Poland: A Tonic for Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The optimistic tone Poland has adopted for its six-month presidency of the European Union is providing a welcome antidote to the reigning discourse of austerity, Euroscepticism and xenophobia in other countries, argues Staffan Nilsson.

Staffan Nilsson is president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

This commentary was first published here.

"The newly-inaugurated Polish Presidency will act as a tonic for Europe. For two main reasons: first, with its ambitious programme based on pro-European values, Poland is promoting greater EU integration in the interests of growth, especially in the current euro crisis; second, the strong commitment of the Polish government shows that 'new Europe' is becoming an old-fashioned label for some of the member states that joined the EU in 2004.

Waldemar Pawlak, Polish deputy prime minister and minister for the economy, came to the EESC plenary this week to represent the presidency-in-office of the EU Council. Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, also joined our plenary debate on citizens' expectations from a sustainable Europe. I was happy when listening to Mr Pawlak's speech to hear confirmation of the commitment [Prime Minister] Donald Tusk made in his speech launching the Polish Presidency: the Polish government is strongly and firmly committed to an ambitious pro-European programme for the European Union.

Their strategy is to promote European integration as an engine for growth. I support this approach: we need more European integration to become more competitive, as a single, united Europe will necessarily be stronger and more profitable. Jerzy Buzek shared this view as well, saying that 'by helping others we also help ourselves'. He mentioned the case of Greece, but stated that this principle goes further than that. Synergies between our differences and strengths involve smoothing the way towards a strong internal market, a strong common energy market, and giving the Schengen rules a firm foundation.

This is what a strong Europe means! And a more integrated, stronger Europe needs the right resources. Together with Jerzy Buzek, I insisted on the need for an ambitious 2014-2020 budget that is geared towards investment, aware of the need for strong cohesion and agriculture policies, and remains credible and accountable as regards the public. President Buzek added that a 5% budget increase would be the 'minimum required'.

Polish openness towards civil society contributing to policymaking is as historic as the Polish presidency. The EP president, Jerzy Buzek, said that he felt at home when meeting EESC members, having himself been a trade unionist. He welcomed the 'excellent relations' we have with the European Parliament. Waldemar Pawlak added that 'dialogue with the EESC is a great chance for the EU to go back to growth' and that he would look at the EESC as a model to replicate in Poland when it came to social and civil dialogue.

No need to convince them about the role of dialogue with civil society! I therefore believe this will facilitate our work and help us to get our voice heard.

Against the backdrop of a growing feeling of anti-Europeanism, if not xenophobia, it is very encouraging to hear Polish representatives supporting the idea of a Europe based on its original objectives: standing together for all Europeans' well-being and…for peace.

This is all the more striking when I remember how Poland acted during the ratification process of the new EU Treaty some years ago. Times change. Poland will now give Europe a boost."

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