Poland's Stakes in the Eastern Partnership Summit

4 MINS READSep 29, 2011 | 12:15 GMT
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Poland will host an Eastern Partnership (EP) summit Sept. 29-30. As one of the initiative's founders, Poland hopes to be able to use the summit to demonstrate the EP's effectiveness. The summit is particularly significant because it comes shortly before Poland's general elections and could give Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk a boost in the polls if significant progress is made. It would also give Poland an opportunity to fulfill one of the goals it has set for its EU presidency, though Warsaw faces many constraints in achieving concrete results.
Poland will host an Eastern Partnership (EP) summit Sept. 29-30. The summit will be an opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the EP, an initiative meant to bring six former Soviet states — Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan — closer to the European Union. The summit will also have political significance for Poland both internationally and domestically. Not only is Poland one of the EP's founders, along with Sweden, but it also currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Many of Poland's main goals for its presidency, such as facilitating greater cohesion funds for Central European countries, have been sidelined by the ongoing eurozone crisis, and major countries involved in the crisis — Germany and France — have left Poland feeling marginalized. Therefore, strengthening the Eastern Partnership, and specifically bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union, is the only goal Poland can realistically expect to achieve during its EU presidency. This is particularly important because of the timing of the summit, which comes shortly before Poland's Oct. 9 general elections. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform party has a narrow margin over the opposition Law and Justice party in polls. With the European economy in a state of uncertainty, Tusk would like to have one foreign policy victory, even a small one, before the elections, and the EP summit would provide a chance to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union, an issue the Polish public broadly supports. Ukraine has become the focus of Poland's EP efforts both because of Warsaw's fundamental interest in pulling Ukraine out of Russia's grip and because Ukraine, being less isolated than Belarus and less internally divided than Moldova, is the most practical target for Poland. However, the detention and trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko has disrupted Poland's plans to get Ukraine to sign agreements with the European Union by the end of the year. In fact, Poland was hoping to use the upcoming summit to announce the conclusion of free trade negotiations, but this announcement likely will be postponed because of the Timoshenko trial, which resumed Sept. 27. Poland had been trying to convince Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to drop the Timoshenko case, but ultimately all Warsaw can do is wait, and Tusk thus probably will not get the clear sign of progress he would like to announce during the summit. There is also little reason to expect any significant announcements regarding Belarus, which has been the hardest country for Poland to woo. Polish President Bronislaw Komoroski, along with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, traveled to Belarus on the eve of the former Soviet country's presidential elections in December 2010 and offered Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko $4 billion in aid if the elections were held freely and fairly. Instead, claims of rigging arose after the vote, and Lukashenko cracked down on the ensuing opposition protests, leading to EU sanctions rather than financial assistance. For the upcoming EP summit, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov was invited, but Minsk has chosen to send its ambassador to Poland, Viktor Gaisenok, instead. Given this climate, no concrete achievements on the Belarusian front are expected at the summit. However, it will be important to see if initiatives are announced regarding support for the Belarusian opposition, especially as nationwide protests are expected in Belarus on Oct. 8 — protests for which Poland has expressed support. Rumors have indicated that an announcement could be made at the summit regarding agreements with Georgia and Moldova. The countries could open negotiations with the European Union on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) like the one Ukraine has been negotiating. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat visited Poland on Sept. 7 to discuss a joint strategy on DCFTA talks with Tusk. However, the European Commission has not yet determined whether the countries meet the requirements to open DCFTA talks, so this announcement could be delayed or altered. Either way, it will be a key issue to watch at the summit even though the initial stages of the DCFTA are rather symbolic. Ultimately, the success of the EP summit will depend on what concrete announcements and commitments will be made. Poland has staked much on whether it will be able to deliver results with the EP, and this will have implications for Warsaw both domestically and internationally.

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