The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, gave rulings on three problematic areas of Ukrainian legislation during its 135th Plenary Session held on June 9-10, 2023, in Venice, Italy.
The Venice Commission acts as the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Its role is to advise states on how to align their legal and institutional structures with European standards in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The Commission gave opinions on three areas of Ukrainian legislation at the request of chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. These requests – which had been pending since the autumn of 2021 and spring of 2022 – were delayed by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Opinion 1: Reducing the influence of “oligarchs”
Legislation designed to prevent threats to national security, resulting from the excessive influence of individuals with significant economic or political influence, so-called oligarchs, was proposed.
The Venice Commission expressed the view that Ukraine’s proposed “Law on Oligarchs” was too sweeping and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. They suggested ten areas which should be addressed and incorporated into the law before it became acceptable.
Suggestions included a need for systemic review of areas relating to corruption, media ownership, public procurement, money laundering legislation, financing of political parties, tax legislation and independence of regulatory bodies.
The commission also said that more work needed to be done to ensure that judicial independence, integrity and impartiality was in line with European standards.
Opinion 2: Law on National Minorities
The commission commented favorably on Ukraine’s efforts towards the protection of minorities and made only four recommendations, largely in the use of minority languages, which would allow this legislation to meet EU standards.
The recommendations concerned the freedom to organize events in minority languages; remove the obligation to provide Ukrainian translation and interpretation at minority events; to legislate for the right to have official documentation available in minority languages; to legislate for the right to conduct activities with administrative authorities in minority languages.
Opinion 3: Need for competitive selection of constitutional judiciary
The commission noted that Ukraine had adjusted its draft legislation, based on earlier commission recommendations, to develop an independent body tasked with assessing the integrity and professional competence of candidates for the position of judge in Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. Its opinion was that the legislation could now move forward on that basis which should include recommending candidates for the posts in the Advisory Group of Experts (AGE), who would advise on candidates’ suitability.
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