French am­bas­sador sees ‘se­ri­ous is­sues’ to re­solve

Kyiv Post - - Business - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

Like the blos­som­ing of the trees, the chang­ing of the clocks, the com­ing of Easter, French Spring in Ukraine sig­nals that a new sea­son is upon us, one rea­son why the month-long cul­tural fes­ti­val is greeted with such en­thu­si­asm in the na­tion.

This year was no ex­cep­tion. In its 15th year, crowds flocked to Sofiyivska Square in Kyiv for the tra­di­tional open­ing cer­e­mony. Tak­ing part on the stage in one of the per­for­mances, play­ing the cello, was French Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Is­abelle Du­mont.

She said this year’s fes­ti­val of cul­ture, art, mu­sic, cui­sine and movies puts more em­pha­sis on blend­ing French and Ukrainian cre­ations and per­form­ers, rather than just show­cas­ing her coun­try alone.

It also has a more am­bi­tious re­gional sched­ule. By the time the fes­ti­val winds down on April 28, Du­mont will have trav­eled to the Ukrainian cities of Lviv, Rivne, Odesa, IvanoFrank­ivsk, Kharkiv, Za­porzhyzhia, Dnipro and Berdy­chiv.

“I de­cided to go to ev­ery city my­self,” Du­mont told the Kyiv Post in an in­ter­view at the French Em­bassy in Kyiv.

Pro­mot­ing her coun­try’s cul­ture is not the only ac­tiv­ity on her agenda when she trav­els around the na­tion. She also meets with French busi­nesses — and there are as many as 160 of them spread across the na­tion.

In her meet­ings, Du­mont gets a mixed pic­ture about Ukraine’s in­vest­ment cli­mate, from which she has drawn con­clu­sions in her third year as France’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

’This is the truth’

“We, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, have to ac­knowl­edge what has been done in the past four years. It wouldn’t be fair to the Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties to take for granted all the re­forms that have been done. They are very se­ri­ous re­forms. They are very fun­da­men­tal re­forms for the coun­try. They have been do­ing more re­forms in the last four years than in the 23 years prior. This is the truth,” Du­mont said. “It’s im­por­tant that the pop­u­la­tion un­der­stands that re­forms have been done in di­verse ar­eas.”

But Du­mont said that “there are very se­ri­ous re­forms that have not been made or not been made to the end. It has to be done to the end. The cre­ation of an anti-cor­rup­tion court is so fun­da­men­tal to the coun­try. With­out it, it means the fa­mous point of no re­turn is not reached. We have to reach the point of no re­turn. We are not there yet.”

Af­ter a promis­ing start by set­ting up new anti-cor­rup­tion in­sti­tu­tions — in­clud­ing the Na­tional An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine, the Spe­cial Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice and the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Pre­vent­ing Cor­rup­tion — Ukraine’s courts have shown they are un­able to de­liver jus­tice, she said.

“You have to have a spe­cific anti-cor­rup­tion court se­lected specif­i­cally for their in­tegrity, for those big cases,” Du­mont said. “Oth­er­wise the pop­u­la­tion and the in­ter­na­tional donors will have the feel­ing that all this is in vain.”

Last Oc­to­ber, Du­mont saw no rea­son why the anti-cor­rup­tion court could not be cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and par­lia­ment by the end of 2017.

“This has been on the ta­ble for months if not years now. We still don’t have it,” she said. “There are al­ways good rea­sons and bad rea­sons. What I’m look­ing for is re­sults and facts. The fact is that the anti-cor­rup­tion court has not been cre­ated.”

And un­til it is, Du­mont said France will side with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and the Euro­pean Union in with­hold­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to Ukraine.

In­vest­ments on hold

De­spite France’s sig­nif­i­cant im­print on Ukraine’s econ­omy, in­vest­ment could be much higher than it is to­day, Du­mont said.

The com­mon com­plaints: raider at­tacks, fraud, abuse of gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tory and law en­force­ment au­thor­ity.

While she sees that judges are im­prov­ing, even is­su­ing what she con­sid­ers to be just ver­dicts in some le­gal dis­putes, en­force­ment is of­ten miss­ing in court or­ders.

She sees it all as part of a battle play­ing out be­tween true re­form­ers in gov­ern­ment and ob­struc­tion­ists.

“There re­ally are a lot of peo­ple who I re­spect a lot within the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and who are do­ing their best to solve prob­lems. They un­der­stand the is­sues. They see the prob­lems. We work with them, but un­for­tu­nately, it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to de­liver.”

She doesn’t agree with the de­scrip­tion of Ukraine as a klep­toc­racy, but rather as a na­tion with “very se­ri­ous is­sues” to re­solve in or­der to an­chor it­self firmly in Western val­ues of rule of law and democ­racy.

In her trav­els and talks with Ukraini­ans, she senses trou­ble for in­cum­bent politi­cians in the 2019 elec­tions for pres­i­dent and par­lia­ment.

“Ukrainian peo­ple tell me they don’t see the re­sults of the re­form. Peo­ple are not feel­ing the benefits,” she said. “Some of the re­forms that have been made mean that the pop­u­la­tion has to pay more, to give more money to in­sti­tu­tions, but they have to con­tinue to pay the same bribes as be­fore. If this is the case, you don’t have to be a ge­nius to un­der­stand that even for a part of the pop­u­la­tion, it’s worse.”

Un­til Ukraine makes more de­ci­sive im­prove­ments, Du­mont sees a sta­tus quo hold­ing among French com­pa­nies — not many new ones com­ing in and ex­ist­ing ones stay­ing put, but un­will­ing to risk more in­vest­ment.

She says many French firms, like other for­eign firms, face un­jus­ti­fied pres­sure and bu­reau­cratic ob­sta­cles.

“In my trav­els, I raise these is­sues with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties,” Du­mont said. “There are cases when in­stead of in­vest­ing in Ukraine, French com­pa­nies de­cided, at the end, af­ter months of strug­gling, to in­vest in other coun­tries.”

High-level visit

Dur­ing French For­eign Min­is­ter JeanYves Le Drian’s visit with Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko on his March 22–23 trip to Kyiv, he stressed these is­sues with Ukraine’s leader. Be­sides un­der­ly­ing the need for an anti-cor­rup­tion court and im­proved busi­ness cli­mate, the two lead­ers dis­cussed Rus­sia’s war in the east­ern Don­bas — now en­ter­ing its fifth year.

There’s no break­throughs yet, although France and Ger­many — the two Euro­pean na­tions tak­ing the lead in peace talks — aren’t giv­ing up.

“We will con­tinue. For France, and I know it’s the same for Ger­many, in close co­or­di­na­tion with the Amer­i­cans, the whole team is look­ing to find so­lu­tions,” Du­mont said.

French Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Is­abelle Du­mont (R) and Ni­co­las Fa­cino, di­rec­tor of Al­liance française de Lviv, speak dur­ing the French Spring fes­ti­val on April 4 in Lviv. (UNIAN)

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