Diplomacy is the process of playing on several pianos at the same time
"We are returning to priorities such as national security. Within this context, co-operation with the United States is very important. It is the main contributor to NATO’s security and security in Europe", says Witold Waszczykowski in an interview with Gazeta Polska.
Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska: Minister Waszczykowski, our readers would like us to ask you several questions. Most of them are related to the changes made in embassies and consulates. Why are these changes taking place so slowly?
Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland: In responding to this question, I would like to stress that these procedures are both labour and time intensive in Poland as well as in the countries receiving our diplomats.
In other words, it is not only up to us?
Of course. Sending an ambassador to a given country we have to receive the approval of the receiving country, the agrément. Only then can one activate the next stage of the procedures required by law.
Is this a problem?
Before we initiate the procedure with the receiving country, one has to clarify many issues at home relating to the candidate. Above all, the candidate should enjoy an untarnished reputation and fulfil various criteria. Then all his qualities have to be verified by the relevant state organs. The next step is the requirement for the candidate to obtain the initial approval of the prime minister and president. Only after these hurdles have been cleared does one send off the request that I mentioned to you earlier, the agrément. The approval of the receiving country activates the procedure at home, this time formally. The decisions of the prime minister, president, parliamentary and senate committees – this whole procedure can take half a year, or even longer.
This time period of “half a year, or even longer” is now pretty much over. Can we then expect many changes to take place?
I would like to point out that when it comes to the main postings, changes have already been made. In Moscow, in Kiev, in Germany, as well as in London. In the near future we expect decisions to be made regarding Paris, Washington and Ottawa.
The countries where changes have already taken place – are these the key countries?
I am not going to create a first and second league of key countries. In diplomacy there is a rule that alliances depend on the interests that one wants to further. I abide by the rule that diplomacy is like playing several pianos at the same time. When it comes to international affairs, we cannot be dependent on one country, reliant on this or that system. We have various interests in different areas and regions of the world.
How has foreign policy changed compared since the Civil Platform was in power? When they were in charge we were more Berlin and Brussels-centric. Where are the accents being placed now?
They are being placed in various areas. We are returning to priorities such as national security. Within this context, co-operation with the United States is very important. It is the main contributor to NATO’s security and security in Europe. This is being backed up by decisions: such as initiating the process of building the anti-missile defence shield and the fact that the Americans will deploy an armoured brigade in Poland, or that the NATO Response Force will function in our country. This all means that Poland and the whole Eastern Flank gain a higher level of security. We also want to work with the Americans in other areas, such as gas.
Does this signify a return to shale gas?
Not necessarily. Because we have to know whether there is a possibility to exploit such gas in Poland. Of course, American technology is crucial in this respect. Apart from shale gas, also significant is the building of the Baltic gas pipeline from Norway to Poland through Denmark and the blocking of Nord Stream 2, which is an extremely political project.
Can the United States help us here?
Support from the Americans to block this project, which could have very negative geopolitical consequences for Poland and the region, is invaluable. But there is also our second area of interest – our immediate region, located between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas.
Which of these seem more probable?
Well, there could even be a third concept – countries from Scandinavia to the Balkans. We don’t want to create an alternative to the EU and NATO, but rather to create a strong block within the framework of these institutions.
What would its objectives and tasks be?
This block would make sure that institutions such as the European Union include our interests – from security and the economy to infrastructure and transport. These days, the EU is developing in a way that is difficult to accept.
What do you have in mind?
We are becoming a transit region between the East and West. We want countries in our region to be integrated and linked by infrastructure, while at the same time energy independent and immune to the visible turbulences inherent in Western European integration.
How about the countries that are not members of the European Union? Will they be given equal treatment?
Definitely not in all areas. After all, we are divided by geopolitics, size and current politics.
We are talking of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova…
First of all, we are talking about our region. We are trying to create a common denominator – from the Visegrad Group to wider alliances up to the widest alliance, the so-called 16 +1 concept (16 Central Eastern European countries and China). We are seeking multi-lateral arrangements wherever there is a common denominator.
So what about the East – from Ukraine to Moldova?
We are aware of the fact that further integration, the expansion of our institutions to the East could become a reality in a few years, or even decades. This depends on many factors, not least due to certain areas of neglect and problems as well as of course obvious reasons such as the Russian-Ukraine conflict. We are very interested in drawing these countries to closer co-operation with the EU.
Belarus is also important. We have to create for it an alternative to Russia. To show that it can be close to us. A similar approach needs to be adopted with regards to Serbia. I was in Belgrade one week ago and said the same thing – that the Serbs have an alternative, that they can work together with the European Union and NATO despite problems rooted in a difficult past. We are able to share our integration experiences. So to sum up: apart from drawing the United States to Europe, that is reversing the trend of recent years, we are placing a strong emphasis on co-operation with our region. Because this is where our strongest interests lie.
These are two pianos. Are there more?
We also want to focus on implementing the decision made at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, to strengthen the integration of our region. And we want to use Brexit in order to recalibrate our ties with Great Britain, including those in the economic sphere.
And what are we counting on? That we will be Great Britain’s advocate in the European Union? Or rather a new European project, which will see London return as a big player.
We also want to make it clear that reform of the EU must be an element of the Brexit issue. Today, it does not look like Great Britain will return to the European Union. The British themselves say that they need to realize the decision taken during the referendum vote. In a few years, or in a dozen years, it could turn out that the new generation or political forces decide that the idea of being outside of the EU is so unappealing that they should return.
So Great Britain actually leaving the EU is a done deal?
Yes, I think so. However, if the negotiations are due to start in March next year and are due to go on for up to three years, then we’re talking about a longer perspective. And, theoretically speaking, I could imagine that after this time the next British government could call a new referendum asking about Great Britain’s new status.
So it could actually turn out that the British will once again argue about the EU?
Of course. It could turn out that they vote in favour of the new proposal or that they choose to return to the old format. Right now, the British say that this is impossible. But who knows.
Let us turn to the controversial agreements – TTIP and CETA. They regulate transatlantic co-operation and trade, one of them with the U.S. the other with Canada. Where does Poland stand with regards to these agreements?
These are two different agreements. The differences result from the obvious differences between these two countries. The Canadian economy, despite its innovational character, is relatively small. Trade between Poland and Canada is about 4 billion dollars. This is not much, even less than with Slovakia. Due to this, the CETA agreement is neutral to us on an economic level.
How about TTIP? The United States is something else.
When it comes to TTIP, there is a possibility that if the agreement isn’t signed American companies could down the line use the Canadian agreement with Europe. From a geopolitical perspective, increasing the scope of transatlantic ties is beneficial because it creates somewhat of an economic NATO. However, the most important issue for us is the clarification of various legal aspects of the agreement before it is ratified.
Could we renegotiate these agreements at a later time? For example through arbitration.
At the moment, the EU and Canada say that this is not possible, that the issue is set in stone. I wouldn’t rule out however that if there are many new expert opinions that a renegotiation of many legal aspects could take place. From arbitration to resolution of disputes.
What does this mean for us? That TTIP is something that we’re interested in or actually the opposite?
The TTIP is also a relatively neutral agreement for us. Lifting barriers and tariffs wont have a big impact on economic co-operation between the United States and Poland. Within the context of these agreements, we place a stronger emphasis on removing certificates providing Polish companies access to the American labour market. Because these certificates are expensive and the procedure is complex. If TTIP resolves this issue then this would work in our favour.
How about visas?
That’s exactly where I am heading with this. Without lifting visas even the removal of the certificate requirement wont change anything. Even a free certificate, providing a company with access to the American market, wont bring much if a country will have to change its employees every few months due to visa restrictions. TTIP also depends on other factors, such as the current election campaign in the United States. Many experts claim that it is impossible to come to an agreement before the end of President Barack Obama’s term.
Focusing on the East now. What is the situation with the Malaysia Airlines Boeing plane shot down in July 2014? The Dutch have said that the Russians are responsible for this tragedy. What does this mean for Poland within the context of Smolensk. Will this allow us benefit from similar diplomatic pressure on Russia? What I have in mind is the presentation of the issue to the global public, as was done with the wreckage of the Boeing.
These are two different issues. The catastrophe during the MH17 Boeing flight took place outside Russian territory. And although the territory was occupied by Russian rebels, the commission was nevertheless able to investigate, access the site of the disaster, collect pieces of the wreckage and point to the causes of this catastrophe.
So our situation is much worse than that of the Dutch?
Indeed. If the Dutch prove what type of weaponry was used to shoot down the plane and point to who concretely used the weapon, then they will of course be in a much better situation – they will be able to use the whole international system in getting to the bottom of the matter. We don’t have access to our wreckage. Without access to this wreckage we cant establish the conclusive cause of the Smolensk disaster.
Should the international community demand that the July 2014 catastrophe be treated as a war crime? After all, everyone is saying that the Malaysian passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian missile launcher, which soon thereafter was returned to the Russian Federation.
If the Dutch determine that a Buk missile was used – and the chances are pretty high that this is the case – and if they state clearly what soldiers were behind this, naming the units, then they have the right to turn to the international community with the request to treat this as a war crime.
And would we support them in this?
We need to receive all the information. I don’t want to make any declaration, but the matter does look pretty clear-cut.
Returning to the West, this time our neighbourhood. There will most likely be a change of leadership in Germany. How do you see our chances of being able to renegotiate the Polish-German Treaty of Good Neighbourship?
I have been very active in this area. I talked about this in my expose, I talked to our partners in Germany. I made it very clear that the treaty needs to be altered, in particular with regards to the issue of improving education conditions of Poles living in Germany. On the German side we see – let me put this diplomatically – understanding as well as excuses.
That this can’t be solved on the federal level, because the issue of good neighbourship is subject to authorities in federal states. So on the political level there is a positive response, however there is also an obstruction on the part of local authorities.
Which we of course can’t accept.
Of course. We are trying to reach out to individual federal states and find solutions. These efforts are being led by our embassy in Berlin and our consulates. There are various responses: there are attempts at a positive, friendly approach, for example the creation of a shared historical textbook.
And what are the problems and obstacles?
In some of the talks, the argument comes up that if the Germans gave these rights to Poles then other nationalities living in the country – for example the Turkish minority – would demand theirs. We reject this notion as Poles had their rights already before World War II – we merely want them to be returned.
How would you assess Polish-German co-operation in strengthening the security of our region?
Positively. The Germans did have their hesitations. In June the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier voiced his objection to the “Anakonda-16” military exercises in Poland, saying that they were unnecessary and confrontational in character. In essence, this was a statement by a coalition partner for internal political reasons. However, I’ve noticed that when he speaks in the capacity of foreign minister it seems that he accepts the decisions made at the NATO Summit, which was a Polish success.
Source: Gazeta Polska Codziennie