We are part of the coalition in the war against ISIS

An interview with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski.

Unfortunately a Polish citizen, a truck driver, was among the victims of the attack in Berlin. What actions have the Polish authorities undertaken in light of these developments?

From the very beginning, our consulate has remained in constant contact with the police and German security services, from the very start it has monitored the situation following the tragic attack on the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. A crisis management team was created at the Polish Embassy in Berlin, it included consular staff as well as the liaison officer of the Polish police.

Can you confirm that the GPS information recorded by the Polish company indicates that the terrorist seized the truck and killed the driver? What role does this data play with regards to your co-operation with the German authorities?

This is an issue being looked into by the German investigative authorities, which are in constant contact with our judicial authorities. Investigators in both countries are using all means at their disposal to explain the causes and dynamics of the tragedy as quickly as possible. We expect accurate explanations. Unfortunately, tragic events have yet again taken place in the European Union. The attack in Berlin looks like it was well planned: it was organized just before Christmas, at a time that is exceptionally important for Europeans.

The bloodshed in Berlin, the Russian ambassador murdered in Ankara, the family of the Polish truck driver in mourning. Everyone is under fire. Does the Polish government positively assess the international cooperation in the fight against terrorism or does it think that the free world – and if possible Russia – should strengthen its co-operation in this regard? Making it more efficient.

Although we haven’t yet experienced terrorist attacks on the territory of our country, Polish citizens have been the victims of attacks: in this past year alone, before the tragedy in Berlin, this was the case in Nice and Brussels. We are therefore deeply committed to fighting the terrorist threat on the international level. We participate in the initiatives of major international organizations, from the UN to the EU and the OECD and we are working within the framework of the global coalition against ISIS.

International military missions targeted against ISIS in Iraq and Syria increase the risk of terrorist infiltration in the countries of the free world. That is why we have to be even better prepared. Migration routes should be under the strict supervision of European security services and one needs to provide aid to people in their countries of origin, thus preventing migration.

The bottom line is that European countries have taken every effort to prevent the radicalization of those who have already arrived in Europe. This is a huge challenge for countries that have agreed to accept large, the largest so far, numbers of migrants. Poland is open to cooperation in all of the above issues and aspects. Enhanced and multifaceted cooperation of the countries concerned is essential if we are going to effectively fight such a difficult enemy.

Let's turn to domestic policy, to the hard confrontation between the government and the opposition. You recently described the protest as being the "activities of frustrated people." What did you mean by this?

The groups that lost both the presidential and parliamentary elections last year do not want to accept the result of democratic decisions.  Instead of waiting four years for the opportunity to win over the public, they instead try to take back power by moving events to the streets. Occupying the rostrum in parliament demonstrates that some politicians do not understand the basic principles of democracy: one needs to have discussions and not block dialogue.

Is a compromise possible following the governing party’s decision not to limit media access to the parliament? 

Opposition groups claimed that the only reason for occupying the podium in parliament were the planned restrictions regarding the functioning of the media within the parliament complex. This was a disproportionate and asymmetrical protest, organized by the opposition much in advance. Perhaps it was meant to lead to the destabilization of the political situation in the country. The moment that the Speaker of the Parliament removed the emotionally loaded draft, effectively removing the subject of the dispute, the continued occupation of the chamber showed that the opposition has ulterior motives, ones that it chooses not to share with the public.

The opposition claims that the government is violating the constitution, that it threatens democracy, freedom and is carrying out a silent coup. How do you reply to this?

The current parliamentary majority is not changing the constitution, it complies with all its provisions. The principle of separation of powers means, inter alia, that laws are made by parliament. All of the participants of the political scene need to reconcile themselves with this, including representatives of the judiciary. Undermining the role of parliament is in itself a violation of the constitution.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS, has expressed his hope that the process of implementing political structural reforms would be accelerated. Do we need a new republic? How much unregulated freedom, liberalism and executive power facilitated by free elections does Poland need?

The current government aims to further modernize the country and the state, but within the existing political principles. Many people in the West do not understand that each European country has its own dynamics. Both the constitutions and the economies of countries such as Italy, Sweden, France or Germany are different from each other. In Europe, there is no one single applicable model of democracy. The Polish parliament has the right to shape the system according to the wishes of our citizens, on the basis of our political and Christian values.

Brussels (i.e. the EU, the European Commission, Donald Tusk the President of the European Council and others) has renewed criticism of the Polish government, talking about the threat to democracy. In your opinion, how big is the risk of a conflict between the democratically elected Polish government and European institutions?

In my opinion, the risk of a similar dispute is low, especially because we represent the will of the citizens expressed in uncontested, democratic elections and I do not want to believe that the EU will decide to enter into a dispute with a government that has such strong legitimacy. What it certain is that it is not our intention to start a dispute with Commission or the European Parliament.

As shown by Brexit, we have to tackle the crisis of trust that EU citizens have with regards to EU institutions. We flagged this problem from the beginning of our dialogue with the European Commission. A large part of Polish society does not understand why Brussels is contesting the decisions made by a government that has a strong electoral mandate. We hope that EU institutions will take this into consideration, understand that taking initiatives that go beyond existing treaties risk creating dangers for the EU itself.

In conclusion, let me reaffirm: the consolidation of the democratic rule of law in Poland, which means creating a stable foundation to enable the work of the Constitutional Tribunal, is a leading priority of the Polish government. We need a strong Poland in a well-functioning EU.

Interviewer: Andrea Tarquini