Saryusz-Wolski: Trump is not the end of the world

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski [Website of Jacek Saryusz-Wolski]

Europe’s military abilities are useless if there’s no political will to use them in the face of danger, Civic Platform MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski told Euractiv Poland.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is Vice-President of the European People’s Party, and a lawmaker in the European Parliament.

Saryusz-Wolski spoke with Euractiv.pl’s Editor-in-Chief, Karolina Zbytniewska.

Times they are a changin’. Donald Trump announces a new age of protectionism. China has become a fervent supporter of the free market. The Brits chose Brexit, while anti-establishment and populist voices are on the rise. Many claim that it’s “the end of the world as we know it”. What is your prognosis?

First of all we need to cool down a bit, and wait and see which of those claims are going to last. All of these protectionist slogans in the US and Europe are based on the wrong diagnosis. Impoverishment of the middle class and job leakage are caused by technological development, not as many claim, by international trade market and globalisation. 80% of fault lays in the technological industry. Populists blame false factors and its just rhetoric but it works. However, the truth will come to light. Those problems have political and social consequences that lead us to historical change, similar to the Industrial Revolution.

So we are facing another grand revolution?

That’s definitely a fast expanding revolution with all of the corollaries. The world moves fast these days while our perception – that of individuals and whole societies – cannot keep pace with the changing reality. Wrong diagnoses lead to wrong conclusions and wrong decisions. What we know is that the First World War was based on protectionism and conflicts. We have to constantly remind people about it.

If Trump will implement his electoral promises, the US will be forced to deal with a lot of damage. What about the rest of the world?

All of the big international organisations like the WTO and also global trade deals that the US now wishes to break were (created) to serve America. It was always the rest of the world that had issues with those agreements.

What should Europe do facing Trump’s unpredictability?

It’s almost impossible to dramatically change the political course of United States because of the size of its economy and its links to the global market. Even the slightest modification would take more time than we can imagine – that’s just how institutional law works.

When it comes to the economy, the cut-off point of changes will be hold down by the reactions of the stock market and currency rates. Adjustments will need to fit into those boundaries. For me, it’s hard to picture the United States as a protectionist and isolated island. The power of the American economy is based on symbiosis with the world economy.

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Trump doesn’t want to close the borders, just when it seems uncomfortable to him. He claims he has a pragmatic and realistic attitude.

“We’re going to close ourselves against others, but all the rest will be open for us”. That kind of policy is wrong simply because it’s not how it works. I’m looking forward to seeing how Great Britain is going to cope after the Brexit, with this “new” America. They are so sure they’re going global. We’ll see if it’s going to work for them.

Let’s be fair, Great Britain is not that weak – it’s the fifth largest global economy.

The situation can always get worse, which I expect. Great Britain’s entry to into European Economic Community was the topic of my MA thesis. Their motivation for access was a hope for new trade opportunities and investment. Now I expect Brexit to work the other way around. Brits are going to lose all the benefits they had in the EU. In the case of the US, the geopolitical consequences are much more important. At the beginning, there will be probably no economic alarms. But it was also all quiet one day before World War I. The US risks hurting itself really badly.

It will harm itself but also the rest of the world. They gave up on their role of the soft power leader.

Time’s going to show how those plans perform. Changes will be less significant than we expect and they won’t cause the end of the world. However, we have to face the fact that some kind of changes will take place. What Europe and Poland need right now is good preparation for the upcoming modifications.

Then what should Europe do to prepare?

We have to be more independent in the security field and expand investment in the arms industry.

Do we need a common European army?

We need a strong NATO.

Pentagon chief James Mattis ensured Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Jens Stoltenberg of America’s full commitment to NATO. Meanwhile, Trump called North Atlantic Alliance ‘obsolete and needless’. It’s hard not to be confused.

America’s first signals of dissatisfaction with NATO were their calls for Europe to participate in the pact on the proportional level. That was many years ago. Now it’s time for them to move from words to action. Edward Luttwak said once that either Europe is going to put up an army of half a million soldiers or the US will make a deal with Russia behind Europe’s back.

For a few years now I’ve been lobbying at the European Parliament for shifting the way we consider this 2% of GDP spending for military security. My proposition to exclude it from Excessive Deficit Procedure was turned down as a violation of Stability and Growth Pact. Then it became clear it’s full of exceptions and works differently for various countries.

The conclusion is that if we don’t (provide) some kind of motivation mechanism for countries, the division between so-called NATO’s Eastern Flank and its Western part is going to grow. The question is why (then does) only the Eastern Flank has to pay that 2 % if in all of the EU’s countries works the 3% budget deficit rule? It’s hypocritical for the West to accuse the Eastern Flank of disloyalty and not to obey its own rules in the meantime.

But it’s only Poland and Estonia that pay 2% on the Eastern Flank…

That’s right, but Lithuania intends to pay 2.5% of GDP. All of the region’s countries are going to catch up with Poland soon.

Germany also wants to enlarge the security budget, but slowly. Still, their GDP is almost ten times our size, so there 1.2% is like our 12 in real numbers.

They spend 1.2%, France spends about 1.76%. However, it’s not about the amount or even quality of the stuff they buy. A huge army means nothing if we’re not willing to use it. The fact that France has nuclear power means nothing. Europe should reduce variations in perception of danger between countries and promote the political will to use resources we have.

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We seem to encounter some kind of ‘flexible loyalty’ in security policy.

That’s selective loyalty. We ought to raise taxes, build our potential and participate in costs equally. But, as I said, we need will to use our power. It can’t be used just to construct industry in selected countries.

We should raise defence expenses to 2% and exclude them from Excessive Deficit Procedure and from the sanction system it entails. It should be applicable not only in euro zone countries but also in other EU nations. Such an attitude would entirely change our costs and expenses. Then, with a new, enlarged army and better equipment, we have to get political permission to use it.

We see examples of unused potential as regards the EU Battlegroup and European Corps. They exist but we don’t use them. That’s why we need a revolution – not only in our expenses but also in our policy.

Do we need to strengthen the Eastern Flank beyond the four battlegroups?

Yes, it’s crucial for us to have them. The fact they are here means that NATO is going to fulfil the resolutions of the article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty [concerning collective defence]. Without those groups on the Eastern Flank, NATO members could have questioned if this article is binding and if there are some “similarities” to the British and French guarantees in World War II.

Opinions in Europe are extremely divided when it comes to the Kremlin. In France, for example, all the major candidates, with the exception of Emanuel Macron, are pro-Russian.

The world is changing so fast. Today our enemy is Russia but nobody knows who it is going to be tomorrow. Let me remind you that plans to build the ballistic missile defence system for Europe were made because of Iran. It’s impossible to predict who’s going to posses the weapon and what kind of weapon it will be. That’s why prevention is better than cure. We have to be ready to drive potential danger away and to react in every direction – that kind of investment pays off after years.

Right now Russia is the major enemy. It gathers tanks and missiles and rebuilds its army on NATO’s border. For example, the number of tank carriages ordered this year by Russia is 84 times bigger than a year ago. It means mass mobilisation.

Meanwhile, the US arsenal is bigger than whole worlds altogether.

An efficient army means something only if there is will to use it. Europe’s military abilities are still there, but they are useless if we lack political determination to deploy while facing the danger.

Still, NATO is a defensive alliance while Russia develops its offensive capabilities. It has already used them – I mean cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

Russian war doctrine allows it to attack first – either with conventional or nuclear weapons.

Taking today’s very plausible threat from the Russian side, what do you think about Polish government breaking off negotiations for the Caracals (Airbus-manufactured helicopters)?

It’s about military potential in my opinion. The equipment we use has to be compatible with the one used by our allies’ that we might cooperate with. And in our case, it is the American army.

So that we are esteemed as a serious player, and not as an outlet and cheap component producer?

We need to aim to be treated as serious geostrategic players. If we are to be allies, let’s be full-fledged allies, and not only a market for arms, doomed to solitary defence when the time comes.

What does it take to be a respected geostrategic partner?

An important step is to possess our own military industry. We should partly produce our own arms. Arms trading is always a political decision, not a business one.

But how can we compete with others with only 2% of our modest GDP?

That is a lot! We are a big and important client. And we need to use our means to achieve geostrategic and geopolitical goals. That’s why we need to buy better equipment than our potential enemies.

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Which countries can we consider as our allies in your opinion?

Germany is the only one of the Framework Nations based in continental Europe. The rest of Framework Nations on the Eastern Flank are the US, Canada and Great Britain, the ex-EU member state to be.

So we have Trump, Brexit, Russia and China. Which geopolitical direction should Europe take?

The wise one.

What do you mean by that?

The EU needs allies, but different ones in different fields.

For defence those that are loyal. Poland and Europe have the most in common with the United States and thus we ought to look to them. But we should be prepared to pull off various alliances. The one we want to support and defend right now is NATO. We should feel as a rightful part of it. Meanwhile, we observe a growing anti-American trend in Europe.

What about alliances inside the EU?

First of all, we hope for a fair spread of burden. Almost everybody talks about the urge to reform of treaties but also everyone knows it is not going to happen. Every new arrangement will be worse than a previous one.

However, we should verify the existing treaties and undertake the subsidiarity audit. And we should act as Juncker once said: “big on big things, small on small things”.

Still, the EU has to change today, taking into account the crisis of trust.

People like to accuse the EU of everything that works bad or not good enough. However, most of those problems result from the decision-making paralysis on the state level or from the implementation of solutions agreed by the states on the EU level.

The European Union will always be an easy scapegoat.

Today we need to defend the EU. A lot of officials decide something in Brussels first and then they go back to their homeland and claim, “it was this ugly EU that made this bad choice”. Even though we have issues today of “North-South” and “East-West,” and problems with migration, taxes, euro zone and budget, we have to keep the Union. The EU’s been fighting with those problems for over 60 years now but the fight has never been so intense.

Today we need to come back to the Jean Monnet’s method – of gradual integration. The EU needs consolidation not revolution. And this good Union needs to be defended – externally and internally.

A shared enemy makes unlikely friends. This time, for Europe, it wasn’t Russia but refugees.

It’s not so simple. For southern countries, a common issue is migration, for the East – the Russian threat, while for the eurozone – an inefficient market.

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The EU agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees. It has accepted only 7000 so far. Does it not make the EU seem unreliable?

The open-door policy has failed. Brussels did not have to accept the extreme version of this project, such as mandatory relocation and migrant quotas.

But is the strengthening of ties within the Visegrád Group (V4) and “flexible solidarity” really the answer? For me, it sounds oxymoronic.

The more consolidated and loyal V4 is, the more it weighs within the EU. The more V4 countries get along with other EU nations, the better for the Visegrád Four.

In the end, the whole EU implements this “flexible solidarity” on various fields of its operation, for example in the diversified policy versus Russia. At the Warsaw NATO summit, all the leaders mentioned Russia as the main enemy of the West. On the other hand, there exists no unwavering agreement about sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia have their causes and aims. And we need to keep them until we reach our goals. Easing sanctions would only encourage Russia to reinforce its aggression.