Oleg Onopko
Expert on Eastern Europe at Europe Insight

Pitfalls of good intentions

Why issuance of residence permits to all Ukrainians in Poland is a bad idea

According to a prognosis by the Central Statistical Office of Poland, the country’s population will decrease from 38 to 34 million by 2050. The Polish Entrepreneurs and Employers Association, concerned about the potential socio-economic  effects of these demographic changes, proposed issuing residency permits to all Ukrainians located in the country. However, this proposal does not take into account a whole range of negative consequences.

For example, Polish citizens in labour spheres where a high level of qualification is not needed (unskilled construction workers, cleaners, utility workers, porters, street vendors) will suffer if such a step is taken. The Ukrainians will become a dangerous competitor for them – dumping, meek, willing to do any kind of work in any condition.

It is more significant that Polish society as a whole loses out. In particular, this has to do with the attitude Ukrainians have towards corruption, which could easily be brought into Poland. According to Transparency International, Ukraine occupies 130nd place in the Corruption Perceptions Index and is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

Based on research being conducted by UNITER since 2007, the level of corruption has been growing steadily and the Revolution of Dignity didn’t reduce it. 49.7% of Ukrainians consider corruption acceptable. But the majority of them are convinced that the main responsibility for the struggle against corruption lies not with themselves but with the head of state.

The political dimension of the consequences of a mass issuance of residence permits deserves special attention. Right now Ukrainians working in Poland cannot take part in elections, but with a residence permit they will obtain the right to remain in the country with their families. And then their children – and we are potentially talking about  several dozens of thousands of families – will receive the right to vote and be elected by 2050.

However, it is not just that such a large number of people will be capable of decisively affecting election results at a national level. It is also about the possibility of a powerful ethnic party emerging, which – taking into account all of the historical tensions between Ukraine and Poland, including over territory and property – will become a totally unpredictable political force.

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