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

Reklamy

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

‘Sanctions and Russia’ – report and debate

Katarzyna Stachyra

The Polish Institute of International Affairs (hereinafter: PISM) published on 14 January report ‘Sanctions and Russia’[1]. This issue holds attention of all international community, because recession in Russian economy and changes in trade relation with Western world influence not only concerned states, but also other powerful actors, such as China. Are sanctions effective and sufficient measure in the light of violation of international law by Russia? Which consequences are seen currently and what can we expect in the future? Those questions were asked during debate with the participation of Jarosław Ćwiek-Karpowicz (PISM), Marek Menkiszak (the Centre for Eastern Studies), Ivan Rassokhin (the Centre for Polish-Russian Business Cooperation) and Arleta Bojke as a moderator (TVP’s correspondent in Moscow).

Sanctions in PISM’s assessment

 

The report begins with explanation of the nature and mechanisms of sanctions. Then, authors try to assess sanction’s impact on various areas, such as Russian economy, politics, regions, bureaucracy, oligarchs, energy, military sector and foreign policy. Using statistical data, analysis and press reports PISM describes changes in Russia and presents interesting background of some phenomena which helps readers to understand situation. According to the report, general conclusion which may be drawn is that sanctions have severe influence to Russian economy and their main advantage was to refrain from further annexation of Ukraine.

‘Sanctions have so far been the most effective instrument of Western influence on Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, stopping the Kremlin from making a greater military incursion in the country.’

Moreover, PISM emphasized that ‘the EU should be ready to impose, in tandem with the United States, new sanctions in the event that Russia breaks the fragile ceasefire and pursues, openly or covertly, more territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.’

Other voices in debate

Opposite point of view was presented during debate by some of its participants. Marek Menkiszak strongly argued, that the most ‘painful’ sanctions are not those imposed by the USA and the EU, but… by Russia itself. He said that Russian embargo on goods from EU members states has the most negative impact of the current economic situation, because Russia is heavily dependent on import from these countries. It is worth noting that Russian propaganda has convinced the public opinion that problems with the availability of some products are due to Western sanctions – not by Russian embargo, which caused the situation. M. Menkiszak added, that Russian economy would be in recession even without sanctions, because of structural problems. Nevertheless, he found sanctions needed, as they constituted a kind of punishment and showed that Western states ‘exist’ and are able to take measures jointly.

©Katarzyna Stachyra (EUROpens BLOG)

©Katarzyna Stachyra (EUROpens BLOG)

Ivan Rassokhin presented similar view. Namely, he pointed out that present crisis in Russian economy results from neglect of the past in the first place. Sanctions are just another nail in the coffin. He said that in Russia there is no specific monetary policy – The Central Bank of the Russian Federation ‘acts as a counter’. Russia did not do anything but a good impression. I. Rassokhin noted, however, that effects of sanctions may be observed especially by ordinary people in the biggest cities. He thinks that sanctions are not so unfavorable for the elite as it seems. In his opinion lack of equipment, parts and technical assistance, which is very crucial in connection with the unconventional oil extraction is the most serious, because nobody – apart from the USA – produce such a specialized equipment. I. Rassokhin also disagreed with one of the conclusions in the report related with restraint of Russia from further annexation thanks to introducing sanctions. He believed, that even without punitive measures Russia would not take another part of the territory of Ukraine – since connecting territory is not the main purpose. Russia tends to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, in order to unravel its integration plans with the EU. It goes in the current situation, and it is not necessaryto take the next steps.

Foreseeing the future

According to PISM’s report, ‘As the sanctions are relatively new, any analysis of the impact of prohibitive measures against Russia is still preliminary.’ I agree with this statement. Situation of Russian economy is complicated, and sanctions are one of the factors which aggravate it. Basing on report and information from other sources two scenarios seem to be possible. The first one assumes that Russia will fall into deeper crisis and will have to change policy towards pro-European aspiration of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. The second scenario is related with fostering closer trade relations by Russia with Asian states, especially with China. The question is how it would determine position of Russia and China in the future? And the most important – how long will we have to wait for stable situation in Ukraine? Nonetheless, we can say proudly that the EU passed difficult test of solidarity.

[1] Full report is available on http://www.pism.pl/files/?id_plik=19045.

Ukraine: At the beginning of a long journey

Magdalena Styrnik

Exactly February 21 this year, I received the following message on Facebook from my Ukrainian peer and law student as well, Yana: “They are killing us.” with some web link below. The link referred to the website including the petition which goal was to boycott the closing ceremony of Sochi Olympic Games. I have clicked, as a sign of my support for that idea. That was not so much, that was nothing, I would say, to help Ukrainians at that moment, however, WHAT ELSE could I do then for them all by myself?

People gathered at Kiev's Maidan (source: kresy24.pl)

People gathered at Kiev’s Maidan (source: kresy24.pl)

They are (were) at our age

I checked mentioned website recently, which is almost nine months from the day of a message, 3 327 people “clicked” the petition just like me. Was the ceremony boycotted? I do not think many people focused on that in February. Especially, young people, high school and university students in their 20s, at the very beginning of their life, knowing that their peers and neighbours were being killed in Kiev by Ukrainian officials just because they wanted to live in democratic country.

There were many coverages showing the situation at the Euromajdan, as media called the gathering of people at the Independence Square in Kiev. What I saw in these reports was a scream, bullets, a fire and smoke, but also A HOPE, a lot of hope.

Protesters at Euromaidan (source: Polska The Times)

Protesters at Euromaidan (source: Polska The Times)

This people believed that something (or even everything) may change in their country.  They were ready to sacrifice their life for freedom, democracy and better life closer to European Union. All of the above had its price. The most valuable was the life of almost 800 people as medical volunteer service claimed in April, while Ukrainian officials said, that time, it was about 100 people. Was that worth it? Was that the end?  We all know it was not. Although in February there were some changes among  Ukrainian officials, it was just the beginning of a long journey.

The Independence Square became a ruin, citizens became victims, the protest became a war, the Crimea became Russian territory.

To die a hero

My father is a salesman in car parts company. As Lublin is located in the East of Poland, what is more, not so far from the border, many Ukrainians come here to buy those car parts, as they are cheaper and of better quality than in Ukraine. One of my father’s regular clients is about 30 years old man. In June 2014 he came to the company as usual. When my father asked him about the situation in Ukraine, the man said: “ A few months ago I’ve collected my friends from military training area after a war game. There were TWELVE of them. Now, there are SIX.

Ukrainian soldiers in captive after Russian agression in Crimea (source: orientalreview.org)

Ukrainian soldiers at the time of Russian aggression in Crimea (source: orientalreview.org)

The rest six of my father’s client friends obviously died during military operations. I am just wondering whether they- being people in their 30s, at the beginning of their adults life-  really wanted to fight for their homeland or they just had no other choice. Each of these was possible, however, common knowledge is that even 50 years old men receives a call-up and actually MUST leave their families, work, homes. That’s how war works- someone may say- I cannot deny it- the death of billion of people is only the statistics, the death of one man is a tragedy. What always strikes me the most when it comes to war, is that every single soldier is someone’s father, husband, son or brother- regardless of nationality or political beliefs.

On the other side, nowadays, vast majority of modern countries, have their professional armies that consist of educated, well-paid soldiers, who are aware of risk and danger. However, in such cases, I ask myself one more question: are these men, whose profession is being a soldier, still a hero or do they just do their jobs?

It is not my aim to compare the value of life of Euromajdan’s victims with the value of life of soldiers. However, I would like to focus the attention on the absurdity of such conflicts. People die, because one man or a group of other people want to have more influence on specific territory or resources. The war ends some day and I am asking one more question: WHAT NOW?

Two real stories I’ve described above should show us how close Ukraine and its problems are to Poland, Poles and every single man, who loves its country.