KIEV, Feb. 22 - The European Union is shutting down a border checkpoint scheme with Ukraine, deepening doubts about Kyiv’s ability to deliver reforms in return for billions in European aid, Reuters reported.
The project to upgrade six Ukrainian checkpoints on the EU’s eastern frontier was launched in 2014, after Europe backed Kyiv’s pro-Western leaders during the Crimean crisis.
The scheme aimed to help integrate Ukraine’s economy with those of its EU neighbors by building or modernizing checkpoints at crossings with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. According to the EU, the projects were designed to cut border crossing times and improve customs procedures.
They foundered after a series of delays, missteps and cost overruns involving local officials and contractors, according to internal Ukrainian government correspondence, and correspondence between the European Commission and the Kiev authorities provided by a source at a government body.
In a statement to Reuters, an EU spokesperson said: “Following our assessment we concluded that the projects could not be finalized in time. The 6 projects are now in the process of being closed, and the unspent money reimbursed.”
One senior European diplomat who is involved in dealing with Ukraine said: “There is a certain Ukraine fatigue. People are exasperated by the lack of reform, especially on corruption. Things have stalled.”
But he said the EU would keep supporting the country, which remains fragile four years after Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Moscow separatists launched a rebellion in the east.
As of the end of 2017, none of the six checkpoint projects had been completed, even though the EU was providing 29.2 million euros ($36 million) in funding.
The State Fiscal Service (SFS), the tax and customs authority which oversaw the projects on the Ukraine side, said in a statement that reasons for the delays included staff changes at the service along with the long time taken to issue contract tenders and win approval for changes to plans.
Roman Nasirov, a former SFS head who took over in May 2015, said in an interview that the checkpoints projects had been complicated by the fact that Ukraine could not at times afford the required co-financing. (rt/ez)