A year ago, Ukraine received the first conceptual document, which outlines the problems and vectors of development that will allow Ukraine to become a member of the EU. Despite the chronic negligibility of the social sphere issues in the Ukrainian reform agenda (as opposed to the political one, but always only before elections and with a totally populist narrative), a significant part of the issues of this particular sphere is reflected in this Communication of the European Commission regarding Ukraine's application (hereinafter – Communication).
The issues of the social sphere are outlined in 2 parts of this document: chapter Political criteria, namely in Fundamental rights subsection and chapter Ability to assume the obligations of membership, namely in Internal market cluster and The Competitiveness and inclusive growth cluster subsections.
In order to meet the EC’s requirements from fundamental rights perspective, on 20 June 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine supported the ratification of the The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). On 1 November 2022, it entered into force, but several Ukrainian laws and by-laws need to be revised to be align with Istanbul Convention. Draft Law on Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine in Connection with Ratification of the Istanbul Convention is included to the Plan of legislative work of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for 2023 (hereinafter – Plan) and is expected to be developed in August 2023. This document is not highlighted as EU integrational one, but the necessity to ratify the Istanbul Convention was one the condition to become EU member state for Ukraine.
To combat discrimination based on gender, age, sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation etc draft Law On Amendments to the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code of Ukraine on Fighting Discrimination was developed and registered by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine more than 2 years ago, but not yet approved even in the 1st reading. It aims to complement the provisions of Ukrainian antidiscrimination legislation to align with the EU acquis.
More significant is the progress in the fulfillment of requirements regarding the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Law On National Minorities (Communities) of Ukraine (new edition) was approved by Verkhovna Rada the 13th of December 2022, but it enters into force the 1st of July 2023 in order to bring the laws and by-laws of Ukraine into compliance with this Law. As for now, there no registered draft laws on national minorities and this issue doesn’t include into Plan. At the same time, the 12th of June 2023, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) published its Opinion on the Ukrainian Law on National Minorities (communities), where it “welcomes the adoption of a long-expected new Law on National Minorities, which provides a number of guarantees in conformity with international standards. However, to ensure full conformity with such standards, a number of provisions of that Law should be reconsidered”. Some recommendations are quite controversial and have been criticized by Ukrainian experts and political figures.
Child’s rights are the part of key fundamental rights issues that are highlighted in Communication. By the Resolution of the CMU of May 26, 2023, the Coordination Center for the Development of Family Care for Children. This Center was created within the framework of agreements between EU President Ursula von der Leyen and First Lady Olena Zelens’ka regarding deinstitutionalization (reform to develop community-based services and close institutional care facilities for children), which is one of the requirements for Ukraine's membership in the EU. It should be noted that the Coordination Center is a temporary consultative and advisory body of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, which was created to ensure coordination of actions of central and local bodies of executive power, local self-government bodies, enterprises, institutions and organizations to ensure the quick and effective development and implementation of the National Plan for Family Care for Children.
Employment is the most elaborated issue from the perspective developed draft laws in order to align of Ukrainian legislation to EU acquis. Most of the documents were developed years ago to comply EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, but the approximation to the acquis is still limited. Nevertheless, in July 2022 there were approved three law that improved Ukrainian legislation on the issues of labor relations with non-fixed working hours, optimization of labor relations and simplifying the regulation of labor relations in the field of small and medium-sized entrepreneurship and reducing the administrative burden on entrepreneurial activity.
On 23 February 2023 Law of Ukraine On Collective Agreements and Contracts was approved by Ukrainian parliament. It increases the role of collective agreement regulation of labour relations, strengthens the protection of the rights of employees and employers, and establishes the cooperation between the parties of the social dialogue. This Law shall enter into force six months after the termination or cancellation of martial law.
Draft Law On Amendments to Laws of Ukraine on Ensuring the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Work was approved in the 1st reading at the end of May, 2023. It aims to create favourable conditions for the employment of persons with disabilities, including through the implementation of approaches approved in other countries to the development of stimulating mechanisms for employers, expanding opportunities for persons with disabilities. It has many positive aspects, however it needs to be revised from the perspective of transition from a medical to a human rights based model of disability, which prevails in EU. It also should be revised to fully comply with the EU acquis.
Much more draft laws on employment, that are highlighted as EU integrational ones, have already been registered and are awaiting consideration by the Verkhovna Rada, in particular the draft Law On amendments to the Code of Labour Laws of Ukraine regarding legal succession in labour relations and draft Law On amendments to the Code of Labour Laws of Ukraine regarding the definition of the concept of labour relations and signs of their existence, or are included to the Plan, namely draft Law On Social Dialogue in Ukraine (new edition) and draft Law On Labour.
Thus, it cannot be claimed that Ukraine has made at least satisfactory progress in meeting the social policy requirements for EU accession this year. There is still a lot of work ahead and civil society, as always, is ready to support, but not post facto or as an observer.
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