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Polish approach to the transatlantic and European ambitions of Ukraine, North Macedonia and Moldova: a reality check of public debate

Poland has often been seen as a key supporter of EU and NATO enlargement. Having benefitted immensely from these processes itself, it has now backed enlargement to states like Ukraine, North Macedonia and Moldova. Despite this, there are certain peculiarities in its approach when it comes to each country.

March 11, 2024 - Michal Krawczyk - Articles and Commentary

Polish farmers blocking the S3 road in Sulechów, western Poalnd, in February 2024. Photo: Karol Serewis / Shutterstock

The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine shifted significantly the strategic and political landscape of Europe by accelerating political processes and changing perceptions of security issues within European societies and political circles. This also affected the processes of European and transatlantic integration, especially in the case of Ukraine, whose ambitions have been prioritized. However, it has also created positive momentum that could be utilized by countries such as North Macedonia and Moldova. This article presents an attempt to analyse the perspectives of Polish public debate surrounding the ambitions of Ukraine to join NATO and the EU, alongside those of Moldova. It will also look at views on North Macedonia’s attempts to join the EU. This investigation was developed by analysing public statements by Polish politicians, academic and expert texts, and Polish media content. This was supplemented by an analysis of the one hundred most popular Facebook posts on the subject by Polish politicians, journalists, experts and other public figures. The three cases analysed in this article could be split up into two categories. On one side, we have North Macedonia and Moldova, whose European ambitions are fully supported in Polish public debate without substantial opposition, and Ukraine, whose accession is also greatly supported in Poland but not without some open critics and opponents.

The discussions surrounding the potential accessions of Moldova, North Macedonia and Ukraine in the Polish information space are gaining momentum. Among the top posts related to the accession plans of these countries, approximately 80 per cent express a positive view while 10.5 per cent are negative. At the same time, 9.5 per cent remain neutral. These statistics provide insight into the positive sentiment prevalent in Polish public debate on the matter. It is important to note that a significant proportion of this discussion revolves around Ukraine.

Analysis reveals that the majority of the identified top content (56.77 per cent) pertains to the topic of EU enlargement, with 77 per cent conveying positive messages, 16 per cent neutral and seven per cent negative.

Regarding the topic of NATO, 83.5 per cent of top posts express positive sentiment while 15.5 per cent are negative and around one per cent neutral Although both topics generate mostly supportive content, it is observed that any potential NATO enlargement is less polarizing, possibly due to the belief that NATO expansion enhances security and stability for Poland.

Overall, general Polish sentiment regarding the European and transatlantic ambitions of Moldova, North Macedonia and Ukraine is highly supportive. This sentiment has been consistently articulated by the country’s president, prime minister, opposition leaders and experts on numerous occasions.


In June 2023 the Polish parliament adopted a resolution supporting Ukraine’s accession to NATO and to the EU. The resolution stated that “Taking into account the sacrifices of the Ukrainian people and their sovereign right to choose their own path of development, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland fully supports Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Its troops are becoming increasingly interoperable with NATO forces and gaining experience on the battlefield. From a military point of view, therefore, Ukraine’s entry into NATO will also be beneficial to the Alliance.” The resolution was a manifestation of the Polish stance for the upcoming, at that time, NATO summit in Vilnius. It was adopted by an overwhelming majority. Out of 460 MPs, only two were against and seven abstained, all of them belonging at the time to the right-wing and openly anti-Ukrainian party Konfederacja (Confederation). This resolution is a manifestation of the pro-Ukrainian views expressed by a majority of the Polish political class, especially ever since the Russian full-scale invasion. However, as the last few months have shown with the cooling of Warsaw-Kyiv relations, Polish military support or assistance to Ukrainian refugees is not unconditional, nor is full support for Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO. One of these issues is the basis of the troubled Polish-Ukrainian history, especially the unresolved issue of the Volhynian Massacre. As stated in November 2023 by Pawel Jablonski, secretary of state in the Polish foreign ministry, without resolving the issue of the exhumation of the victims of the Volyn massacre in Ukraine, Kyiv cannot dream of joining the European Union. According to him, every major conflict between Poland and Ukraine must be resolved before a potential positive decision by Warsaw. This shows that Poland’s full support for Ukraine’s transatlantic and European aspirations does not mean an automatic positive decision for Kyiv, which will have to cut a deal with Warsaw. This assessment is based on the statements made by officials of the last Polish government, which in December 2023 was replaced by a new one that has been formed by a coalition gathered around Donald Tusk. The approach of the new administration may differ or be presented in a more subtle way, but its essence should not change. The Polish political class strongly supports Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU but will demand certain concessions from Kyiv.

Less supportive when it comes to Ukraine’s accession is Polish society. According to the survey conducted by IBRIS in July 2023, almost half of those questioned (47.7 per cent) do not agree that Ukraine should already be a member of NATO. Around 40 per cent of Poles are of the opposite opinion and 12.3 per cent have no opinion on the subject. Although the survey did not ask directly about the idea of Ukraine joining NATO but about a possible fast-track accession process, it illustrates that Polish society’s approach to Kyiv’s transatlantic and European ambitions is shifting towards a more realistic stance, rather than an emotional one. This shift can be seen when these results are compared with another poll conducted eight months earlier in December 2022. Ipsos asked Poles if they are in favour of Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU. According to the results, as many as 73 per cent of Poles supported Ukraine’s entry to NATO, while 69 per cent supported Ukraine’s membership in the EU. While the current dynamic may indicate a trend of declining support among Poles for Kyiv’s western ambitions, the majority of Polish public still supports them. These clear results are connected with the Polish experience of joining both NATO and the EU, which facilitated the quick stabilization of the country and which are evaluated positively by the vast majority of Poles. Therefore, an understanding of the strategic, political and historical importance of such a decision is natural for Poles. This is coupled with an awareness of NATO’s deterrence capabilities, which in the view of Poles, if extended to Ukraine, would effectively keep the Kremlin’s aggressive policy much further from the Polish eastern border. Additionally, within the public debate, there is a belief that EU enlargement creates opportunities for bigger economies, as was the case during the 2004 enlargement, which benefitted economically countries such as Germany and the UK. Ukraine is therefore an opportunity, according to these voices, for the Polish economy and the political position of Warsaw in the EU. It is true that Ukraine entering the EU would move its centre of gravity more eastward, at the same time changing the distribution of votes in the EU Council, benefitting Warsaw. In opposition to these views, different public voices have drawn attention to the issues of the Ukrainian agriculture sector and EU fund allocation. Poland is benefitting the most from the funds coming through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Policy, which, in the case of Ukrainian accession, would be affected to a great degree. According to some calculations, Poland would become a net contributor for the first time since joining the EU in 2004. Ukraine’s agriculture is built around gigantic agriculture conglomerates, with many exceeding 500,000 hectares. These are mostly owned by oligarchs and western corporations. The prospect of competing with Ukraine’s agriculture as currently structured, which will be bolstered by subsidies from the EU that are based on farm size, may encourage resistance in many EU countries, including Poland. A foretaste of such a situation was the grain crisis between Ukraine and its bordering states, which, however, compared to the potential problems arising from Ukraine’s accession to the EU, was only a local political dispute. While these concerns are raised in Polish public debate, a lot of attention is also paid to the need for Poland’s active role in developing processes and policy solutions that would ease the negative effects of Kyiv’s accession to the EU. This issue is voiced by the Polish think tank Klub Jagiellonski, with one of their articles stating that “the problems are serious, but a solution can be imagined. For Ukraine, for example, it is possible to create a dedicated fund outside of the standard cohesion policy, which will at the same time act as an EU contribution to post-war reconstruction. Besides, some prototype of such a solution has already been presented by the EC as part of the mid-term revision of the multiannual financial framework in the form of the so-called Ukraine Facility, comprising €50 billion in grants and loans for 2024-2027.” Despite awareness of the existing problems and obstacles, Ukraine’s entry into the EU is supported by most of the political class. It is also supported by representatives of the new coalition, who have been in charge of the Polish government since last December. These include the current Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is a strong supporter of Kyiv’s European aspirations, describing the creation of an easier path to accession for Ukraine as possible and dependent only on good political will. A separate opinion on the subject among the political class is once again expressed by the far-right Konfederacja party. They position themselves as opponents of Ukraine in the EU. During a press conference held on November 9th 2023, representatives of the party stated that “Konfederacja calls on the Polish government (…) to block the absurd idea of admitting Ukraine to the European Union,” and continued to place an emphasis on economic issues and alleged western interests in this context. “The EU economy does not need it. It will be to the detriment of the EU economy. The citizens of any EU country do not need it. That’s because the citizens of EU countries want, above all, to avoid being dragged into a war in which Ukraine is involved! This is needed by large corporations that have already apparently become saturated with the colonial territory that has been made of Central Europe.” The agriculture issue was also discussed by a  , who stated that “When Poland entered the EU, it had to meet strict conditions. And we have to put conditions on Ukraine.” He also added that “Poland may not agree to Ukraine’s membership in the European Union if the right tools are not built.” Although this was said in September 2023 in the midst of the grain dispute between Warsaw and Kyiv, and can therefore be seen as part of the negotiations, it shows very well that the topic of agriculture will be the most problematic one to resolve on the way to achieving the green light from the Polish government.  Similar voices can be heard from the new coalition which will form the new government. Already after the elections, a new MP from the Koalicja Obywatelska (Civic Coalition) list, Michal Kolodziejczak, said in an interview that “It is in our interest to prepare Polish-Ukrainian and EU-Ukrainian relations very well. It will be very important to have a strong Polish position in the EU. If Ukraine is ever to enter the EU, we must look after our interests. I will look after the interests of the farmers.” This confirms that the change of government should not change much in Warsaw’s approach to agriculture as a problem in the context of Kyiv’s European ambitions.

Similarly, the topic of Ukraine’s accession to NATO is discussed in Polish public debate. As mentioned above and in parallel with the EU accession issue, the Polish political class is overwhelmingly in favour of Kyiv’s transatlantic ambitions. President Andrzej Duda stated in September 2023, while commenting on the Vilnius NATO summit, that due to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Ukraine cannot be allowed to access NATO while in a state of war. This is because it would mean NATO’s automatic entry into war against Russia. He added also that as of now “the idea was to open the door to NATO for Ukraine, that is, to keep that door open and to prevent Russia from holding that door with its foot.” In this context, there are more and more opinions in the public debate, pointing to the need to build a gradual system for Ukraine’s accession process to NATO, which would be a kind of response to the concerns of sceptics. It would also be an expression of a realistic approach to this issue, while remaining on a pro-Ukrainian path. It should also be noted that  there cannot be a shortcut to the West for Ukraine. In addition to the previously cited voices of opposition to Ukraine’s pro-western aspirations, the issue of the conflicting interests of Poland and Ukraine is becoming more and more frequent. These would be, according to the proponents of this idea, the basis for a more assertive future policy for Warsaw vis-à-vis Kyiv, especially in the context of deteriorating relations at the governmental level in recent months.

Both of these topics are often utilized by the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation machine. Lies and propaganda content spread in this context are using well-known narratives, which are used usually to create tensions between Ukraine and Poland. This was done by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, who stated that “Poland does not want Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO, because it wants to get its territories.” Zakharova used a Russian propaganda narrative used for decades, saying that Poland is planning to seize western Ukraine. This incident, while isolated, confirms Moscow’s propaganda interests in the Polish stance toward Ukraine and NATO. This can also be observed within Polish-language sources that are affiliated with the Russian infosphere or those that align in narrative with Moscow. This fact should especially be taken into consideration by government level strategic communication bodies, and used in the creation of countermeasures against direct Russian malign influence attempts in the information realm.

The topics of Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU are widely discussed in Poland. While both of these ambitions are backed by most of the Polish political scene and publicists, the accession processes and their timeframe are more polarizing topics. This is visible especially in the context of the last few months, which brought a growing number of conflict areas between Warsaw and Kyiv to light, and which unfolded in the context of a largely unsuccessful Ukrainian summer offensive. Although this is not going to change the Polish government’s favourable position to Ukraine’s possible accessions, it can mean a shift towards a more realistic approach in Warsaw that is centred around particular interests, rather than unwavering support for all of Kyiv’s political ambitions. This open approach  characterized the first 12 months of the war. More sceptic voices on this topic exist in the Polish political scene but overall the debate is highly stabilized and criticism mostly centres around one parliamentary party – Konfederacja.

North Macedonia

The topic of North Macedonia’s accession to the EU is substantially less discussed than that of Ukraine.

On 1st May 2023, as part of his address on the ninth anniversary of Polish accession to the EU, Polish President Andrzej Duda stated his full support for EU enlargement, and positioned this topic as one of the priorities of the upcoming Polish presidency of the EU Council, which will start in January 2025. Duda said that “Today, Ukraine is a candidate. We will do everything to ensure that Ukraine becomes part – in the full sense of the word – of the European Union as soon as possible, together with Moldova and, I hope, also together with the countries of the Western Balkans. And this will be the second of our fundamental priorities as regards our Presidency of the European .” This illustrates well that the Polish political mainstream is openly pro-EU enlargement and will attempt to accelerate these processes, as well as focus on North Macedonia’s accession. One month later, a Polish parliamentary delegation visited Skopje, where representatives of the government and the ruling party discussed, among others, issues concerning North Macedonia’s entry into the EU. They also emphasized their full support for Skopje’s European ambitions.

Some publicists present any potential EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans as a historic opportunity that Brussels should not miss. This stance is based on a view that enlargement can be the only possible answer to the EU’s growing problems and issues. The protracted issue of Western Balkan accession was noted in the Polish press, stating that “the accession talks have degenerated into a game in which the candidate countries pretend to move forward while the EU pretends to want to accommodate them.” This might lead to situations in which pro-EU forces in countries like North Macedonia or Serbia lose the support of the public. Therefore, the window of opportunity for expanding the EU southwards and eastwards should not be missed. The war in Ukraine has resulted in a general acceleration of many political processes, and according to some Polish publicists and scholars, this might be also the case with the EU’s enlargement. There are also voices backing the idea of prioritizing EU enlargement during the upcoming Polish Presidency of the EU Council.

In comparison to the Ukraine case, the potential accession of North Macedonia to the EU does not provoke much discussion on its negative consequences. As one article points out in comparison to Ukraine or Turkey, “The other EU candidates do not pose an economic challenge to the European Community. The countries of the Western Balkans have a combined population of around 17 million, equivalent to that of the Netherlands, and a combined GDP at the level of Slovakia. Trade with the region accounts for only 1.5 per cent of EU volume. Opening the Community market, on the other hand, would be a milestone for the Balkan states: The EU is the recipient of 80 per cent of their exports and accounts for almost 60 per cent  of their imports.” Therefore, Polish support for North Macedonian ambitions should be unconditional. Moreover, there is a common understanding among some commentators that the issue of EU expansion and Polish support for this idea should be part of a cross-party consensus. This is especially necessary in the context of the current relationship between the president and the new government, which come from two distant political camps. Their necessary cooperation will last at least until the next presidential elections, scheduled for May 2025.

Poland is a solid supporter of North Macedonian accession to the EU. While this topic is not widely discussed in the Polish infosphere, most of the identified content has been highly favourable to Skopje. This came from both representatives of the Polish political class and commentators, who agreed on the need for EU enlargement towards the Western Balkans. Attention often has been drawn to the contrast between the potential accession of North Macedonia and Ukraine, by underlying that there are no potential negative consequences regarding Skopje’s accession for the Polish economy and political situation. There seems to be a consensus between the main political parties in Poland around a positive approach to Skopje’s European ambitions, with no direct opposition.


Similarly to the case of North Macedonia, Moldovan accession in comparison to Ukraine draws substantially less attention from Polish media and politicians. However, identified content in this context is overwhelmingly favourable to Moldovan ambitions. As openly articulated by the Polish President Andrzej Duda, the accession of Moldova and other candidate countries should form a priority for Polish foreign policy and the upcoming Polish presidency in the EU Council. In a similar manner, the Polish finance minister said in the context of her visit to Chisinau that “The Polish authorities not only expressed support for Moldova’s EU accession policy, but also repeatedly provided material, expert and financial assistance to the central and local authorities of the Republic of Moldova.” This emphasizes Poland’s political stance and its active role in trying to take  EU enlargement towards the East. An even stronger political signal was sent by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in June 2023. “We want to propose a fast track for Moldova’s entry into the European Union; we are sending an unambiguous signal to the citizens of Moldova that we are with you.” His view was articulated in the context of growing tensions between Russia and Moldova, with the possible threat of an aggressive Kremlin attack. Morawiecki emphasized “the acceleration of the path of Moldova’s accession to the EU, additional security guarantees, the fight against propaganda and against the aspects of hybrid warfare conducted against Moldova and, above all, the involvement of the United States in ensuring security in this part of Europe”. It is clear that from Warsaw’s perspective security should be seen as the main factor in Moldova’s accession to the EU. Despite his strong declaration, Morawiecki’s government did not follow up with a political offensive in Brussels concerning this topic. October’s elections in Poland brought a new government led by Donald Tusk, who wishes to heal relations with Brussels. This  can be viewed as a positive for Chisinau, as his views on Moldovan accession should not differ from that of the last government. Positive signals for Moldova are also coming from the Polish foreign ministry. In November 2023, Minister Zbigniew Rau stated his full support for EU enlargement and emphasized the importance of a quick accession process. He also noted that “The accession process does not require any additional institutional changes or reforms to the institutional set-up of the European Union.” This is a direct reference to planned institutional reforms within the EU, and a call to speed up the accession process independently from the planned Brussels reforms.

Commentators are pointing out Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine as an important factor that has shifted the approach of member countries regarding Moldova’s accession. As analysis from Osrodek Studiow Wschodnich, a Polish think tank focused on political, economic and social issues in Central and Eastern Europe, mentions in the context of Moldova and Ukraine’s candidacies, “The Council’s positive decision was influenced by the radical change in the political situation in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The resistance of hitherto skeptical countries (including Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark) was overcome by, among others, equating the blocking of this decision with favouring Russia, as well as the support of the people there for Ukrainian aspirations. The granting of candidate status to both countries is therefore a confirmation of the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its citizens, but also sends a signal to Moscow that the EU does not accept the Kremlin creating a sphere of influence in Europe.” Moldovan accession is also being connected with potential economic benefits for Poland, especially concerning an enlarged market and increased security stability in Eastern Europe. These examples present the general approach of Polish public debate towards Moldovan accession to the EU. In most of the identified cases, commentators underlined the potential positive effects for Poland, with the main emphasis being on security issues and the stabilizing role of the EU. Additionally, because of the small size of Moldova’s population and economy, its accession is presented as having no negative consequences for Poland.


The Polish political class and commentators are seeing the EU and NATO enlargements as a chance to strengthen stabilization in Central and Eastern Europe, create new markets for Polish companies and increase Warsaw’s political position in Brussels. In the case of Ukraine, partially because of the current war situation and the size of the country, its potential accession to the EU and NATO are more broadly seen as problematic for Poland. Critics argue that Polish interests should be put before Ukrainian ambitions, and potential Polish official support for the accessions should be tied to Kyiv’s will to resolve problematic issues. Although these views are increasingly visible, widespread Polish support for Ukraine’s European and transatlantic ambitions seem to be unwavering. They should not change no matter who is in power. While the Ukrainian case is analysed more often through the lens of some conflicting interests between Warsaw and Kyiv, the North Macedonian and Moldovan cases are substantially less commented upon but portrayed in a positive manner. Coverage on the last two states focuses on potentially positive outcomes from their integration for the Polish economy and security in the region. Despite the fact that Poland is currently undergoing a transition of power, past signals from representatives of the new government and their current statements do not indicate that the direction of Polish policy in this area, as presented in this article, is about to change. One should also mention the ambitions of President Andrzej Duda, who has set a goal for the Polish Presidency of the EU Council, starting in January 2025, to accelerate the integration of Ukraine, Moldova and the countries of the Western Balkans. To what extent these announcements translate into concrete and effective actions, especially in the context of the increasing reluctance of the countries of the old EU to such a solution, we will only be able to judge next year. Despite the problematic issues presented here, it must be assessed that Poland and Polish society remain strong supporters of EU and NATO enlargement regarding new countries, including Ukraine, North Macedonia and Moldova.

Michal Krawczyk is a disinformation and data analyst. He has contributed to a number of international research and analytical projects, including in collaboration with the Kosciuszko Institute and the IRI’s Beacon Project. He also works as a consultant in the area of foreign influence and disinformation analysis.  

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