“If you want to see Ukraine as a member of the EU, start with your own side of the borders. For us, the border is the face of Europe, which in this case is, unfortunately, rather repulsive”, said one person in the audience during a serious discussion on Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. You might think what borders and big politics have in common. Well, some would say that it is all about technical aspects, boring regulations and contraband… Yet it turns out there is more than technical issues – only one small step and we are in the world of big words and ideas.
Polish politicians may continue convincing us how important the Polish-Ukrainian relations are and how much they want Ukraine to be in the EU as its membership is in our interest. However, if someone has to stand hours in the border queues in order to enter this very friendly Poland, the message sounds clear: “We do not want you here”. All that talk on big ideas, good neighborly relations and geopolitics can be thrown out of the window. Any cooperation, any Polish-Ukrainian initiative (as well as Belarusian-Polish and Polish-Russian ones) has to overcome a physically existing border. It is a constant source of problems, even though – in recent years – the situation has changed for the better.
Changes for the better… for a while
Any improvements of how the border functions is something more than just an administrative action. A number of new solutions were introduced before Euro-2012. The simplification of procedures was focused primarily on fans, but those who frequently cross the border for business or study purposes – or simply inhabitants of the border zones – also benefited from the changes. As the Polish side stated, the idea had been simple – due to Euro-2012 the organizers had searched for the best practices available, and applied them wherever it was only possible – green corridors (special channels for those who have nothing to declare) at border check-points, a system of pre-informing about larger organized groups crossings the border, and improved information checkpoint service,. In addition, they introduced the possibility of virtual crossing. But what was most important, customs of was performed at one place, ie Ukrainian border guards were working right next to the Polish ones on the Polish side of the border crossing.
“As for me, we could work like that every day”, said Polish officers when they were asked to evaluate the border service during the Euro. Their Ukrainian colleagues agreed: “The one-stop border was our success”. Staff on both sides of the border assessed the possibility of closer cooperation positively. “We learnt from each other. Most importantly, the travelers were happy. Everything went much faster”, said customs officers. But answering the question what remained after the event ended, I received mostly negative responses. “Everything is back as it was before Euro 2012″, claim Polish and Ukrainian border guards.
“I wish we could implement all our findings again”, said Andrij Todoshchuk from Lviv Custom service. “We had been preparing for several years. We had an ambitious goal which we achieved. And now we do not even have a long-term cooperation plan with Poles. Time is running out and we will just forget how to collaborate on the border and how to benefit from such a cooperation – our staff and travelers alike”. And I admit that he was right. The Stefan Batory Foundation survey showed that not only guards positively viewed the whole new mechanism of a one-stop border. Travelers who crossed the border during the Euro were also happy with the solution. Nearly 80% of them were satisfied with the changes and stated that such an approach could reduce the time of crossing the border, cut queues, and in addition motivate border guards to perform better. Although the cooperation – taking into account the existing EU legislation – concerned only the Polish and Ukrainian border guards working next to each other (it was not the joint Polish-Ukrainian control and supervision, but two different control points at the same place), still it was a step in the right direction.
Soon the European Parliament will vote on amendments to the Schengen Borders Code and, among others, there is one that allows performing custom examination just once and on the territory of the neighboring state. Today it is only possible on the side of the Schengen countries, but on the border the parity principle is extremely important. Two new border crossing points, which will appear on the Polish-Ukrainian border in the next few months in Budomierz and Dolgobychev, are fully prepared for a one-stop registration. The head of the Border Department Piotr Patla in a recent discussion with the Batory Foundation claimed that it is possible to use existing crossings points and arrange registration for visitors going to Poland on the Polish side and for those who are travelling in the opposite direction – on the Ukrainian side. Another positive example of cooperation are joint Polish-Ukrainian border patrols. There should be more such groups on access roads to crossing points as it can also be a way of countering the corruption in the queues and near the border. It may be a good idea to use a system of pre-informing about buses that travel between our cities. On the Warsaw-Lviv route buses are always late, because you never know how much time the border control will take – two hour or perhaps six.
The Euro 2012 has shown that the border service could be better. Many of the then implemented solutions could be kept also after the event. However, the good will and the participation of many institutions, regional as well as central, are still required: in particular the Provincial Office, responsible for the infrastructure of transitions, General Directorate of National Roads and Motorways, responsible for access roads (frequently the “trouble spot”), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coordinating relations with our neighbors, and, finally, Ministry of Internal Affairs and border services themselves. These is a long list of institutions on the Polish side and our neighbours have a similar one.
We know what direction we should take: the cooperation on the Polish-German border (before Poland’s accession to the EU and the Schengen area), which also was burdened with stereotypes on both sides and problems specific to the border that separates the two worlds, gave us a good example to follow. Today Poland and its eastern neighbors are connected in more than 30 checkpoints, and it is twice more than twenty years ago. For comparison, the number of our southern border crossings at the same time is eight times bigger. In 2007, when we entered into the Schengen zone, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia had nearly 170 checkpoints. We still have a lot of to do.
You can find the full report (in Polish) HERE.
The original version was published on the New Eastern Europe website (in Polish).
Read also (in Polish): How to Improve Polish-Ukrainian Border?
Translated by MA