The European Union will allocate €50 billion to Ukraine. In return, Kyiv will receive a long list of demands. What exactly does Europe expect — explains Mrs. Katarina Mathernova, EU Ambassador to Ukraine

Oksana Kovalenko
Kateryna Kobernyk
The European Union will allocate €50 billion to Ukraine. In return, Kyiv will receive a long list of demands. What exactly does Europe expect — explains Mrs. Katarina Mathernova, EU Ambassador to Ukraine

Katarina Mathernova, Ambassador of the European Union to Ukraine.

Dmytro Vaga / "Babel"

On February 1, 2024, the European Council approved another aid package for Ukraine. Within four years, the country will receive €50 billion. The decision wasnʼt easy for EU leaders, they made it only from the second attempt — in December 2023, the program was blocked by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban. This time they managed to convince him. According to the Ukraine Facility program, €33 billion are preferential long-term loans. Another €17 billion are grants and investments. Ukraine will receive the money not for nothing and not immediately, but in exchange for reforms. The reform plan and all requirements will be clearly prescribed by the European Union and handed over to the Ukrainian authorities. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko met with Katarina Mathernova, Ambassador of the European Union to Ukraine. Her home country, Slovakia, joined the EU in 2004. The ambassador explained what exactly the European Union expects from Ukraine, what areas and institutions it proposes to reform, and why problems with Orban cannot be avoided in advance.

It is not the first time that the EU has helped Ukraine, but this time, some media reported that the scheme is somewhat different — Europe will more closely monitor the fulfillment of requirements under this program. Tell me how it will work?

Your question sounds like itʼs about something new, which itʼs not. Since 2014, we have provided macro-financial assistance in exchange for the fulfillment of certain conditions. The IMF and the World Bank do the same. Anti-corruption institutions appeared in Ukraine according to this scheme and carried out many reforms in various areas. Therefore, I do not know where this thesis about new special conditions comes from — there is nothing new in fact. The only thing is that the program is designed for four years. But Ukraine will also have to meet certain criteria — this is a fundamental condition.

So literally nothing has changed? Didnʼt the requirements and procedures become stricter? I need to clarify, because many Ukrainian media wrote the opposite things.

Everything remains as it was before. I would like to remind you that sometime in 2018, the EU did not pay €600 million in macro-financial assistance due to the fact that Ukraine did not fulfill certain conditions.

Let me paraphrase: what is special about this plan?

First, as I said, this is a four-year plan. Second, it has three components. The first is macro-financial assistance. The second is investments in the restoration of Ukraine. The third component is technical assistance, civil society support, etc., all of which we have been doing for the past ten years.

Then letʼs talk in more detail about the requirements. Among them is the support of democracy, multi-party system and ensuring the rights of minorities. The media wrote that the last item appeared as a bow to Hungaryʼs Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Why dod you chose such accents?

In fact, we didnʼt. The EU provides macro-financial assistance exclusively to democratic countries. Multipartyism, civil society, independent media, freedom of religion and minority rights are all components of democracy. And that is why the issue of minorities is on the list, and not because of Orban, as the media wrote.

Regarding changes and reforms, there is a long list that covers a number of sectors and areas: energy, state enterprises, business climate, functioning of the economy, reform of the judicial system, anti-corruption reform and many other issues. The goal of these reforms is to bring the Ukrainian government and society closer to possible membership in the European Union and to strengthen the economy.

And how do you assess the situation with democracy in Ukraine now?

You have a war now, and some freedoms are limited by law. But we can discuss the balance between martial law measures and rights and freedoms.

How then will the European Union evaluate improvements in the sphere of democracy, if some freedoms are legally limited?

We understand that the same criteria cannot be applied to a country at war as to others. But the limitations of martial law must still be proportionate to the situation, risks and threats.

Why do we put conditions at all? There are two reasons. The first is that we must explain to our taxpayers what exactly we are giving money to Ukraine for. The second reason is your application for EU membership. You are just at the beginning of this journey and you cannot even imagine how many requirements you will have to fulfill in order to become a member. I am from a country that has gone through this path, itʼs very difficult.

Are there any specific laws that Ukraine will have to pass in order to receive the funds?

We can talk about specific requirements for hours, but it is too early to do so, the final list is not yet ready. We can then do a separate briefing with the participation of colleagues who will talk about specific issues.

Now I can only say that laws will really need to be passed. I am sure that there will be conditions related to the Antimonopoly Committee, the Accounting Chamber, and various improvements in the judicial system.

When the first tranche will possibly come?

I am almost certain that the first tranche will arrive in March. This is important, because the first quarter of 2024 is the most difficult for you. We will do our best to be on time.

Do you know how Hungary was persuaded to agree to this funding? And what can be done so that the country does not block and stop the program in the future?

I would not like to comment on the actions of individual member states. I am the ambassador of the whole European Union. I think the stakes were very high. All 27 leaders were under great pressure to agree to the aid.

Regarding your second question: it isnʼt possible to guarantee that there will be no problems in the future. This is the nature of the European decision-making process — you always have to find a compromise. We will have to solve this issue at each stage and move forward.

2024 is an election year. New members of the European Parliament will be elected, and elections will be held in many European countries. Are there guarantees that if pro-Russian forces suddenly win somewhere in the EU, the program will not stop?

There are no such guarantees, but I really believe in the European Union. [Sceptics] tried to write it off so many times, even when my country joined it back in 2004... And look, on February 1, we demonstrated unity and devotion to Ukraine. So there are no guarantees, but I am convinced that despite the election results, we will manage.

The EU is discussing the creation of a military fund that could allocate €5 billion for military aid to Ukraine. Is Hungary slowing down the question again?

As far as I understand, this is not Hungary anymore. European leaders realize that Ukraine needs such support. We also understand that the European defense industry should step up and produce more ammunition and equipment for Ukraine. Recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Prime Ministers of Denmark Mette Frederiksen, Czech Republic Petr Fiala, Estonia Kaja Kallas and Netherlands Mark Rutte signed a joint letter and called on other EU member states to increase their support for Ukraine. Debate rages over whether such aid should be channeled through the EU, or whether it is better to do it through bilateral treaties.

And when can this issue be resolved?

The next European Council meeting will be held in March. As I understand, this issue will be resolved there.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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