Ukraine should join the OECD — now
As difficult as it may be to see beyond the war that rages in Ukraine, it is important to put in place a plan for stabilizing post-war Ukraine. There will be understandable pent-up demand by the Ukrainian people for economic recovery, political responsiveness and stability when the war ends.
The European Union (EU) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as other international organizations and governments, are trying to help Ukraine stabilize its government and economy despite the dire circumstances of the war with Russia. As USAID Administrator Samantha Power recently said, “Ukrainians are working right now to build … [their] future. The United States will continue to be a partner, not only in Ukraine’s defense; not only in the war to defeat [Vladimir] Putin and his forces, but in the fight to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy and its economy.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in a speech to the European Parliament, made clear the need to look to Ukraine’s future: “We want Ukraine to win this war. But we also want to set the conditions for Ukraine’s success in the aftermath of the war.”
The Ukrainians deserve to know that they will be welcomed to the group of nations that support democracy, human rights and open economies. They must be able to see the reward for making the tough changes, even now, to their economy and government during the most difficult of circumstances. While leading the charge against the Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is also fighting corruption within his government and has fired a number of officials accused of bribery and corruption.
In June 2022, the EU indicated that Ukraine is an official candidate for membership, but joining the EU will take time and will be a complicated economic and political process. Becoming a member of NATO — which Ukrainian officials view as part of a future defense strategy — will be even more complicated, although it is clear NATO nations are united in their willingness to support Ukraine in its battle against Putin’s aggression.
One additional — and more immediate — way of expressing support for a democratic Ukraine is for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to invite it to become a member now. The OECD is a global organization with 38 members from Asia, Europe and North America. It is the only international organization for which Russia is not a member but the G7 nations are. It develops best practices and policies that deal with corruption, good governance, the environment and technology, among other issues.
The OECD played a key role in helping former nations of the Soviet-controlled Eastern European bloc, such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, make the transition from non-market to market-based economies. It can provide the Ukrainian government with technical advice and expertise on a wide range of economic issues that will help it prepare for a post-war future focused on economic stability and growth. By inviting Ukraine to become a member now, the OECD council of member nations would be underscoring its faith in Ukraine’s ultimate victory against Russia and its future as a resilient democracy.
There is a history of the OECD working with Ukraine that began when that nation gained its independence in 1991. Engagement intensified after the Maidan Revolution and after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. It was clear that the Ukrainian people wanted to veer away from the corrupt, pro-Russian government of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. While Yanukovych fled, Putin invaded Crimea and began a conflict with Ukraine in its Donbas region.
As deputy secretary general of the OECD at that time, I helped lead the effort — along with OECD’s staff, some of whom are still working with the Ukrainian government — to increase cooperation between the OECD and Ukraine. We worked with Ukrainian authorities in 2014 on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to assist Ukraine with governance, anti-corruption efforts and related issues. The MOU was renewed in 2016, 2018 and in 2021, when it was extended until 2025.
Ongoing OECD efforts in Ukraine include practical, hands-on programs to work on public governance; help Ukraine with its burgeoning refugee crisis; assist small and medium-sized enterprises with making the transition to digital-based platforms; aid with post-war environmental standards; and address corruption challenges through law enforcement capacity-building projects, training courses on detection, investigations of corruption and a review of Ukraine’s progress against criteria established by the OECD’s working group on bribery.
As part of the process for joining the OECD, the council of member states establishes a roadmap for accession: “The roadmap lists the technical reviews to be undertaken by OECD committees in various policy areas in order to evaluate the candidate country’s willingness and ability to implement relevant OECD legal instruments [agreed upon standards], as well as best practices on a wide range of issues.” Although the roadmap can be rigorous, it plays a useful role in encouraging and facilitating needed reforms.
The OECD traces its roots to the Marshall Plan. In his 1947 speech at Harvard University, Gen. George C. Marshall described the focus of post-World War II recovery: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”
As deputy secretary general, I had a unique overall perspective of the work the OECD continues to do, helping governments with a range of economic and governance issues. Ukraine has benefited from that work — but could benefit even more if it is put on a clear path to OECD membership.
Ukrainian officials have expressed their desire to join the OECD. Their courage and determination should be rewarded. We need a plan to help the Ukrainian people determine their own destiny. Joining the OECD would be a useful and important step, and would be in keeping with the spirit of Marshall’s call to action.
William Danvers, a former deputy secretary general of the OECD, is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School and worked on national security issues for the Clinton and Obama administrations.
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