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EU: Poland Says Ukraine Crisis Proves Merit Of EU's New Eastern Members

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Polish President Kwasniewski played a key role in international mediation efforts in Ukraine (file photo) Poland is saying that progress made so far on resolving the Ukraine crisis shows the value of the new Eastern member states to the European Union. The presidents of two new members -- Poland and Lithuania -- are serving on the international team that has successfully mediated talks between rival Ukrainian leaders. According to Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the Easterners are bringing unique insights to the crisis, and boosting the EU's capabilities in the process.

Prague, 10 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The enlarged European Union, with 25 member nations, is a ponderous entity rarely credited with being quick to take decisions. Developing coherent policies among so many members takes time. The result is often a compromise that blurs clear lines of action.

But Polish Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz has praised what he called the EU's fast work in helping to defuse the political crisis in Ukraine. He attributed that effectiveness to the EU's new Eastern members -- including Poland -- which he said he believes have brought a special expertise about their region into the bloc.

Cimoszewicz was quoted by Reuters as saying that the EU-led political mediation effort in Kyiv was "undoubtedly the enlarged Union's success."

Peter van Hamme, a senior European affairs analyst with the Netherlands Institute of International Relations in The Hague, said he agrees.
Cimoszewicz reiterated that Warsaw believes Ukraine should be offered the long-term prospect of membership in the EU. The same day, Poland and its partners in the informal Visegrad group -- Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic -- agreed that a democratic Ukraine that is ready to undertake fundamental reforms should be offered membership.


"[The Eastern newcomers] have, let's say, better political antennas to deal with these kinds of issues. Just because of the fact of proximity, geographically, they have a better understanding of the day-to-day problems of the region," van Hamme said. "In many ways, they have lived though decades of almost similar historical experience. It's obvious that if you live in Ireland or in Spain, then you lack these kinds of sensitivities."

Mediators in Ukraine included EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Boris Gryzlov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is also speaker of the Russian State Duma.

The team spent many hours in talks with Ukrainian presidential rivals Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow candidate, and his opponent, Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, as well as with outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

By 7 December, Kwasniewski was able to announce a breakthrough: "Early this morning, we managed to reach agreement on one of the most important issues. On the 26th of December, the repeat runoff should take place between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Mr. Yanukovych gave a very important statement that he will take part in the repeat round."

The EU Carrot

Cimoszewicz reiterated that Warsaw believes Ukraine should be offered the long-term prospect of membership in the EU. The same day, Poland and its partners in the informal Visegrad group -- Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic -- agreed that a democratic Ukraine that is ready to undertake fundamental reforms should be offered membership.

The EU Executive Commission has declined to take a stand one way or the other on the question of membership for Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and some Caucasus countries.

However, the commission is set in the coming days to decide whether to recommend the opening of membership talks with Turkey. Observers say that if Euro-Asian Turkey is considered for inclusion, eventual EU membership can hardly be denied to Ukraine and other Eastern European neighbor states.

"If you look at the question of where should EU Europe end, then culturally, geographically, Ukraine is obviously Europe," van Hamme said. "I mean, who is going to argue that, geographically, Ukraine is not Europe? One could rather argue whether Turkey is Europe. You just have this little sliver of the country on the European side of the Dardanelles."

Cimoszewicz told Reuters that Poland believes that by promising EU membership to Ukraine, the bloc can speed up positive changes in the country. But he said that, for now, Warsaw will not push this agenda hard in Brussels.
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