Polish foreign policy during the first year of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government

It is not easy to present all the accomplishments made by Polish diplomacy in 2016 because this period was an incredibly active one.

Let me start by reminding you of the most important points made in the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ expose in January 2016 regarding Polish foreign policy.

In reference to the international situation, the head of the Polish MFA said that at the time that we are surrounded by three crises:

  • the first crisis is caused by the Russian threat, exemplified by Russian aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s strategy that encourages the use of force within international relations
  • the second crisis relates to the neighbourhood surrounding the European Union, caused by military conflicts in countries in the EU’s southern neighbourhood such as Syria and Libya. Conflict and chaos in these countries is causing huge migration waves of people looking for a calmer and better life, in the form of migration to EU member states. In these countries we are also seeing the persecution of Christians.
  • the third crisis pertains to the European project, that is the European Union. The EU’s leadership does not respect its founding treaty, they don’t listen to public opinion, they pursue policies that serve the interests of ideological and corporate elites.

By referring to these three crises, the government for the first time started treating Poles seriously, it put an end to the attempts aimed at tricking public opinion into thinking that the situation surrounding Poland was very good, that there are no problems – as had been argued by the previous leadership. In doing so, the government used the expose to present the country’s citizens with an honest diagnosis of the international situation.

What did the MFA propose to do with regards to this situation?

Above all, the expose sought to present the foundations of the current government’s foreign policy.

  • foreign policy should implement the national interest and not foreign interests or popular ideologies.
  • foreign policy should promote the use of the primacy of international law and not force.
  • foreign policy should draw on values, i.e. the heritage of Latin culture, that is Christianity, Greek philosophy and Roman law.

What tasks for Polish diplomacy were proposed in the expose?

  • NATO constitutes the foundation of Polish, European and transatlantic safety, our goal is to build a base in Redzikowo, the presence of US troops in Poland, the construction of the missile defense system, the organization of the NATO summit in Poland
  • establishing an isthmus region, that is the countries lying between Russia and Germany, not in order to build an alternative to the EU but to strengthen the EU and Poland
  • strengthening relations with Great Britain, because this is a country that leads a pro-atlanticist policy, a country with whom we don’t have serious differences of opinion regarding Nord Stream, migration or in defining the threats emanating from the East.
  • returning the EU to its roots, i.e. adhering to the four fundamental freedoms.
  • promoting Poland and supporting Polish citizens abroad.

On the basis of the tasks presented in the MFA expose, one can clearly say that the foreign policy pursued by the current government is not a policy of continuation. This is because for the first time in Poland, issues of international security have been given priority.

Furthermore, for the first time in many years, actually since the last Law and Justice government, the MFA is in the hands of a professional, i.e. someone who as a MFA diplomat has climbed the rungs within the diplomatic hierarchy.

Which of the tasks announced in the expose have been successfully realised?

  • in 2016, issues relating to international security took up most of the MFA’s time; the NATO Summit took place in Warsaw, despite the very strong destructive influence from the pro-Russian opposition in the country, which called for the boycott of Poland at the summit; at the summit we secured decisions regarding the presence of several thousand U.S. soldiers in Poland, the construction of the U.S. base in Redzikowo is underway. In the seven months between December 2015 and June 2016, the MFA helped the government establish a reputation as a serious partner and ally, despite large-scale anti-government efforts in the West. The Warsaw Summit formed the basis of political and legal co-operation for NATO and the EU; the summit also adopted a 35-page communication setting tasks for the Alliance for the coming years, which in short means that western countries have adopted our diagnosis of the threats coming from the east. The success of the NATO summit in Warsaw is the merit of the Foreign Ministry, this is clear to anyone who knows about the decision-making process in NATO, which is based on the principle of civilian control over the army where the military implements policy decisions regarding security made by politicians and diplomats.
  • issues relating to the migration crisis and the crisis in the EU’s neighbourhood, the Republic of Poland has been assertive regarding these matters, explaining that we have taken responsibility for the protection of the EU’s eastern border and are taking in migrants from Ukraine; we are paying a high political price for our position although finally others are starting to agree with us that the EU’s official position on this issue will not solve the problem. Our aid to migrants from the East, who are fleeing Ukraine due to the war, comes in the form of taking in almost a million Ukrainians to Poland in addition to annually transferring close to 5 billion euros to Ukraine. No country carries such a burden with regards to migrants, even Germany which is richer and larger does less, proportionally, for migrants than we do. The Republic of Poland regards migration as a problem that needs to be solved at the source and not in Europe.
  • with regards to the European project, the Republic of Poland has a clearly defined position together with the countries of the Visegrad Group, we believe that the EU leadership should strictly adhere to the Treaty, apply the principle of subsidiarity, strengthen the role of the European Council at the expense of Commissioners, strengthen the influence of national parliaments on EU legislation, change the algorithm for calculating the weight of each vote during voting.
  • relations with Great Britain have been raised to the strategic level, consultations with London will take place every year at the prime minister level.
  • the promotion of Poland is realised by means of the Poland.pl portal. During the World Youth Day celebrations, the MFA published and distributed a brochure about Poland in eight languages with a circulation of 350,000; the MFA has opened new diplomatic missions all over the world, including a consulate in Chendgu and an embassy in Senegal; the ministry is pursuing a new historical policy aimed at fighting defective memory codes; personnel changes have been made in many Polish Institutes around the world.
  • the MFA supports Poles abroad, both in joyous occasions (for example Polish weddings) as well as in moments of need (such as the loss of documents, illness or traffic accidents). Every year, around half a million people contact Polish diplomatic missions regarding a range of issues. In the first half of this year our diplomacy rescued kidnapped sailors off the coast of West Africa and evacuated Poles from Mariopol in Ukraine.

It is clear that attacks have been orchestrated against the foreign policy pursued by the current government, for example there is a foreign-funded foundation that organised a special team to discredit the MFA’s current policies abroad, an editorial office has delegated several of its journalists abroad to criticise Polish diplomacy in the foreign press. There is no sense in arguing with these media operations as they are not professional analysts but rather lobbyists hired by foreign clients. In the first half of 2016, these actors aimed to block the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Now they are focused on reducing Poland’s standing abroad and encouraging a boycott of our country. Meanwhile, the use of foreign policy for internal political purposes is further evidence of the lack of maturity by the civic opposition or its service to a foreign interest.

The most common accusations directed at the Law and Justice government claim that the latter is pursuing nationalist, clerical and populist policies. Meanwhile, the concept of the nation is enshrined in the Polish constitution. The constitution also talks about the Christian heritage of the nation, about the fact that members of parliament are representatives of the nation, that power belongs to the nation.

With regards to the Constitutional Tribunal dispute, it is worth pointing out that many people don’t understand that there is no one single model of democracy in the world or in the European Union, for example there are countries in the EU that do not have a Constitutional Tribunal, there are countries in the EU that do not provide immunity for judges. In short, the values exemplified by extreme liberals, such as abortion-on-demand and secularization, do not constitute the European standard but rather the views of extreme liberals.

It is worth remembering that the most nationalistic and anti-EU parties in the EU are in Germany, France and the Netherlands, countries that are trying to lecture us on the significance of European values and on how to govern.

Meanwhile, the main threat to European integration lies not in Poland but rather in so-called Old Europe. Poland has one of the continent’s highest levels of pro-European sentiment, if the PiS government criticizes the EU then it is to improve, not destroy, it.

Accusations of populism directed at the government of Beata Szydlo are not credible in nature because they suggest that our policy is aimed at realization of the expectations of the masses – which is the basic task of every democratically elected government. Shame on those who serve foreign interests that are contrary to those of our society, i.e. the interests of elites and corporations.

In his address to German ambassadors on 29 August 2016, the head of the Polish MFA said that today the EU needs responsible decision-making. And this is exactly the type of policy that Poland is currently pursuing. That is why it is now being treated seriously around the world. Our strong international position is best exemplified by the fact that the Polish Foreign Minister took part in the ambassadorial consultations in Berlin led by Minister Steinmeier.

Let us not forget that the personnel within our diplomatic corps is being systematically exchanged and rejuvenated. The call for applications to the Foreign Service has already been announced and almost 300 people have applied.  Many young MFA employees have received diplomatic ranks. New ambassadors have already been dispatched to numerous countries, for example Belarus, Germany, Great Britain, the Holy See, Ukraine, the United States, Russia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, the OECD, Serbia, Portugal, Colombia and Panama, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and Hungary. Further personnel changes will take place in the next few months.

Foreign policy is not just a matter of words, it is about building a favourable balance of power. Is Poland today under threat? The answer is yes, because the adversary especially in the east is more aggressive.  However, at the same time, despite an increase in threats Poland’s situation is better than it was a year ago, and this is due to several reasons:

  • because we do not hide problems, there are no magic acts aimed at cheating people
  • because we are stronger militarily, as during the NATO Summit we managed to push through our argument that defence of the Eastern Flank lies in the interest of the entire Alliance; because a decision was made to deploy U.S. forces in Poland
  • because we have stronger political relations with the U.S. and Great Britain
  • because we have good relations with Germany, Berlin agreed to the strengthening of the Eastern Flank, it is gradually coming to understand our point of view regarding migration
  • because there is a dialogue in place with Belarus and a thaw in relations with Minsk
  • because consultations with Russia took place on the deputy minister level; we currently have cool relations with Moscow as Russia froze relations with the entire Western camp
  • because we continue to have intense contact with Ukraine, President Andrzej Duda was the only foreign guest at Ukraine’s independence day celebrations in August 2016
  • because new economic relations have been established with China and the Republic of South Korea; the Polish economy is opening up to non-European markets, we don’t want to be reliant on the dynamics of the European economy, we need diversification in our economic contacts abroad and this is a constant effort pursued by Polish diplomacy.

The events mentioned above allow us to state that Polish foreign policy in 2016 has been a success for our country. This success would be even more pronounced if all departments complied with the provisions of the law on government administration, which provides that the Minister of Foreign Affairs coordinates the foreign policy of Poland and evaluates programs of international cooperation with other ministries.

With regards to the MFA’s future priorities for 2017 – 2022, there are three main objectives:

  • Security, i.e. the implementation of the decisions made at the NATO Summit
  • Development, i.e. supporting Morawiecki’s Plan using the tools at the disposal of economic diplomacy
  • Strengthening Poland’s authority abroad, this means supporting initiatives that portray Poland as a credible political and economic partner as well as actively countering disinformation about Poland.

In conclusion, when looking at the work being done by Polish diplomacy we can be confident about the future. 

JAN PARYS, the defense minister in Jan Olszewski's 1991 government, and now the head of the political cabinet of foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski.