Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Tomasz Orlowski

Between Continuity and Rupture: Warsaw Stakes Out its Role within the EU

Four years after joining the EU, Poland is eager to play an even greater role in the European construction process. H.E. Thomas Orlowski, the Ambassador of Poland to France, describes how Prime Minister Donald Tusk is taking Polish diplomacy in new directions, bolstered by a dynamic economy and his country’s growing influence in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s center-right party won the early parliamentary election called in the fall of 2007, marking a “break” in Polish political life. Could you describe the new direction the prime minister would like to take the country for our readers?

H.E. Thomas Orlowski:
The most important thing the October 21st election gave the government was a stable majority, which is vital in order to push through the reform package put forward during the election campaign.
The new majority in the Polish Parliament is at the middle of the political spectrum. It includes the liberal party (Civic Platform) and the Polish People’s Party, an essentially agrarian voting block that is relatively important politically and seeks to protect the social security system. It is a blend of economic liberalism and social justice policy, which is especially comforting to the poorest levels of society. These two parties are also united by their membership in the European People’s Party, and consequently have shared views on a number of European policy issues.
To fully understand the desire for change voiced in our country during the last election, the high voter turnout must be taken into consideration. Over the past ten years, we have seen the Polish people lose interest in the political process. That trend appears to have turned around, making us believe that this wasn’t merely an election victory by a political movement, but an expression of the people’s desire to be more actively involved in public life. This desire is particularly strong in voters aged 18 to 24, who went to the polls in record numbers for this election. Our young people’s renewed interest in politics is all the more remarkable, considering they have no references to our Communist past. We don’t want to cut ourselves off from that past, or fail to do real justice, as is necessary, to this period in our history. But judging the past cannot replace laying out a policy for the future. In my opinion, if Polish voters did not support former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s center-right party (PIS), it is because they did not want to focus on the past and consequently paralyze any attempts at reform. The PIS government did try to fight the scourge of corruption, for instance. But in doing so, it slowed economic reforms such as privatizations. Taking the past into account will clearly be vital in that regard, especially when it comes to making our privatization procedures more transparent. But the government cannot make this questioning of the past its primary focus; that is not what the voters want. Poland is currently concentrating on speeding up the development process, without forgetting its past or discounting the authoritarian and totalitarian excesses that characterized it.

T.D.L.: The head of the Polish government has called for creating "a strong State able to fight corruption and other sicknesses connected with Communism." Will he be taking specific steps to combat corruption more effectively? Could you describe the vestiges of the Communist regime that are still weighing down Poland?

The vestiges of our Communist past can been seen first and foremost in our structures, such as the ones that exist to this day in the public sector. It was impossible to transform the entire State apparatus as we made our transition towards democracy. You have to understand that all transition periods also have negative effects, such as corruption. In any case, fully privatizing these structures is one of the most effective ways to lay our past to rest once and for all. The current government has thus decided to focus its efforts on completely privatizing the companies that remain within the public realm. To be precise, there are currently some 1,300 establishments or firms, of one form or another, which belong to the State. Most of them are limited liability companies in which the State holds a share.
Instead of presenting an inevitably incomplete list of firms set to be privatized, as was done before, the government decided to work on the principle that everything can be privatized. The State will, of course, maintain control of sectors deemed sensitive in terms of national security. But the list of firms that cannot be privatized will apparently be quite short. The pace of these privatizations should speed up to around 300 companies a year. The government would also like to sell off a portion of the State’s holdings in various firms, keeping only enough shares to act as a blocking minority.
The privatization process will allow us to modernize economic sectors that are being held back by inadequate transparency or lingering bad habits in their human relations and management practices that neither company directors nor workers have been able to break. Business leaders have become more mindful of the working environment they offer their employees, giving them stronger job guarantees and adopting management methods that stress greater joint responsibility.
Poland is also battling corruption through its tax laws, which have enabled the State to raise budget revenues while curbing the fight of capital. The government has focused on making our tax laws more transparent and enforcing them more effectively. As you know, any post that gives a civil servant the power to decide whether to increase or reduce the amount of tax due carries a risk of corruption. Lower labor costs have also helped us fight illegal labor and work on the gray area in the labor market.
We are also trying to modernize the procedure for appealing public tenders. Our overly complicated system had become a potential source of corruption. Finally, Donald Tusk’s government has decided to take a different approach than the prior administration, which set up special services to fight this scourge. The idea is to work even harder to implement economic reforms. The services in charge of the anti-corruption battle are still in place, as this problem is also being fought through a police crack down. But those efforts will remain secondary, and are designed to bolster a broader policy aimed at creating the most effective legal and regulatory framework possible, in order to prevent the emergence of more opportunities for corruption.

T.D.L.: In his first speech before Parliament, on 23 November 2007, Prime Minister Donald Tusk vowed to pursue very liberal economic policies. Are steps being taken to remedy the labor shortage caused by workers flocking to the west, which could have a deep impact on the country’s economic growth?

One of the direct results of Poland joining the EU has been the opening up of our labor market. Certain EU member States opened their borders to Poles as early as 1 May 2004. At that time, we had a relatively high unemployment rate (19%), and many young Poles felt they had little chance to succeed in their own country. Under those conditions, tens of thousands of Poles decided to seek a better life abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
However, this trend is not unique to Poland. It is comparable to what Spain and Portugal went through, twenty years ago. It is an outgrowth of joining the European community. What’s more, this wave of Polish emigration involves a young and dynamic segment of the population which does not normally leave its own country without the hope of one day returning. In fact, that desire has spurred the creation of Polish organizations and dozens of Polish schools in the United Kingdom and Ireland, which show that Polish expatriates are determined to preserve their identity and their ties with the homeland. This desire was also witnessed in the sharp rise in voter turnout among young expatriates in the last legislative election, especially in London, Edinburg and Dublin. It is also a sign that Poland is changing and is making progress towards creating the conditions necessary for their return. Let me add that these emigrants are radically different from the classic Communist ideal, which strove to fabricate an individual void of all entrepreneurial spirit, whom various sociologists have christened  “Homo Sovieticus.”
But to answer your question more concretely, the prime minister has focused on Ireland as a development model to follow. In fact, he visited this country and the United Kingdom shortly before the election, showing that he considers Polish emigrants very important and is eager to find out what our political leaders can do to help them return to their country. Moreover, the government is not the only one taking an active interest in this issue. Local communities are including specific measures in their action plans to draw these young expatriates back. Finally, the real key to drawing these young expatriates home is maintaining a strong macro-economic situation, with stable growth and a strong national currency that can guarantee the value of the savings they have built up. I am seeing more and more young Poles living abroad learning towards coming back. If the prospects outlined by the prime minister start to materialize within the next year or two, many expatriates could indeed decide to return to Poland to take part in an economic upsurge that could prove very promising, despite the sluggishness of the current international situation.

T.D.L.: The Polish government hopes to work an “economic miracle” that spurs the modernization of the country. Could you tell us what specific sectors are targeted in the new public works plan announced by the Prime Minister? What role will the EU play in helping implement this plan? Are there any new activity sectors that might be of special interest to foreign investors?

The public works plan announced by the government is nothing new. This vast program to build new highways and update all our land transport routes has been in existence for nearly ten years now. But there have been few concrete signs of its launching, due mainly to a lack of funding. But now, with the prime minister’s determination to push forward and with structural funds at our disposal, everything seems to be in place to finally carry it through successfully. In fact, I would have to say that this funding is relatively significant, especially when we consider what was given to Spain twenty years ago. I chose this example deliberately, as Spain is an important reference for us. Spain shares many common characteristics with Poland, such as its demographic weight and its historical ordeals, which it managed to overcome by making a successful democratic transition and joining the EU.
The various projects to improve our land transport infrastructures are being carried out within the scope of the work being done by the European Commission. Working with the Commission has made us eligible for EU subsidies and has ensured that these projects will indeed meet the needs of both Polish and European transporters. This said, while Poland is a natural crossroads in Europe, its size prohibits it from setting up a transportation network grounded solely on its central location.
We have also created a public-private partnership system that has become a key source of economic activity as well as a gauge of success for our infrastructure program. Trying to create a highway network relying exclusively on public financing systems was not ineffective. But on the other hand, the private firms that won bids turned out to be incapable of carrying through on the contracts they had won.
Our government has set 2012 as the deadline for finishing these large-scale public works. This date coincides with three major events: the European football championship (Eurofoot), which we will be hosting with Ukraine; the end of the current administration’s term in office, which happens to come right at the end of the Polish presidency of the EU (close of 2011); the end of the EU Financial Perspective adopted in 2007. In terms of infrastructures needed, it is clearly Eurofoot that gives us no choice but to finish the planned work on schedule.
Finally, the government’s infrastructure plan targets two other key areas: national and regional development, with special focus on rural areas; and developing and improving urban public services. We are working with local communities to foster measures designed to stop people from fleeing the countryside and moving to the city, by transforming their economic activity. The goal is to prevent the kind of rural exodus that happened forty years ago in France, which is an example of the high cost this can have on national cohesion and development. Moreover, this transformation is taking place as Poland struggles with the realities of a postindustrial economy. There are not enough jobs available in our cities for all the unskilled workers seeking employment after migrating from the countryside. As far as urban areas are concerned, government authorities are working to launch projects to improve public services, such as water purification, waste treatment, community services, and public transportation. Warsaw, for instance, hopes to have a second subway line by 2012, in time for Eurofoot.
We have, of course, turned to foreign investors to help us modernize our infrastructures. Along with their financial support, we are also keenly interested in the cutting-edge technologies and technical and management skills they can bring us. Poland has become a decidedly open country that is able to draw a good number of foreign investors. Improving our infrastructures will be a key factor in ensuring we can continue to attract them.

T.D.L.: The government has made adopting the euro one of its top priorities. Within what timeframe does it hope to achieve this, given its vow to step up its efforts to improve Poland’s public finances? How do the Polish people feel about giving up the zloty?

Poland does indeed hope to become a full-fledged member of the EU, participating in every aspect of community policy. Our government has taken a firm stand on this, with the aim of making our weight felt and asserting our views. For a country like Poland, being an EU member without being able to participate in decisions concerning our shared future is the worst possible position to be in. I would go so far as to say that only the most powerful European countries can dare to pursue autonomous policies, if they so desire, at the monetary level for instance. This is not the case for Poland.
The adoption of the euro is, clearly, a political decision. But it is very difficult to set a timetable and a definite date for achieving this. We thus believe that the best way to go about this is to stabilize our public finances to ensure we meet the convergence criteria. We do not want to cut any corners.
The Polish government has set a goal of effectively cutting public debt by 2% over the next four years. It has consequently decided that the profits from the privatization program will be used in such a way to help us meet this goal. Polish public debt is currently roughly 48% of GDP, which is already below the Maastricht criteria. We believe we will be able to bring it down to between 40 and 45% of GDP before the administration’s term in office ends. The government is planning to adopt the euro with these efforts and projected results in mind. Other more subjective criteria, based on more than just our political will, will obviously be taken into account as well. But as we push forward to speed up these reforms, setting our sights on a 2012 deadline is not unreasonable, knowing this means we must start participating in the European monetary system in 2010.
In answer to your second question, it must be said that we are not as deeply attached to our national currency as are the Germans when it comes to the Deutsch mark, for instance. The Polish zloty didn’t become a convertible currency until 1989, and thus had no real economic value. Neither is it a key element in our identity or national sovereignty. We have no fear of losing part of our nation, as do the Germans or even the British these days. Adopting the euro will help us overcome concrete economic problems. The value of the zloty has dropped inordinately relative to the euro, because of the substantial foreign capital we are attracting. Strong Polish exports have made the value of the zloty sink even further, as we do 70% of our trade with EU members and most of our exports are billed in euros.

T.D.L.: More than fifteen years after Poland’s Communist regime collapsed and the country reclaimed independence, the Polish people have become full members of the European Union. How do most Poles feel about joining the EU and relinquishing national sovereignty?

Sovereignty is, indeed, a very important notion for our country. But if we balance it against joining the EU, seeing how Poles have supported integrating Europe is very telling. Back in 2003, when the government decided to hold a referendum on whether our country should join the EU, there were fears that voter turnout for the referendum would not be high enough to validate the results. The turnout was, in fact, 54%. Recent polls show that 85% of Poles are satisfied with belonging to the EU. This strong support shows that Poles truly see themselves as part of the EU. They see it as an opportunity, as a framework that will foster our development and modernization. In fact, they have such a positive view of the Union that the risk it may pose to our sovereignty – in the eyes of some – has been greatly minimized.
It is interesting to see how the prior governments of Prime Ministers Marcinkiewicz and Kaczynski changed their views on the EU. The majority party in the former ruling coalition, the PIS, came to realize that the EU was a very good thing for Poland. Coming from the pro-sovereignty right, I think this is a very positive change for our country. Moreover, the political language that dominated this period was far more radical, leaving less room for negotiation. It stressed a handful of demands and even fears, a few of which were quite justified in view of our history and the changing world scene. I cannot really say that Poland has changed its foreign policy priorities, but there is no doubt about the fact that it is taking a different approach and using a different language.

T.D.L.: Along with advocating a pro-European foreign policy, Prime Minister Tusk is determined to rebalance Warsaw’s relations with Washington and Moscow. What is at stake in this realignment? Diplomatic efforts are the prerogative of the Head of State, but does he have much room to maneuver in this area?

First of all, I don’t think these two things are contradictory. More importantly, Polish foreign policy is not limited to our relations with Russia and the United States. The EU needs to be added into the mix
as well. These three areas are our top foreign policy priorities, and are all perfectly coherent.
With regard to our ties with Russia, we can’t exactly speak of a “warming” yet. But our two countries have rekindled a fruitful and cooperative dialogue, as witnessed by several very positive signs and a shared desire to set aside the most contentious issues, to the degree possible. Russia has lifted its embargo on Polish meat and vegetables. This situation was very difficult for Poland. Not only because it threw the market out of balance, but also because it was unbearable for us in the medium and long term. The most important thing to come out of this episode is the fact that the EU recognized from outset that this matter fell within its jurisdiction, and was outside the bounds of normal Polish-Russian bilateral relations.
This dispute in fact allowed us to accomplish three key things. First, we were able to show Russia, without animosity, that it is going to have to start dealing with the new reality of genuine European solidarity. Second, the Union was made to realize that there are not two categories of EU members: those who have rights, and those who are expected to keep more or less quiet. This is an important change, as it has restored a political balance in the EU that will be of great help to its future development, especially as concerns foreign policy and common defense. This rebalancing was firmly established by the Lisbon Treaty. Moreover, those in Poland who still question the value of the EU were able to see that it supports us when needed. Finally, this stand made Russia realize that our country has greater importance, because it is being supported and carries real weight in the decisions made by the European Council.
As for our close ties with the United States, they are an outgrowth of our commitment to NATO, which remains the only real way to guarantee our collective security, since the EU has neither the competence nor the means to guarantee the defense of European soil at this time. Our desire to lay out a common European defense policy will not, by the way, make the role played by NATO redundant.
In answer to your question concerning Polish diplomacy, interpreting the various constitutional systems remains relatively difficult. In France, cohabitation within the executive branch has sparked wide debate in years past. It is an arduous process that has, unfortunately, neutralized a good deal of the country’s political energy in an internal battle. The Polish Constitution is not completely clear on the division of roles between the branch that runs the government and the branch that represents the country. There is still a certain amount of maneuvering room. President Lech Kaczynski’s approach has been to look at foreign policy like a “condominium.” In other words, our two executive heads must be willing to cooperate in this arena. This is not always an easy thing to do, obviously, but I have noticed a clear determination on the part of both parties to refrain from exploiting their differences over domestic policy issues. In any case, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has upheld and supported everything that President Lech Kaczynski has accomplished in this arena. This has been the case for our energy security policy, of which the President has been the backer, designer and primary implementer.

T.D.L.: The Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which will bypass Poland and the Baltic countries, has become a bone of contention between Warsaw and its promoters, Germany and Russia. What could be done to bring this project in line with the concept of “energy solidarity” championed by your country?

We cannot completely separate the issue of the gas pipeline from Poland’s desire to diversify and ensure the safety of its raw material supply, a goal shared, by the way, by other EU countries.
When Germany and Russia first launched the North Stream project, quite a few years back, it sparked strong emotions in Poland, even before the election of President Lech Kaczynski. Poland’s concerns stem, first and foremost, from the Polish people’s keen awareness of history. We always become apprehensive when Germans and Russians start talking “over our heads,” as we say. History has shown us that every time a policy like this is launched, it does not prove to be in our best interest.
This new natural gas transport route concerns all of Western Europe, a region of which we are an integral part, I will remind you, as a member of both NATO and the EU. The North Stream project’s undersea path raises a good deal of questions. By bypassing our territory, this project deprives our country of gas deliveries from this new supply route. What’s more, according to our experts, using a land route could cut the investment costs in half. This is what we are proposing with the Amber project, which will cross through the Baltic countries, Poland and Germany. Our Russian and German partners are, of course, arguing that they are taking more into account than just the construction costs of the undersea pipeline, also factoring in things like operation and transport costs. Don’t forget that this issue has taken on great importance in relations between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In light of all these things, we are tempted to consider eventually joining the Russia-German project.
But the threat the North Stream project could pose to the environment and regional security must also be taken into account. The Baltic is a shallow sea. Since World War Two, its seabed has become a virtual stockpile of weapons, including chemical weapons. In light of this, countries like Finland and Sweden are showing growing interest in assessing the risk that this project could upset the ecological balance in the Baltic Sea.
Poland decided to join the talks some time ago, so we could all get a better understanding of one another’s concerns and work to overcome them. We must consider the concerns not only of Poles, which I just outlined, but also of Germans, who have decided to diversify their energy supply because they too do not want to continue depending on exclusive gas suppliers. We also understand some of the goals pursued by Russia, which does not want to feel it is being held hostage by transit countries. This isn’t the case with Poland, but a country like Belarus has shown it could try to up the ante. It is not possible to talk about a rapprochement of views. But as a diplomat, I firmly believe in the ultimate value of dialogue. It is still the best way to iron out solutions that satisfy the interests of everyone involved. Everyone must make concessions, to reach a compromise.

T.D.L.: The plan to set up part of the American antimissile shield on Polish soil is another hot-button issue in the drive to rebalance Poland's ties with the United States and Russia. Why do you think this plan has spurred so much tension and debate? Could this chilly climate hinder the relaunching of negotiations for a new EU-Russia partnership agreement?

The American antimissile shield plan was launched during the Clinton administration. It advocates a specific vision of security, which contends that every NATO member country should be guaranteed the same protection and defense. Putting part of this shield in Poland, along with the American military personnel who will man it, should give us greater security and, above all, a greater sense of security.
While the United States opened direct talks with Russia, so the two countries might get a better understand of one another’s stance on this issue, Poland and Russia only invited the U.S. to join in their talks just recently. These talks are starting to go deeper and deeper into the issues, as we try to reassure our Russian partners about their own security. We are also negotiating an agreement directly with the Americans concerning how this project will be implemented. The terms will be laid out in a bi-party agreement that cannot be modified, no matter who wins the U.S. election this coming November. As we move forward with these talks, we must ensure that these installations operate in such a way as to increase our security, and not reduce it.
Russia is fully aware that this project is tied to potential threats in the Middle East. In fact, it has offered to let the United States use the radar station set up in Azerbaijan. The U.S. and Russian projects are compatible in that regard. It is thus becoming absolutely vital for us to instill and bolster a true sense of security in the Russians, who could make all the other countries concerned share that feeling. To make that happen, the U.S., Poland and Russia will have to do their best to come up with confidence-building measures, despite the Cold War rhetoric being used by some in Russia, which has not made the negotiations any easier.
At the same time, relations between the EU and Russia need to be reinforced, primarily by working to reach a new partnership agreement. As you know, Russia says it does not need a new agreement. Poland, for its part, is increasingly satisfied with the way bilateral relations have been going. It is also pleased with relations between the EU and Russia. The conditions that forced us to veto this proposal during the negotiations no longer exist. We have not been the only ones to voice our opposition, but our hesitations are steadily fading, as more people warm to the idea of making Russia a partner of Europe as a whole, and not just the special partner of certain members of the EU-27.

T.D.L.: Poland and Ukraine are linked by a shared history as well as a strategic partnership. They strengthened their ties during President Lech Kaczynski’s visit to Kiev, in December 2007. Could you tell us how this partnership has evolved since the “Orange Revolution”? Under what conditions could Ukraine conceivably make a bid for membership in the EU and NATO?

It is true that Ukraine is a top priority for Poland. I would lay less importance, however, on the historical aspect of their bonds, as our two countries have had a very turbulent history.
On the other hand, let me call your attention to the key role Ukraine could play in helping guarantee European stability. Ukraine is destined to be a major player in this arena, which is why we are committed to working alongside it.
The recent legislative elections held in Ukraine were another illustration of the problems that have arisen during this country’s transformation process. They have not, however, prevented it from coming together as a nation-State. In our opinion, Ukraine has overcome the challenges that risked splitting it apart, which were underscored by linguistic differences and problems in asserting its national identity. Ukraine is now an internationally recognized State. It is thus in our best interest to support – along with all our other partners, especially the EU – Ukraine’s development and fully incorporate it into the European stability system.
This country is clearly going through a difficult time right now. Its transition has necessitated much wider reforms than those implemented by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, though it is very difficult to make comparisons, especially as regards historical events. Ukraine was an integral part of imperial Russia, and then the USSR, for many long years. Because of this, Russian-Ukrainian ties are not founded solely on sentimental or political factors. They are also built on industrial links and economic cooperation, and on their very real proximity to one another. These ties cannot suddenly just change. Things must be allowed to work themselves out over time.
It is true that there are differences in opinion over the best approach to take in Ukrainian domestic policy, which clearly not has made speeding up the reform process all the more difficult. But these differences do not concern key questions such as preserving the unity of the State, safeguarding Ukraine’s long-standing cooperation and friendship with Russia, and working towards a rapprochement with Europe. This is all the more true now that all Ukrainians see Europe as a key reference for their own economic and social development in the years to come.
All of these things show that there is very good reason to welcome Ukraine into the EU. It is, of course, still too early to talk about timetables. Just look at the example of Poland. We had to work for fourteen years, and had to make ourselves less dependent on Russia, before we could join the EU. We had a relatively open economy and had more contact with Western Europe, which enabled us to join the EU under good conditions. At the time, public opinion looked upon European enlargement favorably. Unfortunately, opinion is less favorable today than it was two years ago. We must be extremely careful in that sense: making promises that cannot be kept could create disappointment, which must be avoided at all cost. Our position is to strongly support Ukraine’s desire to draw closer to the Union, with the aim of eventually joining it. But that eventuality is tied to conditions that Ukraine must first meet, in its own economic and social transformation process. We also believe that Ukraine, like Georgia, is destined to join the Atlantic Alliance. Poland would like to see a MAP established in short order for these countries. In that light, the assessment of their candidacies scheduled for December should be sufficient to take a decisive step forward in this direction. And while not all of our Allies support this idea, we believe that offering a MAP is an excellent way to foster reforms inside Ukraine, including in the military, political and economic arenas. This would help bolster this country’s democratic foundations, which would help to bring greater stability and security to Europe.
With that in mind, we are pleased that the Bucharest Summit reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to the “open door” policy by inviting both Albania and Croatia to join, even though FYRM’s membership was not approved. We greatly appreciate the fact that the Allies acknowledged for the first time that Ukraine and Georgia could eventually be allowed  to join NATO, even if they weren’t offered MAPs. Whether or not they do join will be decided by the Allies and the country in question.

T.D.L.: On a broader level, Poland would like to play a leading role in the new EU neighborhood policy. What is your take on the varying reactions of EU member countries to Kosovo’s declaration of independence?

Kosovo’s independence is the result of what happened in 1990-1991: the secession, the civil war and then the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. It is true that both the European and international communities should have kept a closer eye on the events unfolding in the western Balkans. This was also a positive period in certain respects, with the Balkan countries reclaiming their sovereignty. Some of these countries have undergone amazing changes. Slovenia, for instance, will hold the presidency of the EU until the end of June. In others, to the contrary, totally unacceptable things have happened. They were spurred by the polarization of their political life due to exacerbated nationalistic feelings, which as we know spiraled into ethnic cleansing campaigns.
Kosovo’s proclamation of independence is one of the latest consequences of this process. The EU is firmly committed to helping find a solution that satisfies Kosovo’s Albanians and respects the legitimate interests of Serbs. These mediation efforts are part of the work the EU has been doing since 1999, when we managed, working together and with help from NATO, to halt former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown in Kosovo. But we were unsuccessful in finding a solution. The plan put forward by former Finnish President Maarti Ahtisaari, in the name of the United Nations, was rejected. And yet that proposal was the only compromise solution possible.
Determined to preserve its cohesion and a certain degree of unity within the CFSP, the EU has had to work very hard to uphold its position. Certain countries bordering Serbia have voiced fears, most of them tied to the presence of foreign minorities on their territory. Other European countries, ones not located in this region, are afraid this matter could set a precedent. We are very much alive to these concerns, whether they come from countries like Cyprus, which is in fact divided, or Spain, which has been so closely involved in trying to find a compromise solution from the start of the war. We have done our very best to maintain unity between the 27 EU members, knowing that their interests may sometimes diverge and thus cannot all be satisfied. Poland officially recognized the independence of Kosovo one week after the first countries stepped forward to do so, France among them. The Council of Ministers wished to consult the President of the Republic beforehand, causing this delay. This is a concrete example of the style of cohabitation being practiced in Poland.
Moreover, our country is in a good position to assess this situation. Poland is very active in Kosovo, with 300 Polish troops participating in KFOR and Polish police officers deployed in the country as well. In fact, they are working alongside French police forces in Mitrovica, an area where tensions are likely to keep rising. Our attitude toward Kosovo is a reflection of our broader commitment to helping pacify this situation.
Let me also add that our country is particularly sensitive to yearnings for independence felt by other peoples. We have paid a price far too great over the course of our own history to remain unmoved by similar desires in other peoples. These considerations led us to believe that Kosovo does meet the criteria that define, in our eyes, an independent State. But we are also extremely sensitive to the claims made by democratic Serbia. We have always felt close to the Serbs. We have forged very friendly ties over the years, be it during the Kingdom of Serbs, Royal Yugoslavia or even Tito’s Yugoslavia. Our two countries have maintained especially close bonds. We do not want the Serbs to suffer endlessly from the fact that for ten long years their State was ruled by a dictator who, along with his entourage, is responsible for everything that happened there.

T.D.L.: Poland recently announced it would be sending troops to Chad, to join the EUFOR operation. How important is this operation, in light of the EU’s efforts to build a more effective Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and enhance Europe’s role around the world?

The EU operation in Chad is an ambitious mission that could plant the seeds for a new way of conducting European foreign policy. This is a completely new way for us to intervene. Our country’s deep commitment to the notion of solidarity prompted us to take part in this mission. This is a very important notion for us; a notion I believe we have incorporated into our political discourse. Solidarnoz is not just a large-scale political movement, it has become a cardinal value in Polish political life. Solidarity is also one of the core values championed by the EU. This means if an EU member country is concerned by an event, it can call on all its Union partners for support.
To get back to the question of Darfur and Chad, the international community could not allow the situation there to continue. We were content with taking limited action for far too long. And I know what I am talking about, because while serving as the United Nations Director responsible for Cooperation and Development, I sent the first shipment of humanitarian assistance into Darfur, four long years ago. And yet France had to propose organizing a European mission, working under the mandate of the UN Security Council, before the international community finally moved into high gear. We wanted to show our solidarity, both with the people in sub-Saharan Africa and with France, which outlined the main risks to stability and how they could be dealt with. President Lech Kaczynski and the Polish government consequently accepted the French President’s request that we join the European mission. Poland currently has the second largest contingent participating in this mission, after the French contingent.
A total of fourteen EU member States are now taking part in this mission. Not all of the EU-27 are directly involved, but all have given the mission their support. This gesture of European solidarity would be more visible if all the member States, or at least all the key members, were taking part. But we have to be sensitive to the imperatives of each different State. The terms of their various constitutions are not all alike. Some States are constrained by neutrality principles, others by their projection capabilities. Certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, are deeply involved in other military missions, namely in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be more specific, their ability to deploy and rotate troops is limited. Poland, for its part, has nearly 4,000 troops operating around the globe. They are taking part in a variety of peacekeeping and stabilization operations, organized within the scope of UN, NATO, the EU or international coalition missions. This work has also helped us evaluate the reforms that need to be implemented to strengthen the capacity of Poland’s armed forces and adapt them to meet the world’s new challenges, which cannot be overcome with Cold War defense concepts.

T.D.L.: Shortly after taking office, on 23 November 2007, the Prime Minister announced Poland would withdraw its troop from Iraq before the end of the year. Could you tell us the reasons for this move? In contrast, what is the strategic importance of bolstering the Polish contingent participating in the NATO force in Afghanistan?

At the very start of our work in Iraq, we voiced our intention to keep our troops in that country as long as needed to accomplish the three objectives we set out for the Diwaniyah region (south of Baghdad), which was put under our command: restoring security, stabilizing the area and training Iraqi forces. The President of the Republic has extended the Polish contingent’s mandate every year. International troops are no longer required in this region, as our objectives for this area have been met since 2007. The withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq also involves other forces, such as UK troops. It is important to understand that the Polish contingent will pull out of Iraq, by the end of 2008, because we have accomplished our mission there, as our partners understand full well. From a broader standpoint, we hope the situation there continues to improve, given that the coalition strategy is starting to yield very promising results.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, appears to be turning into the coalition’s most dangerous theater of operation in its battle against international terrorism. We should win the battle there, proving that NATO is indeed able to fight this scourge. It is in our forces’ best interest to work together, to fight and win in Afghanistan. All the more so, given that we do not have unlimited material or human resources at our disposal. We cannot get round the constraints posed by our force projection capabilities. We are bringing our mission in Iraq to a close with the feeling we have done our duty there. But we are, at the same time, bolstering our contingent in Afghanistan, where we should have roughly 1,600 troops by autumn next year. We will be in charge of stabilizing the eastern part of that country, where the intensity of the fighting and the level of danger can be described as moderate, compared to the southern and northern regions.

T.D.L.: Poland has been very active in Middle East diplomacy, reflecting your country’s desire to play an expanded role on the international stage. How do you interpret the escalation of violence in this region, and the worsening Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Do you think negotiations can be rekindled, with the two parties working towards building a lasting peace? Could Poland help move things in this direction, given your country’s close ties with Israel?

In order to help find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one must have friendly ties with both Israel and the Arab countries. Poles have a great fondness for the State of Israel. We also have historical and ethical reasons for supporting this country and the Israelis’ right to live in a sovereign State that is safe and secure. On the other hand, we also have long-standing friendly ties with the Arab countries, some of which are directly affected by this conflict. Our relations include high-level exchanges, as witnessed by the King of Saudi Arabia’s visit to Poland in June 2007.
Past experience has taught us that all of the countries concerned by this conflict, either directly or indirectly, must be brought together to make the peace process a success. As many Arab countries as possible, in particular, must be involved in this. We Poles hope to do our own modest part in helping iron out a peace plan that is acceptable to both Israel and the Arab countries, and includes the a recognition by the latter of the State of Israel as well as the proclamation of a viable Palestinian State. We must be ever mindful of the great stakes involved in resolving this conflict, which is the root of much of the tension between Islam and the Western world and has given rise to further acts of terrorism.
Poland has had troops on the ground there for some time now, working within United Nations peacekeeping missions, most notably in the Golan Heights and in Lebanon. In addition, we have received an invitation that is a first for us: the initiators of the Annapolis Conference have asked us to join in that political process. We have also been involved in the international community’s efforts to provide financial assistance since the Paris Conference. Poland is now bolstered by a very solid foundation for helping find viable and lasting solutions that can be put into place as quickly as possible.
I would also like to underscore the fact that Israeli President Shimon Perez make his first state visit to Poland this month. Shimon Perez is a great friend of Poland, a country with which he has strong emotional bonds. He is also chairing the Museum of the History of Polish Jews project, launched by the Polish government in Warsaw. Our commitment to doing whatever we can to help build peace will, no doubt, be reaffirmed during this visit.

T.D.L.: During a working visit in Paris on 8 October 2007, Presidents Lech Kaczynski and Nicolas Sarkozy sketched the outlines of a framework agreement that would strengthen bilateral ties in a wide array of areas. Has there been any headway in the talks on this accord? Could you describe the new direction in which Franco-Polish relations seem to be moving?

I believe, first and foremost, that I am fortunate to be serving Poland at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy is taking things in new directions. This has proved to be very favorable for Poland. Allow me to underscore what is, in my eyes, the most important shift: the French President has repeated on several occasions that the EU is now a 27-member Union. In other words, France must, in its own best interest, develop strong ties with all of its European partners, and not limit itself to relations that were sufficient to push through major European projects in years past. This is an acknowledgment of a simple fact, since in modern-day Europe one must be able to count on a wider base of support.
This position is of special interest to and is warmly welcomed by central and eastern Europe. We have always believed that France’s influence in this part of Europe, since the fall of Communism, was not as strong as it ought to be. Our wishes appear to have been answered, with President Sarkozy voicing his desire to enhance relations he has described as a «strategic partnership.» His determination to rekindle the friendship between France and the United States, in contrast with past French rhetoric, is another positive sign that has given us a much clearer view of the prospect of a real European defense policy.
As you underscored, Poland and France are in the process of laying out a framework cooperation agreement. This new phase in our relations is bolstered by a substantial network of treaties, which includes a treaty of friendship and solidarity signed in 1991. It is, I believe, the only treaty in the world that bears the term “solidarity” in its name. What’s more, the Polish and French governments can count on spontaneous support from their citizens, as the French and Polish peoples feel a very strong bond. They are among the few peoples in Europe who have never waged war against one another. All of these things bode favorably for further enhancing our ties.
The Head of the French State would like to ground this strategic partnership on expanded cooperation in areas of common interest. The Polish President and Prime Minister fully support this approach, which should lead to the issuing of a joint declaration identifying target cooperation areas, which will also help us better satisfy our national interests within the EU. Energy policy should be one of the most important areas, given our shared desire to foster a policy that stresses solidarity and ensures secure supply sources. Agricultural cooperation is another essential area in our relations. A group of French and Polish experts are leading the work to put together a new proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after the year 2013. We are closely involved in this process, given that both our countries believe that the CAP must serve the EU, its member States and its farmers equally, and must also help bolster national unity and development. On this front, Poland and France have shared interests at the highest level of State, as illustrated by our Minister of Agriculture’s latest visit to France.
We also share the same approach and commitment in the European missions led by France. This is the case in the European missions in Chad and in the Central African Republic (EUFOR), and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (EUPOL), where we are also working alongside the French. All of these things testify to our desire to strengthen European defense cooperation, both at the operational and industrial levels.
Finally, I think it is important to recall that Franco-Polish relations have always been characterized by very close ties in the cultural, scientific and research arenas. We have only to say the name Marie Curie, the ultimate symbol of our research cooperation. We can also mention Frederic Chopin, a French-born Polish composer whose entire body of work is an exploration of Polish culture.
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