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Disagreements over allowing Ukrainian agricultural products to be imported into the European Union have led three member states; Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia to ban these imports from entering their nations. Now the European Union is simultaneously attempting to discipline Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia while defending these same member states before the World Trade Organization. The European Union allowed a grain ban to expire on September 15th which was designed to temporarily protect Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania who argued too many cheaper food products were hurting their economies. This has led to Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia to take action on their own and to continue to ban products from Ukraine from being sold within their nations. However, these nations will continue to allow Ukrainian grain and food products to transit through their borders in order to be sold in other parts of the world.
Ukraine Brings Complaint To WTO
In order to protect itself economically, Ukraine has filed a request for WTO dispute consultations with Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. As Russia has effectively pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, Ukraine is motivated to keep other routes open for its grain and food products. WTO members received copies of the request on September 21st. Consultations allow the parties to discuss the matter and attempt to find a resolution together. If they fail to do so after 60 days, the complainant, which in this case is Ukraine, can ask for adjudication by a panel.
These nations insist that the ban is necessary in order to protect their domestic markets which have been flooded with cheaper products from Ukraine, having a negative impact on the agriculture sector of their economies. As member states of the European Union do not control international trade policy, the European Commission may find itself defending its own member states before the WTO. This is because the European Commission has the competency to not only initiate but also handle complaints before the WTO:
Simultaneously, the European Commission can launch an infringement procedure against these three member states for their unilateral actions blocking imports from Ukraine despite the Commission phasing the restrictions out itself on September 15th. This is because the European Commission has the right to protect the EU’s competency in international trade which Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are infringing on when they took it upon themselves to ban grain and some agricultural products from Ukraine.
Poland Stops Export Of Weapons To Ukraine
While Ukrainian President Zelenskyy may have been motivated to bring the case before the WTO to protect Ukraine’s ability to continue to export food products, it may make protecting itself against Russia much harder. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck announced that Poland will no longer supply weapons to Ukraine but instead focus on defending itself. Poland gave 4.27 billion euros of humanitarian, military, and financial aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion. Ukraine has depended heavily on help from other nations and it cannot afford setting off a chain reaction that results in nations following Poland’s lead and stopping their assistance to Ukraine’s defense against Russia as well.
Domino Effect and Upcoming national elections.
Besides Poland, Slovakia may be next in line to stop assisting Ukraine. Elections occurring soon in Slovakia and Poland may serve as a motivation for politicians to take this drastic measure and risk being disciplined by the European Union. Slovakia and Poland have both been hit harder by inflation than the European Union average. This could easily lead voters to take it out on the current politicians in office if they perceive the politicians not taking any actions to help mitigate the negative economic conditions citizens have been experiencing. Voters not only in these nations but around the world have become fatigued with national politicians sending financial assistance to Ukraine meanwhile domestic issues remain resolved.
Currently, Smer-SD is polling highest before the next parliamentary election at the end of this month. Smer-SD is a populist left wing party which has been very outspoken about stopping assistance to Ukraine. Smer-SD has had the most support in polls since March and has a six-point lead over Progressive Slovakia, the party currently with the second highest support. Robert Fico, the current leader of Smer-SD, not only is against providing further assistance to Ukraine, he is pro-Russian. If member states start electing pro-Russian governments, it will not only mean less or no assistance from member states, but will make it difficult for the European Union to assist Ukraine as well.
Cracks in support were already evident when Hungary held up the sixth round of sanctions. It was originally expected that the European Union could swiftly pass that round of sanctions, yet it took almost a month due to Hungary holding it up. If more member states start electing national governments that are against assisting Ukraine, this may make it difficult for President Zelenskyy to gain full control of Ukraine’s national territory.
While assisting Ukraine ward off Russia and make it clear that President Putin cannot grab land wherever he wants is a worthy cause, nations must achieve a balance. It has become evident that citizens feel domestic problems have been ignored and their politicians have become fixated on Ukraine instead. National politicians must find a balance between Ukraine and domestic problems for the sake of Europe and their own citizens in the long run. If not, this will lead to consequences in national elections and the European Parliament election, which is scheduled for next year.
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