Mikołaj Dowgielewicz is Polish state secretary for European affairs and economic policy. He is also plenipotentiary for Poland’s EU presidency, which will take place between July and December 2011.
He was speaking to EurActiv Slovakia's Zuzana Vaskova.
Poland will hold the rotating EU presidency next year. What are the priorities and main issues you want to address?
Our priority will be to inject more optimism and energy into the European Union. And by this I mean to advance well the negotiations on the next financial perspective [2013-2020], to continue to work on the external aspects of the energy policy and to debate the enhancement of the internal market – since we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the internal market in 2012, it will be a good occasion before the anniversary to talk about the benefits of the internal market and how we can advance it.
And then there will still be, of course, ongoing discussions about exit strategies from the economic crisis. And this is why I say that we want to inject optimism, because I hope this will be the moment when all the indicators will be moving up, when Europe will gain confidence and will really reach the stage when we can say: we got out of the economic crisis.
During the recent economic conference in Krynica [on 8-11 September], Polish officials said that their goal is also a stronger and more stable Europe. How do you want to achieve that?
We think that Europe must be serious about becoming a global actor, and of course this is an ongoing process and is not just from 1 July 2011 to the end of December. So one of the focuses – and this is specifically where we want to advance the discussions during the Polish Presidency – is the question of the Common Security and Defence Policy. We feel that for Europe to be credible on the world stage, to be much more effective, it needs to invest in this area.
Another aspect is, of course, that we want to use the Polish Presidency as a vehicle to promote the idea of openness and cooperation with our Eastern neighbours. We will have, for the first time, a very large number of ministerial meetings – around ten – with ministers from the Eastern countries. So not just EU-27 ministers, but also the countries from the East.
Poland is one of the biggest countries in the European Union. Do you find its size adequate to the position and role it plays in European affairs? Would you like to change something about it?
Well, to such questions you can only give diplomatic answers. I would say this: Poland has, as well as the other Visegrad countries [the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary], many reasons for self-confidence.
Firstly, the most important reason is the most impressive transformation that has happened here in this region over twenty years. Secondly, what we feel is also giving us a bit of confidence is economic growth: Poland was the 'green island' in the European Union last year and according to predictions by the Commission [in its interim economic forecast of 13 September] it is still going to be the fastest growing country within the European Union.
So this gives us confidence, but I think the Union is an organisation where you need common effort, so I don't think that any country should have a reason to think that it can achieve things on its own. I think that on the contrary, the global situation is such that we all realise that we are just little boats on very troubled waters and we need to cooperate to be stronger.
You already mentioned discussions about the next financial perspective. How do you expect the negotiations to evolve? What will be the main issues?
First of all we want to discuss the principles of the budget – so what should be the policies that we want to amplify and support with the budget. I think we should not start this debate with the numbers, the size of the budget, because we have so many beautiful ambitions for the European Union.
Every year we have new ideas about what the EU should do and we have to put our money where our mouth is, so that's why we realise that it will be an extremely difficult debate given the current economic circumstances. But those circumstances can also change and if there is a return to economic growth in Europe, there would be more reasons for optimism.
But I would not tell you today that it should be this figure or that figure, this policy. It's way too early for these discussions.
There have been some talks recently about moving some of the funds from the Cohesion Policy to other areas. Is Poland in favour of keeping the status quo in these matters or do you agree with the change?
You know it's not very fashionable, not always cool to say that you want the status quo. No, I would say it differently. I would say: we are convinced that the European Cohesion Policy delivers and we can see very well, at least in Poland, how the policy is changing the landscape of my country. I also know how much Austrian, German, Dutch and Swedish companies have gained from the Cohesion Policy.
For Austria, for example, for every euro spent on the EU budget they get over 80 cents back – with trade, sale of services and so on. After all, somebody is building motorways and other facilities, somebody is training people, so it is a win-win situation and this is a very important task, to explain to the leaders in net-paying countries that it's a win-win situation.
And, of course, there are always new challenges: climate, energy, security, skills – they can all be integrated into Cohesion Policy. So it's not the status quo, it's more about efficient adaptation of Cohesion Policy and not trying to fix what isn't broken.
There has been some warming in your relations with Russia. Do you want to continue with this policy?
I think it's good for the European Union that Poland and Russia can reconcile despite the difficult past, and I believe that it is a very significant process which has happened since the accident – the airplane crash with the Polish president and 95 other people on board in Smolensk. I think it's significant and we want to continue.
I believe it is in the Union's interest to have a very comprehensive partnership with Russia. A partnership that is not only about the transfer of technologies, but that should be about strategic dialogue and serious cooperation. We want, as Poland, to see Russia being a modern country.
How do you see the cooperation of the Visegrad countries? Do you want to continue to synchronise common positions?
I don't see any problem in that. I think it's quite logical that our countries cooperate. We have similar historical experience, we are in the same region. And for Poland, Visegrad and the Weimar triangle with France and Germany are two pillars of our European policy, so we don't see any conflict, we are just positive and open-minded. I think this cooperation is very fruitful and it should continue.