful, their cumulative influence can exceed that of big businesses. Construction, food processing industry, and livestock farming are among the sectors which have the greatest influence on the environment (“Promoting Better Environmental Performance of SMEs”). The major problem related to the environmental impact of SMEs in Ukraine is the lack of awareness of the significance of environmental influence they have.
The problem of SMEs environmental footprint is not new and is successfully managed by the majority of EU and other OECD states. For example, these countries apply “information-based tools and regulatory and financial incentives to encourage SMEs to improve their environmental performance, to comply with and go beyond regulatory requirements” (“Promoting Better Environmental Performance of SMEs”). Nevertheless, Ukraine does not have the necessary regulatory requirements or mechanisms of identifying violations of the existing norms. In fact, even if there exist any regulations about the environmental aspect of SMEs, there is no effective mechanism of their control. It can be concluded that Ukraine cannot enter the EU at present because of its weak governmental policies promoting better environmental performance. Also, there is lack of constructive dialogue between the government and business dedicated to environmental issues while some benefits for ‘green’ enterprises could stimulate interest to environmentally-friendly activity of SMEs.
Another issue which is harmful for environmental situation in Ukraine is waste management. In fact, there is no effective management of waste in the country. The major problem is that solid waste is being dumped in landfills. As of 2014. There was only one incineration plant, three separate incinerators, and 20 sorting lines for waste compared to 6000 landfill, a third of which is not certified (“Solid Waste Management in Ukraine”). Thus, only 2.73% of waste was transported to incineration plant or sorting lines while 94.07% were delivered to landfills. The situation with recycling is not much better. Thus, above 523 cities in Ukraine have collection points for recyclable materials. However, as of 2014, there was only one recycling plant (“Solid Waste Management in Ukraine”). There are also problems with waste collection fleet, two-thirds of which are depreciated. On the whole, the level of waste processing in Ukraine was estimated between five and eight percent (“Ukraine Waste Management”). The major problem of waste management in Ukraine is the lack of governmental support and effective policies that would guide this process. Therefore, the waste management in this country greatly depends on foreign investments and thus cannot be planned in a proper way. Despite the intentions to increase the rates of waste collection to 100% in cities and to 70% in villages by 2020, no real changes are observed.
Finally, corruption should be mentioned as one of the primary reasons why Ukraine should not join the EU. Although it may be not directly related to environmental issues, corruption interferes legislation and prevents adoption of laws and strategies that can be favorable for the environment but are not included in the sphere of interest of people in power. Certainly, Ukraine is not the only corrupt country in the world. However, this state faces an especially severe case of corruption (Aslund 64). At present, Ukraine is number 144 out of 177 in Corruption Perceptions Index. Although corruption in Ukraine penetrates all levels of power starting from the lowest, the most harm for the country’s integration is done by the high-level corruption.
For almost three decades since the mid-1990s, the oligarchs have controlled the most significant spheres of the Ukrainian economy, including energy, metallurgy, mining, and the chemical industry (Aslund 64). These industries are closely related to environmental issues and, consequently, effective environment legislation is not advantageous for their owners because it would demand systems to reduce harmful emissions, which are cost-consuming. In fact, corruption prevents possible improvements of the first two issues. First of all, due to high-level corruption, SMEs frequently do not follow the existing environmental regulations and would not comply with new ones in case they are developed and implemented. the same situation can be observed in the waste management sector. It is not within the sphere of interest of people in power and thus does not receive governmental support or appropriate financing. Consequently, the problems cannot be solved quickly and the way to the EU for Ukraine can be longer than expected.
Opportunities for Improvement
Nevertheless, Ukraine is making attempts to improve the situation and approach the high standards set by the EU. The Assessment of the Environmental Component of the EU-Ukraine Association Agenda conducted in 2012 revealed some progress in different areas related to environmental policies. For example, a 36% increase was reported in the issue of the implementation of the National Strategy for environmental policy and the National environmental action plan (“Assessment of the Environmental Component). Moreover, some success was observed in the development of national implementation tools according to Vienna Convention, which are necessary for the protection of ozone layer (increase of 75%), and for the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (increase of 69%) (“Assessment of the Environmental Component”). Also, there were discussions of the draft law “On Environmental Impact Assessment” (“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation”). Eventually, the law was supported by the Parliament in 2016 and passed the required minimum of votes.
Nevertheless, none of the two draft laws (“On Environmental Impact Assessment” and “On Strategic Environmental Assessment”) got further approval and were vetoed by the President (“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation”). On the one hand, this decision can be justified by the necessity of improvements for both laws. On the other hand, Ukraine did not manage to comply with the commitment under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context and some of the undertakings under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and the Treaty establishing Energy Community (“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation”).
Consequently, further delays in adopting these laws deprive the country of chances to join the EU. On the whole, it looks that environment protection is not a primary concern for the state policy in Ukraine. The issues of environmental protection are mostly neglected in making economic or financial decisions. Ukrainian government lacks a comprehensive approach in implementing the commitments necessary for sustainable bilateral relations between the EU and Ukraine about environmental problems (“Assessment of the Environmental Component”). Also, there is little progress in the implementation of legislation, strategic plans and programs as well as in following international agreements regarding environment. Consequently, there is need for new legislation, but its development and adoption is not a lime-consuming process. An executive summary of Resource and Analysis Center “Society and Environment” presented “Limitations of Implementation of Environmental Acquis Communautaire in Ukraine” as of 2016. According to this document, there are both institutional and technical challenges preventing successful implementation of environmental acquis.
Summarizing, it should be mentioned that Ukraine is not ready to comply with the European environmental policies and thus should not join the European Union. The major problems that the county has include the lack of effective environmental legislation, the lack of environmental regulations for small and medium businesses, no working system of waste management, and high-level corruption, which restrains the other processes in the country. What is more, the country needs effective regulatory policies for environmental issues. Therefore, the first step to European integration and joining the EU is the elimination of corruption and further development of the necessary legislation. It is possible that after the legislative base is adopted, Ukrainian government and business sector will focus attention on environmental problems and their solution thus approaching the country to membership in the European Union.
Aslund, Anders. “Oligarchs, Corruption, and European Integration.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 25, no. 3, 2015, pp. 64-73.
Braun, Mats. Europeanization of Environmental Policy in New Europe. Beyond Conditionality. Routledge, 2016.
“European Environmental Rules in the Ukrainian Legislation: To Be or Not to Be?” Energy Transition, Web.
Solid Waste Management in Ukraine. 2016, Web.
“Ukrainian Waste Management: Yet Dependent on Investments.” Global Recycling, Web.