Poland no longer has to look for a promoter in the world
We are a country that no longer has to look for a promoter in the world, the head of the MFA Witold Waszczykowski told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) in an interview.
In an interview with PAP, the Minister of Foreign Affairs summed up the first year of the PiS government with regards to Polish diplomacy. He spoke, amongst other things, about relations with Russia, Donald Trump and further changes within the Foreign Service. He also announced the first ever Polish-British intergovernmental consultations.
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of Beata Szydlo’s government, with Witold Waszczykowski in the position of foreign minister.
During this time, the head of diplomacy made 65 foreign visits: Berlin was one of his first destinations. The head of the MFA said that in his first half-year the visits were focused on optimizing preparations for the NATO Summit in Warsaw whilst his current foreign travel agenda is shaped around Poland’s efforts to secure a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2018 and 2019. According to the minister this is one of the leading priorities for Polish diplomacy.
PAP: In your first address to parliament, you referred to Great Britain as Poland’s strategic partner. The government is heading to London soon for consultations.
Minister Witold Waszczykowski: During the first year of this government we have been able to strengthen relations with Great Britain, as demonstrated by the organization of the first ever inter-governmental consultations, as a result of which a large part of the Polish government will go to London on November 28. For many years we have held such talks with Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands. Now for the first time we will have consultations with Great Britain.
PAP: Brexit was one of the most important foreign policy events recently. Following the referendum, London intends to leave the European Union.
The exit will only take place in a few years time. For the next two, three years one has to treat Great Britain as a fully-fledged member of the EU, one that pays in money and plays a shared role in making decisions. Why would we want to cut contact with tchem?
Today, as a sign of courtesy, Great Britain is pulling out of EU talks regarding the conditions of the divorce and its consequences, but it continues to jointly make decisions with us in all other matters.
PAP: What will the main issues of these consultations be?
We want to receive clarification on whether Great Britain will carry out Brexit in line with plans presented several weeks ago. The situation has now changed because the High Tribunal ruled that the decision to initiate the exit procedure from the EU must be approved by the British parliament, which means that the actual activation notification could be delayed. Afterwards, the whole process could be blocked by the parliament if Great Britain has elections in which the anti-Brexit camp is voted in to power. The matter of London leaving the EU is a long-term issue and, as one can see, uncertain.
Besides that, we will discuss current issues such as the functioning of the Union, how we envision cooperation between the EU and NATO, matters pertaining to the East. Great Britain is one of the few countries in the EU that is still interested in Eastern Europe and is still very conscious of threats emanating from Russia.
Of course, the heads of other ministries will also be coming to London to discuss co-operation in their respective areas.
PAP: And the issue of Poles living in the United Kingdom?
This has been on the agenda for a long time. We even talked about this back when David Cameron was prime minister, today we are holding discussions with Theresa May. This is our priority and the British are aware of our tough stance on this issue. We have said very clearly that if the British want to have access to the Single Market, then they have to guarantee all four freedoms, including the free movement of people. Of course, they are defending their corner and setting conditions.
However, one must not forget that our continent contains a large group of British retirees who benefit from access to the welfare system, which they could indeed lose. So if London is threatening to limit benefits for Europeans, in particular those from Central Eastern Europe, then Europe also has options at its disposal. These days the rule of reciprocity is in place.
PAP: How does Poland see its relations with Paris following the end of the Caracali talks?
In Brussels on Monday I spoke with the head of French diplomacy Jean-Marc Ayrault. I told him: “Jean-Marc, let us not fall out over a handful of helicopters”. Our relations are extensive. France is present in all areas of business, the value of French investments in Poland exceeds 20 billion euros. The French should therefore be aware that they have a lot more to lose from holding a grudge and cutting off relations with Poland. After all, French politicians are aware of the fact that we are protecting our national interests. Let us not be naïve, we are talking about large amounts of money, billions, that is why interests have to be preserved very carefully on both sides.
PAP: How did the French Foreign Minister reply?
He said that we should return to a normal dialogue, open normal levels of co-operation between political directors, deputy ministers, restoring the machinery of contacts.
Let us not forget that we are a large country with our own interests that we have to protect. We are not an orphan. In response to being asked who our main partner is, I reply: depends for what. In the economic sphere it is Germany, in the security sphere it is the United States and Great Britain and in other areas it could be France.
There was a time when people used to say that Great Britain does not have any permanent friends, only constant interests. Today we can also allow ourselves to choose our partners according to our interests. We are getting used to the fact that we are a country that has means at its disposal to implement its policies, one that does not have to seek a promoter in the world. 20 years ago, when we sought membership in the EU and NATO – riding on the coattails of another country did indeed make sense, but we are currently a country that is able to decide about the fate of the organisations that we belong to.
PAP: The deployment to Poland of a battalion group consisting of mainly American soldiers is due to take place in April 2017. Does the result of the presidential election in the United States give you any cause for concern about the implementation of the decisions made at the NATO Summit held in Warsaw last July?
I don’t think so. These decisions are due to be carried out based on a budget that was approved and which in in place until April 2017. 3.4 billion dollars has been allocated to the operation seeking to strengthen American military presence. In April this year, Americans started building the anti-missile defence base in Redzikowo.
Let us pay note to Donald Trump’s first, very moderate, speech as well as the people that he now turns to for council. Today he has the backing of conservative Republican think-tanks such as the Hermitage Foundation, which have a very clear-cut understanding of American interests. This reassures me.
Of course, I remember the decision made by Barack Obama, who decided to seek a reset in relations with Russia. This illusory support from the Kremlin, which was supposed to provide him with a helping hand in Afghanistan amongst other places, came at a cost of stopping NATO’s Eastern enlargement process and postponing the construction of the missile defense shield. Today, I am confident that these decisions wont be repeated.
PAP: How do you evaluate the current chances of securing the TTIP trade agreement with the United States? During his election campaign, Trump presented himself as a politician who favours economic protectionism.
The future of this agreement is now completely up in the air, in part of course due to Trump’s statements but also I think mainly due to concerns raised by Europeans. Their touchstone was the CETA agreement with Canada, which after all is a country with a population of a similar size to Poland. This caused a huge degree of concern. I therefore think that if Europe returns to the negotiation table regarding TTIP then it will be a very complicated and drawn-out process.
PAP: The Kremlin is pleased with the result of the U.S. presidential election. Do you think Moscow expects warmer relations between Russia and the United States?
I think that their happiness is exaggerated. The politicians and experts that Trump draws on are aware that Russia is a geopolitical rival. Obama embraced the deceptive reset and came back empty handed. I hope that Trump will take stock of these negative experiences and will not follow a similar path. However, some sort of attempt to revive US-Russian relations will definitely happen, after all many American politicians have indeed tried to make this happen. Before Obama there was President George W. Bush, who saw Putin as someone with a democratic soul. I expect that Trump will also pursue such efforts, it would be understandable.
The problem of strained relations between the world and Russia is the result of Moscow’s actions, because the latter wants to see the West as its enemy and use it to its advantage in domestic politics.
PAP: There have been indications that we will turn to the Americans for assistance in investigating the Smolensk disaster.
We have already done so. I met with John Kerry on three occasions however he was silent when it came down to this matter. Perhaps now the Trump Administration, which has – according to the media – signaled a certain readiness to take on this issue, will be more inclined to help us.
PAP: When receiving a letter from the new Polish Ambassador in Moscow, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said that rebuilding political dialogue has to be based on mutual pragmatism and respect and he described Polish-Russian relations as rather unsatisfactory.
I agree with this assessment, although I would put stress on the word “mutual”. If Russia demands respect and pragmatism from us, then we demand the same from their side. President Putin said that he is ready to do everything, which leads me to reply: it doesn’t have to be everything, let him start by handing back the wreckage and lifting economic sanctions that he imposed on Poland. Then we will return to a pragmatic form of discourse.
We don’t see this is as an overriding priority at this point in time. We want Russia to start working reliably in clarifying the Smolensk investigation - and we know that it is not doing so: it does not want to return the wreckage, it does not want to give us back the black boxes, it does not want to provide us with the opportunity to question the people who were in charge of controlling that wretched tower.
Russia does not have to do everything, there are simply certain issues, gestures, that it could make, as a result of which relations would improve significantly.
PAP: This year you replaced a lot of ambassadors. Are further plans in store?
Another large group of ambassadors will still be replaced by the end of this year. The process will continue to be concluded in the summer, although as part of the normal rotations, as their terms are coming to an end.
We believe that 27 years after the initiation of the political transformation, it is time to undertake a large-scale review of personnel, to bring in a breath of fresh air to put it colloquially, both in terms of ambassadors and within the MFA. During this period a new generation has appeared which deserves to become the face of Poland.
We have already moved ahead with the Diplomatic Academy, a few months ago we launched a recruitment process, making public announcements in the media. We are also concluding the application process, which will soon be announced.
Changes will also be made with regards to the law pertaining to the Foreign Service, making it easier to for us to part ways with people who carry the sins of the old regime within their conscience. It will be an opportunity to review personnel in terms of ambition, commitment.
Over the past 27 years, under various governments, waves of people came to the MFA; people who joined as a result of political appointments, from economic or financial corporations.
There's a whole group of people who do not identify with foreign policy, with diplomacy, but rather with the inertia of bureaucratic functions in this building, and we are facing new challenges, we aspire to give Poland a leading position in Europe and in the institutions to which we belong. That is why we need people that are determined, rather than those who simply want to work between 08.00 and 16.00 at the ministry and later perhaps earn themselves a cushy job in Brussels, because this is indeed the case for many people.
PAP: On Independence Day earlier this month there was an incident involving the burning of a Ukrainian flag. The MFA received a diplomatic note from the Ukrainians regarding this incident. How will Poland respond?
We are getting to the bottom of this incident because it is very strange that among tens of thousands of people demonstrating in Warsaw under various slogans, carrying various banners, suddenly in front of a camera a group of masked young people emerged who carried out the act of burning the Ukrainian flag. There were no other incidents of this type, so either it was an individual act of vandalism, for which we expressed regret, or it was a provocative act intended to stoke tensions in Polish-Ukrainian relations. We have turned to the police for them to provide us with a better understanding of what happened. Until now, something like this has never happened and these marches have taken place for years now. I hope that it won’t impact Polish-Ukrainian relations.
The Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin called me in the late afternoon on Tuesday. We discussed Europe’s energy problems but we also agreed that the incident with the Ukrainian flag is an event that will not impact our relations. The Ukrainian side was pleased with our swift reaction and it is aware that the issue has been directed to the police and that an investigation is under way.
PAP: These energy problems that were discussed – are they related to Nord Stream?
This is a whole system of pipelines that deliver gas to Europe and that could lead to Poland and Ukraine being bypassed, meaning that they could be susceptible to energy blackmail.
PAP: The opposition has sharply criticized the foreign policy pursued by the PiS government. Previously, when it came to foreign policy the governing parties and the opposition tried to maintain a common front. How do you assess the current cooperation with opposition parties?
Unfortunately not very optimistically, because the opposition has used global public opinion in its war against our government.
The internal political dispute concerning, among others the Constitutional Tribunal was dragged outside our borders, to the media world, to the European Parliament. There they largely presented negative opinions about what is happening in Poland.
Moreover, there were calls for a boycott of the July NATO summit in Warsaw, the opposition believed that the summit should be cancelled, moved somewhere, to Brussels, because Poland does not deserve to host it.
How does one evaluate the appeal by Lech Walesa, who demanded that Poland be removed from the European Union if PiS continues to stay in power?
There were no activities of this kind in the past. When we were in the opposition we tried to reach out to the world regarding the Smolensk disaster. But it was an attempt to influence public opinion, so that it puts pressure on Russia. We did not want to agree with the conclusions of the Polish report on the Smolensk catastrophe, let alone the MAK report. But there was never a situation where we as the opposition demanded that Poland be removed from the EU or that the possibility of stationing NATO troops in Poland is taken away from us. This is an aberration that has only occurred now. Unfortunately, some of the opposition reaches for the worst traditions of old Polish history, where we had to appeal to foreign powers, influences in order for others to interfere in Poland, so that they restore order. And our internal conflicts should be dealt with here, in Poland.
PAP: In turn, you have critically evaluated the work of Donald Tusk as the head of the European Council. Should he, as an EU official, pursue Polish interests?
Please note how the officials of other states behave – those of Germany or France. Please note which nations in Brussels support Nord Stream 1, Nord Stream 1, certain energy and economic solutions. Who opposes this or that NATO or EU defence policy.
Some years ago, we were told that capital has no nationality, that by joining the EU we should forget about national interests. But when the financial crisis came, it turned out that this is not a club of altruists, that individual members skillfully seek their own interests, using all the political, economic and PR tools at their disposal.
Today's attacks on Poland, accusations that it does not show solidarity in some cases, cannot be treated in a naïve manner. It is not the case that some angels have pointed out that we have misbehaved. There is a huge amount of money behind this, because after all one can threaten us with the removal of grants, subsidies, and these are worth billions of euros.
We can be forced to buy this or that military equipment, and this also means billions of zloty that we want to spend. Pressure, by means of stigmatization, can be exerted so that we wont be treated seriously. Let us not be naive, that the idea is for Poland to behave politely, and huge financial interests are behind this.
PAP: Can Donald Tusk count on the support of the Polish government for his second term?
He still has a few months to convince us that by having a very important role in the EU he is able to use this function to help Polish interests. So far I have not noticed such a desire, I have not seen engagement with the Polish side, I have not seen him share information with the Polish leadership, for example from the G7 meetings. So we have a problem.
Interviewed by: Elwira Krzyżanowska and Magdalena Cedro (PAP)