Following in Poland’s EU footsteps raises problems for Turkey May 18, 2010Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Poland, Turkey.
Tags: EU, Poland, Turkey
EU: A sign on the Polish side of the Polish-Belarus border at Kuznicy.
Polish people often tell visiting Turkish delegations a story that they are taught in history classes, a tale that serves as the historical bedrock on which Poles today base their support for Turkey’s European Union accession.
When Poland lost sovereignty in the late 18th century to Austria, Prussia and Russia, the story goes, Ottoman officials continued to include the Polish ambassador in their roll call at diplomatic gatherings. The symbolic gesture was largely a sleight toward Russia, with which the Ottoman Empire had uneasy relations.
Turkey and Poland have many commonalities that may shed light on Turkey’s EU accession process. Poland has a large population, roughly 38 million to Turkey’s 72 million. Like in Turkey, its eastern provinces are very underdeveloped and unemployment runs high.
Given these similarities, it is unclear to many in Poland why Turkey has not managed to progress on the path to joining the European Union. Some of the deputy editors of Gazete Wyborca, a prestigious domestic paper with the highest circulation among non-tabloid newspapers, told a visiting delegation of Turkish journalists last week that they believe Turkey will join the bloc.
Grzegorz Cydejko, who works for Forbes Poland and is the head of the Warsaw Chapter of the Polish Journalists Association, said he sees Turkey’s human-rights issues and still-developing democratic institutions as the main barriers to EU membership.
Adam Balcer, a senior fellow at demosEUROPA and project leader of the EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Project, said he believes the issue is about religion. “The thing that separates [Turkey and Poland] is religion,” said Balcer. “Whatever Turkey does, a group of people will always say no to Turkey.”
Generous aid from EU
Poland is currently the largest recipient of EU aid for member states. During the period from 2007 to 2013, it will receive more than 67 billion euros in development funds. EU project banners can be seen everywhere in the country, signaling new construction and restoration projects, particularly in the poor Podlaskie, Lubelskie and Podkarpackie provinces.
In Podlaskie, EU funds have significantly helped develop infrastructure, according to provincial secretary Andrezej Kurpiewski.
“Infrastructure has completely changed,” said Kurpiewski. “We used to go to Warsaw for shopping. Now people from Warsaw are coming here.”
In addition to expanding and improving roads, EU funds are helping the region develop universities, techno-parks and research institutions. The funds also help foster tourism in this verdant region with four national parks.
EU membership has also had negative effects, however. Poland effectively joined the Schengen Area, comprised of 25 countries that operate virtually under a single border, in December 2007. This required stricter border controls that have taken their toll on tourism to the eastern provinces by Belarussian, Russian and Ukrainian nationals – and raised questions about how EU membership might impact Turkey’s ties with its neighbors
Turkey shares borders with five countries that are not members of the European Union and has no visa requirements for visitors coming from Syria and Iraq. Future attempts to comply with EU border and security requirements may thus force a recalibration of Turkey’s foreign policy.
Fight against smuggling
The Polish-Belarussian border crossing at Kuznicy is “the most contemporary border in Poland,” according to Major Anatol Kalinowski, deputy head of the border crossing. A total of 43 million euros went into developing the monitored area, which expanded from covering two to 19 hectares after Poland joined the European Union.
“Before that, we just had a couple of fences,” said Maciej Czarnecki, a spokesman for the Regional Customs Office in Bialystok.
Problems still arise at the borders of poorer, less-developed nations, with smuggling, especially of cigarettes, and human trafficking among the most problematic issues.
“In 2009, Poland seized 29 million cigarettes from the [Belarussian] border,” Maciej said. Every truck that goes across the border is X-rayed, and some are randomly subjected to a machine that tests if there is a heartbeat on board. “They put people like ants into the corners of the trucks,” Maciej added.
Poland’s experience poses a serious question to Turkey: What logistical challenges would arise if Turkey had to patrol the EU’s border with Iraq, Iran and Syria?
Poland faces an even larger problem in its own population emigrating to Western Europe. Many Polish laborers, generally unskilled, work in Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland. According to Izabela Grabowska-Lusinka, the head of the research unit of the Center of Migration Research, many people with good degrees left Poland thinking there were no opportunities at home. Others left because they did not have adequate English skills to operate in their fields. Many of these people started working as unskilled laborers in the West; if they returned to Poland, they could not work in the sectors for which they were trained.
The problem of emigration after EU accession was, however, exaggerated by the Polish media, Grabowska-Lusinka added: “There was a lot of scare-mongering scenarios that Poland would experience a kind of brain drain.”
Many Poles who were working abroad in the U.K. and Ireland came back after the global crisis severely hit those countries’ economies. Other Polish workers now travel freely back and forth with no set plan and move depending on economic opportunities. These people have become an entirely new category of workers deemed “global vagabonds.”
“There is not that much planning, recruiting and organizing for all of these things in the pre-accession period. Migration is more spontaneous,” said Grabowska-Lusinka. “Free movement of labor brought this about.”