Michal Boni, photo by The "Open Ukraine" Foundation
Michal Boni is a European Parliament member from Poland and a member of the informal Friends of Ukraine group in the EP. He was also a Minister of Labor and Social Justice and later a Minister of Administration and Digitization in Poland.
Is Putin back in the game, how does Europe see Ukraine’s reforms and what can Ukrainians do after the war in Donbas is no longer on the frontpages – Mr Boni gave answers to these questions to Euromaidan Press during his recent visit to Kyiv at an open discussion club at the “Open Ukraine” Foundation.
President Juncker’s letter to the Kremlin has sent a worrisome signal to Ukrainians. Is Putin back in the game?
Juncker didn’t have a mandate for such a letter. He raised a lot of controversy against himself. Mistakes happen in politics. I appreciate Juncker’s leadership in many things, but I think in this case it was very poorly done. Such signals can’t be given.
Though, it’s not his letter that counts, but the decision of the European Council regarding continuation of the sanctions against Russia. This will be decided in a few days, on December the 10th, and this will be the test.
Russian dealings and influence are very strong, there is still a problem with Nord Stream II, this game will go on. We can only oppose if we are aware of what Putin’s Russia is.
Some people say we need to develop cooperation with Putin, and Russia, and they say Putin is a leftist leader. He is not a leftist leader. He is like Mussolini, extreme right. And I think that this is important for all of us to speak publically and convince our colleagues.
Yet, as the rhetoric against Putin gets softer, Ukrainians start losing belief in support of the West.
The West keeps supporting Ukraine. But limits of this support lie at the point where European citizens are not ready to say they are accepting a real battle and real war with Russia.
In the year of 2015, global challenges such as refugee crisis and terrorism resulted in Ukraine no longer being able to stay on the front pages. That’s why Western politicians who deal with Ukrainian issues need to make even more efforts. Any improvements inside Ukraine will make our job easier.
Is there an understanding in Europe that Ukraine’s reforms are being performed during the war?
I think yes, even though the pressure from NATO for faster reforms is much bigger now.
On one hand, we want to push on the EU for implementing visa liberalization with Ukraine because such a sign of “Europeanness” is important for the citizens. On the other hand, we will keep an eye on the reforms so that they aren’t implemented only superficially.
This is too important for Europe not only because “we love Ukraine,” but also due to security. We aren’t coming to you with the message: “We are great, take whatever you want.” Europe needs good allies in the Eastern Partnership for peace and development, .
Ukraine spends much more energy on political battles rather than on fighting corruption or reforms. How big is the frustration of the West?
When we see Ukrainian internal issues, we want to say: deal with them yourself. Europe is aware of issues with reforming and corruption, that’s why we give the general signals. But EU isn’t there to solve the issues of each country, we can only point out what needs to be done.
For example, the recommendations of the Venice Commission, European Commission, and European External Action Service deal mainly with corruption issues.
Now Ukraine has a chance to fulfill those recommendations. It’s not only about the law, but also about implementation, whether the institutions created to defeat corruption will have enough power and independence. If Ukraine fails, it will not only lose its image, but also some very particular solutions.
Ukraine is used on counting on Poland’s support, but it looks like in the nearest future Warsaw will be busy with internal issues.
I come to Ukraine and see the European flag along with Ukrainian one. What a surprise it was to me 10 days ago that the Polish government decided to remove the flag of the EU. What for? National identity does not need to be built by this kind of instruments. We don’t need an anti-European position and anti-European attitude.
During last two weeks there have been many problems related to the functioning of democracy, and the attack on the democratically functioning institutions in Poland – the Constitutional Court, for example. So I’m afraid that we will have many internal problems.
But when I’m talking with my colleagues from the Law and Justice party, we think in the same way about Ukrainian and Polish relations. Polish support to Ukraine won’t change.
Two years ago Ukrainians made a move towards Europe, and now we watch as Europe raises its internal borders and Eurosceptical parties gain support. How dangerous is this process?
If we destroy the European Union – let’s say, we have a weaker Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom – we will have the US, China, Asian countries, Japan, Latin America, which is waking up, and Africa, which will in 10 years will be the Asia of 10-15 years ago.
Africa will be the place for development in 10 years. The penetration of internet there now is 25-26%, but they are starting to build the banking system only using mobile solutions. So after some years they will be much more advanced in e-governance, probably more than our countries if we will not be open and ready.
This is global competition. Who cares about Poland, Ukraine, Greece? So to be part of the European Union is the only opportunity for us to be stronger.