Poland: fully engaged in Europe

Deeper EU integration is a sensible way forward but Poland will not support the institutionalisation of a two-speed Europe. The imperative for closer cooperation between the euro zone members should not be a means of dismantling the EU.  

Ten years ago the first euro coins and bills replaced the franc as the legal currency in this country. In the very same 2002 the European Union concluded accession negotiations with Poland and nine other states. Ten years later, the euro is in trouble, having become the butt of jokes. The markets are still figuring out whether the Fiscal Pact will deliver. Disenchantment with the European project is rising. Some politicians are tempted to retrench into mini-EU coteries, or lower ambitions for the European Union altogether; either way, to put a brake to the European integration. Instead, I believe we need to pull together and seize the opportunity in the time of adversity.

Difficult times call for special measures. Deeper integration is a sensible way forward, which my country supports in each of the three areas enshrined in Maastricht: economics, justice and home affairs, and common security and defence policy. 

Deeper economic integration could involve real dangers –a two-speed EU in particular. The imperative for closer cooperation between the euro zone members should not be a means of dismantling the European Union. Decision-making in this group cannot subvert step-by-step the decision-making among the “27”. Let me be more unequivocal: Poland says “no” to the institutionalization of “a new core and a new periphery” in Europe. European governance by minilateralism would in the long run undermine the Monnet method.

While austerity measures are no doubt necessary to restore health to Europe’s economy, we must also lay the groundwork for growth. The best way to do so is by making productive investments in common EU programmes. We can make structural funds more effective and leverage them for research innovation.

Many people complain that the average European does not see the benefits of the European Union, but one of its most visible and tangible benefits has been the removal of intra-EU border controls. Travel and business is so much easier for 500 million Europeans.. It is true that there is a need for closer cooperation between the Member States to ensure proper protection of the external borders, but this should be done in order to preserve the Schengen rules.

There is more to this than simply guarding against the reimposition of borders. Schengen is a hallmark of European integration. With confidence in the euro badly shaken, if Schengen goes the EU’s citizens will be left wondering whether the European Union amounts to anything much. Please, do not undermine public confidence in the integration project, which has brought the longest period of peace in our continent’s history and – indeed – great prosperity.

In the words of President Sarkozy, “It is impossible to imagine Europe as a political force, an economic force and one of the richest regions in the world without the capability to guarantee security on its own.” This too is an area where more integration is necessary.

The United States cannot underwrite Europe’s insurance policy indefinitely, not least when the American defence budget is shrinking. In the past, we engaged in sterile debates about the meaning of Europe’s defence autonomy. Since Poland stood up for the transatlantic link, we got caricatured as the “Trojan horse of America in Europe.” Thank God, that controversy is over. We welcomed President Sarkozy’s decision to return to NATO’s integrated military command. Poland for its part has taken to heart the French concept of L’Europe puissance. 

For some, increasing common European defence capabilities at a time of shrinking military budgets seems a pipe dream. As a former defence minister I believe the contrary is true. The more we need to save, the more we should aggregate and specialise in defence spending. Speaking in Paris I hope that France –  already the second-biggest spender on defence in the EU –  remains a leader in European defence policy.

We in Poland will also continue to take defence seriously. At a time when most European states are slashing expenditures, Poland spends 1.95% of its GDP on defence. This makes us the seventh biggest military spender in Europe. We have taken part in operations on behest of Europe’s Common Security and Defence Policy in areas far removed from our immediate neighbourhood. We supported France in the Congo and Balkans, and the EUFOR missions in Chad and the Central African Republic. The Polish contingent was the second biggest contingent after the French. The Weimar Triangle Battlegroup will be ready to assume rotation early next year. Poland, together with Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia plan to establish the Visegrád Battlegroup, which will become operational by 2016 under Polish command. We support the European Defence Agency in capability-development. Poland also contributes to Eurocorps and was invited last year to become its fully-fledged member.

We remain keen on more integration at the EU level. We presented the High Representative Catherine Ashton with proposals aimed at re-energising Common Security and Defence Policy in December 2010, together with France and Germany. During Poland’s Presidency we persuaded all “27” to activate the Operational Headquarters for EU operations in the Horn of Africa. Establishing a permanent planning and command headquarters for the EU was taboo. But now we hope to make progress. The Weimar Initiative (just like the French-British entente cordiale in defence matters, which will hopefully be open to other EU member states) is a key part of making European defence more credible.

Europe cannot be whole, secure and democratic if we do not extend European cooperation to all European nations. The Eastern Partnership and the soon-to-be European Endowment for Democracy are good tools to shape our neighbourhood. So is keeping the door to the EU open. 

These are difficult times, but also times full of opportunity for those of us who believe we can achieve more as a union than by going our separate ways. Rather than losing faith in the EU, we now need to pull together and find ways in which we can all grow together, through more integration in these three areas – economics, justice and home affairs, and defence and security.

Radosław Sikorski is Foreign Minister of Poland. The article is an abbreviated version of a speech he delivered at an event organised by ECFR, the Gulbenkian Foundation and Le Monde in Paris in March 2012.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

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