Cross-border shopping at the EU's Eastern edge: the cases of Finnish-Russian and Polish-Ukrainian border regions
This paper investigates cross-border shopping across the Finnish-Russian and the Polish-Ukrainian borders since the disintegration of the Soviet Union from a comparative perspective. Cross-border shopping can be defined in various ways for diverse purposes; this study is interested mainly in the conditioning factors, drivers and forms of this activity in addition to its volumes and trends in order to understand its implications to cross-border interaction and regional development. It is observed that cross-border shopping accounts for a substantial part of all mobility and that cross-border shopping is characterized by comparable fluctuations across both of the studied borders, while the two cases show some specific features, too. A common aspect is that during the first years after the regime change, informal economic activities in various forms played a major role in border crossings in these two regions. Since then, ordinary cross-border shopping tourism supported by the attractiveness of the neighbouring country as a travel and leisure destination has grown in importance in the influx of Russians into Finland, whereas most shopping visits by Ukrainians to Poland continued to be linked to profit-oriented reselling. Also, changes in exchange rates resulting from geopolitical turns and economic cycles have proved to be factors in both cases, particularly in conditioning short and frequent trips from Finland to Russia and (mainly) from Ukraine to Poland for utilizing differences in prices of excise commodities such as fuel and cigarettes. Finally, the study also shows that cross-border shopping may have direct implications to regional development, as local-regional policy stakeholders may see it as an asset: the attraction of shopping tourists from Russia has become a key development strategy in Southeast Finland despite the vulnerability to changes in geopolitical conditions.