The room is sweltering.  Half a dozen EU ambassadors in their shirt-sleeves and about 80 Ukrainians are crammed into a sun-baked tent on the main square in Mariupol, in the bottom right-hand corner of Ukraine on the Sea of Azov.  We're here for a 2-hour Europe Day debate with members of the public.  After two weeks of rain the sudden heat has driven the humidity off the scale.  If you cherish ideas of diplomacy as mostly glamorous, look away now.

This is the third day of a visit by EU ambassadors and diplomats for Europe Days in Ukraine's eastern regions.  Saturday starts with a call on the Mariupol City Council and a meeting with the mayor, followed by a debate with students at the Mariupol State University of Humanities.  We then visit the European Village in the town centre (ie a row of colourful tents representing countries and institutions of the EU - Ed), plant some birch trees, and take part in the debate, compered by a cool Ukrainian TV journalist who urges the audience to "ask the most awkward questions possible".  They duly oblige: I count 22 ranging from the puzzling ("What is your position on a reform of the international calendar system?") to the penetrating ("What effect will the Euro crisis have on the UK's willingness to join the single currency?").

Several people ask whether Ukraine is ready to join the EU and what reforms are needed.  We note that the EU has provided a matrix of the reforms which Ukraine needs to carry out to prepare for membership; and that the way in which Ukraine addresses these reforms, along with negotiations on the deep and comprehensive Free Trade Area, will be a good indication of whether the new government is serious about joining the EU.  One example is the new public procurement law, where the requirements of the EU are clear.  A public procurement law is a law which sets out strict procedures to make sure that companies winning government contracts do so because they offer the best value to the taxpayer, not because they have good connections in the government or because they have paid a bribe.  The challenge is that some vested interests in Ukraine might actually benefit from the absence of a tough public procurement law because they are now benefiting from receiving government contracts without necessarily having offered the best value deal.  Such vested interests might oppose the kind of procurement law the EU wants; and could try to delay or water down the public procurement legislation.   That would be bad for Ukrainian taxpayers and for the majority of Ukrainian businesses who want a chance to compete fairly for government contracts.  It would also send a bad signal about whether Ukraine is serious about Europe.  I wait with interest to see when the Rada adopts the new legislation, and what form it actually takes.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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