This article is part of our special report Poland: Ambitious achievers.
SPECIAL REPORT: If the EU had reacted more strongly to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and adopted sanction more quickly, as Poland advocated, the currrent conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine, would not have happened, Polish Foreign Minister Rados?aw Sikorski told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
At the age 18, Rados?aw (Radek) Sikorski chaired the student strike committee in Bydgoszcz in 1981. In June 1981 he travelled to the UK to study English. After martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981, he was granted political asylum in Britain. He studied at Oxford. In the mid-1980s, he worked as a freelance journalist for publications such as The Spectator and The Observer. He returned to Poland in August 1989 and since 2007 has served as deputy minister of defence, deputy minister of foreign affairs, minister of defence and foreign minister in Donald Tusk’s cabinet.
He spoke to EurActiv’s Georgi Gotev and EurActiv Poland’s Krzysztof Kokoszczy?ski.
Poland is one of the countries shaping EU foreign policy during the Ukrainian crisis. How can that influence be maintained and expanded into other areas of common policy?
When we called for a united European energy policy or solidarity in response to Russian trade barriers we were often called “Russia-phobes”. Now, after president Putin broke a whole series of international agreements, Europe is starting to understand the value of solidarity and standing together. Not only against Russia. Better coordination among European countries translates into better security and economic position in the long run for all of us.
But our analysis and ideas have been valuable and not only in case of Ukraine. Since it joined the EU, Poland has been actively shaping the European Union’s internal and external policy. We undertook several initiatives aimed at strengthening the EU Common European Security and Defence Policy and the Eastern European neighbourhood. Most recently, Poland, together with Sweden and the UK, was among those EU countries that initiated and drove the establishment of the European Union Advisory Mission to Security Sector Reform in Ukraine.
The conflict in Ukraine has reinvigorated NATO, to a certain extent at least. In this new security environment do you foresee any developments in EU security policy or would that area of policy take now a definite back seat to arrangements through NATO?
The Ukraine-Russia conflict has reinvigorated both NATO and the EU. Obviously there are areas one of the latter is more competent than the other. Mutual compatibility between their actions must be assured.
How would you respond to those in the EU who criticise Poland’s position on Ukraine as too hawkish?
If Poland is a “hawk”, than how are we to describe Russia? A “dove” of peace? As a neighbour of Russia, we wanted to be a partner with her as much as it is possible. We managed to establish cross-border movement with the Kaliningrad Region. Tens of thousands of Russian citizens may visit Poland without any bureaucratic formalities and trade started to flourish.
However, when Russia decided to take over Crimea and to directly engage militarily in the territory of its neighbour, we had to clearly communicate to Moscow that it has to stop.
Possibly, if the EU’s reaction to the Crimea annexation had been vigorous enough and we had pushed forward for more decisive, immediate sanctions, then [the conflict in] Donetsk would not have happened.
Poland aspires to become a regional leader in Central and Eastern Europe. What, in your view as foreign minister, is the current role of Poland in the region? It seems Poland is not – at least not yet – able to truly coordinate policy with the Baltic and other post-communist countries? Most of the time, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, for example, cannot be seen as “followers” of Polish policy…?
Countries freely shape their policies – in line with democratic procedures, international commitments and according to their interests. The efforts of our four countries, all with similar backgrounds in terms of recent history, have made possible the creation of the Visegrad Group. It turned out to be an effective and flexible instrument of developing policies in the region. This does not mean however that we must always be unanimous and speak in one voice. Differences in the perception of interests which are at stake, specific circumstances, as well as traditions and the potential of the individual countries come into play.
Are you optimistic that the EU is warming up to the idea of putting in place a more coherent energy policy? How would you describe the Polish role in this endeavor?
Recent developments in the East proved that EU needs to urgently push forward some of the key aspects of the energy agenda. The main challenge shall be to continue a consequent market integration based on common rules enshrined in the third energy package. Europe needs a well interconnected network of energy infrastructure and more efficient security of supply mechanisms. No member state shall be left alone in case of supply disruptions.
Poland has always been a major proponent of the creation of the Energy Union which Prime Minister Tusk has called for on several occasions. We have the know-how about how the things work in the East and we know the major issues that restrict the development of the internal market in our region.
Poland is one of the larger member states of the EU but she also enjoys warm relations with the US. The relations between Brussels and Washington can be sometimes tense – as was the case with PRISM and wiretapping of the senior politicians in the EU. How can Poland balance its relationship with the US with its responsibilities as a member state of the EU? And what can Poland do to defuse tensions between both sides of the Atlantic? And what about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?
Transatlantic cooperation and close ties between Europe and the US are the foundation of our common prosperity and security. We have to work on it regardless of some tensions which are unavoidable when we face so many complex challenges. Our good relations with US are an asset. There is no doubt Poland will be championing a “team spirit” among both the EU and US.
Polish foreign policy is based on the principles and values we share on both sides of Atlantic. In the present security situation, we understand much better that the transatlantic community requires our engagement in any sphere – security, economy, democracy building. In this regard the TTIP may be a significant factor of Europe’s energy independence.
What does Donald Tusk’s appointment mean for Poland?
The decision of EU leaders to elect Prime Minister Tusk to become next European Council President is a great achievement. It is undoubtedly the prime minister’s personal success but equally a success of Poland. We take this decision as both a signal of appreciation of the policies Poland has pursued over ten years of its EU membership and a sign that the distinctions between “old” and “new” member states are rapidly crumbling. On the 10th anniversary of Poland’s accession to the EU, a Pole will lead the institution which sets the priorities of Europe.