EU Forum

EU Integration

The Polish perspective

12 Sep 2016 - 13:11
Source: Kamil Porembinski / Flickr

Poland considers the implementation of the Association Agreement as an important strategic goal.

Adam Balcer is Project Manager EURASIA at the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies (WISE).

Poland considers the implementation of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine as one of the most strategic goals in its foreign policy agenda. This perception stems from the fact that Poland is the EU member state which possesses the most developed and comprehensive bilateral relations with Ukraine.   

An important partner

The future of Ukraine, a direct neighbor with almost 550 km common border is of crucial importance for Poland. The success of its modernization can provide Poland with an important engine of economic growth. On the other hand, its failure particularly under the pressure of Russia constitutes the most serious challenge to Poland’s security. Within the EU Poland is definitely the main advocate of Ukraine's accession. This idea enjoys also support of the majority of Poles. Poland perceives the AA as the best available EU instrument to influence the developments in Ukraine and anchor the reforms or counter negative trends.

Poland has been the most important EU partner of Kyiv on the international scene since Ukraine’s independence. However, the intensity of bilateral diplomatic contacts with Ukraine increased substantially after the Revolution of Dignity. In 2015 President Poroshenko visited Poland three times (including one visit in December 2014). On the other hand, Polish Presidents visited Ukraine four times and Polish Prime Minster two times in 2015.


After Germany, Poland is also the most important EU economic partner of Ukraine. Poland is the fourth largest trading partner. The share of Poland in Ukrainian trade volume exceeds 5,5 percent. Poland ranks eighth in Ukraine's FDI stocks originating from the EU (excluding Cyprus). Two percent of all foreign direct investment in Ukraine originates from Poland. However, taking into consideration reinvested Ukrainian capital and Polish companies investing in Ukraine through third countries the share of Poland is in reality substantially larger.  Seasonal and permanent labor from Ukraine plays a key role for a range of sectors from agriculture to care and domestic services in Poland, with some 400,000 work permits issued in the first half of 2015 alone.


Poland and Ukraine share a complicated common history. Ukraine has long had a strong presence in Polish political and social awareness, whether in historical narratives and identities, people-to-people contacts or civil society cooperation; much the same can be said about the presence of Poland in Ukraine. The extent, to which a shared, and more often than not tragic, history and geography binds Ukraine and Poland together is probably best reflected in the various layers of people-to-people ties among two countries.

One of these consists of historical minorities, with Ukrainian minority of 50,000 people in Poland, according to the last census. In turn, a 2001 census in Ukraine found a Polish minority numbering nearly 150,000. Both countries claim that the number of their co-nationals is substantially higher. A next layer constitutes hundreds of thousands of Poles and Ukrainians and their descendants who experienced forced exchange of population between both countries after the Second World War.

Gate to Europe

Generally, Poland has become definitely the gate to Europe for millions of Ukrainians. In 2014 Ukrainians visited 7.6 million times Poland. The trip to Poland accounted for almost 35 percent of all visits abroad undertaken by Ukrainians in 2014. As a consequence, Poland has become the first destination for Ukrainians traveling abroad. On the other hand, Poles are the EU nation visiting Ukraine the most frequently. In 2014 1.1 million visits were undertaken by Poles. These trips accounted for 10 percent of the total crossings of the Ukrainian border made by foreigners.

Poland has also recently gained a status of the most attractive destination for Ukrainian students going abroad to study. In the academic year 2014/2015 more than 23 thousand students from Ukraine were enrolled in Polish universities. Since 2010 their number has increased almost five times. This impressive rise derives from the fact that Ukraine occupies the first place in the promotion of Polish culture abroad (for instance, language courses).

Development aid

After the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine gained the status of the top destination for the bilateral Polish Official Development Assistance (ODA). Between 2004 and 2014 Ukraine received more than 10 percent of bilateral Polish development aid. In that period Ukraine occupied in this period the fourth position on the list of recipients of the Polish bilateral ODA. By default, Poland contributed also substantially to the Revolution of Dignity by supporting democracy promotion programs. Indeed, in a 2013 survey conducted among Ukrainian civic and political elites, they ranked Poland as the second most active democracy promoter in Ukraine after the United States; among ordinary Ukrainians, Poland was ranked as the most active promoter.

After the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine gained the status of the top destination for the bilateral Polish ODA. According to the preliminary data the total Polish bilateral ODA increased dramatically between 2014 and 2015 from 83 million USD to 283 million USD.  A huge part of this amount was allocated to Ukraine mostly within the framework of a loan with favorable terms, worth of around 110 million USD. In 2014 Poland ranked the seventh on the list of donors of the bilateral ODA to Ukraine.


Most probably it advanced on this list considerably in 2015 due to the above mentioned increase of the bilateral ODA allocated to Ukraine. As a consequence, Poland succeeded in winning a widespread sympathy of Ukrainians.  Indeed, a very good image constitutes the biggest asset of Poland in Ukraine. In a recent opinion poll, Poland has gained the highest score of all of Ukraine’s neighbors and international partners. Almost 60 percent of the citizens express positive feelings for Poland and just 5 percent negative.

Summing up, a possible rejection of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in the referendum which is going to be held at the beginning of April in the Netherlands would be a disaster for Poland. It would bring a huge blow to the Polish efforts for the approximation between Ukraine and the EU. Furthermore, it would also gravely undermine Poland’s position in Ukraine because generally the EU integration process serves as a key lynchpin of Polish influence in the country. 

Adam Balcer is Project Manager EURASIA at the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies (WISE).