Rebecca Harms: you must work to bridge the gap between civil society and institutions

Photo courtesy of Open Ukraine

Photo courtesy of Open Ukraine

On 13 October Kyivites met Rebecca Harms, Member of the European Parliament from Germany, co-chair of the Group of Greens/European Free Alliance and Ukraine’s long-standing supporter within the public meeting organized by Open Ukraine Foundation.

The conversation focused on and went beyond the announced topic “Ukrainian Road to the European Family”. Harms made a brief introduction envisaging Ukraine’s most daunting issues as seen from Brussels: ceasefire and state of the Minsk agreements implementation, sanctions against Russia, recently released MH17 report. The audience in its turn was asking about the visa liberalization scenario, the MEP’s vision of Ukraine’s civil society and energy transition.
“In Brussels, in Berlin, in Paris until the last days everybody is believing that at least the ceasefire is achieved in Donbas,” said Rebecca Harms. She added that she had a chance to talk to Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine at the conference in Kyiv earlier these days where both of them were speakers. According to Harms, the OSCE Mission’s Deputy Chief described the situation on the contact line as “very fragile” – it has improved still the incidents that involved fighting and resulted in killed or injured took place over the last days. Speaking on the Minsk agreements Rebecca Harms noted: “if anybody could explain to me how to find a better alternative to the Minsk agreements [to achieve] the situation without fighting in Donbas, but so far nobody was able to present me a feasible alternative.”  She added that in her view “the Minsk agreements will be implemented only if the European Union keeps pressure on Russia.” Rebecca Harms told there is currently a discourse in Brussels on overcoming the sanctions on Russia, thus the President of the EU Commission Juncker made respective speech several days ago. “I find it completely crazy and outrageous,” she said and firmly added: “the time is not that right to change or soften the sanctions”.
Responding to questions from the audience on Ukraine’s prospects for visa-free regime with the EU Rebecca Harms said: “I feel shame that the European Union again failed to come to a visa agreement with Ukraine.” Later adding: “I have a lot of experience with helping friends to get a visa and I thought it very often a real shame what people who are well known in Ukraine and Europe have to go through, the procedure to get a visa”. The MEP noted that she is making efforts to help bring the situation to a concrete result but Ukrainians should do their part of the work as well and urge their authorities to get the technical requirements done required to complete the visa liberalization plan.
Speaking on Ukraine’s civil society Rebecca Harms who prior to starting a political career used to be an activist of the anti-nuclear movement said: “Civil society was in the core of the Euromaidan movement. It was a movement organized by citizens and not by political elites.” The MEP noted that civil society keeps playing a crucial role in the country’s life but its voice is still not as loud as it should be when it comes to cooperation with the EU. “I have to admit that I am not satisfied with cooperation […] level of the European Union or the member states and civil society in Ukraine,” Harms said. “Serious discussions and serious processes are organized only between [member states] governments and the [Ukrainian] government, or the European institutions and the institutions here in Ukraine,” she added. Rebecca Harms also emphasized the need to include more Ukraine’s civil society actors into European cooperation activities and said it is one of the tasks she had defined for herself. At the same time for the sake of improving such cooperation she recommended to the civil society actors to decide on their next steps and clearly formulate their goals.
The MEP also shared her observation: according to her there is an ongoing conflict between civil society experts and state actors in Ukraine. “You must work to bridge the gap between civil society and institutions,” Harms said. She also noted people engage more with civil society and NGOs than with the institutions. At the same time transformations in the country need to occur at the institutional level as well. “I think institutions matter. You cannot reform the state when you are not reforming the state institutions,” said Harms. “I would prefer that less NGOs are founded […], I would prefer young people to enter institutions and ministries, otherwise the process of reforms will be delayed,” she summed up.
Answering the question from audience on Ukraine’s energy system modernization and transition to renewables Rebecca Harms, co-chair of the Group of Greens in the European Parliament said in her view main efforts are now concentrated on maintaining gas imports from Russia and on prolonging the lifespan of old nuclear power plants. “I find it a shame that the European Union is investing mainly in prolongation of lifetime of the existing old [nuclear] plants,” the MEP said. “It is not enough to change the real energy condition in Ukraine, it would be a very good opportunity for the new Ukraine to step out of the gas dependency on Russia and to also step in modernization,” she added. According to Rebecca Harms Ukraine itself is demonstrating “not enough ambitions” in such transformation.
EMPR had a chance to put a couple of questions to Rebecca Harms, here is what she said.
EMPR: Women are still underrepresented within the state institutions in Ukraine. In your opinion what are the ways to overcome it?
Rebecca Harms: I see that among the new members of the Verkhovna Rada we have a number of women. This was possible also because of the Euromaidan, this phase of activism helped women to go to the top. Even in the Euromaidan many women took very responsible positions. […] In Europe we have same experiences as in Ukraine. It’s not easy for women to enter the real spheres of power – be it in enterprises or be it in political parties, in the hierarchies of the parliament, or ministries, or government. My party, the Green Party was the first party in Germany to establish a quota system. So when the Greens started to participate in elections all the lists had to be done with equal chances for men and women. Always the first place was given to a woman, then came a man and then came a woman. And we continue this until today. In the first year of this practice all other political parties blamed us that we have no women who can make it on their own because they had good skills but only because of this symbolic quota system. And we were even called “quota women”.
Meanwhile all political parties in Germany had established quota system. Not all them had the 50/50 quota system, some had 30%, 70% or 40-50%, but all of them introduced the quota systems and this helped a lot [to establish] the influence of women in the German politics. We discuss in the European Union and in several member states now even a quota system for big enterprises. So, Norway for example has it since long. And Norway is the best country with very influential women leading also big companies. I think it’s a good way. The other side is that some men in Germany are now discussing that they need a protection scheme, but still they are in the 50/50 system. So every woman can compete with a man. […] If you have a look at the German government, or parliament, or the companies we are far away from the need to have protection for men. […]
In Germany and many European countries it’s evident that women after school and after university have very often better certificates. And in spite of this in the companies or in the hierarchy of government or in parliament they are working below the men.
EMPR: Thank you very much for what you’re doing within the Free Savchenko campaign [campaign to have Nadiya Savchenko and all other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia released]. What is the situation at the European level – is there enough understanding and political will to push that issue further?
Rebecca Harms: In the European Parliament resolutions we covered several times the case of Nadia Savchenko and […] all other very prominent cases and awful cases like Sentsov, Kolchenko and Kohver. And Kohver is now back home. It was the first good result of this European, Euro-wide campaigning. I don’t know what we can achieve now for Sentsov, Kolchenko and Savchenko, but there is the big knowledge meanwhile on those cases and they are also taken seriously as a proof that Putin is establishing a judiciary system against critical persons and even illegally detained people which is at least as bad as during the Stalin’s era. I think this is meanwhile in the minds, in the heads of many-many Europeans. But I don’t know whether we will accomplish it.
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