Polish ambassador on EU Treaty, energy and Russia

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Poland’s newly appointed Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador Jan Tombi?ski, explains his country’s position on EU institutional reforms, the Russian ban on Polish meat, the Baltic pipeline and the EU’s future prospects, 50 years after the Treaty of Rome was signed.

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President Kaczy?ski recently announced that he would put forward proposals for a Polish contribution to the EU Constitution. What will be the main elements of this proposal?

President Kaczy?ski met with Angela Merkel in Poland on 17-18 March to talk about the Constitutional Treaty, among other things. The outcome of the discussion was that the current text may serve as a basis, a platform for further work on institutional changes.

It doesn’t mean that Poland will propose a totally new draft of a Constitution but Poland seeks to introduce some changes in the already existing text. A major point of concern is the question of double majority in the voting system, even if the system is rarely applied in practice; however, this is the very core of the institutional change.

Poland was granted a strong position by the Treaty of Nice, which is not reflected by the new voting system. 

The second big issue for Poland is the question of exclusive and shared competences in the EU. We wish to clarify the competences of member states within the EU. We see quite often that, in comparison, the status of US federal states differs from the status of the EU member states. 

Poland is not quite friendly towards the idea of a European ‘super-state’ as some constitutionalists call the results of the Constitutional Treaty, as proposed by the Convention.

You say that the current Constitutional Treaty creates new powers for the EU – which policy areas would Poland rather not see dealt with at European level?

It is not about new powers, but about the clarification in the division of competences between the countries and the EU. We do not support the section which lays out the EU’s shared competences, as we think the EU should not dominate on questions concerning the social system and education, as this touches on our traditions of the functioning of society. 

We agree to share competences on judicial matters, because harmonisation of judicial systems among member states is necessary for the functioning of the internal market and of other European policies.

Will Kaczy?ski’s proposals come after the French presidential elections or before?

We all know that fellow member states can have a decisive impact on European policies, so everybody is waiting for the outcome of the French presidential elections to know which direction the French policy might take on European issues. 

The Constitutional Treaty debate in France had a crucial impact on other countries in the EU. We had debates on whether future European policy made if France said ‘No’ to a project that was largely considered as fruit of French political thought.

The idea of two-speed integration regularly comes back to the table. Is it something that Poland would consider participating in, a so-called ‘noyau dur’ [core Europe]?

Europe is already working in closer co-operation; Schengen and the euro are examples of such a closer co-operation between some countries. The main premise to engage in such closer co-operation should be the openness for other countries, which could join later on. 

Also, the decision to engage in this or not should be taken by all member states. Some of them may opt-out if they wish; it’s their legitimate right – for whatever reasons – to stand aside while letting others go ahead. 

We have recently had the Prüm Convention on the fight against financial organised crime, based on the co-operation between some countries, which is now included in European legislation. 

As a group of 27 countries we should not be too idealistic; we won’t go in all directions at the same pace. We have to be prepared to accept a differentiated speed. However, we should reserve one condition: openness for others to join all forms of co-operation, in order not to create some exclusive clubs within the Union. 

In this context, Poland is not in favour of a ‘noyau dur’ of the EU; we should not end up with a ‘directorate’ within the Union. This doesn’t mean that we may not consult or launch some issues in a group of countries, but we should not exclude some countries from the European Union. We are in favour of equal treatment for all 27 countries. 

Within the areas where you believe nation-states should maintain full sovereignty, would Poland accept closer co-operation between other countries?

Nothing is excluded; I can’t tell you what might be the future outcome. We cannot totally oppose such a possibility, but let us assure that a national state has its own role to play to response to expectations of the society, of the nation.

Turning to energy – the EU recently made its first steps towards a common energy policy at the Brussels summit in March. Can you tell us about Poland’s views on this considering the importance of coal for your country?

Poland accepted the conclusions of the March summit, including the action plan. Poland is bound by objectives as they stand in the conclusions.

We have our particularity; currently, Poland’s major objective is to close the economic gap towards the European standards. We are at the level of about 50-52% GDP per capita in relation to the EU average rate. We want to close this gap. In order to do that, we need to continue a high economic growth, which was at almost 6% in 2006, and we hope to continue at the same pace in a few years to come. This growth requires higher consumption of energy. Currently, the energy consumption is at about 30-33% per capita of the average of the EU-15.

It means we will have some problems in reducing the energy consumption; we expect a growth, in fact. This low figure is a result of under-development of the economy; it shows that we will need to raise our energy consumption. 

The EU objective to achieve a less polluting and more efficient energy policy leads us to improvement of our economy by adoption of most modern methods of energy producing. You are totally right to mention coal as the major source of energy. We are a country rich in coal and it will remain a major source of energy; we have to improve the efficiency of coal and, in parallel, to introduce other sources – renewables, biofuels. 

We also open the debate in Poland on nuclear energy. We don’t have nuclear power plants. Poland engages now in a common construction of a new power plant in Lithuania, on the basis of cross-border co-operation. Perhaps the next step will be to create a nuclear power plant in Poland?

What is the time-frame foreseen?

It will not before 2015. Poland is quite perturbed by climate change. Europe’s very high consumption of energy has to move forward. The precondition for having an impact on global climate change is that other regions and partners move in the same direction. Without the engagement of China, the US and Russia, we at the European level will not have an impact on climate change.

The European Union is trying to launch a new Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with Russia. The idea was to include the principles of the energy charter treaty in the negotiations. As we know, Poland has vetoed the negotiations for some time, due to an ongoing ban on Polish meat imports imposed by Russia. Can you update us on the situation?

The inspections in Poland ended with a positive result. It was not about the Polish meat but about the import to Russia of meat with falsified certificates. Inspectors of both Russia and the EU went to Poland to visit our factories. There were no reasons to continue this embargo. That’s the first fact.

The other fact is that although the embargo was unjustified, it continues. It does not only concern Poland. Export is a matter of the EU, so it matters for the Union. We were not able to come to a conclusion on a bilateral basis with Russia to withdraw the embargo. Russia did not withdraw the embargo and we know that some other countries are also in the same position as Poland. Russia is putting forward measures on a bilateral basis, thus we decided to make this a common EU issue.

It remains a frozen issue; we haven’t even received the official reports from inspections conducted in February. So we don’t have a reason to say that we have the confidence needed to start negotiations on the PCA. But we should not focus too much on the PCA negotiations. It will take years to negotiate a new agreement. Opening new negotiations will not change the contents of the relations with Russia. We have daily relations with Russia on several issues. A PCA will only be a new instrument. 

As regards Poland and other member states, the only prerequisite to start the PCA negotiations should be to stick to our ‘acquis communautaire’. This is a basis to formulate our mandate and to start negotiations. It is not for other countries to put other preconditions on the EU to start negotiations.

An EU-wide embargo was avoided, yet it seems the issue is now mainly on a bilateral basis, between Poland and Russia…

This issue is on a trilateral basis; Poland as the country concerned, together with the presidency, the European Commission on the one hand and Russia on the other. 

How is co-operation between Poland and the European Commission going on this dossier? It seems no common ground can be found between Poland and the Commission…

There were inspectors sent by [the Commission’s] DG Sanco to accompany the Russian team of inspectors in Poland and the result of this inspection was that Poland is in full conformity with EU rules. There are no reasons to limit export from Poland. 

So what is holding it back an agreement? 

The decision lies with Moscow. It is not our embargo on our export to Russia! It’s the ban of Polish products from Russian markets because of a decision, which we considered unfounded, taken by Russia. And because it has an impact on the Union’s external relations, it is the European Commission’s responsibility to act. And the European Commission is in contact with the Russian authorities but it has difficulties to get a clear opinion from the Russian side. You may answer to their questions, but you don’t get results from the other side. The initiative lies in Russian hands. 

Turning to the Baltic pipeline form Russia to Germany – there was strong opposition from Poland when the deal was made. The consortium recently said they were willing to share the gas. What is the Polish stance at this stage? 

Our stance was that the decision on the construction of the Baltic pipeline was a political and not an economic decision, also justified by the recent figures we received about the cost of this construction.

Three years ago when the project was conceived, the cost was estimated at €6-7 billion. Nowadays, former chancellor Schroeder, appointed chief of the project, mentioned a doubling of the figure. This shows to everybody that this project has not been founded on real estimation of needs, costs and possibilities. 

Our stance towards this project is based on three main arguments: the first one is that the project is not only a bilateral issue between Germany and Russia; it is not only for the German market – it also has an impact on the balance of the whole EU market. For this reason, this project should have been consulted and approved at a larger level, not at bilateral level. 

Since it concerns the European security of supply, our vision of security in the energy domain means the diversification of sources of supply and routes of supply. Do we wish that Central European states get access only to Russian gas – by two, three or four pipelines – or do we want to gain access to gas from the world market – from the North Sea, African countries, or to get LNG to polish ports? This is the Polish vision of diversification.

The Baltic pipeline will put us in a situation of more, not less dependency on Russia. We will still need gas and will still be a client of Russia as far as raw materials are concerned, but for our own security we will also have to get access to other sources. 

Further, diversification will strengthen the overall security of the European market, because if something goes wrong on the Polish, Czech or Hungarian energy market (which are dependent on the Russian supplier more than others), it will have an impact on the whole European policy and the economical situation. So we should see this project in terms of all-European security pattern of supply. 

Central Europe is still an heir of the Warsaw-Pact energy infrastructure; we don’t have an access to Western infrastructure. It should also be developed from West to East and from North to South. This project of the Baltic pipeline does not help us to develop and to improve our position.

The second reason is an environmental one. Up until now there have not been any studies on the environmental impact of the project on the Baltic Sea. We have seen concerns raised by the EU on even the tiniest of constructions on Polish territory and such a gigantic project can be launched without a single environmental impact study? This is contrary to the reasoning of the EU today.

Third reason is what I already mentioned – the costs of the project. We were proposing and even engaged with Russia ten years ago to construct the second Jamal pipeline to bring Russian gas to Germany. This construction has been abandoned because Germany was unwilling to accept a supplementary gas supply. The cost evaluation for the second Jamal pipeline was considerably less than of the Baltic pipeline. We see now a new decision, which is economically less efficient, engaged between the same partners. The only conclusion may be that the reasoning behind it is political, not economic.

How do you see the EU evolving in the next 25 to 30 years and how do you see Poland’s role in the next 25 years? 

To talk about the future, we have to refer to the past, to the founding fathers of the EU. It started with a very moderate project of a European Coal and Steel Community. It progressively engaged in closer institutional co-operation up until the Union we know today. 

The achievements of the Union are extremely positive for citizens, for European peace, the economy and Europe’s role in the world. The political pressure from Communism pushed the western part of Europe to reconcile after World War II and to engage in deeper cooperation than could possibly have been imagined before.

The example of Western European integration was also the soft power for Eastern and Central part of Europe, the democratisation and different efforts on the side of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, of Poland and other countries, to move from the fatality of the Eastern block and to get access to what happened in the western part of the continent. Therefore European integration was a fantastic tool for democratisation, to bring liberty to our part of the continent. 

Putting emphasis on these two aspects, let us now try to look to the future. The first element will be a democratisation and modernisation of some of our neighbour countries, eastern or southern, to come closer to the Union by internal structure, mode of functioning and political reasoning.

Not exactly enlargement then…

Not exactly enlargement, but perhaps maybe it will be the logical consequence of this process of modernisation of structures. It must not be said today that enlargement should take place in this or an other year. The capacity to enlarge depends on both sides, on the capacity of the country to accept the ‘acquis communautaire’ and to modernise, as well as of the EU’s political will to accept the country and to give incentives to encourage the need for change. 

So it matters on both sides. On an economic level, Europe will be, even more than today, confronted with the impact of globalisation. We will have to liberalise our internal market, to cope with global competition. I guess we are still at the starting point of this process, ‘rolling-back’. 

Europe for some decades invested a lot outside its border, in Asia especially. Europe trained people and shared economic expansion with other partners. Now partners are coming back to Europe, but well equipped with what we have given them. So we will be confronted even more than now with harder competition coming from the outside, especially from Asia. 

In order to face this challenge we also have to find internally a new force, to be more competitive and more effective in order to remain one of the major global players. This will be for some years to come, I’m sure, also a new European dimension – more of European presence in solving crises, and being a military actor, as far as peace-keeping or enforcement are concerned. 

Europe will engage in closer co-operation in the domain of defence and external policy. Foreign policy also needs to be more effective – Europe will engage in this direction much more than before. This is also a response to what European citizens are asking for – they wish for Europe to be more coherent on the international scene and want a Europe, which is more effective in defending our positioning the world.

What is the Polish position as regards Turkey’s accession to the EU?

Turkey is a big strategic partner for Europe, which was already regarded as a future member already in 1999, even before Poland joined the EU. There is thus a legal obligation on the EU’s side to help Turkey adopt the ‘acquis communautaire’. We accepted, by entering the EU, the whole patrimony of the Union as it stood in 2004. We can only accept this process of Turkey engaging in the EU as a future member.

It would be a very good signal to the world if Turkey is accepted in to the Union and is able to match the criteria and to undergo the whole process of aligning with the EU. It would show to the world that Europe is a community of countries not based solely on Christianity but on values of peace, solidarity, common responsibility for the world. I guess it would give a fantastic example for some other countries. The clash of civilisations and of religions is not a certainty. We are able to overcome even such big differences as those between Turkey and Greece.

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