Poland and Ukraine are two states with a long period of a common history and common European culture, but their political situation as to the scale of co-operation with the European Union and the perspectives of their respective participation in the process of the European integration differ profoundly. Poland is a candidate state on her way to full membership in the EU and Ukraine is not.
Roughly 3.2 million Ukrainians visit Poland across the eastern border each year. The great majority of them are "trading tourists." An average Ukrainian visitor spends approximately USD 460 per day and an average German tourist who, generally, does not trade spends approximately USD 16. It is obvious that individual trading activity constitutes, even today, an important or maybe dominating factor in mutual Polish-Ukrainian relations.
New border restrictions
In early 1998 Poland introduced a new restrictive border regime on her eastern frontiers to bring the country closer to satisfying the acquis communitaire set out for integration with the European Union. The new regulations aimed to close illegal trade routes—particularly drugs trafficing and illegal migration from Asia through Russia—and have already limited trans-border movement. However, at present, they have greater impact on the situation of Belarusian and Russian citizens than on Ukrainians.
Poles no longer need visas to travel to European Union member states—a restriction that had been laid down by the Schengen agreement. The Polish integration process into the EU is of major concern to Ukraine. Ukrainians fear that once Poland has become a fully-fledged member of the EU, the restrictions set out in the Schengen agreement would apply to Ukrainians wishing to travel to Poland. The Schengen line would be redrawn and would restrict the operation of the traditional Ukrainian "trading tourists."
It would be false, however, to see the establishment of an extended Schengen line exclusively as a problem. It will, in fact, bring benefits alongside losses. For example, Poland and Ukraine have an agreement allowing the movement of Ukrainian and Polish citizens across their borders without the need for a visa. That convention is accompanied by the agreement on the readmission of illegal immigrants. Such an agreement does not exist with Russia and Belarus. Benefits like these reduce the severity of the new border restrictions for Ukrainians wishing to trade in Poland.
Nonetheless, Ukrainians wishing to enter Poland currently have to undergo strict luggage checks, and can wait between two and three hours queuing for the public buses at the Polish-Ukrainian border.
Polish livelihood threatened by border restrictions
The limitation of trans-border movement of persons, goods and labour forces in Polish-Ukrainian relations is considered undesirable by Poles.
The economic interest of many Polish families, especially from the poorer eastern part of the country, demands the development of the trans-border trade despite its partial illegality. In this situation the "trading tourists" from Ukraine are desirable visitors, creating employment in Polish small business. However, this reality will inevitably be changed.
Entering the EU, Poland will become a border state of the Union and Polish eastern frontiers will become the Schengen borders. Regardless of the political will of the Polish, the desires of the Ukrainian political elite, and Polish public opinion, the present liberal rules on the border will not be maintained. Poland will have to accept the rules of the Schengen agreement.
Wanting the best of both worlds
To be outside the Schengen region would mean Poland would have a Schengen border with Germany, that is, one separating Poland from the EU. That is a politically unacceptable solution for Poland. The country is not politically or economically strong enough to successfully negotiate with the EU the exclusion of the Polish-Ukrainian border from the Schengen regulations.
The question of immigration is so acute for the European Union that the European Commission is unlikely to make any exceptions for new candidates in that field. Therefore, Poland will probably accept that it would be contrary to their interests to turn the country into the border checkpoint of the EU exclusively.
It is expected that Polish integration into the EU will diminish the trans-border movement on the Polish-Ukrainian frontier, lowering the level of trade between Ukraine and Poland to an estimated value of USD three million per month for both countries.
It is possible that the model for the future Polish-Ukrainian border can be taken from already existing experiences of such a problem on the Polish-German and Czech-German borders where the EU accepted "softer" rules for travel between these countries.
However, this type of arrangement would demand changes in the present character of Ukrainian borders with Russia and Belarus. The maintenance of the present opened and practically unguarded Ukrainian-Russian borders would exclude any possibility to successfully negotiate a more liberal regime on Polish-Ukrainian borders. Ukraine cannot have both borders opened simultaneously. Ukraine will have to decide between Poland and Russia.
At present, the regional trans-border co-operation between Ukraine and Poland is a relatively promising enterprise. There are two euroregions established on Polish-Ukrainian border, Bug and Karpaty, set up in 1992 to follow EU policy. Karpaty is a multilateral structure involving Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania. However, the most dynamic co-operation exists between Poland and Ukraine and Ukraine and Hungary. It would be beneficial to all parties that this kind of activity would be maintained, but unfortunately there is little hope that it will win EU support.
The modernisation of border structures is the first problem in the Polish-Ukrainian trans-border co-operation. The prevention of illegal migration, international criminal activity and smuggling (in the Polish-CIS case: drugs, radioactive materials, stolen cars, and so on) is the basic goal of Pillar III of the EU. The chance to prevent these activities on the eastern frontier of Poland and on the Polish-German border is an important reason for German support of Polish membership in the Union.
Neither Poland nor Ukraine alone have enough funds to invest in the partner country on the scale that would have any real impact trans-border relations; they are in need of financial assistance. However, the possibility to engage European money to finance only those enterprises pertaining to the continuance of current Polish-Ukrainian border relations is unlikely, especially with regards to the EU crackdown on illegal trade and immigration.
European integration creates many chances for Poland, but Ukraine appears more likely to be the loser. Weakening the economic and interpersonal contacts with Ukraine may result in Ukrainian isolation from Europe, pushing them towards the Russian zone of influence. Poland and Ukraine have worked hard to develop a stable relationship and EU integration is now threatening to take their relationship backwards. Perhaps the only solution in the interests of Poland, Ukraine and Europe is semi-transparency of Polish-Ukrainian borders. The likelihood of this happening, however, remains to be seen.
Anatoliy S Baronin Jr, 19 March 2001
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