Recently in Poland Category

Polish-Ukraine Schengen Travel Troubles

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You may remember my post in late December regarding the inclusion of Poland and many other Eastern European countries in the “Schengen” free travel zone. Several days ago, a friend sent me an article discussing troubles along the Poland-Ukraine border - a reflection that Schengen does not always represent “free travel.”

Prior to December 21, 2007, people were able to travel visa-free between Poland and Ukraine, needing only their passports. Now, they can leave their passports at home, but must possess Schengen travel visas.

In response to these Schengen restrictions, Ukrainians have staged protests at the border against what they see as the new Berlin Wall. Some even feel as though they are being treated like third-class Europeans.

Another Schengen-related problem is a wave of strikes by Polish customs agents, who deserted their posts because of increased responsibilities and low pay. They demanded monthly pay increases of 415 euros, almost double the previous average salary.

Ukraine is trying to work with Poland on a visa-free travel agreement for Ukrainians living within 50 kilometers of the border. Poland insists the arrangement should be limited to a 15-kilometer zone.

In the wake of this change, Ukrainian visa fees have risen to 35 euros. This is troublesome to Ukrainian citizens, whose average monthly salary is 226 euros. These new visa restrictions have also caused a rise in corruption, in the form of bribes for expedited documents at the Polish consulate in Lviv.

The new rules also affect the transport of goods. Approximately 80% of Ukraine’s EU exports go through Polish border posts, and truck drivers must have their visas up-to-date. This could become a larger problem when Ukraine becomes a World Trade Organization (WTO) member and their export volumes increase.

So much for “free” travel zones. It is hard to believe that Poland would void an existing agreement with Ukraine to enforce the “letter of the law” of the Schengen agreement. I’ll bet no one saw these difficulties coming when considering Schengen participation. What a mess!

Polish Election Fallout

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Poland held a Parliamentary election on October 21, 2007. In a surprising result, the opposition Civic Platform Party scored a huge victory over the incumbent Law and Justice Party. Civic Platform received 41.5% of the vote, while Law and Justice received only 32.1%.

While winning the election, Civic Platform did not win enough seats to form a majority government. Apparently, an agreement has been reached to form a majority coalition with the Polish Peasants’ Party.

Today, as a result of the election, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of President Lech Kaczynski, submitted his (and his Cabinet’s) resignation to the President . The Cabinet has agreed to continue their work until the new government is sworn in.