Building Europe: Poland’s experience of joining the European Union and lessons for Ukraine
April 17, 2024

Building Europe: Poland’s experience of joining the European Union and lessons for Ukraine

Author: Dariia Andriunina

Ukraine and Poland share a rich history, cultural ties, and common challenges. In the 1990s, Ukraine and Poland both underwent transitional transformations that affected their political, economic, social, and cultural lives. Both countries faced difficulties in the reform process but had their own unique paths of development. Both countries regained their independence, which opened up new opportunities for the development of democracy and statehood. At the same time, both Ukraine and Poland witnessed the need for large-scale economic reforms to transition to a market economy. These included privatisation, deregulation, and economic liberalisation. In the 1990s, both countries expressed a desire to move closer to the European Union and take steps towards accession, which became a strategic vector of development.

At the same time, Poland implemented reforms more quickly and efficiently, which allowed it to achieve stability and economic growth faster than Ukraine. Poland has demonstrated greater political stability and consensus within society, which has contributed to a faster implementation of reforms and the attraction of foreign investment.

Although Ukraine and Poland had different development paths in the 1990s, both countries witnessed important changes in their societies and economies, which affected their further development and relations with the world.

For Poland, accession to the European Union in 2004 was an important step in its history that brought many positive changes and opportunities. In this context, Poland’s experience in joining the European Union is extremely important for Ukraine, which is now on the path to return to the European family.

In the spring of 2023, I attended a specialised training for civil servants at the College of Europe in Natolin, as part of the Natolin4Capacity Building programme, and visited European institutions in Brussels. Throughout this time, I had a unique opportunity to communicate with officials who were involved in the negotiations on Poland’s accession to the European Union, as well as to observe the other side of negotiations in Brussels, particularly during visits to Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG JUST). During the programme and my two-month stay in Poland, I finally realised that we have much more in common than we have differences, despite all the challenges that I am convinced we must face together to find a solution that is beneficial for all. Reflecting on this experience, I would like to share my impressions and thoughts on Poland’s accession model to the European Union and its relevance for Ukraine.

Poland’s accession process is one of the most significant in the history of European Union enlargement. It took place as part of the great enlargement of the European Union in 2004, when 10 new countries joined the Union. It was an important step in the process of consolidation of the European continent and contributed to the strengthening of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

Poland played a key role in this process, demonstrating great achievements in implementing reforms and readiness to meet the standards and requirements of the European Union. The country has successfully carried out a number of economic, political, and socio-cultural reforms aimed at harmonising its legislation with EU rules and improving the living standards of its population. Alongside Poland, nine other countries joined the European Union in 2004 – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta. This enlargement took place after the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty, which changed the structure of the European Union and paved the way for new members.

This enlargement has influenced the further development of the European Union, strengthened its democratic values, and made it a more united and stronger entity, ready to face common challenges and achieve common goals.

Consequently, Poland has undertaken significant legislative and institutional reform efforts to meet the standards of the European Union. This has included the adoption and implementation of a large number of laws and regulations, as well as the creation of new mechanisms to implement and monitor these reforms. At the same time, Poland conducted long and difficult negotiations with the European Union on accession conditions, achieving very favourable terms in many respects. Important issues included agreements on trade, finance, and agriculture, which had become stumbling blocks in many ways, and other areas, as well as requirements for the state apparatus and institutional changes.

At the same time, the Polish authorities were actively working to support the population in joining the European Union. This included information campaigns, debates in parliament and more.

It is also important to note that the European Union provided significant support to Poland during its preparation for accession. This included financial assistance to implement reforms, technical support in harmonising legislation and preparing infrastructure for accession. Poland also cooperated with other EU candidate countries to share experiences and coordinate their actions in relation to the European Union.

In summary, Poland has changed its legislation and institutional structure to meet the requirements of the European Union, covering all areas of life, from competition law to human rights. Poland has implemented economic reforms to meet EU standards. This included the liberalisation of trade and investment, development of the small enterprise sector, and changes in the agricultural sector, among other things. Poland partially changed its society and culture to meet European standards. This included public awareness campaigns, the development of civil society and support for interethnic dialogue. Poland improved its infrastructure to meet European Union standards. This included the development of the transport network, energy infrastructure and changes in the environmental sector.

Implementation of the accession conditions was a complex and lengthy process for Poland, but in the end, these changes brought positive results that contributed to the country’s development and integration into the European community. For Ukraine, this experience can be extremely important, as it shows how to properly prepare the country for membership in the European Union and ensure its successful development after accession.

Thus, the model of Poland’s accession to the European Union was complex and required significant efforts from the country in a large number of areas. However, the success of this process shows that with perseverance and careful preparation, it is possible to achieve accession to the European Union and implement the values and standards associated with it.

So, what can Ukraine learn from Poland’s experience in joining the European Union? In general, the Polish experience is extremely relevant to Ukraine for many reasons.

Poland carried out significant reforms to meet the standards of the European Union. Ukraine needs to carry out similar reforms in the areas of justice, anti-corruption policy, civil society and others to meet the criteria for EU membership. Importantly, joining the European Union can provide Ukraine with full access to the European market and investment. Poland has successfully taken advantage of these opportunities, which can serve as an example for Ukraine. Also, as mentioned earlier, Poland actively cooperated with the European Union during the accession process, which helped to solve many problems and prepare the country for membership. Accordingly, it is also advisable for Ukraine to expand its network of representation in the European Union in order to maintain close relations with the EU and use the experience in implementing the necessary reforms. The negotiation tactics used by Poland should also be studied in detail.

The lessons that can be learned from Poland’s experience can be extremely useful for Ukraine on its way to EU membership. It is important not only to join the European Union, but also to implement the values and standards associated with it to improve the quality of life of Ukrainian citizens.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the importance of learning from Poland’s experience for Ukraine and the need to avoid possible mistakes in the future. Poland’s experience clearly demonstrates that in order to maximise your interests and achieve favourable conditions, it is important to take into account the context and learn from the experience of other countries. I am convinced that the lessons we learn from Poland’s experience are extremely important for Ukraine.

I am convinced that Poland is our strategic partner, and together we are stronger.

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