“The world does not end only at what we see”: an interview with Prof. Bogusław Marek

Maria Moroniak
Emil Wojtaluk

Winters in Humla (Nepal) tend to be very cold (© Prof. Bogusław Marek)

In our unusual interview we would like to introduce our readers and followers to a very extraordinary person – Professor Bogusław Marek, OBE. Professor Marek is the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Disabled Students, the founder of Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials for the Blind and the inventor of  ‘English for the blind’ program.

For Professor his work of more than twenty years is both a mission and a passion. He has invented numerous educational toys which are used by him on daily basis as tools to explain difficult concepts based on visual experience. In 2002 he was honored with The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen Elisabeth II for his devotion to his educational effort.

We hope the following interview is going to encourage you to get yourselves familiar with the Professor Marek’s activity and maybe even support his initiatives.

Emil Wojtaluk: You are the father of ‘English for the blind’ program and the founder of the Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials for the blind at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. Could you please outline the Center’s activity?

Real objects and models support computer based English language lessons with blind children at KUL (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Due to the fact that the blind are recognized as a group with so called special educational needs, our activity is all about helping them with functioning like they weren’t blind. For instance, when someone sighted needs a book – he goes to the library, borrows a book and reads it. This is impossible for a blind student unless there is a copy of the book in a Braille or digital format. The blind students remain disabled persons but we try to take their disability away. Sometimes, at meetings and conferences, I surprise people saying that here at the University our policy is not to have any disabled students. I can always hear a murmur of outrage: “how come, at KUL”? All I mean is every disabled person is welcome here, but we do our best to make sure that they can function as regular students. If a student in a wheelchair is able to use a lift to get to the classroom – he is not a disabled student anymore. This also applies to blind students – if they have their books and tests adapted for them, they are no longer disabled students. This is what the Center’s activity is about and I have to say we have a lot of work. As of today, there are 15 blind students enrolled at the University. Let’s say each of them attends 8 classes and there are 10 books needed to be read to prepare for them – it makes 80 books for one person. This is a tremendous amount of work. Last year our Center transformed 70K pages of regular text into Braille or digital format. Plus texts written in Braille take approximately 3 – 4 times more space than the regular font. Our students are equipped with personal digital appliances, Braille notebooks with a small screen. Our specialty is also converting graphics: graphs, diagrams, charts or maps. We are ready to prepare boards and plans in a tactile version.

Maria Moroniak: Do you remember the specific moment in the past when the project was born? Was there any milestone, which you remember as a propulsion of the initiative? Or was it all about arduous, day-by-day work?

Bethany Centre for blind children in Meghalaya, India (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: I think I need to mention a couple of milestones here. First of all – you two are probably too young to understand that – a middle-age crisis. When you are a guy in your forties, you have made your PhD and your habilitation, thoughts like “can I achieve anything more at this university?” cross your mind. I have always been afraid of a vision that I could end up like someone I met years ago during my studies at the University of Warsaw. The gentleman I am talking about was apparently tired with his life and his students and all he was doing was reading out loud boring lectures from yellowed pages of his notes. I didn’t want this kind of academic death to happen to me. I needed a shot in the arm. I wasn’t frustrated yet. I just could have felt I needed more. Then it happened that I was staying in London with my students and once noticed a poster of a charity working for the blind. There was a girl holding a model of Tower Bridge in her hands and the sentence “Amy will never see the sights of London” written below. It made me think: “hold on… if Amy has been blind since she was born, she’s got to have very good hearing, memory and concentration. And these skills are extremely useful in interpreting or teaching languages. The only thing Amy may be missing is a foreign language”. And then I thought I could offer English to the blind kids in Poland. So said, so done. I visited this foundation the same day and two weeks later I was a tutor on a camp for blind kids. This was supposed to let me know if I could handle this kind of work.After coming back to Poland I went to Laski (a special school for blind children). I would teach English to kids and kids would teach me about being a blind person. After two years of working in Laski I got a scholarship and went to England to do a specialist course in visual impairment. It was before Poland’s accession to the European Union but they already had some preparatory programs for the members-to-be and I was one of the first beneficiaries of the “Tempus” program, which let me complete my visual impairment studies at the University College London. After coming back to Poland I found out that my new British qualifications were not valid in Poland but it didn’t put me off. I started a “pirate” unit here at KUL, thanks to a green light from the authorities of the University. And this was when, in 1995 the Unit of Typhlodidactics of English was established which later included Alternative Comuniation. We started with training teachers, later on first blind students appeared, so did the need of preparing materials for them. In the beginning it was more like outwork – we only had a tiny Braille printer. And then we got invited to participate in a program “Per linguas mundi ad laborem” co-organized by the University of Warsaw and the Maria Grzegorzewska University (Academy of Special Needs Education). The project was planned on a large scale, including creating centers for adaptation of materials at KUL and the University of Warsaw (UW). We split the roles up – Warsaw focused on converting regular text into Braille format and we, due to my personal experience, focused on graphics, obtaining new, very expensive devices for creating high-class, long lasting tactile graphics. That project was my second milestone.

Group photo on the last day of a tactile graphics workshop in Apia, Samoa (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

I think I need to mention the third one too. It happened during my studies in England, which were supposed to last two years, though I completed them within one year since I didn’t have other responsibilities. I was asked to give a speech during the inauguration of the academic year. Back in that time KUL was known as the only independent university from Western Berlin to Tokyo, so every embassy sent a high-ranking representative, even ambassadors themselves, in a gesture of support. I was given an opportunity to speak in front of such a noble audience, so I had been working on my twenty-minute speech for three months. I was honored with applause, but the most glamorizing part was talking to all these guests in person. There was a line of ambassadors asking me how they could support my initiative. Thanks to that morning we got equipment sponsored by the Canadian Embassy and I could go on a very important course of tactile graphics organized in Australia and funded by the British Embassy. Thankfully I was quick enough to react by saying “Your Excellency, the course is useless unless I have funds to buy the equipment for producing tactile graphics” – so we got money to buy that too. When it comes to embassies, there was also another interesting situation. Once I was parking my Polish car in a London street and saw two couples with their children walking by. When they saw the number plates they approached me and started a conversation, talking about my work with blind kids. Soon they turned out to be members of the Polish Embassy willing to donate some spare money to charity. The next day I visited the Consulate in London and left it with a cheque for 26K pounds. The money was spent on equipment which was soon sent from England to our Center in Poland. There was also the fourth milestone – thanks to a project “Równy Start” – “Equal Chance” we got enough money to buy more devices for students with various disabilities.

Emil Wojtaluk: You have traveled a lot to work in so many different places. Have you noticed any differences in conceptions of helping the blind? Do you think there is an awareness gap between Poland and other countries?

Reasearchers from India Institute of Technology are getting acquainted with new technologies for producing tactile graphics (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: In the beginning of the nineties English parliament enacted very significant regulations – a kind of a manual for every institution interested in helping the blind. Thanks to these guidelines everyone knows what one is supposed to be doing – for example a school headmaster knows what his duties are and what source of funding he can use. They leave no space for latitude of interpretation, there are no situations when people keep saying that would be good to do this or that, but no one knows where and how to start and in the end no one feel responsible. I would say that their system works better. But there are inequalities too. Some parents of blind children decide to sell their house and move to another, richer county, where they can get better support from the government.  When it comes to attitude of a society to a blind person, I have never experienced hostility, even in such exotic countries as Nepal or India where being blind is often associated with being punished for sins. I have also seen exaggeration – in the United Arab Emirates local kids get top world-class support, for instance, once I met a boy who didn’t even know how to use his electronic devices. I suppose that was because his father would buy him every latest appliance available on the market so his son never took time to get familiar with using it in a proper way. So in fact the boy had all this equipment stored without the knowledge of how to use it. On the other hand, the vast majority of blind kids living in the UAE are the kids of immigrants working there and they receive no support from the government, they can only count on international organizations.

Maria Moroniak: Your program dedicated for the blind makes entering the job market much easier for them. Do you know what happens to your students after they graduate, do you often hear from them?

Teachers from the North of India are learning about innovative educational resources for blind learners (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: We don’t run any records, but maybe we should. We keep in touch mostly because we are on friendly terms. Almost every graduate gets a job after completing the studies – sometimes they teach English or earn some extra money offering private lessons. Due to their strong interest in electronics, they also work as other blind people’s consultants helping them to learn how to work with devices for the blind. There is an interpreter. And there is also a person who undertook English studies to learn the language so she can start her dream studies – Psychology. She became a clinical psychologist and even has been awarded by the British National Health Service for her work. One of our students, owner of a deep, warm voice unfortunately doesn’t work for any radio station, but works successfully at the telephone customer service. Professional path chosen by our students depends on their determination. There are also passive people for whom enrolling on a course is enough or people who choose to study just to be entitled to get a certain type of help.

Emil Wojtaluk: I’d like to refer to the previous question. As far as you are concerned, how important on the labor market for the blind is their education? How many of them work in their educated profession?

Kick-sled – winter sport accessible to both sighted and blind persons (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Unfortunately, it does not look good. According to the data presented by the Polish Association of the Blind, only 10 – 15 % of the blind work and the situation isn’t any better in other countries. We should encourage employers to employ the blind showing them how they can benefit. Unfortunately there are misuses because of concessions the blind bring to companies, so some entrepreneur give a blind person a job just to make him or her a ghost-worker with a benefit for the company. The blind’s ability to fit in the labor market isn’t just based on their education but also on their attitude and interpersonal skills. Let me give a fantastic example by quoting our current English Studies student. When one day at the class she noticed that someone didn’t want to learn how a tactile map works, she asked her friend: “How do you want to know how to reach your destinations then? Every time you ride a trolleybus  you are just going to count the shakes it gives you and then you’d know that you’re supposed to get off?!”. One day she came to our office asking if she could print something. It turned out she had made stickers to put on a windscreen warning drivers that if they keep parking their cars in wrong places, they will have their cars scratched by a blind person’s white canes. This girl is cheerful, always smiling, sociable. But there are also grumpy students for whom being a blind person seems to be an eternal excuse for anything. These people are going to have issues with finding a job no matter how educated they are. From the start they arose aversion or pity and that leads them nowhere.

Maria Moroniak: Has any of your students ever joined your initiative working along with you?

Professor Bogusław Marek: Of course! We had a wonderful PhD student who has temporarily moved to the US. She used to encourage and motivate our students, organize courses, theme meetings, trips, body language workshops. Each one of our graduates knows how to work with blind kids and if someone chooses to work with them he or she is definitely well prepared for that. Some of our students organize workshops in their communities.

Maria Moroniak: so your idea is being continued.

Professor Marek: If someone tries this kind of work once and it turns out well, one definitely gets hooked, there is no turning back. Once some lady teacher told me “Oh, I admire you, I am so soft at heart that I couldn’t be working with blind children.” I responded jokingly “My heart is a stone, so I can work with them with ease.”. It’s not about pity, you need a reasonable attitude. One needs to contain emotions.

This eight-year-old boy (looking four) turned out to be a very bright student (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Maria Moroniak: so is the job mentally overwhelming?

Professor Bogusław Marek: I would say this job is invigorating. It takes creativity to face the challenges and figure things out fast. I say challenges, not problems, because problems bring you down and challenges cheer you up. I constantly feel a need to create something new and I believe that’s the reason I am still in a good shape. It happens that I have to do the homework. One day a blind boy told me that that day he had learned a new English word: transparent. I was wondering how I could explain this word to him… Later on I was working on figuring it out at home. And the best moment was when next time we met he left the class and told his mom “Mom, I already know what this word means”.

Emil Wojtaluk: The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – the supreme honour available for a non-British. Could you tell us the story behind it?

Authors of the interview: Maria Moroniak (left) and Emil Wojtaluk (right) with Professor Bogusław Marek (© EUROpens BLOG).

Professor Bogusław Marek: First I have to mention again that KUL was very important institution on the world stage back in that time. A lot of embassy officers, even ambassadors, were sent here to learn Polish language. And there is a tradition that when an ambassador takes his position in a country he is sent to, he takes a trip around the country to explore it. One of them came to Lublin to recollect his Polish language course at our university which he had attended years before. He also visited our workshop and he liked it. After a while I got a call from some high officer who invited me for a lunch here, in Lublin. During the lunch with the Diplomatic Secretary of the British Embassy I was asked a lot of questions about our program “English for the Blind”: about its beginnings and about its future. And that was it. After a while I got another phone call from the British Embassy. That time I was asked “If the Queen wanted to honor you with a medal, would you accept it?”. I can remember that I was in a rush because I had to go to a lecture, so I responded playfully “How could I say no to Her Royal Highness?” I hung up thinking “Medal? What medal?”.

The Order of the British Empire received by Professor Marek (© EUROpens BLOG).

In a couple of weeks I received another message – that the Queen awarded me with the Order of the British Empire. I was asked to send in a list of guests I wanted to invite for the ceremony of decoration. I could choose between the British Embassy in Warsaw or Lublin City Hall, since there was a British Week scheduled then and all of the Embassy workers were going to come here anyway. I really wanted to invite my blind pupils – after all I was awarded thanks to them and, most of all, for them. The ceremony was held in Lublin City Hall. An officer of the army was holding my medal resting on a cushion. All of then-rectors of our University arrived, there were speeches, a bugle call, congratulations, a grandiose ceremony. I remember someone told me “You got an extremely important medal, use it wisely”. But I can also remember that there was hardly any information in the Polish media. Only a  line and a half in the local newspaper. I am not saying I felt sorry, but later on when David Beckham got the Order I could see a huge difference – everyone was talking and writing about that everywhere! I have O.B.E. written on my business card and people sometimes ask me which Christian monastery’s acronym is this? In Anglo-Saxon countries such as England, New Zealand, Australia or Canada this status is really recognizable. This doesn’t mean they prepare a red carpet every time I arrive, although I have to admit it helped me a lot when it comes to contacts with western organizations. And also every year the British Embassy invites me for the Queen’s birthday party.

Maria Moroniak: What are the Center’s plans for future? Are you going to take up any major initiatives worth exposing?

Lessons a HEAD Nepal are organized in a multi-purpose room (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Of course, some huge ones! I have already mentioned the project “Równy start” within which we are going to arrange a Center for Motivating the Disabled – I called it “KUL CAN”. Our team will be wearing T-shirts with the slogan “KUL CAN = You Can!” printed on them. We want to expand our activity and serve other universities and schools with our skills and well-equipped workshop, which is the best equipped one in Poland, even better that the one at the Maria Grzegorzewska (University Academy of Special Needs Education) in Warsaw . We also have signed a contract with Fund for the Blind of Laski to support their charges in starting studies, not only at KUL, but wherever they wish. We want to help them out with enrolling at their dream studies. I hope one day we could create a typhlodidactics unit at the University. We already have surdopedagogy (pedagogy of the deaf).

Maria Moroniak: You have wide experience in working with the blind, how do you think, what can we learn from the blind?

Humla is known as a hidden gem of Nepal (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Prof. Bogusław Marek: I would say they teach us that the world does not end only at what we see. There are a lot of things hidden from our sight. We take shortcuts too often. We take a gaze at something and assume that we already know everything about the case. We firmly rely on our sight and that makes us unable to notice how this world manifests itself in so complex way. Let me give you an example of how a blind person describes rain. Once I met a man who told me that he feels very lonely when the weather is fine. He compared himself to a man drawn in the middle of a plain sheet of paper. And when it starts to rain, the sheet starts to fill up with other objects, because he can finally hear the objects he is surrounded by thanks to raindrops pattering on surface. He can hear a roof, a path, a dog leap stairway, the bushes – notice the tree-dimensionality of the world. I think that a contact with the blind sensitizes us to the world, makes us feel we can live more, absorb impressions we are surrounded by using other senses, not only our sight. The world does not end at what we can see.

If you think you can offer any kind of support to Professor Marek’s initiative, feel free to contact with the Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials:

centrum.niewidomi[at]kul.pl

phone numbers:

+48 81 445 4331 – the Center’s workshop

+48 81 445 4332 – the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Disabled Students, Professor Bogusław Marek

European Youth Event 2016 #1

Emil Wojtaluk

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On 20-21 of May 2016 representatives of the European Studies Student’s Scientific Association of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, including representatives of EUROpens BLOG visited European Parliament in Strasbourg on the occasion of the European Youth Event 2016. The theme of the second edition was the exchange of experiences and proposals with European decision-makers using the motto „Together we can make a change”. Young people from Europe had an occasion to write their proposals for solving crucial problems of the European Union, or electronically – through an online application. Moreover, during numerous sessions and workshops in the EP building there was a chance to comment and propose our own solutions, which were then discussed by experts and politicians. An official EYE report containing all gathered opinions will be distributed to Members of the European Parliament and discussed in parliamentary committees this autumn. European Youth Event was accompanied by many cultural events (concerts, games etc.). The interest in EYE this year was huge, the number of all registered participants reached over 7,500 people.

All activities concerned five main themes:

  • War and Peace: Perspectives for a Peaceful Planet;
  • Apathy or Participation: Agenda for a Vibrant Democracy;
  • Exclusion or Access: Crackdown on Youth Unemployment;
  • Stagnation or Innovation: Tomorrow’s World of Work;
  • Collapse or Success: New Ways for Sustainable Europe.

IMG_6966Due to the huge interest each participant could participate in chosen activities – our group participated in those activities connected with youth unemployment and innovation. The first panel, in which we took part was entitled „Skills gap: Bridge over troubled water” and concerned a gap which exists between job qualifications of young people and the expectations of today’s labor market. The meeting had an interactive form, during which participants could have their voice on important issues. Asked „Do you think you learned sufficient skills at school or third level to prepare you for the labor market?” –  most answered, that they learned some skills but most of them was acquired in practice, by having internships or regular jobs. Special role of increasing awareness of young people towards internships and volunteering projects was also stressed, even if unpaid, they build our CV and increase our chances on the labor market – not all of us seem to be aware of that. Although, in some EU countries employers still do not understand the value of volunteering experience, but this conviction disappears very quickly and can be barely seen on the Union level. One is clear, we need to provide more information in this area, both for young people and the employers – to make students aware, that studies just for studies are the waste of time, and employers, that being a volunteer is equal the regular job experience. Among other speakers Mrs. Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility was present there.

In the Plenary Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: Vako Karchava)

In the Plenary Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: Vako Karchava)

Another and the most important session for us also concerned youth unemployment. It was the most important not only because of the topic but also the venue, in which all activity took place – we had an unique opportunity to sit in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, exactly on the same seats, on which Members of the European Parliament sits! The meeting was titled „Youth Unemployment: Down to zero?” – it was designed to find the solution for youth unemployment, the leading question was „how can we reduce youth unemployment to close to zero within 10 years?”. Young activists were present among experts, EU institutions were represented by Marianne Thyssen (mentioned above) and Andrey Novakov, Member of the European Parliament. We’ve started with the presentations of ideas delivered by all speakers, followed by proposals from the audience, which were later commented by the experts. However,  before the meeting started for good we were trained how the voting mechanism in the European Parliament works, having great occasion to take part in a voting simulation. The question put on voting was very clear: „whether or not European Union should give more support to young people entering the labor market?” – only a few voted “no”, pushing the red button.

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Photo: Vako Karchava

The last activity, in which we took part was named „Science or fiction: Will robots rise to power?” and was about the discussion on the future of robotics and super-computers. One of the most crucial questions raised at the very beginning was: „will robots threaten the future of humanity?”. The experts indicated, that we will always have everything under control, because it is up to people to first program those robots to work. Another interesting discussion arose on the question if robots as super-intelligent computers will take away our jobs. If we talk about workplaces implementing new technologies will certainly have an impact on disappearing of certain professions. However, as speakers indicated, technological change always entails such consequences. It doesn’t mean a catastrophe on the market. Well-known professions will be replaced by new ones, which cannot be described at the moment. The Meeting was attended by representatives of robotics companies, and among others Gianfranco Visentin, Head of Automation and Robotics Section from the European Space Agency.  

To sum up, taking part in European Youth Event 2016 was an unusual experience for us. We could observe how the European Parliament works from within, but among other things meet people from all over Europe and listen to their point of view. Surely, we learnt many new things. Coming to Strasburg made us even more aware, that working in EU institutions is not a fantasy, as some of you may imagine. It is certainly worth studying European Studies for acquiring such precious experiences!

We would like to thank Vice Rectors of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin: Professor Urszula Paprocka-Piotrowska and Professor Krzysztof Narecki, without whom it wouldn’t be possible to achieve.

This coverage is also available in Polish on the website of our Scientific Association: http://www.kul.pl/european-youth-event-2016-relacja,art_68086.html

See the full photo gallery HERE – photos by Vako Karchava.

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The role of „soft power” in shaping EU’s external image

Emil Wojtaluk

Defining instruments for creating EU’s external image can be problematic. The conference held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin on November 9-10, entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” gathered scholars from different universities to help us understand these processes.

The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

Defining soft power

Taking culture into account should be connected with its external image. The problem of EU’s perception is very complex, looking at all crises the Union is struggling with, its image decreased. Another thing is that the Union itself has problems with defining its external image policy. What is more, the incapacity to inform its own citizens leads to ignorance about functioning of the European Union, let alone countries outside of the EU. A way to solve this problem could be effectively acting diplomacy of the Union (as the element of soft power).

According to J. Nye soft power could be defined as ability to receive what we expect thanks to attractiveness, not violence, compulsion or payment. The ability of one’s entity to form an alliance and to get more influence is possible thanks to three factors. These are culture, political values and foreign policy – realized on the basis of previously mentioned values and culture. The essential instrument of conducting foreign policy by the EU is shaping positive image on the international scene, via these three soft indicators.

If we are to discuss main merits of EU’s soft power, one of them is that EU is perceived as “civilian power”, having its origins in the 70s. The concept was based on the assumption that the Communities are founded on peace. A distinctive factor is that civilian power means also economic activities. In the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU we can find that in exercising foreign relations the Union is relating to universal values such as democracy, human rights or EU enlargement policy. These provisions as well as other EU legal acts referring to external policy create the so called set of values, which are components of soft power. One of the essential features of Union’s involvement in the world is multilateralism, also seen as soft power (cooperation with other countries). The European Union is perceived as one of world’s mediators on the international scene, but rather as advocate of only peaceful resolutions, which sadly have low efficiency. Especially looking at recent crises inside the EU and internationally, it is said that the Union use the methods of “cheating reality”.

Public diplomacy

Beata Piskorska, PhD during the conference

Beata Piskorska, PhD during the conference

Another part of soft power is public diplomacy – understood as dialogue between countries, realized with using media and direct communication. That is why using means of Public Relations is also crucial. The EU is currently trying to meet this challenge by the use of social media and digital diplomacy. We could observe it looking at the activities of former and current High Representative of the Union, especially during the “Arab Spring” – seen as the test for digital diplomacy and using social media. The national example of using digital diplomacy is former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Radosław Sikorski and his twitter account – it was debatable whether his commentaries were his private opinion and whether it reflected his position as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that’s why using such means is debatable everywhere in the world.

Public diplomacy is realized by the EU in various ways: by study visits, cooperation with local MS’ governments, cooperating with international organizations, as well as by development aid and supporting cultural institutions. Here the essential element of public diplomacy is cultural diplomacy. In 2007 document “European agenda for culture” it was emphasized that promoting of cultural dimension is significantly important, and it should be supported by cooperation with other international organizations dealing with cultural policy.

“United in diversity” is perceived as one of the biggest achievements of the EU as an attempt to connect different cultures and identities. Nevertheless, it becomes an contentious issue. Especially when it’s crucial to create mutual legal framework for the functioning of culture. It is the problem how to create laws common to all, indeed different cultures.

Summing up, despite all difficulties with communication and creating unified image of the EU by 28 Member States, the European Union is still seen as a model of integration processes. It is extremely important to understand that values that are important for EU members (like the rule of law or equality in a broad sense) may not be so crucial for people coming to Europe or living outside the EU.

The article is based on the speech of Beata Piskorska, PhD (Department of Political Science/John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin) entitled “The role of „soft power” in shaping EU’s external image” at the conference entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) on 9-10 November 2015.

Cultural dimension of the European integration

Emil Wojtaluk

Have you ever thought about the comprehensive analysis of political culture inside EU institutions and the cultural policy of the EU as such? The aim of last week’s conference held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin was to answer these dilemmas.

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The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

“Political Culture in the European Parliament”

First of all, we have to realize that political culture can be understood as a sphere of influence, the way how politicians gain its power and then how they maintain it.

From the point of view of “neutralization of ideology” we may distinguish two examples referring to this term. First is the initial assumption of the founding fathers of the European Union, where the main goal was the economic integration, which indeed is true if we look at powers of the European Parliament. At that time they were significantly limited and the institution itself had only little influence on decision-making process.

The other example is that inside the EP, each political group gets some position because of the rule of consensus and geographical balance – where there is no competition, unlike national politics.

Another thing is the way of making decisions, where there is no fight for influence on decision-making. When the European Commission proposes legislation, the matter is then governed by the so called shadow rapporteur, who is responsible for particular project. He/she collects opinions, negotiates the draft with the EP and the Council and prepares the project for voting. Rapporteurs give opinion on a project carrying about presenting the view of their own political group, which does not look so transparent.

As a word of conclusion, we should not look at the decision-making process in the EU from the perspective of national politics.

 “Political Culture in the Council of the EU”  

This time it is not about understanding political culture as a formal way of making decisions (legal procedures), but more as a real life model we observe.

Again we have two approaches. According to first the representatives of member states in the Council (both administration and at ministerial level) act by a logic of consequences – meaning what consequences of their choices will be the best from the point of view of their own country. The second approach is about the logic of appropriateness (as a consequence of socialization processes ) so the way of behavior expected by the others.

There are three functions of the Council according to political science – negotiable, representative, and social. Through all of these, the most important one is negotiable function where everyone expects something in return. To be more precise it is again divided into three types of reciprocity: specific reciprocity – concerns specific case which is during negotiation process, in short term perspective; institutional reciprocity –e.g. when each member state has its presidency on rotational basis; diffusional reciprocity – when one member state makes concessions in specific case, remembered by others and repeated in the future.

Another issue is voting by consensus, named as “shadow of the vote”, – where no voting occurs, but it is still taken into account. According to the author we have many negative consequences of consensual voting, which are: 1) inefficiency – because negotiation process is being extended until no one is against; 2) lack of transparency since it’s difficult to define member states’ preferences; 3) inequality of particular member states (it’s hard to assess the influence of each country); 4) uneven impact – larger countries have greater influence while smaller countries have smaller impact.

Finally, the type of culture in the Council can be described as “intercultural”.

The article is based on a conference entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) on 9-10 November 2015. Especially based on the lectures of Marta Witkowska, PhD (The University of Warsaw) and Piotr Tosiek, PhD (Marie-Curie Skłodowska University).

Donald Tusk – 11 months in office

Emil Wojtaluk

Since Donald Tusk holds his position as the President of the European Council for over 11 months we are witnessing first opinions as to how he is perceived in Europe. In one of its recent articles with a meaningful title “A task for Tusk”, The Economist discusses what it means for Tusk to hold the position of the so-called “President of the European Union”.

Donald Tusk ( Source: twitter.com/eucopresident)

Donald Tusk ( Source: twitter.com/eucopresident)

Paradise…

In the first paragraph, Donald Tusk admitted that becoming the President of the European Council was like “reaching paradise”. The authors ironically stated that it’s indeed true, since he more likely had a chance to visit local museums than negotiating with European leaders. The article focuses on extremely important task for Mr Tusk, such as management of EU response to crises. Although he already found some ways to cope with current situation, even having limited powers. The authors underline that even Mr Tusk had run his country for 7 years he did not manage to introduce it to the common currency, which seems to be one of the EU’s priority projects. Tusk’s experience, even if he was the first Prime Minister in the democratic history of Poland to be reelected does not present such a great value. Since it’s rather young democracy (in author’s opinion) it does not present such “consensual methods” as are preferred in Brussels. Additionally, the article points out language barrier, since Mr Tusk still did not manage to speak French (which is “behind the scenes” language in Brussels), even if his English improved.

One of the Tusk’s priorities is to protect Europe against the rise of populism and right-wing populists; in his opinion liberal centre must be strengthened.

In response to current migratory crisis, he present strong position as to regaining control over EU’s external borders. The “open doors” policy has to come to an end in his opinion. In order to preserve Europe’s openness there has to be more security instruments.

What about the UK?

Probably the most important task during Mr Tusk’s term of office, is to ensure that the Great Britain stays in the EU. It is soon expected, that PM Cameron will send a letter to Donald Tusk, presenting a draft renegotiation of UK’s membership in the EU. The authors emphasize that it will be a task for Donald Tusk to seek compromise in this case, together with other 27 EU member states. One of the most critical points is that Mr Cameron opts for reducing social benefits to immigrants and he generally don’t agree on the direction EU is going right now. Donald Tusk’s strongest fear is that if UK’s withdrawal from the Union is possible, it could serve as the example for others, and as a result lead to “the end of the EU”.

Another paragraph describes the limits imposed on President Tusk. One of his first statements when he took his office, was strong position on Russia, concerning events in Ukraine. The time has showed that his position did not change, but he can do little to resolve the crisis.

To conclude, Donald Tusk accepts German leadership, with some reservations that “not everything that is good for Germany is good for Europe”. He is not oriented to build some kind of new structures, but rather to keep the EU project from failure. The decisions to oppose to Vladimir Putin’s actions to divide Europe seems to be a good sign for the future.

Apart from the article, I would add that EU migration policy (the legal provisions) seems to be ineffective in the crisis time. Each third country national should claim for asylum in the first EU country he/she visit, while they are using EU member states’ territory to rest and go to Germany, which is their final destination. Finding solution on how to regain control rest inter alia in he hands of Donald Tusk and his leadership skills.

We’re curious what is your opinion on President Tusk, do you think he has a chance to be reelected for a second term as the President of the European Council? Have your say in the comments below!

Read the full article “A task for Tusk” here

European Youth Guarantee – a solution to counter youth unemployment?

Emil Wojtaluk

The European Youth Guarantee has been launched in April 2013. EU member states committed themselves to ensure the implementation of the program by facilitating young people’s successful transition into work. Is it working? Let’s find out…

 

Source: newslettereuropean.eu

Source: newslettereuropean.eu

How does it work…

The idea behind launching this program was to ensure that ALL young people under the age of 25 would get an appropriate offer within 4 months from ending formal education or becoming unemployed (no matter if registered with employment services or not). An offer, mentioned above should be for a job, apprenticeship, traineeship or for continued education, taking into account individual needs.

It all started with creating Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans, made by each EU country in 2014. Then the pilot programs were launched from December 2014 to June 2015 in Finland, Latvia, Portugal and Romania – which aimed to disseminate information about the Youth Guarantee, first by properly addressing the target group. One of the main principles is to create strong cooperation between all stakeholders, which are inter alia: public authorities, career guidance providers, education and training institutions, employers etc. To improve the number of quality offers the European Alliance for Apprenticeship (EAfA) helps to facilitate the implementation of the program by bringing together EU institutions, countries and regions, companies etc. EU member states are able to check each other how the program is implemented in their countries by using Mutual Learning Programme of the European Commission. Other pilot programs were also created in the early stage in 2013, with the participation of Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom running for one year in each country – aimed at developing partnership, support the labor market integration and promoting the scope of actions.

Registration process for the Youth Guarantee in 3 steps:

  • Registration
  • Meeting your own advisor
  • Getting quality offer (of job, apprenticeship, traineeship or education)

First successes

Source: emprendedorescreativos.com

Source: emprendedorescreativos.com

Number of countries enacted specific laws to improve quality of education and learning. Here are some of them: France created a new law on lifelong learning and VET (vocational education and training); in Portugal VET centers started to function for basic (age 14) and secondary (age 15-17) students etc. As for “school-to-work transitions” Poland has focused on the outreach to unregistered young people, providing vocational counseling and among other things activation tools like vouchers and start-up loans (for those who wish to set up their own economic activity).

 

Funding

The Youth Guarantee is funded from the well-known European Social Fund with the support of Youth Employment Initiative (which amounts to 6 bln euro). €12.7 billion is directed to labor market integration of young people, €11 billion from ESF to modernize employment services and promoting self-employment. Finally, €26 billion is planned to be spent on education measures (lifelong learning).

To conclude…

From the perspective of Polish citizen I have to admit that I was not familiar with Youth Guarantee before I did my research at the official websites of the European Union. Dissemination of the project seems to lack a lot, at least in my own country. Neither public authorities at local level nor the government have implemented appropriate measures to raise the awareness of the project among young people. More specific measures should be used – like meetings with high school or university students and also launching a country-wide media campaign. I am afraid that if it is not done, chances for most of our young citizens to benefit from Youth Guarantee will be low since many of them simply have not heard about it!

To find more information on Youth Guarantee please visit the official website of the program (including directions to national coordinators available in each EU member state):

http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1079&langId=en

Next stop: John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin – European Studies! #1

It’s the last time to decide what studies fits you best! Just have a look what European Studies students from Lublin(Poland) have to say about their academic experiences!

Emil Wojtaluk

Emil Wojtaluk (European Studies, III year)

Emil Wojtaluk (European Studies, III year)

My name is Emil and I study European Studies in English at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. Have you ever wondered whether or not you’re good enough to study entirely in English? I had the same doubts, but they passed as soon as they appeared. European Studies at KUL gives you practical knowledge on legal English, that you need to “function well” at the Faculty of Law – the classes from Academic Writing or English for Law and Business helped me a lot. All I can say from my own experience is that two weeks from the time I started to study my worries gone away. It turned out I found the courage to speak in foreign language, and I was one of the few most active students. What European Studies in Lublin can give you, beside improving your language skills, are student’s organizations.

“Students’ Scientific Association of European Studies Students” associates the most organized and knowledgeable people – the ones who do not “study only to study”, but are being active beyond regular classes, e.g. by promoting the faculty or organizing interesting events. If you’re an ambitious student, you’ll certainly find it useful and it’ll become your way of self-development.

Another students’ organization is the one you’re just reading- EUROpens BLOG! Since the Editorial Board is composed of 10 persons at maximum, in order to become the editor you have to meet some requirements. Each year thousands of people read our blog and share their thoughts with us. The most important thing for us is that the number of viewers is constantly growing – from 1,472 in the initial 2012 to over 5,500 in 2014! I have an honor to be the first officially chosen Editor in Chief since 2013 🙂 My last message to you will be simple… DON’T BE AFRAID! 🙂

Anita Weprzędz

Anita Weprzędz (European Studies, III year/ Law, V year)

Anita Weprzędz (European Studies, III year/ Law, V year)

Hi. My name is Anita and I am 24 years old. I like journeys and reading books. I was struggling with myself for a very long time to take my second faculty which is European Studies. Since I was always interested in European issues, I took part in some competitions about European Union and participating in programs funded from European budget like Youth in Action. But that was before studies. Currently, my dream is to become an attorney. So after high school I stared law studies. But I missed the classes on European Union issues. After the first year, our University (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin) opened a new faculty – European Studies conducted in English. Because I was afraid because of my English skills ;-), I took additional advanced English at Matura exam (final exam after high school in Poland). When I passed it without any problems, I decided to apply for European Studies. And that was one of the best choices of my whole life! For me, this studies supplemented my law faculty, gave additional opportunities and make me sure that this is what I would like to do always. Thanks to European Studies I got some extra internships, e.g. in insurance company which has chosen me due to my knowledge of legal English (we have some classes on it). Now being bilingual is very expected by future employers, and studies in English are very helpful to deal with it. I can talk about this for a very long time, but the point will be still the same – choose European Studies and you will get crucial experience which will ease your future life :-).

Kamil Augustyniak

Kamil Augustyniak (BA in European Studies, III year)

Kamil Augustyniak (European Studies, III year)

Hello Reader! My name is Kamil and I am proud to be a student of European Studies. This is a great opportunity to share with all of you my personal statement about this faculty and, hopefully, encourage you to join me the course. Few months ago while waiting for next class I met by accident young journalist from local radio. He came to interview university president and students due to celebration of 96 anniversary of our university. Since he waited and so did I, he asked me about few words related to studying in Lublin. I surprised him when I mentioned I study European Studies in English. He heard a lot about the idea of studying in English at KUL and took an advantage of interviewing me to ask some questions concerning this faculty.

My personal experience shows that people actually know this studies but are rather closed to it because of foreign language. I realize it is not bagatelle for everyone but there are some other benefits at our studies which surely attract young people. What interested me the most is number of extra-curricular courses which differ from each other. I do not mean only practical foreign language courses ending with certificates, currently so desired on international job market. There are numerous others. Starting from these strictly connected to European Union issues (e.g. Fundraising for international projects), through classes increasing our general confidence and real practice (e.g. Public speaking), and ending with economically directed (e.g. Introduction to economy and business). All of them and many other are free of charges thanks to European Union’s funds and provide students with valuable and practical experience which is now extremely important when looking for a job.

So many possibilities while studying European Studies made this faculty exceptional and worth trying.

Kinga Hodór

Kinga Hodór (BA in European Studies, II year)

Kinga Hodór (European Studies, II year)

My name is Kinga Hodór and I am a student of the second year of European Studies in English. As I’ve always loved meeting people from different cultures and learning languages in practice, I decided to take up this particular field of studies. From the perspective of two years spent at the University, I can say that it’s been one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life! Having started with some fears connected with language barriers I used to have, I quickly adjusted to the lectures and tutorials led in English. Very soon, I found it very attractive and beneficial. Anyway, even though gaining knowledge and the above enumerated advantages are important, there is something much more appealing for me… This thing is contact with foreign students, mostly Erasmus people. I believe that the choice of the field of studies in English has been some kind of gate for me towards international friendships and experiences. Thanks to this, I’ve been broadening my horizons, shaping personality and developing language skills.

Since the beginning of this academic year, I’ve been so-called ‘guardian angel’ of one French girl who has come to Lublin on her Erasmus Exchange. We’ve become good friends and we share common interests. So far, I’ve made so many friends from different parts of Europe that I can’t simply imagine the situation of that not having happened. Thanks to these people, the time spent in Lublin has been much more interesting and funnier. I’m not only talking about attending the same lectures at the same University. It’s much more about the free time spent together, taking part in different events or going to various parties. All these elements create amazing memories.

Frankly speaking, spending time with foreign students somehow inspired me to experience Erasmus adventure on my own. And voilà, for the next semester I’m going on Erasmus Exchange to Cyprus. I’m sure it will be an amazing time. I know it will be as I’m going to enjoy every single moment!

baner_europeistyka

For more information on European Studies at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin please visit:

http://www.kul.pl/european-studies,24210.html

BA in European Studies:

http://www.kul.pl/bachelor-of-arts-in-european-studies-curriculum,art_28136.html

MA in European Studies:

http://www.kul.pl/master-of-arts-in-european-studies-curriculum,art_28137.html

Admission for the year 2015/2016:

http://www.kul.pl/admission-procedure,art_34687.html

APPLY NOW!

10 years of FRONTEX in the Schengen area

Kamil Augustyniak

Emil Wojtaluk

It’s been 10 years since the FRONTEX agency has been set up with its premises in Warsaw, Poland. At this occasion on 22 April 2015, Department of European Union Law of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin together with the Rule of Law Institute Foundation organized a training seminar as a part of the project “Support for Voluntary Returns in Lublin Region II” in the form of conference entitled “10 years of FRONTEX in the Schengen area”. It was a great occasion to summarize the activities of this EU agency to this date, and analyze the achievements in the sphere of external border management. The conference was also linked with the presentation of the book “FRONTEX agency in the Schengen area. 10 years of experience”.

frontex_horizontal_logo

Source: fra.europa.eu

The way towards creating FRONTEX seems to be quite short but in fact there were many crucial factors from the history of European integration which led to creation of this significant EU agency. It all started in 1985 when five member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) decided to create among them border-free area. Since the agreement was established outside of the European Community structures, the official Schengen Area for the EU was created on 26 March, 1995. From that time the number of members grew up to 26 European countries and the principle is currently recognized as European Union law. Increasing significance of Schengen Area forced authorities to creation of body responsible for its management and security. This is why, pursuant to Council Regulation (EC) 2007/2004, FRONTEX was created. Its main tasks are connected with maintaining EU external borders security, including from illegal immigration, human trafficking and terrorist activity.

©Daniel Cetlicer/ the Rule of Law Institute Foundation

©Daniel Cetlicer/ the Rule of Law Institute Foundation

During conference few interesting issues were explained. First of all, the statement that the agency cannot handle the current situation in Europe where hundreds of illegal immigrants are transported to Europe is not true. The agency rely only on member states’ equipment – it has no its own vehicles to control the borders. Since not every country is willing to take care about external border of the EU (because it has no such), instruments needed to careful control these broad areas are limited. Therefore the accusation of not fulfilling obligations is simply not fair, especially after recent results of FRONTEX activities that are better than ever. Second issue taken into consideration was related to not obeying the law by the agency and not respecting human rights. It should be said that, truly, the ability to balance legal and humanitarian perspective is a challenge but always the goodness of people is a priority. In media there are numerous information about how many people died during illicit transfer to Europe and alleged failure of rescue teams but nobody mentions that FRONTEX saved more than 30 thousand lives last year. Every single illegal immigrant is treated equally with respect of all rights. The next very important issue linked with taking care of illegal immigrants mentioned at the conference was non-refoulement principle which provides a prohibition of expulsion of any person if in country of its origin will be exposed to serious infringement of fundamental human rights, e.g. tortures. This international principle is not just a theory – every EU member state is obliged to follow it in practice.

Piotr Malinowski, Service Development Team Coordinator (Frontex Situation Centre) ©Daniel Cetlicer

Piotr Malinowski, Service Development Team Coordinator (Frontex Situation Centre) ©Daniel Cetlicer

Another worth mentioning issue was that FRONTEX does not have its own “risk management system”. It uses for example what was created by the SIS (Schengen Information System). The agency coordinates activities of EU member states in securing their borders. Risk management is composed of: defined objective – optimization of functioning of the external borders of the EU, trainings of border officers, preparing reports, means of communication (community based on intelligence and the exchange of information). All of that combined is called “Smart Border Management”.

From the point of terminology, there is an existing dispute whether we have irregular or maybe illegal migrants. There is a growing tendency to use irregular migrant term more often, and this is how we should call a person who crossed the border illegally. Let’s think, how any human being can be illegal?

©Daniel Cetlicer/the Rule of Law Institute Foundation

©Daniel Cetlicer/the Rule of Law Institute Foundation

Thirty years of Schengen Agreement, twenty years of Schengen Area and ten years of existence of FRONTEX was a perfect opportunity to prepare a sum-up conference that showed how unification, following common principles and helping refugees changed Europe. Although there are issues which need increased engagement and better coordination of all EU member states, the idea of open and fair European Union succeeded.

Eastern Partnership – the past and the present

Emil Wojtaluk

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is an EU’s initiative bringing six Eastern countries closer to the Union. Being a partner country does not necessarily mean they will join the EU, it is more about closer political cooperation and economic integration with the Union. The project is aimed at Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The original proposal was created by Poland and Sweden in 2008, particularly its Foreign Ministers at the time – Radosław Sikorski and Carl Bildt. Officially proposed by both countries at General Affairs and External Relations Council, 26 May 2008 in Brussels. The Eastern Partnership was inaugurated by the European Union at Prague summit of 7th May 2009.

Carl Bildt(left) and Radek Sikorski(right) (photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP)

Carl Bildt(left) and Radek Sikorski(right) (photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP)

How does it work?

The project itself is established within European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) but the Eastern Partnership goes much more beyond, making it more flexible and adjusted to the needs of individual partner countries. It takes into account much more factors such the economic ties with Russia and its influence on EaP countries. This policy is much more different, having in mind the history and dependency of partner countries during Soviet Union times, but also nowadays. Some countries still did not reform its administration to be suitable to European needs, that is why the proper EU’s Eastern Policy is important – to show the way for conducting reforms and existing together in some kind of unified system. Even if such a partner country will never join the European Union, it will significantly reform its economy and the whole country legislation to be more visible and competitive on the international arena. Too much post-soviet standards are still in existence in EaP countries. The project is governed within two dimensions: bilateral and multilateral.

Source: eeas.europa.eu

Source: eeas.europa.eu

We can distinguish so-called Flagship initiatives. Projects implemented under flagship initiatives are aimed at supporting Eastern Partnership countries in the process of fulfilling bilateral dimension targets, such as conducting reforms and meeting European norms and standards. There are five initiatives, one of them is “Integrated Border Management” – inter alia about visa facilitation or assistance in demarcation of internationally recognized border, which happened in case of Belarusian-Ukrainian border. The Eastern Partnership is also very institutionalized having Euronest Parliamentary Assembly or Civil Society Forum – which was launched to unite representatives of non-governmental organizations from partner countries and EU member states. In current budget perspective 4,1 billion euro will be provided for development of this project.

EaP Summits

The Eastern Partnership summits shape the guidelines to be met until the next meeting of EaP countries and EU member states. The period between the previous and next summit is more or less 2 years. The first Eastern Partnership Summit was held in Prague on May 7, 2009.

Source: © 2013 Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Photo by R. Dačkus

Source: © 2013 Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Photo by R. Dačkus

As the first it established guidelines for further development of the project, thematic platforms and ended up with specific goals to be achieved in the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit. The second Eastern Partnership Summit was held in Warsaw on 29-30 September, 2011. One important fact was that Belarus boycotted Warsaw summit stating that “the EU discriminate President Lukashenka” because he cannot attend any summit. It is the result of long lasting regime in Belarus, where the elections are forged since many years. If the situation improves, the EU will warmly welcome Belarus as participant in summits and EaP activities. The last and the most “reforming” Eastern Partnership summit was the Vilnius summit of 28-29 November 2013. Azerbaijan has signed a visa facilitation agreement with the EU, the Union has also initialized Association Agreements between Moldova and Georgia (including DCFTAs). The most expected event to happen was signing the agreements with Ukraine. EU was technically ready to sign Association Agreement with Ukraine but President Yanukovych announced he will not sign the agreement and move closer to the Euroasian Economic Union developed by Russia. That is why protests that lead to his overthrowing began. The next Eastern Partnership summit will be held in Riga, Latvia in May 2015, which is seen as the most important summit to be organized in EaP history, especially at the time of Russian activities in Ukraine.

Sikorski on Russia’s attitude

Marshal SIkorski(in the middle) at the Atlantic Council(Photo: twitter.com/AtlanticCouncil)

Marshal Sikorski(in the middle) at the Atlantic Council(Photo: twitter.com/AtlanticCouncil)

Last Friday, on 30th January 2015 one of the creators of this Eastern project was invited to share his views at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. – Radosław Sikorski, current Marshal of Polish Sejm (Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament). He participated in the event Europe’s East: Mapping Europe’s Strategic Landscape[1]. In his opinion 10 years ago it was possible to imagine that Russia was on the convergence course by joining our institutions like The Council of Europe, World Trade Organization, NATO-Russia Council. We had some disagreements but the rules seemed to be accepted. Now we are on a different trend – Russia is considering withdrawing from the Council of Europe, OSCE rules have been violated. According to Sikorski we face the prospect of either having to accept Russia’s rules or live in a world of no rules. We have also another problem, how not diplomatic language is being used by Russian diplomacy. In a recent interview Sergey Lavrov has said that “if Ukraine drops neutrality then further partition will follow” – that’s pre-modern way in Sikorski’s opinion. And I must say that I fully agree with it, the language that is being used by Russia is totally unacceptable, not to mention about its actions. Sikorski thinks that USA should be more decided in its actions and show the way for others. Russia sees the Eastern Partnership as very provocative move from the EU. Mr Sikorski has said that

“in current perspective 4,1 bln euro is going to be spent on things like Integrated Border Management(…) or anti-corruption training program and I can’t see how can it be a geopolitical challenge to anybody”.

Ukraine – a strategic Eastern Partnership member

It is not a new information that Ukraine is the most populous and the most important country for the Eastern Partnership. The future of this country means at the same time future of the whole East project. Since the end of 2013 Ukraine is experiencing both economic and political problems.

EaP countries marked in orange (source: wikipedia.org)

EaP countries marked in orange (source: wikipedia.org)

Overthrowing of President Victor Yanukovych was a sign for Russia that they can lose control over the region and that the Ukraine backed by Western countries will not be so much exposed on threats, also economic ones. Russian policy towards “near abroad” can be compared to Soviet times, when it was enough to threat of military intervention or economic blockade. Now, the times has changed but Russian attitude towards the West is still very provocative. The Ukrainian conflict has shown us that it is probably the second Cold War period in history. Even if there are more and more evidences that Russia is supplying the so called “separatists” in military equipment and sending its undercover troops, it is always denied by the President Putin or Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. The European Union never claimed that the Eastern Partnership Project is targeted against Russian interests, if the partner country does not want to sign the agreements with the Union it is a normal thing. Respecting democracy and sovereignty of EaP countries the EU has never threatened its Eastern partners by any kind of economic restrictions, which Russia does over and over again. The country of Russia is not respecting basic principles of the United Nations such as the “self-determination” principle – it means that each country has the right to decide about its own future. The future of the EaP also depends on the results of the Riga Summit, which for sure will be very important in drafting the new strategy, I would say the “crisis strategy”. I hope the reforms of EaP will be possible to achieve. A very important fact is that the sanctions imposed on Russia are working, but I think they were implemented too late. My opinion is that the lack of strong reaction of the World (including the EU), to Russian invasion in Georgia in 2008 was like an encouragement for President Putin to invade other countries in the future. He felt that no one can oppose to his ideas so he can invade others without any worries.

To conclude, there is no unanimity in the EU as for Russian activities. The situation is changing all the time, and that is why there is no clear answer on what can happen in the future. The EU should speak as one voice, that is the key. Let us also not forget, that the success of the Eastern Partnership depends on the willingness of the partner countries to share European standards and values.

[1] The full video is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZRGv-dwpEE