Poland ready to thoroughly engage in European defence policy

An interview with Konrad Szymański, Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jędrzej Bielecki, Rzeczpospolita: Angela Merkel came to Poland because she believes that rescuing the EU needs to be a concerted effort. Isn’t this an exaggeration? An excess of pessimism?

Konrad Szymański: That is an apt diagnosis. We share the conviction that the EU is worth saving. At times, what is offered are half measures, whereas we need in-depth discussion about what the European Union is for and how it should be governed. Poland is ready for that discussion because – similar to Berlin, I believe – we hold the conviction that what needs to be preserved, above all, is the [present] scale of the European Union. ‘No’ to half measures in the form of small unions, or a multi-speed divided EU, or a passive and unimaginative wait for subsequent exits; that is not good news, be it for Warsaw or for Berlin. The observation that we are dealing here with a crisis of unprecedented scale is thus accurate.

Why are we supposed to save the EU alongside Germany?

Not just with Germany, but Berlin is a natural partner for such an operation. The EU can only be rescued if the operation is undertaken in a much wider circle. Nonetheless, Berlin is certainly a fine and credible partner with which to pursue discussions about the future of the EU; in that sense, this visit is of extraordinary importance.

At last Friday’s Malta Summit, however, Chancellor Merkel spoke about the need for building a multi-speed EU. Isn’t that a cause for concern?

Had such a statement come from a politician of another region of Europe, I would have certainly been more concerned about it because I would know that it was about setting up small clubs, preferably bankrolled with transfers of public funds, with separate institutions. When this comes from Angela Merkel though, I am bit less worried because I am convinced that it is Germany’s ongoing policy to preserve the common market and the EU in their present scope, perhaps with the recognition that we simply need some degree of flexibility. Even today, the European Union operates at more than one speed: there is the Schengen area and there is the euro zone. If there is anyone interested in establishing a framework for intensified collaboration in other areas, which would not result in the dismantling of the common market, we are open to discussing that. We would adopt our own decision on engaging in such advanced forms of integration independently. There are no taboos here. In other words, any such formula must remain an open one.

Is it correct to assume that we would not, therefore, stand in anybody’s way in terms of such collaboration, and that we would possibly engage in it ourselves?

Yes, provided we are given guarantees that the logic behind those ideas is not a de facto dismantling of the European Union or the common market.

The Germans have a specific project in mind: that of European defence. In their opinion, this is required in the face of Russian aggression and the uncertainty of the US...

Poland has always been one of those countries which, for obvious reasons, recognise the tasks of international organisations, including the European Union, in the domain of security. We have three hurdles to overcome. Firstly, this needs to be [a proposal that is] synergetic with NATO. Secondly, it must be responsive to real threats in the South and the East. Finally, all industry-specific support instruments must be made available to the defence enterprises located in our part of Europe. With these conditions as a foundation, we can easily imagine a route that provides for Poland’s thorough engagement in the EU’s defence policy.

The Germans claim they agree with Poland on the three points of the declaration to be adopted in Rome on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the integration – both in terms of defence and the single market and youth employment. However, point number four of the migration policy is a problem.

This is potentially true. If we limit ourselves to these aspects of the Rome declaration, then that is what the initial map of synergies and tension points looks like. However, if we take into account the experience of last Friday’s EU Summit in Malta, where the Member States proved very efficient and to-the-point in adopting the decisions relating to the set of common instruments for the protection of the EU’s external borders and control of migration flows on its southern border, the emerging picture is somewhat different. By the way, this is something that calls for a thorough study, mainly on the part of those who complain about the problem of disjunction in migration policy. The experience in Malta demonstrates that if all the Member States jointly define for themselves the problem that the migration crisis or the uncontrolled inflow of migrants constitutes and then choose – on a consensual basis – the measures they wish to use to address this, they are capable of acting in an extremely effective way. However, if the same Member States are not willing to accept the fact that not all of the measures have the support of all Member States, and if they wish to maintain political tension bordering on a crisis for months and years, then the choice is theirs. Poland is ready to strike a compromise; however, that compromise needs to take into account our expectations. That is a natural aspect of any negotiation.

Can our compromise also relate to the refugee redistribution plan?

Allocations and relocations are ideas that have not delivered any results. There is no room in Europe for 60 million people from North Africa and the Middle East who have abandoned their homes as a result of various crises. That is an idea that will only encourage further uncontrolled inflow of migrants to Europe and will ultimately usher in political instability of a kind we cannot imagine. Thus, it is not just because we ourselves are not interested in such mechanisms, but also for the sake of Europe that we suggest selection of realistic measures. If certain Member States are convinced that they can develop their engagement in the resettlement of refugees, then they should naturally be free to do so. However, the establishment of mechanisms for transnational governance in this area is suicide.

In other words, you don’t see any way in which we can achieve a compromise with the European Commission in this respect??

If we accept the fact that while we can do many different things within the EU but not everything, especially with the instruments that are available, this will make it much easier for us to emerge from this crisis. What is more, on our side, and particularly after the Malta Summit, there are two important arguments. First, where a consensus exists, decisions can be adopted rapidly and effectively. Second, these are measures that can actually deliver qualitative changes when it comes to the migrant crisis in Europe, as proven by the decline in the number of migrants and refugees entering Greece from Turkey. There is no internal migration mechanism capable of delivering relief that is comparable to that provided through the agreement with Turkey. We will also soon, I hope, conclude an agreement with Libya. Instead of ideologising this discussion and exchanging epithets, it is better to choose the instruments we can realistically use and then use them.

Do we agree that we ought not to reopen the EU’s treaties for the time being? Germans believe that to be a sure-fire way to paralyse the Community.

The treaties cannot be reopened on a ‘solo’ basis, so there is nothing here to agree to. We will, however, keep up the pressure on the discussion of major changes in EU governance. The time for that discussion is ‘now’ as readiness for treaty amendment mounts among other Member States. Poland will be ready to play a leading and independent role in this matter. I see no reason for treating this as a taboo. European unity needs to be restored, and the treaty is naturally the final instrument for achieving that.

Is our approach to the Brexit negotiations with London similar to that of Germany? Berlin wishes to preserve the integrity of the single market and to negotiate the entire agreement as late as in the spring of 2019.

Warsaw and Berlin share a common interpretation of that experience and have similar views on how to proceed in the negotiations with the United Kingdom. This is certainly EU business and should be treated as such to the very end. The agreement on the UK leaving the EU should address, in a very serious manner, the matters of: protecting the acquired rights of EU citizens, protecting the budgetary commitments of the United Kingdom, and finally protecting the integrity of the common market. On the other hand, it cannot lead to the establishment of excessive barriers. Ultimately, we should end up with an agreement which does not distance the United Kingdom from the continent politically or economically in any extreme way. On this, we and Berlin are of like minds.

Germany expects a gesture from Poland in the dispute over the Constitutional Tribunal in order to avoid a vote in the European Council on sanctioning Poland and also to enable the European Commission to come out of this dispute with dignity...

We do not acknowledge this to be a matter of major or key importance in either Polish-German or Polish-EU relations.

Berlin believes in the preservation of an EU based on values.

We are not in a dispute about values. The rule of law is an important value from Poland’s standpoint too; it is a constitutional principle. What we are arguing about is its implementation or the way it is interpreted. This is a legal dispute, which grew out of a political crisis that came about in the Polish Parliament during the previous administration’s term. Our position is clear. We will present the European Commission with the legal arguments behind this position in due time.

It was to be expected that Angela Merkel would ask whether Poland backed Donald Tusk for his second term at the helm of the European Council.

The response to the question on the scenarios in this matter is for Angela Merkel’s ears only. The government of Poland will choose the moment for public declarations on that matter. This response can be much more complex than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Now is not the time, however.

Will we co-ordinate our policy vis-à-vis Donald Trump’s America?

Similar to Berlin, Warsaw has been encouraging everyone not to go into hysterics on this matter. The change of power in Washington naturally spells the emergence of difficult issues such as the proportionality of contributions toward security between Europe and America or the symmetry in international trade between the US and the EU; however, the European Union is probably not the main addressee of the concerns here. These are serious questions that call for objective answers rather than for the promotion of anti-American bias in Europe. What both we and Germany would naturally like to see is the reactivation of the common agenda with Washington. However, we need to provide a response that is informed by our interests in this matter. Notwithstanding the potential difficulties in communication, I am a believer in the sustainability of the transatlantic community of interests. We just need to reaffirm our support for it.

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