On June 13, Poland, like the other seven post-Communist states who joined the European Union (EU) in May, will participate for the first time in European Parliament elections. In preparation for the elections, on June 5, the well-known Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper published a list of eight questions posed to eight leading political parties.
The first and second questions were focused on the importance of Poland vis-a-vis Europe and were related to the European Constitution as well as relations between the EU and US. The third question asked about Ukraine’s European perspectives. Ukraine “is an important partner of Poland, traditionally a buffer against Russia. Should we strive that Ukraine enters the EU?” Preceding the survey, Gazeta Wyborcza’s Editor Adam Michnik and Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko wrote a joint article entitled, “For a United Europe” (El Pais, May 4). From this initiative it is clear which Ukrainian political camp former Polish Solidarity activists, such as Michnik, see as best representing Ukraine’s European choice in this years Ukrainian elections.
None of the eight political parties, which represent the entire political spectrum in Poland, opposes Ukraine’s membership in the EU although all thought consider this to be a long process. Most adamantly in favor of EU membership were the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and its offshoot, the opposition Civic Platform (PO). The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) believes that, if Ukraine is denied admission to the EU, “Ukraine will without doubt choose a future partnership with Russia”. The opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS) believes that Ukraine should be the main focus for the EU’s eastern dimension, rather than presumably Russia, as is the current focus. Freedom Union (UW) considers Ukraine as part of “our historical family”. UW stated, “The vision of Ukraine within the EU requires the support of Poland. This is our objective from the viewpoint of history, geopolitics and economics. This is one of the most important objectives of our European policies.”
Two populist parties — Self Defense and the League of Polish Families [LPR]) — which are both critically disposed towards the EU, also supported Ukraine’s membership aspirations. The LPR stated that, “Ukraine will be our natural ally in the European Union”. Two factors were cited by most of the eight political parties.
First, as outlined by the PO, Poland should be at the forefront in lobbying the EU to raise its interest in an eastern dimension to the same level as its southern flank. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced a “non-paper” and a formal paper in support of an eastern dimension’ for the EU in February and May 2003. Both papers were meant to contribute to discussion of the EU’s March 2003 “Wider Europe” communication. The papers called on the EU to differentiate policy toward its eastern and southern neighbors, as only the former lies within Europe and, therefore, should be granted the option of membership.
Second, Ukraine’s geographic position should be recognized as a buffer between Poland and Russia. This has traditionally been a Polish objective due to the deeply ingrained historical sense of Russia as a threat. After joining the EU in May, Poland began to more actively lobby in favor of Ukraine’s EU (and NATO) membership aspirations. Support for Ukraine has also come from within the Wisegrad Group — Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary — and from Lithuania (Gazeta Wyborcza, May 13). Just as Germany saw Poland’s membership in NATO and the EU as important to securing its eastern flank, so does Poland similarly look on Ukraine. In the case of Ukraine, there is a sense of urgency because of the fear that if Ukraine is not offered a home inside the EU, it will turn to Russia. As seen from Poland, this threat increased in April when Ukraine joined Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in ratifying a United Economic Space within the CIS. In Poland’s view, Ukraine’s decision to support CIS integration was a response to being discounted by the EU (Gazeta Wyborcza, May 26).
Poland has been critically disposed towards the EU leadership for refusing to give Ukraine a positive signal on future membership, as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has repeatedly urged. A Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “Ukraine needs a European vision that will permit it to build a modern country oriented towards the west. Otherwise it will turn in the opposite direction” (Polish News Bulletin, May 25). Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka has appealed to the EU to provide a clear-cut signal to Ukraine that it could become a future member. This signal is an urgent necessity, he believes (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 26). Poland has been especially critical of the EU for refusing to grant Ukraine market economy status. There is a practical side to this position. This year’s agreements allow the EU to only import 185,000 tons of steel from Ukraine. Prior to joining the EU, Poland alone purchased 400,000 tons annually from Ukraine and now may be forced to purchase more expensive Russian steel (Rzezcpospolita, May 13). Russia was granted market economy status in 2002.
Poland wants the EU to become more like NATO in having an “open door” policy. In addition, post-communist states seek to promote to EU decision-makers the importance of geopolitical factors, which have largely ignored until now. During the Kuchma era, the EU and Ukraine have initiated “virtual policies” involving each other. Confusing signals sent by the EU have eroded these virtual policies. European Commission President Romani Prodi told the Financial Times on May 4 that Ukraine would never become a member of the EU. After considerable criticism, Prodi backtracked, claiming that he has been “misquoted” and that the EU, “welcomes Ukraine’s European choice” (Den, May 27).