10th Europe – Ukraine Forum
Rzeszów, January 27-28, 2017
Opportunities Not To Be Missed
The 10th Europe-Ukraine Forum, accompanied by the 1st Eastern Fair, brought together close to 900 delegates from 25 countries, who attended more than 40 events, including debates, lectures, and presentations by experts and Ukrainian regions. The leading theme of this year’s meeting was “Opportunities Not To Be Missed”. Among the 900 participants who gathered in Rzeszów on 27-28 January were government officials, MPs, EU decision-makers, businessmen and experts from Ukraine, Poland, the EU and the United States. More than 60 journalists from Poland, Germany, France, Ukraine, Italy and Spain ensured the event’s media coverage.
“The pro-Western orientation of Ukraine is in the interest of Central and Eastern Europe countries. We have to respect Ukraine’s decisions in the geopolitical sense,” said Krzysztof Szczerski, Minister in Chancellery of the President of Republic of Poland. “The West should help Ukraine to build a state,” he added.
"Everything we do for Ukraine, we do in fact for ourselves. Today, I am even more convinced of that than three years ago during the second Maidan," Rebecca Harms, a German MEP, said during the plenary session “How Can the International Community Help Ukraine?” She also expressed her admiration for Ukraine which, despite the armed conflict, tries to introduce political and economic changes.
Karel Schwarzenberg, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, assured that Czechs have great sympathy for Ukrainians, among others, for their presence on the Czech labour market. He emphasized that despite minor differences in the Visegrad Group, the common position is clear – Ukraine needs support and we cannot disappoint it. “It's not just a matter of honour and decency, but also pragmatism,” Schwarzenberg said.
Borys Tarasyuk, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, talked about Ukraine’s unabated enthusiasm for European integration. Nevertheless, he observed, the European Union itself not always adequately reciprocates Kiev’s aspirations. “Ukraine, of course, gave the reasons for this. We lack what the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, received: confirmation from Brussels: yes, we see you as a member of the European Union. We have never received such an assurance from Europe,” regretted Borys Tarasyuk.
Władysław Ortyl, Marshal of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship, said that we cannot look for excuses in the European Union, but we have to work by ourselves to ensure that Ukraine will be part of Europe.
Speaking on "The Role of NATO’s Eastern Flank in Building Regional Partnership," Tomasz Szatkowski, Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of National Defence of Poland, pointed out the activities of the Polish government, which – together with partners from other countries – regularly provides military assistance to Ukraine, e.g. trainings organised both in Poland and Ukraine.
According to Vytautas Umbrasas, Deputy Minister of National Defence of Lithuania, discussion on the eastern flank takes place at a crucial moment: amid the Russian aggression in Ukraine and Russia’s calling into question the credibility of NATO.
According to Margareta Cederfelt, a Swedish Member of Parliament, conflict prevention and conflict resolution should be based primarily on trust between people and countries. This should be the purpose of talks and negotiations conducted in a constructive and goal-oriented dialogue.
The second day of the anniversary 10th Europe-Ukraine Forum in Rzeszów ended with a plenary session “Sovereignty, Democracy, Development: How Central and Eastern Europe Has Changed over the Past 25 Years”.
Victor Dolidze, Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Georgia, was talking about the challenging 25 years of Georgia’s sovereignty. He noted that despite the mistakes and blunders, Georgia is on the right track of changes and wants to continue reforms. However, it needs support of the EU community.
Andrius Kubilius, the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, argued that all countries that came to existence after the fall of the USSR should get guarantees on their future accession to the EU. We need to remember that formal sovereignty does not always imply escaping the former empire’s zone of influence. This is evidenced by the situation in Ukraine, as well as Georgia.
Gordana Comic, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, spoke about the democratic experience of Serbia. She noted that the recent economic crisis, which hit Central and Eastern Europe, undermined confidence in state institutions. This, in turn, created room for populism and radical groups. “We cannot agree to it. It only depends on Europe if it wants to become the world change leader,” concluded the Serbian politician.
According to Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, we must – at all costs – defend the fundamental values upon which the entire European Union is built. "These values must not be the subject to any political trade. The decision about turning to Europe has cost Ukraine many lives. We want our partners in the EU to understand how important these issues are for us. We must act in a more consolidated way, without applying double standards," he said.
During the panel "A Challenge for Europe, a Task for Ukraine. Reforms in Ukraine – In Search of a Breakthrough," Dmytro Shymkiv, Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, referred to the anti-corruption policy in Ukraine, which he considers as the most important step towards European integration. "At this moment in Ukraine, people are arrested on corruption charges every day and officials are obliged to submit digital property declarations," he stressed.
Peter Wagner, Chairman of the Support Group for Ukraine at the European Commission, pointed out that for the first time in the history reforms in Ukraine are pursued consistently, regardless of government reshuffles. "This is something that strengthens the European Commission's intention to support the long-term projects of Kiev" Wagner said.
“The 10th Europe-Ukraine Forum is a platform that enables politicians from Europe and other countries, as well as representatives of business and international organisations to ponder on how to encourage foreign investors to invest in Ukraine, what are the prospects for the development of European business in Ukraine and Ukraine’s exports to EU countries,” stressed Natalia Mykolska, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine.
Krzysztof Gawkowski, Vice-President of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), drew attention to political solutions facilitating trade between Poland and Ukraine. "The trade balance of Ukraine is negative, because the country sells less than it buys. It is necessary to think about how to change it. There is no simple political recipe; it is not enough to seal the borders," he said.
Participants of the Forum have repeatedly stresses that Poland and Ukraine share interest in cooperation. Olga Trofimtseva, Deputy Minister of Agricultural Policy and Food of Ukraine, sees the chances for concrete projects in the field of cooperation between Poland and Ukraine in the agricultural sector.
Speaking on “The New Silk Road – Opportunities for Central Europe and Ukraine,” Viktor Dovhan, Deputy Minister for European Integration of Ukraine, said that in his opinion Russia might block the building of the new Silk Road for economic reasons. Mr Dovhan mentioned also that we should not be afraid of building a trail which will connect not only economies but also nations.
According to Kateryna Boguslavska, expert from the Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, one of the key problems of the Ukrainian economy is lack of interest in privatisation. She added that part of businesses are controlled by the oligarchs and some of them are connected with Victor Yanukovych’s camp’s. “Currently, however, the influence of the oligarchs is being gradually reduced. It is also thanks to the journalist investigations,” Boguslavska added.
Paweł Samecki, Member of the Board of the National Bank of Poland, underlined that the international financial institutions will keep supporting Ukraine, provided that the structural reforms are continued. “What is crucial is the further fiscal reform, improving the effectiveness of customs, tax execution and fight against corruption”, Samecki said.
One of the topics discussed during the Forum was an ongoing information war in the media and on the Internet. Andreas Umland, an expert representing the Ukrainian Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, claimed that the Russian propaganda is closely linked to the Russian political culture. Ii is based on a strong conviction that it is conflict that drives civilisation. “This attitude poses a serious threat because Russia is a nuclear power – and we have to face this threat”, Umland said.
Another panel that enjoyed popularity with the Forum’s participants was “Decommunisation and Lustration in Ukraine. Can Ukraine Benefit From the Experience of Poland and Other Post-Communist Countries?”, with participation of Jaroslaw Szarek, President of the Polish Institute for National Remembrance, and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Viatrovych. “You have to convince people that communism was bad”, Mr Szarek stressed, insisting of the regime’s criminal nature. For his part, Volodymyr Viatrovych noted that the decommunisation, coming to terms with the communist past, remains a pressing issue in Ukraine. In Europe, this process was completed already in the 1990s, but not in Ukraine. The Decommunisation Law involved banning all symbols and names referring to communism or Nazism, with more 900 towns and 51 thousand streets having been renamed in 2015.
As every year, the Forum was a venue for presentation of an annual report on the situation in Ukraine, developed by an influential and internationally renowned think tank – The Razumkov Centre for Economic and Political Studies.
The most important event accompanying the 10th Forum Europe-Ukraine was the first Eastern Fair, which was attended by nearly 70 exhibitors from Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Hungary, who represented different sectors of production, new technologies, food processing and tourism. The award for the best booth was given to the Arłamów Hotel. Distinguished were also the Polish town of Strzyżów, as well as the Lviv Regional State Administration and the town of Truskavets in Ukraine.
The 10th Europe-Ukraine Forum was co-organised by the Institute for Eastern Studies (host of the Economic Forum in Krynica) and the Podkarpackie Region.