Well dear readers, these are crucial times for Poland and Ukraine and I am not referring to the Euro 2012 football tournament.
Poland takes the helm of the EU from 1st July when it assumes the rotating presidency and is being very much counted upon by its former soviet neighbours, both within the EU and externally.
I am not an expert on Poland it has to be said. My friend, mentor and all-round good egg, Charles Crawford is though. He was of course UK Ambassador to Poland before his retirement a few years ago. I will be watching his blog relating to the Polish Presidency with interest given the implications of the Polish EU Presidency for Ukraine and of course link to any pearls of wisdom he has to say that will affect my part of the continent directly.
Needless to say, Poland has been working hard behind the scenes already assessing and influencing EU member states to reach their stated objectives for their presidency. One can expect fellow EU members but non-Schengen members Romania and Bulgaria to be brought in from the Schengen cold during the Polish presidency. Apparently the only opinion against a September move to phase in Schengen for the Bulgarians and Romanians remains the Dutch. Poland has managed to get all other Schengen nations “on-side” so to speak.
The Polish presidency also is a major opportunity for Ukraine and Moldova to accelerate their EU negotiations. Both Poland, the EU and Ukraine have voiced optimism, almost expectation, that negotiations relating to the DCFTA and AA will be concluded before the end of the Polish presidency at the end of the year.
Eastern Partnership – This is where Poland has a chance to shine. The recognised lead member state when it comes to countries on the EU’s eastern borders, it wants to see real progress – on association agreements – with Ukraine and Moldova. An Eastern Partnership Summit in September in Warsaw is meant to give the policy – which has fallen down the political agenda – a boost. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt recently said the initiative is as significant as the Lisbon Treaty. The problem is getting other bigger member states – read France and Germany – to think like that. – EU Observer
The issue then of course, is if, as expected, the negotiations are completed and initialed by both the EU and Ukraine, the agreements then need to go to all 27 EU member states for signing and ratification. Quite possibly a slow process depending on the individual politics and priorities of the individual member nations. Then again, maybe not such a slow process given the Euro 2012 football tournament and national leaders being in Ukraine and therefore accessible leader to leader should there be an apparent heel dragging by certain nations.
All good news for the former Soviet nations of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova.
Also of interest from the Ukrainian perspective is the apparent Polish drive towards a European Defence/Army which already exists in the shadows of numerous bilateral, trilateral and multilateral initiatives within the EU anyway which fall outside of the NATO structure. Rather timely given the statements of out-going US Defence Secretary of State Robert Gates.
It is of interest to Ukraine because whilst it has said it will not join NATO, it will continue to work and exercise with NATO and the CIS nations within a non-aligned status and in specific areas. Exercise Sea Breeze 2011 is currently underway with the US Navy off the coast of Odessa and Crimea for example.
What Ukraine has said is that it would support and join a European defence force if it included Russia. Ukraine is already an active participant in UN peace-keeping forces around the globe. This is obviously in line with Ukraine’s non-aligned status where neighbours on either side are all included, such as the UN, and if all are not included, such as NATO or the CIS equivalent, the CSTO, it remains outside.
Another key Polish theme is energy security. As things stand the EU and Ukraine are all fairly dependent upon Russia for a reasonable amount of oil and gas. Some member states more than others it has to be noted. It is a very complex area to be fair. Nordstream will soon be running directly between Russia and Germany, Southstream has all the necessary permissions from states through which it will pass either on land or in sovereign waters with geological surveys now underway, Nabucco looks very likely to fail the time-line set for rapid progress and those funds look set to be diverted to an internal energy distribution grid across the entire EU.
Ukraine has also only recently joined the European Energy Community but has regularly been a net electricity exporter to Poland.
Recently a heavily nuclear energy reliant France has become a net energy exporter to Germany. This will undoubtedly increase given Germany’s recent decision to join Italy and become a nuclear energy free nation in so much as in-State production goes. Undoubtedly what they import will at least be in part produced from atomic sources outside of Germany. No doubt Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas will at the very least stay the same should gas powered stations replace the nuclear ones currently in existence. The initial promise of shale gas is now becoming less and less attractive due to extraction costs and environmental concerns.
To say that Ukraine has opportunities should it become integrated fully into the EU energy grid would be something of an understatement even if we are to ignore the current GTS system. It will continue on its nuclear path, produces and has an abundance of coal (albeit high in sulphur), has masses of land that can house wind and solar farms or CHP plants. Those CHP plants would have an abundance of agricultural waste to run upon, not to mention an under-developed hydro industry. That is before considering the oil and gas under the Black Sea Shelf as yet untouched.
The Polish presidency of the EU is therefore of great importance to Ukraine, notwithstanding the fact Ukraine will be simultaneously holding the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe/PACE for the majority of the Polish term.
Interesting few months ahead for both nations.