Polish president sees future EU as ‘community of free nations’

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks at the College of Europe campus in Natolin. [@delaPR_ Twitter]

Polish President Andrzej Duda outlined his vision for the future of the EU during a speech to mark the opening of the academic year at the College of Europe campus in Warsaw last week. EURACTIV Poland reports.

The College of Europe, founded in Bruges in 1949, runs a one-year postgraduate programme in European Interdisciplinary Studies. Since 1992, a second campus of the College of Europe has been up-and-running in Natolin, Warsaw. The institution is currently led by Ewa Ośniecka-Tamecka.

Against two-speed Europe

At a speech on Friday (September 29) President Duda said the EU project was in danger, and pointed out that in seeking solutions for the challenges the EU is facing, politicians should be careful not to “break up the fragile European unity”.

This is not the first time that Duda has warned against a Union of two or multiple speeds. Poland and other eastern EU members like the Czech Republic that have not yet joined the eurozone are concerned that the 19-member single currency grouping could integrate deeply and quickly, leaving them far behind.

Poland warns multi-speed Europe could spawn 'more Brexits'

Polish President Andrzej Duda warned on Tuesday (5 September) that a multi-speed Europe could spawn “more Brexits” and the breakdown of the EU, after powerful eurozone members like France and Germany backed the model.

“I have no doubts that the agreement to maintain a hierarchic design of a two-speed Europe will result in an internal and external weakening of the community, it will also strengthen disintegration tendencies, undermining the main achievements of European integration: the Schengen area and the four freedoms of the single market: freedom of movement of persons, goods and capital,” the Polish president warned.

In his view, the community must again become a source of freedom and unity rather than of limitations and divisions.

“The EU needs more democracy and respect for democratic elections of European nations. To achieve this, it must return to its roots, to the model of a community of free nations and equal states,” he argued in front of an audience of students from diverse European backgrounds.

“Europe’s strength lies in its people. It is written in the DNA of its citizens,” Duda added.

“The shadow of Cold War divisions”

The president also highlighted that the structures of the European Union still do not include all parts of Europe and a real unification of the continent is still waiting in the wings, as “the entire Eastern European region is not yet part of the European Community”.

Poland is an ardent advocate of Ukraine joining the EU, although the majority of EU members do not want to touch the issue, as further EU enlargement has become unfashionable with the advent of the Juncker Commission.

Duda also expressed doubts as to whether the “shadow of Cold War divisions” might not yet have been overcome entirely in the perception of all European societies:  “Shouldn’t a united Europe make more use of the initiatives, the energy and the optimism of Central European citizens?,” the president asked, noting that there were still many stereotypes and false perceptions about the countries of the eastern region.

He referred to the Three Seas Initiative as an example of an “ambitious” programme for cooperation between Central and South European countries seeking to catch up with development delays.

“We do not want to be the sole beneficiaries of European unity, we want to creatively promote and strengthen it for the benefit of the whole European Union,” Duda insisted.

The  “Three Seas Initiative” is a recent pro-Atlantic project which also comprises the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia. A summit of the initiative was held in Warsaw in July.

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Transatlantic ties

To maintain strong ties with the US and develop the eastern dimension of EU policy is, according to Duda, a main interest of Polish security. Solidarity on both sides of the Atlantic is important, “especially nowadays, when some countries are increasingly eager to manifest the imperial character of their foreign policy, for the security of the Western world and the sustainability of international law.”

Poland, alarmed by what it sees as Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of Alliance troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The country is investing heavily in defence.

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The Polish president stressed that the eastern dimension of European policy is of central importance for his country’s security.

According to him, the war in Georgia and Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea and frozen conflicts in Transnistria should be a reminder how “impermanent peace can be”. “We see this more clearly than others, because our own safety and the safety of Europe as a whole depend on it,” he concluded.