Polish Minister: EU budget will be ‘sign of our ambitions’

Mikolaj Dowgilewicz.jpg

The upcoming Polish EU Presidency will be a time when we can talk about the principles of the future budget – a modern, ambitious budget, Poland's State Secretary for European Affairs Miko?aj Dowgielewicz told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Miko?aj Dowgielewicz has worked as an adviser to Pat Cox when the latter was president of the European Parliament, as a European Commission spokesperson and as a member of cabinet to former Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström.

As Polish State Secretary for European Affairs, he will play a key role during the upcoming Polish EU Presidency in the second half of 2011.

He was speaking to Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV's senior editor and Christophe Leclercq, EURACTIV's publisher.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

Minister, welcome to EURACTIV. Which way is Europe going? Germany and France came up with a draft for a Competitiveness Pact, and two days later, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso fought back for the Community method, which is probably what Poland prefers. What is happening?

I think that now the euro is recovering, and I believe we have gone quite a long way in the last two or three years to make sure we have effective economic governance in the European Union. That's a very big achievement. I also think we have proven that throughout this crisis, the European institutions have been effective and that's a very important lesson.

Certainly I agree with Mr Barroso that the Community method is something we should cherish and protect, because that's the way the Community method has been the cornerstone of the Union's success since the beginning – and it's the right framework for the future as well.

I believe that very soon, if the economic landscape is a bit better, we should talk about strategies for growth. We need to focus our attention on how to return to sustainable economic growth in the EU, and that will also be the focus of the Polish Presidency in the second half of this year.

Poland favours the Community method regarding the long-term EU budget, meaning that the European Commission has to come up with a proposal first and that the discussion should not be polluted by signals from one country or another that is basically pushing for an austerity budget. What else do you require regarding the budget talks?

Well, I think anybody can send any signal they like, but we have agreed that it must be the Commission that has the right of initiative, and we should stick to that. The Commission will come up with a proposal and of course we are committed as the future presidency to taking the work forward in the most efficient way.

We hope that the Polish Presidency will be the time when we can talk about the principles of the future budget – a modern, ambitious budget.

I have to admit that it's clear to everyone that the negotiations will continue in 2012 and I very much hope we'll be able to conclude them in June 2012, under the Danish Presidency. That would be the best moment to conclude those negotiations. We shouldn't have them for too long, in an unnecessary way.

Poland has very strong assets to lead the discussion on the principles of the EU's new long-term budget, as you say. Key players for the EU budget talks like EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Levandowski and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek are both Polish…

What I would count in those negotiations is more the sense of urgency that we have, to have a budget that will respond to the needs of the European Union. I think this is much more important than the nationality of any politician that will be involved in the negotiations.

I think we have to realise that this budget will very much define what we can do with the EU in the next ten years. It will be the sign of our ambitions. Also, if I speak about economic growth, I cannot forget that the EU budget is a great tool to create better conditions for growth all over the European Union.

We talk so much about competitiveness, but the budget discussion is also about how to make Europe more responsive to global competition.

We interviewed Mr Buzek last month on a similar topic – overall the budget of the financial perspectives will either increase or decrease a little bit depending on who you listen to, but given that there are ambitions to increase spending in some areas, where would you save? Mr Buzek had many ideas for increases, but very few for decreases…

That's a very good question. I have to wear the hat of the future presidency, so I will not tell you today where to save, though personally I have a few ideas! I think we should have a discussion about the principles, without any taboos.

As long as we talk about the principles and priorities – whether you want to have more for cohesion, more for agriculture, more for foreign policy – I think that is a very legitimate debate. The discussion about the revenue side of the budget is also a legitimate one.

I don't mind us discussing how to make the EU budget sustainable and more in line with what was there at the beginning of the Community, so that the budget has its own system of resources.

As long as this is the philosophy of those talks, it's fine. What I would be anxious about would be a net position discussion – that every country would calculate its net position from the beginning and completely define a strategy for the negotiations from that point of view. I'm happy to tell you after the presidency where Poland sees some areas where we could introduce savings.

Let's look to the presidency then – what are Poland's main priorities in a nutshell?

First of all, we want to focus on economic growth. If the European economies are consolidated, our presidency will be the moment to create opportunities for economic growth and jobs.

Secondly, we want to underline that the success of the European Union relies on it being an open union. So we very much hope that Croatia will sign its accession treaty during the Polish Presidency. We will also do a lot to underline the 'win-win' aspect of the Neighbourhood Policy. On the one hand, the assistance that we give to those countries creates opportunities and business for our companies – and this is very valuable for the Union.

Our third priority, I would say, is the question of security. We want to initiate discussions and make progress on the Common Security and Defence Policy. We admit this is a difficult topic – it's hard to find agreement between the 27 – but this is a necessary debate and something we cannot forget if we are serious about the global role of the EU.

There is another topic in this area that is going to be present in the second half of 2011 and that is the external aspect of energy policy. We had a very good European Council on energy discussions and we will take this very important aspect, based on the proposals from the Commission that should come in June.

You mentioned enlargement and the Eastern Partnership, an area of special interest for Poland. Do you think it will be possible for Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement under the Polish Presidency?

We would of course be happy if that happens. When [Ukrainian] President [Viktor] Yanukovich was in Warsaw last week, we were encouraging him to do everything possible to use the window of opportunity this year with the Polish Presidency to sign the Association Agreement.

We think that it will require a lot of effort on both sides and Ukraine also has to focus its political attention on this goal. It should be a priority for Ukraine this year, but of course they have a lot of homework to do.

Do you feel that the economic leaders in Ukraine are in favour of this Association Agreement or is protectionism prevailing?

I think that this agreement would be very beneficial for Ukraine and it is also strategically important, because it would show that Ukraine is interested in a closer relationship with the European Union.

It's difficult for me to say what interests or stakes will be the most important, but I certainly hope that Ukraine will see this as a whole. This project of an Association Agreement is a very beneficial one and I hope the strategic perspective will prevail.

EU countries are setting up a permanent mechanism to safeguard the euro – are you afraid that this will make it more difficult for a country like Poland to join the single currency?

I hope that the euro will be saved and I think that the prospects are better than they were a few months ago. We have managed to stabilise the euro and Poland was very interested in the success of this operation. We are committed to joining the euro zone as soon as possible.

I don't think the fact that we have created this European stability mechanism creates any new conditions for entry into the euro zone. It is something that was necessary to save the euro, but I don't think you can change the conditions, because the conditions are in the Treaty and you cannot play with them, dilute them or make them harder to fulfil.

But you saw what happened with Schengen – the rules of the game were changed even though the Hungarian Presidency lobbied very hard for Bulgaria and Romania to join, because of the position of France and Germany. Is it acceptable for Poland for the rules of the game to be changed in this way. Could this maybe also happen for euro accession?

We think that Schengen accession is a technical process and once you fulfil the criteria, of course you should be let into the border-free area. You should not create new conditions all the time.

If I think what could happen with the euro in five or ten years time, it is very important that the euro zone has new members, that it's seen as an open club and once you are able to fulfil the criteria you should be let in.

I think it's very positive that Estonia joined the euro this year and I think it's also in the euro zone's interest that Poland will one day be a member. Poland is the seventh largest EU economy and it is clearly a win-win situation if a country like Poland or others among the new member states join. It's something quite clear and obvious for economists.

Your country will hold parliamentary elections in the middle of its presidency. Do you think this is a risk?

In Poland we try to separate the presidency from the elections and I hope the presidency will be seen in Poland the way we saw NATO accession and EU accession – non-partisan and beyond party politics.

Maybe I'm too optimistic, but in any case for the government the priority is the presidency and we are clearly committed to working very hard during it to serve the interests of Europe. That's why I don't have fears about the elections, we have had past cases where elections were held during presidencies – in Germany in 1997, in France in 1995, in Denmark in 1993.

We will do our job irrespective of the political campaign. In any case, the calendar of the presidency is such that until the last session of the European Parliament in December, it's the current government that will lead the presidency. So there is no problem about a switch of government. I think there is a high degree of predictability, because we will know the date of the elections a long time before. It's something we have to factor in, but it's not going to cause a crisis.

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