1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Chilly Relationships Hinge on Russian Behaviour in Ukraine

The annex­a­tion of Crimea and Russia’s engage­ment in the con­flict in Don­bas has led to the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of Pol­ish-Russ­ian rela­tions. Mutu­al rela­tions are con­sid­ered to be “cold” and there is no sign of improve­ment in the near future. There are a num­ber of fac­tors that may pre­vent both coun­tries from achiev­ing clos­er coop­er­a­tion. First, Rus­sia is not plan­ning to with­draw its mil­i­tary involve­ment from East­ern Ukraine, which is unac­cept­able for Pol­ish offi­cials. Sec­ond, Poland has unam­bigu­ous­ly tak­en the side of Ukraine in the cur­rent con­flict and strong­ly sup­ports this coun­try – both with domes­tic reforms and in the inter­na­tion­al are­na. Poland is per­ceived in Rus­sia to be a coun­try that pro­motes ini­tia­tives such as East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) to counter Russia’s influ­ence in East­ern Europe. Anoth­er fac­tor that neg­a­tive­ly influ­ences mutu­al rela­tions is the fact that Poland is one of the pol­i­cy lead­ers in main­tain­ing and even strength­en­ing sanc­tions imposed on Rus­sia. Both the polit­i­cal elite (the rul­ing par­ty – Civic Plat­form and the main oppo­si­tion par­ty – Law and Jus­tice) and the major­i­ty of cit­i­zens agree that Russia’s cur­rent aggres­sive pol­i­cy does not allow the Euro­pean Union to ease sanc­tions, and if the sit­u­a­tion in Don­bas wors­ens again, the EU should be pre­pared to strength­en them.

Although rela­tions between Poland and Rus­sia are expect­ed to remain cold in the near future, the Local Bor­der Traf­fic ini­tia­tive can be indi­cat­ed as an exam­ple of pos­i­tive coop­er­a­tion that still exists despite com­pli­ca­tions, and should con­tin­ue to func­tion in the near future. Region­al politi­cians from both sides under­line that Local Bor­der Traf­fic still has a pos­i­tive impact on bilat­er­al rela­tions and it should not only be main­tained, but widened to new cities on the Pol­ish side.


Strong Support for EaP, Despite Scepticism in Europe

Poland remains a sup­port­er of tight­en­ing rela­tions between EU and the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries and is ready to sup­port EU per­spec­tives of not only Ukraine, but also Geor­gia and Moldo­va. But the Pol­ish posi­ton is not shared by the entire EU. Events in Ukraine have revealed how deep the divi­sions are with­in the EU over coop­er­a­tion with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. Old dis­putes such as regard­ing prospec­tive mem­ber­ship for coun­tries like Moldo­va, Geor­gia, and Ukraine are even stronger now. Vis­i­ble prob­lems include a lack of effec­tive coop­er­a­tion and vast dif­fer­ences of opin­ion over both the EaP and the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine among Viseg­rád coun­tries, or V4, made up of Poland, the Czech Repub­lic, Slo­va­kia, and Hun­gary. Although Pol­ish author­i­ties claim in offi­cial state­ments that V4 coun­tries are coor­di­nat­ing their poli­cies towards Ukraine, the real­i­ty dif­fers. V4 coun­tries can­not even agree on the basics: the role that Rus­sia plays in the Ukraine con­flict and the pol­i­cy of sanc­tions towards Russia.

Events in Ukraine have also shown the mag­ni­tude of Russia’s influ­ence on the East­er Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive. For exam­ple, Ukrain­ian imple­men­ta­tion of the Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Area is planned to begin only in Jan­u­ary 2016, due to pres­sure from Rus­sia. It appears that par­tic­u­lar coun­tries are more will­ing to take the Krem­lin opin­ion into account than the opin­ion of EaP coun­tries involved in the initiative.

Ambivalence towards Ambivalent Results

Due to the fact that the East­ern Part­ner­ship is an ini­tia­tive launched and strong­ly pro­mot­ed by Poland, Pol­ish author­i­ties try to pri­mar­i­ly focus on the pos­i­tive aspects of the ini­tia­tive. This was also the case with the sum­mit in Riga. The Pol­ish Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Grze­gorz Schety­na has been under­lin­ing since the sum­mit the fact that dur­ing the event Euro­pean choice and aspi­ra­tions of the EaP coun­tries, as well as the reforms con­duct­ed in those coun­tries, were acknowl­edged. Schety­na stat­ed that in Riga the EU showed sol­i­dar­i­ty, empha­sized the effec­tive­ness of the Part­ner­ship, and draft­ed goals for the future.

Pol­ish experts in east­ern pol­i­cy have remained ambiva­lent in their com­ments on the con­clu­sions of the Riga sum­mit. Some suc­cess­es, such as sign­ing the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with Ukraine, Geor­gia, and Moldo­va, have been achieved, and the EU offi­cials were sup­port­ed in their deci­sion to rep­re­sent and pro­mote it. Nev­er­the­less, crit­i­cal voic­es have also been audi­ble, claim­ing that the sum­mit has revealed a gen­er­al fatigue of the EaP and lack of readi­ness of EU coun­tries to con­duct nec­es­sary reforms in the EaP ini­tia­tive. Author­i­ties of EU coun­tries have become even more reluc­tant to address the will­ing­ness of Moldo­va, Geor­gia, and Ukraine to con­sid­er poten­tial mem­ber­ship, due to pres­sure from Moscow, which strong­ly oppos­es the EaP as an ini­tia­tive direct­ed against Rus­sia. Com­ments were also made about the fact that nei­ther Ukraine nor Geor­gia has been giv­en a con­crete date of installing a visa free regime. It was met with crit­i­cism, but also under­stand­ing, espe­cial­ly in the case of Ukraine, which is still not ready for visa free regime because of the polit­i­cal situation.


NATO is the Only Guarantor of Safety in Europe

The state­ment of the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Jean-Claude Junck­er, from ear­ly March 2015 con­cern­ing the cre­ation of a com­mon EU army has not been met with a warm wel­come among Pol­ish offi­cials. Accord­ing to Schety­na, invest­ments should be made to fur­ther strength­en NATO forces in Europe, as it is NATO that con­tin­ues to guar­an­tee the safe­ty of Europe. Poland should also devel­op bilat­er­al and mul­ti­lat­er­al mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion (com­mon train­ings) with oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries. Stanisław Koziej, for­mer head of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Bureau (2010–2015), pro­posed that strength­en­ing the East­ern flank of NATO would sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase safe­ty. A com­mon Euro­pean army would only be pos­si­ble after build­ing up a more mean­ing­ful polit­i­cal union in the EU – The Unit­ed States of Europe.

Pol­ish soci­ety appears to be divid­ed over the idea of an EU army. Both sup­port­ers and oppo­nents of a com­mon mil­i­tary force can be found among politi­cians, jour­nal­ists, and polit­i­cal experts.  Those who are opposed argue that such insti­tu­tions are already in exis­tence (NATO), and they must sim­ply be mod­ernised and adjust­ed to the cur­rent polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion (more forces on the East­ern flank). Anoth­er argu­ment is that coun­tries with­in the EU should instead con­cen­trate on devel­op­ing coop­er­a­tion between nation­al armies. Sup­port­ers of an EU army believe rather that the unsta­ble sit­u­a­tion in the east­ern and south­ern neigh­bour­hood of the EU should be cause for seri­ous dis­cus­sion about com­mon Euro­pean forces. The aim of such an army would be not to replace nation­al or NATO forces but to sup­ple­ment them. Oth­ers sug­gest that a Com­mon Euro­pean army would be strate­gic for Poland as it could calm the Pol­ish fear of being left alone in a con­fronta­tion with Russia.

2. EU Enlargement

Openness to Expansion Tempered by Realism

Poland has always been a strong sup­port­er and advo­cate of estab­lish­ing stronger Euro-Atlantic ties with the East­ern EU neigh­bour­hood, espe­cial­ly Ukraine. This means sup­port­ing mem­ber­ship in NATO, asso­ci­a­tion with the EU, abol­ish­ing visas for Ukraini­ans, and — in the long-term per­spec­tive — acces­sion to the EU. Hence Pol­ish ini­tia­tives relat­ed to the East, such as the East­ern Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive, a Pol­ish-Swedish pro­pos­al, and a pri­or­i­ty of the Pol­ish EU Pres­i­den­cy in 2011. Although Poland declares sup­port of the Euro­pean aspi­ra­tions of all East­ern neigh­bours, its sin­gle pri­or­i­ty has always been Ukraine. Ukraine also remains a pri­or­i­ty coun­try for Poland’s for­eign aid as well as a key-coun­try for many Pol­ish NGOs in the area of devel­op­ment cooperation.

The Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian con­flict result­ed in an even stronger focus of Poland’s for­eign pol­i­cy in this coun­try. In Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Radosław Sikorski’s annu­al speech on for­eign pol­i­cy between 2010 and 2013, Ukraine was men­tioned on aver­age 9 times; in the 2014 speech it was men­tioned 62 times. For obvi­ous rea­sons, Poland is in the group of EU states most involved, both polit­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, in the conflict.

Due to the con­flict, Ukraine’s inte­gra­tion with the EU is much less prob­a­ble in any fore­see­able future (and this for many experts in Poland is seen as a rea­son of Russia’s aggres­sion). There­fore Pol­ish offi­cials do not men­tion it as often as before the cri­sis. One can argue that Poland seems to be less enthu­si­as­tic (or more real­is­tic) about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Ukraine’s acces­sion. How­ev­er, it still remains the cru­cial long-term aim of Poland’s for­eign and Euro­pean pol­i­cy. This is con­firmed by the afore­men­tioned 2014 speech by the Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, who said, “Invari­ably, in our opin­ion, Ukraine should have [EU] mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive (…) That is why we wel­comed the con­clu­sions of the extra­or­di­nary meet­ing of the for­eign min­is­ters of the EU, which (…) states that the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment is not the ulti­mate goal of coop­er­a­tion with Ukraine. Obvi­ous­ly, we are aware of the fact, that the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of Ukraine is a dis­tant objective”.

Poland con­tin­ues its efforts to include a “Euro­pean per­spec­tive”, i.e. EU’s com­mit­ment to accept Ukraine once all con­di­tions are ful­filled, in EU doc­u­ments, argu­ing that such dec­la­ra­tions moti­vat­ed Poland in the 1990s to take up reforms required for mem­ber­ship. Ukraine is expect­ed to fol­low the same path. These attempts of Pol­ish diplo­ma­cy dur­ing the May 2015 East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga, how­ev­er, were unsuc­cess­ful and end­ed in “acknowl­edg­ing Euro­pean aspi­ra­tions” of Ukraine.

There is a polit­i­cal con­sen­sus in Poland (from the main­stream par­ties), that Ukraine should be giv­en mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive. This was con­firmed by unan­i­mous vot­ing on Ukraine’s Acces­sion Agree­ment rat­i­fi­ca­tion in Pol­ish par­lia­ment in Novem­ber 2014. Gen­er­al­ly, the Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian con­flict did not dis­cour­age Poland from sup­port­ing Ukraine’s inte­gra­tion with the EU, but made it real­ize that oth­er mem­ber states oppose it stronger than before. It seems that this objec­tive is now seen with more realism.

Support in Principal, but National Focus Lies Elsewhere

Focused on the east­ern neigh­bour­hood, Pol­ish for­eign pol­i­cy has nev­er been com­mit­ted to West­ern Balkan issues, espe­cial­ly when com­par­ing with for­eign pol­i­cy of oth­er Viseg­rád Group coun­tries (Czech Repub­lic, Slo­va­kia and Hun­gary). How­ev­er, Poland has always been sup­port­ive of EU enlarge­ment to the region. The sit­u­a­tion with Turkey is some­what sim­i­lar. This declar­a­tive sup­port is gen­er­al­ly not fol­lowed by a more dynam­ic Pol­ish engage­ment in the region.

One can notice a broad con­sen­sus, includ­ing the rul­ing coali­tion par­ties and the oppo­si­tion, that the EU enlarge­ment to West­ern Balka­ns is in Poland’s inter­est and has to be sup­port­ed. How­ev­er, giv­en Poland’s lim­it­ed resources and abil­i­ty to shape the EU agen­da, War­saw has to con­cen­trate its efforts on the East, espe­cial­ly Ukraine, work­ing to strength­en its ties with Euro-Atlantic insti­tu­tions (EU and NATO). The long-term objec­tive is EU acces­sion. As a result of tac­ti­cal choice or lim­it­ed inter­est and ties with South­east Europe, Poland will not be a lead­ing advo­cate of West­ern Balkan’s enlarge­ment, but will focus on the Euro­pean aspi­ra­tions of Ukraine.

Poland also declares sup­port to Turkey’s acces­sion, but this issue is also not a pri­or­i­ty for Pol­ish diplo­ma­cy. This polit­i­cal approach seems to main­ly result from the belief that hon­est advo­cat­ing in favour of Ukraine’s Euro­pean aspi­ra­tions requires sup­port­ing EU “open door” pol­i­cy towards oth­er poten­tial mem­bers or candidates.

Both the West­ern Balkans’s and Turkey’s enlarge­ment rarely appear in pub­lic debate in Poland. Only for­eign pol­i­cy experts from time to time call for stronger Pol­ish involve­ment in South-East­ern Europe, argu­ing that West­ern Balkan coun­tries have a cru­cial impor­tance — for instance, for Euro­pean ener­gy secu­ri­ty — and that these coun­tries are poten­tial Pol­ish allies in the EU. Those sup­port­ing Turk­ish EU mem­ber­ship also call for stronger Pol­ish activ­i­ty in this field.

Inter­est­ing­ly, accord­ing to Euro­barom­e­ter sur­veys, Pol­ish soci­ety is one of those in Europe most in favour of future EU enlarge­ment. 64 per­cent sup­port future enlarge­ment (2015). 51 per­cent sup­port Turkey’s acces­sion (2006).

Although the Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian con­flict seems to make Ukraine’s EU acces­sion even less like­ly in any fore­see­able future, one can hard­ly see any impact of the con­flict on Poland’s pol­i­cy on the West­ern Balka­ns or Turkey.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.