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German envoy to Ukraine praises Ukraine’s successes

August 19, 2017

Decentralization in Ukraine after the 2014 revolution was the right step to take, says German Special Envoy Georg Milbradt in an interview with DW. Now, citizens have more influence on their country’s political system.

A street in Grabovets, Ukraine
Decentralization success is marked by renovated streets in the Ukrainian community of GrabovetsImage: DW/V. Prychid

DW: Mr. Milbradt, what message does a former German state premier have for Ukraine, a country undergoing major political reforms?

Georg Milbradt: That it was right to move to decentralize the government. Meaning, it was right to give as much power in shaping daily life back to the people as possible, taking into account the interests of the country as a whole. Questions involving public services are best discussed and decided on the lower levels of government. It's easier to influence these things on the local level than it is on the national level.

Georg Milbradt
Milbradt says that the locals have responded positivelyImage: DW/C.F.Trippe

Germany has a federal government and is divided into states - Ukraine on the other hand has seen the decentralization of state power. What are the differences between the two concepts?

Here, I'm only talking about the local level. Under a federal government there is a middle level: territories or states. It's not like that in Ukraine. In many federal states and centralized European countries there are self-administered regions - think of Poland, France or the Scandinavian countries. One has nothing to do with the other - they're only concerned with their communities, possibly also the larger territories or regions. There, the will of the people can be directly implemented. In a smaller community, in a place of 5,000 or 10,000 inhabitants, different policies are implemented than in a country of 45 million people like Ukraine.

Read more: NATO in Baltics learns from Ukraine's mistakes

You have been working here as a consultant for a long time and know the people and the country well. What are the greatest obstacles in regard to decentralization?

I want to begin in a different way: Ukraine has been seeing great success since the 2014 revolution. Decentralization had been discussed before then, but it wasn't until after the revolution that people had the chance to make it happen. And they began with the right step: giving the rural communities, i.e., the smallest communities, the opportunity to merge, giving them more rights and the appropriate amount of money for them to fulfill their new tasks.

When you go to these newly organized communities, you see that the mayors have actually accomplished something with their money and their new power. This is also reflected in the poll numbers in Ukraine: Decentralization is seen very positively by the population, especially in the rural areas. In the big cities - such as Kyiv - you can't tell, because Kyiv hasn't been impacted by these reforms yet.

Read more: Ukraine president calls for an end to Russian aggressionIn the armed conflict against separatists and their Russian supporters in Donbass there is also talk of a special status, such as perhaps partial autonomy for communities like Donetsk and Luhansk. Can the concept of decentralization help bring an end to the conflict?

Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, is not seeing direct effects of the decentralizationImage: Imago/blickwinkel

Not in regard to the separatists! I would say it's the opposite way around: If Ukraine succeeds in developing its economy through decentralization, as Poland did 25 years ago, then this will also have a big impact on those communities not under the control of the Ukrainian government.

Read more: Ukraine separatist 'Little Russia' sparks concern over peace deal

You are currently the special envoy of the German government for the Ukrainian reform agenda. At the center of this agenda is decentralization and good governance. Where will your emphasis lie?

I will initially focus on decentralization, since it's a strategically important point. Through this a part of good governance will already be accomplished. That will then be the second part that I'll focus on. Part of this will be reforming the public institutions. Since there is already a law that needs to be implemented, a corresponding law for the local level is needed. That's my second priority.

Western experts and observers in Kyiv have had the impression in recent months that the country has been falling behind in the fight against corruption. What are your plans to give Ukraine a new impetus to fight corruption?

In the request that President Poroshenko sent the G7 countries through Chancellor Merkel, the topic of corruption was also addressed. But someone else must deal with this.

Georg Milbradt is the German special envoy for the Ukrainian reform agenda. He is occupied primarily with the theme of governance and decentralization. He was premier of the German state of Saxony from 2002 to 2008.

This interview was conducted by Christian F. Trippe.