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The birth of the Ukraine Reform Conference (URC)

Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 marked a turning point in Europe’s recent history. In the wake of this development, the URC2022 Ukraine Reform Conference has now become the URC2022 Ukraine Recovery Conference and will take place in Lugano on 4 and 5 July. The way to rebuild Ukraine is through a broad-based political and diplomatic process. Switzerland and Ukraine want to start this process in Lugano.

A group photo with all the ministers involved in the conference.
The photo of the ministerial representatives at the Ukraine Reform Conference on Reforms in Vilnius, 7-8 July 2021. (© Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Even before the fighting began, Ukraine had set itself the goal of implementing far-reaching political, economic and social reforms. However, the reform process has not always been easy. It began in 2014 under Petro Poroschenko’s presidency, but was then held back by the outbreak of armed conflict on the country’s border. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to restart the process, only for hopes to be dashed again – this time by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to face up to these and other difficulties, the international community has expressed its support through the URC.

Since 2014, there have been numerous attempts at reform in Ukraine, but their implementation has been fraught with difficulty. The first set of reforms that emerged under President Poroshenko aimed to leave the post-Soviet system behind and bring Ukraine as close as possible to the European Union.

A number of the reforms aimed to decentralise power, with reforms in the banking, defence, energy efficiency, health and education sectors enjoying definite success. Since 2014, there have been considerable efforts to create new and untainted institutions capable of fighting high-level corruption. However, a progressive loss of popular support (against the background of the military conflict) and increasing competition within the ruling coalition meant that Poroshenko was ultimately unable to dismantle the oligarchic system impeding the economic and political transformation his country hoped to achieve.

A new dynamic in the reform process emerged when President Zelenskyy came to power and formed a government in August 2019. Zelenskyy passed dozens of laws to restart the reform process, notably reinforcing the power of anti-corruption institutions. As before, however, this fresh drive for reform faltered in early March 2020 with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the reform agenda was forced to make way for economic survival strategies.

This loss of momentum in the reform process was also due to the lack of a clearly articulated reform programme and a strategic vision for the country on the part of the president and government. With no clear vision for the overall reform programme and an absence of political leadership in many sectors, the previously established ecosystem of reforms has been gradually eroded. In the light of these many difficulties, structures have been established to help international and multilateral actors support the reform programme initiated in Ukraine in 2014. One example here is the Ukraine Reform Conference (URC), which took place for the first time in 2017.

The conference in Lugano will be about discussing the priorities of reconstruction and coordinating support.  In particular, the agenda will include an exchange on priorities, methods and principles of reconstruction and the conference will also address what form reconstruction may take in relation to infrastructure, the economy, the environment and social issues. There will also be a donor pledging element. The URC2022 will also cover reforms that can be implemented in the current situation.

Last update 24.05.2022

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