December 18, 2012

The Experience, Results and Consequences of Poland’s Joining the European Union and NATO

Ukrainians who had been out of age in the late 1980s-early 1990s, remember very well a characteristic feature of that period of time - mass domination of Polish sellers, who were “sweeping off” from our shops’ stalls absolutely everything, from ordinary spades to canned sprats in tomato sauce. We just laughed at them and their country. Quite understandable,- they did not have the best black soils in Europe. And could they have built such missiles, aircrafts and tanks as we had? Of course, not. They could not even to make irons for themselves. But then our country was much larger and the population was more numerous. Could we have put some Poland even close to us, so large and powerful as we were? But after a bit more than two decades that have passed since then, can an average Ukrainian imagine what the once object of ridicule, our neighbor Poland has turned into?

Republic of Poland is now an example of a country where effective economic and social-political reforms have led to a considerable economic growth and political stability, actual escaping the sequences of the world finance-economic crisis, and a non-stop increase of the state's authority and political weight in the world. Within the last 20 years the official Poland has managed to carry out a lot of transformations, which helped the country to become one of the most stable and predictable ones in Europe. Among the main achievements of Poland over the latest years, most of Polish experts mention its successful membership in the European Union and NATO, which was not less important to the country than its gaining independence after the disintegration of the Russian empire in 1917.

Poland’s joining the EU in 2004 actually made a decisive influence at the civilizational development of the country. According to the results of social surveys, despite the additional complication of the economic problems of the EU due to the world finance-economic crisis, most of the Polish population is still sure that this step was the most important factor in Poland's transformation in the direction of its returning to Europe.

In particular, during the referendum on Republic of Poland’s membership in the EU, above 77.4 % of the Polish supported the country’s integration into the European Union, 22.5 % were against it. Some 4 years later, the survey conducted by the TNS OBOP market research centre in February of 2008, showed that only 5% of the Poland’s population did not approve of its EU membership, while above 80 % declared positive results of it.

The reasons for the mentioned above were as follows:

  • dynamic development of Poland’s economy thanks to the EU’s financial help (credits and investments) and the country’s integration into the sole European market;
  • Poland’s joining the Schengen Area, which allowed the Polish citizens to freely travel about , study and find jobs in the EU countries;
  • improvement of the situation at the Polish employment market;
  • Polish state’s increasing role at the international arena.

Positive dynamic development of the Polish economy can be confirmed by the fact that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, as compared with average index of EU countries has grown from 43% in 2003, to 51% in 2011. Within the same period of time, the labor productivity index has grown from 31 to 42 zloty per hour.

Poland’s joining the EU increased its agricultural products profitability and improved the financial situation of the agrarians: in 2011 the average income of the agricultural workers had grown by 90% as compared with 2000. Poland has been realizing a great number of investment projects in the spheres of building and maintaining highways, local roads and railways, on the cost of EU ‘s budget. According to the information from the Ministry of Finances of RP, since its joining the EU, Poland has got from the EU’s budget 20 billion Euro more than the total of its membership fees.

Its membership in the EU allows Poland to ensure its energy security. First of all, this regards to Poland's accumulation of necessary storages of energy carriers (according to the EU’s regulations), getting an access to the European assistance in securing Poland's energy needs, and integration of its gas transmission and electric energy network into the EU systems. An important role in the energy policy of Poland belongs to the realization of new technologies of slate gas production, which is supposed to decrease its relying on gas import, in the first rate that from Russia. All this allow Warsaw to fight threats of breaks in the energy carries delivery to the Polish market.

Another serious advantage Poland gained in the EU is its greater influence on political, economic and security processes in Europe and the EU. In its turn, this allowed to improve Poland’s image among the European and non-European countries, as well as among international organizations. An example of such improvement is the fact that in 2009 a Poland’s representative, Jerzy Buzek, was elected the President of the EU Parliament, and also Warsaw’s getting the post of the Euro-budget commissar within the European Commission (Janusz Lewandowski).

Besides, an essential Polish representation in the European Parliament (51 deputies at the moment) enables Warsaw to lobby its positions on the EU Parliament level. In this context rather significant is the Polish-Swedish “Eastern Partnership” initiative, which allows Poland both, to support processes of Euro-integration of the former soviet countries (Ukraine included), and to advance its own interests in the eastern direction.

Very important for Poland and the European Union in general was Poland’s heading in the EU in the second part of 2011. In this plan, within the framework of the general 18 month program, adopted by the governments of Poland, Denmark and the Republic of Cyprus, the main efforts of the Polish side were concentrated at promoting economic development of the EU (small and middle size business activity included), strengthening the Common foreign and security policy of the EU(activation of the policy of the EU’ s expansion included), increasing the defense potential of the EU (first of all increasing the capabilities of fighting tactic groups), and ensuring the European energy security. With the mentioned achievements of Poland as the background, most of arguments of the antagonists of Poland’s membership in the EU (possibility of mass bankruptcy of national businesses due to flow of more competitive foreign goods, especially in agricultural sector; outflow of Polish citizens to work abroad; large scale buying of land plots in the country by foreigners) either did not come true or had a very slight effect.

As to the negative consequences for Poland of her membership in the EU, we may mention here quoting of the access to the European market of certain types of Polish goods, which caused a number of misunderstandings between Warsaw and Brussels. Euro-commission also made Poland’s government admit its bankruptcy and sell the shipyards in Gdynia and Szczecin. Of course, negative consequences of the world finance-economic crisis did not go around Poland, having caused problems in its economy.

But Poland managed to have kept positive dynamics of its economic development (at the level of 1.5 % in 2011), which is higher than the indexes in most of other EU countries. The reason for it is the well thought out economic and finance policy of Poland’s government over the latest years, a considerable support of small and middle-size businesses in the country’s economy, stability of the financial system, as well as tight economic relations with Germany - one of the most developed and stable countries of the EU.

Poland does have some political problems, caused by contradictions between different political forces struggling for power in the country, which sometimes lead to loud political scandals. The latest one of such scandals took place in October - November of 2012 and was connected with the activation of the activity of the oppositional forces of Poland, aiming at undermining the authority and weakening the positions of the current government with Donald Tuskat the head and the ruling “Social Platform” party through another sharpening of the question of the circumstances of the air-crash of the Polish aircraft TU-154 in April of 2010, in which the ex-president of Poland Lech Kaczyński and a number of other high rank state and military governors of the country died.

But the mentioned above problems do not go beyond the limits of ordinary political processes which take place in other European countries and their influence on the development of the Polish state is not radical.

The mentioned above situation is used by Poland’s authorities as a “visiting card” of a stable, thriving, economically strong country in order to attract foreign investments and to strengthen Poland’s image in Europe and in the world.

The contributory conditions for ensuring Poland’s security and its joining the EU were created by its joining NATO in 1999. Geographical neighborhood with Russia and the latter’s neo-empire policy determined the course of Poland to NATO as a guarantee of its national security.

Polish contingent
in "Iraqi Freedom" Operation

Polish contingent in Operation  Iraq's  Freedom

Thus, having become a member of NATO, as of the most effective military-political organization, Poland provided its security and shattered all hopes of Russia to return Poland into its geopolitical space. As a matter of fact, since joining NATO the Polish Army has gained principally new opportunities - it has established the western standards and got new equipment, which increased the abilities of its actions in a wide specter of fighting tasks. The active participation of the Polish military contingent in the "Iraq's Freedom" operation together with other NATO countries, testifies to this. At the present moment Polish troops are taking part in the operation of NATO in Afghanistan.

The SAM MIM-104 Patriot

SAM Patriot

Poland’s membership in NATO gave also a new impulse to the development of the Polish defense industry complex, which got the access to modern western technologies. Dislocation at the Polish territory (so far on the rotation base) of the American "Patriot" surface-to-air missile (SAM) Complex and the USA Air Forces subunit consisting of sixteen fighting aircrafts F-16 and four military transport aircrafts C-130 with the military personnel, also increases Poland’s defense capability. By 2018 they plan to have dislocated at the Polish territory also American anti-missile complexes SM-3 Block2 in the framework of establishing USA/NATO’sMissile Defense — (MD) in Europe.

For more than ten years now Poland’s membership in NATO has been supported by the greater majority of its population. In particular, according to the Centre for Public Opinion Research (Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (CBOS) at the beginning of 2012, the country’s membership in NATO is supported by 90% of the Polish. For the comparison - in 2007 it was supported by 78%, while in 1996 - by not more than 50-60 %.

Plans to deploy missile defense in Europe

Plans to deploy missile defense in Europe

Relying on its achieved success, Poland is making gradual efforts for strengthening its role and authority in NATO. In particular, apart from stationing the US subunits and hosting NATO’s military trainings at its territory, Poland is taking an active part in NATO's planning and working out the ways of its development. Besides, very important is the participation of the Polish AF in patrolling the airspace of the Baltic countries. Within the framework of a new conception of NATO “Intelligent Defense”, alongside with participation in military operations and work of multinational headquarters, Poland is playing a special role in the realization of logistic projects of supplying the NATO’s troops and communication and automation control systems specialists.

Participating in the EU and NATO, the official Poland also is making efforts to strengthen its role of an active regional player. The instruments for this, apart from the "Eastern Partnership" project, is the "Visegrád Group"(Poland, Slovakia, Czech and Hungary), within the framework of which the countries of the region work out their common positions in political and economic questions, in energy security and military-technological cooperation.

Quite actively, consistently and purposefully Warsaw cooperates with Paris and Berlin within the framework of “Weimar Triangle”, advancing its own ambitions concerning its leading roles in the EU and the Eastern Europe region.

So it is a matter of fact that the most driving factor which gave the domestic policy and economic transformation of Poland a push over the last two decades was its joining the EU and NATO, and also its wish to strengthen its role in those organizations and in the Central-Eastern Europe. Poland’s further ambitious plans are its gaining the right to enter the “Group of Twenty” of the most developed countries of the world (G 20) and securing its role of an influential regional leader. At this the declared by Poland plans do not interfere with the pragmatic development of its relations with the Russian Federation, which are deepening despite all the historic and modern problems in the relations between the two countries.