The way Ukraine’s leadership and society embrace the opportunities offered by European integration process will have a direct impact on the country’s human development prospects.  If Kyiv pursues its European aspirations and treats the European ‘agenda’ as the main organising framework for the process of vital reforms, Ukraine can achieve real improvements for the quality of life, poverty reduction and social exclusion.  The European integration process offers a unique chance to significantly advance the level of human development. 

According to the UN Office to Ukraine, these findings have been released in the new UN Development Programme’s National Human Development Report ‘Human Development and Ukraine’s European Choice’ which was officially presented by Francis M. O’Donnell, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Ukraine, Hryhoriy Nemyria, Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine, Ian Boag, Head of EC Delegation, and Jerzy Osiatynski, Coordinator of the Report.

“Since 1995 through its regular National Human Development Reports in Ukraine, UNDP has been continuously drawing the attention of the country’s policy-makers and civil society to the challenges the country faces in social and economic development. National Human Development Reports have offered in-depth focused perspectives on and analysis of national circumstances and strategies for advancing human development. The aim of the reports continues to be bringing together the facts about human development in the country in order to influence national policy and to mobilize various sectors of society,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Since the publication of the latest National Human Development Report (NHDR) in 2003, Ukraine has gone through a period of important political and economic transformations making important steps towards strengthening democracy and transition to a full-fledged market economy.

Yet despite these achievements, many challenges lie ahead, requiring timely response from authorities at all levels, and from civil society, the Report says. Notably, many past initiatives were officially proclaimed, but progress in implementing vital reforms to boost human development remains modest so far.

Vice-Prime Minister Hryhorii Nemyria welcomed the release of UNDP’s 2008 report on “Human Development and Ukraine’s European Choice” by saying that he was pleased to find out that this year’s report combines human development and European integration. “In this sense, - he added, - we converge on the idea that European integration is not only a foreign policy priority, but first of all a blueprint for domestic reform. I am confident that if we want to succeed with human development agenda in Ukraine, we need to employ all possible tools – and in our case the most effective tool is European integration.”

In 2007, according to the global human development index, Ukraine was ranked as 76th out of 177 countries, lagging far behind all EU member-countries, including its closest neighbours like Hungary (36), Poland (37), Slovakia (42), Bulgaria (53) and Romania (60), which joined the EU most recently.

Given that Ukraine has proclaimed and frequently re-affirmed that its key foreign policy goal is to join the European Union, the Report “Human Development and Ukraine’s European Choice” examines how the European integration policy can advance human development in its many aspects and how the country can benefit from duly implemented requirements of various European institutions and processes.

Speaking at the presentation, Professor Osiatynski said the Report’s objective was to compare the two strategies and see whether they are consistent with each other, and if they are, then to determine what the consequences of their implementation can be.

The Report’s authors argue that European integration – often referred to as the European Choice – is not merely a geo-political aspiration, but fundamentally a human development process, affecting quality of life and people’s well-being. Moreover, the Report explains that human development, reflecting a philosophy that puts people at the centre of the development process, is very similar to European integration, implying meeting specific requirements and implementing many standards. But both approaches lead to improved people’s prosperity.

The current trends in the changes in life expectancy in the EU member-countries as a whole, on the one hand, and in Ukraine and CIS on the other hand, provide the best evidence of the impact the practical implementation of the European integration strategy has on human development. For instance, since Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia embarked on European integration, the life expectancy raised respectively from 69.14 and 70.64 and 69.79 years (as of 1991) to 71.06 and 71.33 and 72.89 years (as of 2005). While life expectancy in Ukraine decreased from 69.68 in 1991 to 67.3 years in 2005.

As a result, the Report argues that from the viewpoint of the economic, social and institutional environment necessary to encourage long-run sustainable human development, the European requirements and the Human Development process and specifically the MDGs coincide completely.

Once the country effectively pursues its European integration path, it significantly facilitates the achievement of higher standards of life and establishment of safer environment for its people.

The Report writes that European integration is complex and includes far-reaching political, economic and social reforms that are required not only to achieve Ukraine’s strategic objective of joining the EU, but also, more importantly, to define the principles and foundations for the country’s further development. Notably, in the polls, quoted in the Report, all Ukrainian respondents show a clear preference for European values and European forms of social organization.

Yet, public awareness of the true meaning of European values and of the benefits that European integration brings to economic, social and human development must be raised. The same relates to knowing about Ukraine’s challenges ahead. Having better understanding of these will help every citizen take part in following the implementation of their country’s European integration policy.

The Report underlines the need to promote deeper economic integration and regulatory convergence with the EU within the existing framework of European Neighbourhood Policy.

The report argues that in order to improve the quality of life and the human development index, delivery of basic services such as health care, education and communal services have to be improved.  It calls for completion of administrative reform and for real decentralization of power from the centre to Ukraine’s regions and districts, as well as for creation of strong self-government structures, allowing better service delivery and fairer distribution of fruits of the economic growth. 

Public goods and basic social services must be delivered by government administration or self-government in localities where people live and work. The availability of financial and other resources at the local level is of critical importance for meeting the goals and targets of human development, the Millennium Development Goals and social inclusion, says the Report.

In addition, the Report analyses the experience of new EU member-states and argues that the benefits of EU membership heavily outweighed the costs. Free trade agreements with the EU are an enormous motivation to trade growth. But because EU free trade agreements usually do not include all agricultural products, an important goal for Ukraine would be to seek the widest possible access to the EU agricultural market – especially as this would have clear benefits for EU consumers.

Open access to the EU market is likely to spur a massive influx of foreign direct investment in Ukraine, provided investors have trust in the predictability of policies and the rule of law. The trust of foreign investors can be won if all the executive powers in Ukraine show their ability to implement consistently EU standards relating to the development of a market economy and participatory democracy, the Report argues.

In this context, Vice Prime Minister Hryhorii Nemyria informed about the launch of negotiations on a deep and comprehensive free trade between the EU and Ukraine in February this year. He suggested that “it was difficult to see the connection between trade issues and human development at first glance. But in fact deep free trade is about introducing good governance, fair and transparent conditions for business, higher quality and cheaper products and services for consumers. This will create a solid base for human development.”