Ukraine's recovery requires ‘democratic resilience’

Ruslan Stefanchuk, president of the Ukrainian parliament, and Irène Kälin, president of the Swiss House of Representatives, open the meeting of parliamentary representatives from both countries and the European Parliament. SWI / Carlo Pisani

Strengthening and expanding democracy are central pillars for the reconstruction of Ukraine. This was reiterated by parliamentary representatives from Ukraine and Switzerland at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano.

This content was published on July 5, 2022 - 11:50

Before diplomats and economic advisors convened in Lugano, high-ranking delegations from the parliaments of Ukraine and Switzerland met. They were led by Ruslan Stefanchuk, president of the Verchnowa Rada, as the Ukrainian parliament is called, and Irène Kälin, speaker of the Swiss House of Representatives.

“We have to show that parliaments are courageous and independent of the government,” said Kälin. This conference can make a key contribution to that.

“The freedom of Ukraine is also our freedom. The Russian war of aggression is an attack on all of us, on our fundamental rights, on human rights, on sovereignty. For me, it goes without saying that the Swiss Parliament will provide support within the scope of what is possible.”

Parliament as a motor for democratisation

Kälin announced a formal statement in which she and her counterpart Stefanchuk have outlined priorities for the role of the Verkhovna Rada in the reconstruction process. These range from the legislative process, budget control, and the parliamentary supervisory function to boosting the capacity of the Verkhovna Rada and its parliamentary services.

Heidi Hautala, vice president of the European Parliament, was also present at the exchange between the two parliaments. Speaking to SWI, she captured a key message from the meeting: “Resilience is central to democracy.”

The parliamentary delegations from Switzerland and Ukraine along with the European Parliament convened in Lugano ahead of the Recovery Conference. SWI Pisani

The European Parliament has strengthened the resilience of Ukrainian democracy in recent years by supporting reforms, particularly of the judiciary and parliamentary democracy, said Hautala. She cautioned though that “judiciary reform is still on the table and must be pushed forward”.

She was optimistic, however, about the progress made in Lugano: “The Ukrainian delegation expressed a clear need for participatory democracy. And on this, Switzerland is the best advisor,” said Hautala.

Since Ukraine's independence in the early 1990s, the country has been plagued by oligarchs who have disrupted the political system. “This led to many conflicts of interest and the misuse of public goods and services. With Ukraine's application for EU membership, it now has to take these problems more seriously than in previous years,” said Hautala.

Fight of the Ukrainians as an eye opener

Stefanie Bosshard, who heads the Swiss Democracy Foundation, also participated in the exchange between the parliamentary delegations in Lugano and has been impressed by the commitment of both parliamentarians and the Ukrainian people to defend democratic freedoms.

“For us, democracy has become something that we take for granted. But freedom and democracy can never be taken for granted, as the dedicated fight by the people in Ukraine shows,” she said.

Switzerland can help Ukraine with its expertise in participatory democracy, civic rights and federalism. Conversely, according to Bosshard, people in Switzerland could also be inspired by the strong engagement of the Ukrainian civil society.

Heidi Hautala, vice president of the European Parliament, pointed to the need for justice reform as part of the reconstruction in Ukraine. SWI / Carlo Pisani

Robust democracy as a link in a chain

Marija Pejčinović Burić, who took part in the parliamentary exchange as secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which includes Switzerland, told SWI that the Lugano conference was one element in a chain.

“Recovery is a pillar. But in addition to economic support, there also needs to be democratic resilience, without which building a stable system is not possible.” To strengthen this resilience, Pejčinović Burić highlighted the importance of strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption as top priorities.

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