„The Brighter Side of Europe” / Piotr Kaczyński

„The Brighter Side of Europe” / Piotr Kaczyński

„The Brighter Side of Europe” / Piotr Kaczyński


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The Green










of Europe














Peace is the bedrock

upon which European integration

is built, yet the reality of peace

is a fairly recent state of affairs

for Europe as a whole.


thousand years of permanent warfare culminated in the tragic

events of World War Two. The official end of hostilities in 1945

was a moment of catharsis for many Europeans who survived

the war. Motivated by a desire for peace and prosperity, they helped usher

in a new period in which the idea of war in Europe became unthinkable.

This is why the process of closer cooperation between European nations

began: to forge a long-lasting era of peace.

Not all hostilities ended in 1945, however. As Berlin was divided and

eventually the entire continent was split by the Iron Curtain. Over the

next forty-or-so years, the world was plunged into the Cold War. Most

of the “hottest” moments took place mostly outside Europe in places such

as Cuba, Indochina or Africa. But while the Cold War officially ended

in 1989, it unfortunately persists in many minds.

When Poland joined the European Union alongside nine other nations

in 2004, many Europeans were talking about the “reunification” of the continent.

But while the continent may be politically and economically unified

to varying degrees, the same cannot be said of attitudes to peace.

Today, many people in Western Europe take peace for granted. It is a popular

sentiment that peace is like air – its vital importance is not appre-

ciated until it is gone. With each passing year, the memory of WW2


The Warsaw Rising Museum

becomes a little more blurred, and few fear a sudden re-emergence of the

Soviet Union or a “reheating” of the Cold War. The fears that preoccupy

most people in contemporary Western Europe relate to economic or migratory

issues. War no longer seems a possibility.

Central and Eastern European nations, however, have very different perspectives,

which vary greatly across the region. In the Western Balkans,

memories of the 1990s conflicts are fresh in people’s minds. Elsewhere there

seems to be a clear differentiation between stability and peace. Central and

Eastern European countries (except for the Western Balkans and Romania

for a few days in December 1989) did not experience any military conflict

on their territories after 1945, yet neither did they experience peace. Peace,

to use the same definition employed by Western nations includes not only

stability and lack of military conflict, but also a democratic political system

with a market economy – this only emerged in Central and Eastern Europe

after 1989. For Poles and other nations of the region, peace is a much more

recent state of affairs.

The struggle for peace in Poland has a long history. The country was once

Europe’s largest, most populous and among its most developed nations,

with a political system that granted rights to some 10% of the population,

while in other states less then 1% of population had political rights. The

Polish gentry loved freedom so much and took their system’s stability for

2 | | 3

granted for so long that they were ultimately blind to the decay of their

system of governance and unable to prevent neighbouring nations from

partitioning the country. In 1795 the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

(as the country was called at the time) ceased to exist, interrupting 800 years

of continued statehood.

For the next two centuries the history of Poles is characterised by a constant

struggle to recreate their State and put it back on the map of Europe

among other European nations as an equal partner. This was a long struggle,

one that ended only when Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European

Union in 2004. This year it holds the Council of the European Union’s

presidency. For the first time Poland will coordinate the work of fellow EU

national governments in the meandering corridors of Brussels.

In 1795 nothing of the sort was imaginable. Yes, philosophers were writing

about perpetual peace and political unification of the continent, but that

seemed a utopian vision of the future. Poles have struggled to achieve the

independence of their state. In 1791, they even adopted the first national

constitution in Europe (the second in the world after the US), but this did

not prevent the state from collapse. In 1795 Russia, Austria and Prussia cut

Poland into three territories. Partition of Poland was in effect a peace agreement

between the three powers designed to prevent war from breaking out,

as Poles could try to use those rivalries to win their state back. That was precisely

the ambition of many Poles, one that led many to support Napoleon’s

wars in Europe. When Napoleon lost, so too did Poles. In 1815 the Russian

tsar granted some autonomy to the Warsaw government and had himself

crowned as king of Poland.

Still, Poles proved to be wary of political compromises with foreign nations.

They challenged the autonomy granted to them by mighty Russia, demanding

full independence. Their attempt to win it by force failed in 1830 during

the “November Uprising” and again in 1863 during the “January Uprising”.

Each of the failed revolts had consequences, including the launch of waves

of emigration of Poles from their homeland. Probably the best-known émigré

of the time was Fryderyk Chopin. He left the country in 1830, never to

return. Thousands of others were forcibly moved to the Russian interior.

Following the 1863 uprising, reprisals meant that thousands of Poles were

sent to Siberia.

The uprisings had the opposite effect of that intended: any chance for independence

was snuffed out by 1867 and the population made subject

to “russifisation” programmes. In the part of ex-Polish territory under

German administration, a parallel process of “germanisation” took place.

Only in the territory under Austrian rule were personal freedoms more

widely respected after the 1848 “Spring of Nations” – but only in terms

of language rights and religious freedoms. Only here could Poles speak

Polish and carry out their studies in Polish without fear of persecution.

4 | Peace Matters

The Jagiellonian University,



Maria Skłodowska-Curie,

the winner of two

Nobel Prizes

The medieval Jagiellonian University (est. 1364) in Cracow began teaching

in Polish again in 1870.

Politically humiliated and absent from the European map, Poles experienced

the same processes of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation

as other nations in Europe, and were by no means placid bystanders in this

process. Poles were among the most prominent global adventurers, creators

and innovators. For example, the first oil refinery in the world was built

in 1856 by Ignacy Łukasiewicz. Maria Skłodowska-Curie (known in the

English-speaking world as Marie Curie) was the first woman to win a Nobel

Prize and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes for her studies on radiation.

Ludwig Zamenhof created the only ever successful artificial language

(Esperanto) in 1887 – today up to two million people speak it worldwide.

Gabriel Narutowicz was pioneer in hydroelectric power plants in Western

Europe in late 19th century before becoming President of the once again

independent state in 1922. Polish émigrés contributed to the development

of newly established nations in other corners of the world, including the

United States, Australia and the nations of South America.

As in other nations, the 19th Century brought about a national reawakening.

Poets and novelists helped enormously in maintaining Polish identity

through the poems of Mickiewicz, Słowacki or Norwid and the novels

of Kraszewski and Prus. Henryk Sienkiewicz became an international

| 5

celebrity with his novel Quo vadis winning him the Nobel Prize for literature.

Another Nobel Prize for literature went to Władysław Reymont

in 1924 for his epic masterpiece The Peasants. Among other artists who

gained international fame of their time were an actress Pola Negri, a Hollywood

star during the silent film era and a pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski,

who was Poland’s prime minister and foreign minister in 1919.

The century-long political struggle to put Poland back on the European

map ended with the First World War. The defeat of Germany, the disintegration

of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the internal collapse of tsarist

Russia created an opportunity to recover Polish statehood. Hence in 1918,

after 123 years of absence, Poland returned as an independent state. The

celebration, however, was short. The romanticism of a free and independent

Poland as portrayed by political writers and activists had to confront the

hardship of domestic and international realities.

Three parts of the country had been separated for over acentury and integrated

into other states. Putting them back together was not an easy task:

from currency to railways, from school systems to agriculture – every part

of the new Polish identity had different faces. Part of this reality included

ethnic and social challenges. Less then 60% of inhabitants considered themselves

Poles, which was understandable, given that Warsaw had not been

a national capital since the 18th Century and Polish ethnicity was less important.

Now the newly independent Polish state had to confront ethnic

tensions between various minority groups, including German, Jewish, Russian,

Ukrainian and others. And on top of these domestic challenges was

an international threat: the borders of Poland were not secured and war

with communist Russia broke out in 1920. Poland emerged victorious and

defended its newly won independence. The Polish border with Germany

was also disputed; with the status of Gdańsk on the Baltic coast serving

as pretext for an invasion by Nazi Germany two decades later.

Poland during the interwar period was characterised by two factors. First,

the objective of this weak state was to secure some sort of internal stability

in order to create a better environment in which to foster economic progress.

The second objective was to maintain peace in Europe; a seemingly

impossible goal for a country faced with external threats posed by its two

hostile neighbours: Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. Poles even considered

a pre-emptive strike against Germany after Hitler came to power.

Poland’s return to the European map was short-lived, with the country never

being treated as an equal partner by larger states. The 1925 Locarno Treaties

were a very clear signal that in Europe, some nations considered themselves

more equal than others (the treaty had guaranteed Germany’s western borders

but left the definition of its eastern borders open). This approach was

not only a product of German, Russian or Austrian policy, but also that

of other European powers such as France and the United Kingdom.


Warsaw Uprising Monument

Other Central European nations suffered directly from French and British

double standards. Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia without firing a single

gunshot. That was the costly price the French and the British were ready

to pay for an artificial peace.

The Second World War marked the end of a recent revival in Polish independence.

Poles perceived the German and Soviet invasion of September

1939 as yet another partition. The war devastated large parts of the country.

Poland’s entire multiethnic structure was removed. From one of the most

ethnically diverse nations in Europe (40% of population was a member

of a minority group) Poland became a country almost devoid of ethnic

minorities. It is estimated that up to six million Polish citizens perished

between 1939 and 1945, while millions more emigrated.

The country was traumatised as global politics took over. Polish borders were

shifted 200km westward (territory in the East was given to the Soviet Union,

while territory in the West was acquired from Germany) following the Yalta

Conference. Once again, history repeated itself as millions of Poles and Germans

were inhumanely displaced and forcibly moved. Poland was now effective-

ly a satellite state of the Soviet Union, despite not being officially integrated

into the USSR. Poles, however, continued to oppose the stifling of their state-

hood. This time they opposed the imposed communist puppet politicians.

Protests were commonplace in Poland, usually as a result of domestic hardship.

6 | Peace Matters

| 7

Some of these protests had external consequences. In 1956 for example, the

strikes in Poznań were followed by further unrest in 1968. To some extent

the events in Poznań inspired the Hungarian Uprising. Poles in turn were inspired

by the Czechoslovakian protests organised in response to the Soviet invasion

of that country. The 1970s saw further protests, culminating in the rise

of the Solidarność (meaning ‘solidarity’) movement, which at its peak had some

10 million members. The Solidarity movement’s pacifist approach allowed for

a non-violent transition to democracy by 1989. Its leader Lech Wałęsa received

the Nobel Peace Prize and the Solidarity movement inspired other nations under

occupation by the Soviets to strive for their freedom. 1989 bore witness

to an “Autumn of Nations”. Unlike the Spring of Nations in 1848, this time the

re-drawing of the European map was peaceful and successful.

The reaction of the Polish intelligentsia to the events of World War Two was

similar to the dominant view in Western Europe: a long-lasting peace would

be the only way to ensure that national ambition would not lead to yet further

conflict. Unlike Western Europe, Poles could not participate in the building

and development of networks, institutions and knowledge about one another

that cemented peace in the West of the continent. Polish opposition, isolated

from reconciliation among Western European nations by the Iron Curtain,

nonetheless contributed to the new peace by never challenging its postwar

borders and rejecting the use of force for political aims. Yet they could

not agree to an unjust peace, which explains their fight for human dignity

in a communist dictatorship and choice of democracy as the right political

system for Poland.

Reconciliation with Germany and Russia was central for the sustainability

of peace in Poland post 1989. The 1965 letter from the Polish bishops to their

German colleagues in which they “forgave and ask for forgiveness” is considered

the first of many steps to reconciliation that included German leaders

paying tribute to the Warsaw 1944 Uprising, Polish approval for German

reunification in 1990 and German recognition of Poland’s western border

in 1991 (something that Poland was unable to secure from Germany in 1925).

Relations with Russia remain challenging, but this relationship has changed

significantly since Polish accession to the EU. Various problems continue

to exist, but the means of settling such disputes are radically different from

what could have been envisaged only two decades ago.

The history of Poland offers a different perspective of what peace means for

European integration. First, it is based on a just peace, not any peace at any

cost. Second, the historical memory of Poles – as well as many other Central

and Eastern European nations – is very much shaped by recent events.

Some Western Europeans may consider the historical references made

by Poles inappropriate at times, but for Poles, peace and freedom are relatively

recent realities and fragile concepts. For this reason, the message

Poland sends to its European friends is simple: peace still matters.


The Royal Castle During the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, more that 85% of Warsaw

8 | Peace Matters

Old Town was destroyed by German Nazis.

| 9





Poland’s economic growth

is nothing less than a modern

miracle; a lesson in how to turn

a bankrupt and inefficient

country with an undereducated

population plagued by

hyperinflation and runaway

unemployment of 1989 into

one of the fastest growing

economies in the world for two

consecutive decades.


Warsaw, 12 th September 1989.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki – the first

non-communist Prime Minister

behind the Iron Curtain – after

accepting of his government

by the Polish Sejm (lower

chamber of parliament).

It’s still two months to the fall

of the Berlin Wall.


oland’s growth is arguably more balanced and more egalitarian

than that of China, considering growth has been coupled with the

preservation of social privileges such as a pension system, free education,

healthcare protection and a fivefold increase in the minimum wage

once hyperinflation ended. The fact that Poland’s surrounding neighbours

have not experienced such rapid and sustainable growth – the second factor

being of special value in the time of the recent international financial and

economic crisis sustainable – has led to Poland being styled a modern-day

economic miracle.

The transformation of the Polish state from a communist, single-party system

with a planned economy into a modern democracy with a free market

economy began almost immediately following the 1989 elections. After

a “lost decade” during the 1980s when society teetered on the edge of economic

vegetation and constant political tensions, the country’s communist

rulers finally decided to negotiate with the opposition, which was organised

around the illegal trade union ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity) led by Lech Wałęsa.

The partially free elections held on 4 June 1989 brought a new dynamic

to Polish politics. Following liquidation at the polls (the communists did

not win a single seat in the lower house or the Senate but held a majority

of appointed members in parliament), the communist leaders conce-

ded defeat when their candidate for the country’s presidency won by only

10 | | 11

a single parliamentary vote. By September that year, Poland had its first

non-communist Prime Minister (Tadeusz Mazowiecki) since the Second

World War. By December it was obvious that radical changes to the economy

were necessary.

Forty-five years of communism had left the economy in ruins. The country

was heavily indebted, having being organised along ideological lines rather

than market rules. A division of labour throughout the communist bloc (for

example, where one country would produce buses and little else, but for

use in all communist states) devoid of any economic competition resulted

in high inefficiency and over-employment. Corruption was deeply engrained

in the system, shortages of goods were commonplace and the black market

was thriving. State institutions were not performing and the State was

in functional paralysis.

The radical changes implemented by the Mazowiecki government became

known as “shock therapy”. From 1 January 1990, a market economy was

introduced, with all sectors of Polish economic activity having to adapt

in order to survive. Many factories were unable to compete with the freeing

of prices, leading to thousands of redundancies. Yet at the same time,

many Poles embraced the new entrepreneurial freedom and started their

own businesses. Privatisation of many state-owned companies encouraged

The first visit in Poland

of the newly elected

Pope (1979).


an influx of foreign capital into the country, which made up for shortfalls

in domestic capital. This shock therapy was prescribed by two liberal economists,

Jeffrey Sachs and Leszek Balcerowicz, both Nobel Prize nomi-

nees, who are well known for their work on Poland in the early 1990s.

Poland was the first country in the former Eastern Bloc to undertake such

a radical economic transformation. It was also the first state in the region

to bounce back from the ravages of communism. As early as 1992 it achieved

GDP levels comparable with those of 1989, despite the major overhaul

of the economy. Ever since 1991 the country has enjoyed positive economic

growth, including in 2009, when almost all European Union Member States

fell into recession. But economic liberalisation and shock therapy came

at a serious social cost and created many so-called “orphans” of the economic

transformation. Poland was a country in which many towns were

dependant on a single company. Once it went bankrupt or made significant

cuts in employment, the entire town, or sometimes even an entire region

suffered. By the mid-1990s, unemployment had stabilised at around 13%.

But because under communism unemployment did not officially exist, state

policy for the unemployed did not exist either. The response of the government

was to create a social security system, which was designed principally

by Jacek Kuroń, who became Poland’s first social affairs minister after 1989.

Until his death in 2004, Kuroń was Poland’s most popular politician, whereas

Balcerowicz remains a highly controversial figure, admired by some and

reviled by others.

In the second half of the 1990s one colourful minister, Grzegorz Kołodko,

pondered upon the economic situation of Central Europe. During this

period, the fast growing economies of East Asia were labelled as economic

“tigers”. Apart from in the zoos, however, there were no tigers in Poland,

so the minister preferred to dub the fast growing Polish economy “the

Eagle”, after Poland’s national symbol. Later as economic crisis hit East Asia

and Russia, followed by the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the minister

had left office and few outside Poland remembered the term. Yet in Poland

the eagle epithet remains popular.

Economic reform was vital. Without a modern economy no other changes

in society would be possible. Yet there were more policies and state institutions

crying out for urgent reform. For example, it was estimated that

during the early 1990s up to a third of the Polish economy was informal

and national taxation institutions simply lacked the capacity to deal with

the issue. Criminality was on the rise, to such an extent that a popular joke

in Germany at the time was, “come to Poland; your car is already here”.

Until 1989 the media remained under State control and was censored. The

army and the police (which had been called the “militia” under communist

rule) needed serious reform. Less than 7% of the population had been

educated to university level in the early 1990s, and the need to reform the

education system was of pressing concern. Privatisation had led to major

12 | Tiger Turned Eagle

| 13

social tensions and opened the way for further corruption. Basic services

and new business cultures that had not existed under communism had

to be created from scratch, such as auditing. A new banking system had

to be built. In addition to economic reforms, political reforms had been

introduced in the nineties, including local government in 1990. These and

many other areas of public life needed transformation.

By the mid-1990s the transformation of the Polish state was well under way

and, for the most part, successful. Reform of the country’s media was probably

the easiest reform to implement. Liberalisation meant that anyone was

now free to broadcast. Many took advantage of the change and twenty years

later there are now most popular three national home-grown TV stations

(2 private, 1 public) and three national home-grown radio stations (2 private,

1 public). Censorship officially ended in 1989, but the defining moment

of change in peoples’ minds took place when a popular actress said live

on a state-controlled channel in October 1989 – before Balcerowicz had

initiated his reforms – that “on 4 June, communism in Poland has ended”.

The big challenge for the fragile country was the behaviour of the two major

pillars of Polish society: the army and the Catholic Church. Many were

unsure as to whether the army would pledge allegiance to the new civilian

authorities or whether – as in many other cases in the developing world

– it would seize power at the first opportunity. Fortunately a military coup

d’état never took place, partially due to the military’s strong policy on nonintervention

and partially because Polish governments since 1989 were all

legitimate with a strong democratic mandate to govern.

During communist rule the Catholic Church was granted limited autonomy,

which allowed the clergy to perform religious services. The “Polish

Pope” John Paul II was until his death in 2005 the moral and spiritual leader

of the Polish nation. During his time in office the Catholic Church in Poland

pursued a policy of self-restraint, allowing the political parties to lead

the democratic process.

The renascent political system was, however, particularly fragile. Governments

during this period were fractious and short-lived. Between 1989

and 1997 there were eight cabinets, all of which depended upon shaky

parliamentary majorities. Yet all stayed the course on reform. The saying

goes that “revolutions eat their children”, and it was no different in Poland.

In 1989 Solidarność won all directly elected seats in the lower house and

99 seats in the Senate (the last seat went to an independent), but the parties

that emerged from the Solidarność movement had all lost their parliamentary

majority as early as 1993. They were succeeded in government by postcommunist

parties and in 1995 a post-communist candidate was elected

as President. Yet despite ideological differences between political parties,

once in government or in the presidential palace all Polish leaders pursued

similar policies of liberalisation and reform as well as the universally


Sign-boards’ workshop – adding

a crown to the Polish national

emblem. Warsaw, January 1990

endorsed foreign policy goal, which was the ultimate and full accession

to NATO and the European Union.

In 1997 Jerzy Buzek – the current President of the European Parliament

– was elected Prime Minister on a platform of introducing further reforms in

four key sectors. These were to be the last systemic reforms of 1990s. Buzek

reformed the pension system, healthcare, education and local government.

The same year the outgoing parliament proposed a new constitution which

was adopted by referendum. Not all of Buzek’s reforms survived (his healthcare

reform, for example, was reversed by the following government), but

his government initiated a last crucial phase of the transition period.

Further social problems troubled the country in the early 2000s. First,

a number of corruption scandals eroded Buzek’s parliamentary majority.

While the Prime Minister managed to survive the scandals relatively

unscathed, the same could not be said for his party. The subsequent government

was formed by the post-communist left. During this period, new

parties emerged during this period that dominate the current political landscape

today: the liberal-conservative Civic Platform and the conservativenationalist

Law and Justice Party.

The second problem of the early 2000s was high unemployment, which skyrocketed

to over 20%, with youth unemployment as high as 40%. This was

14 | Tiger Turned Eagle

| 15

mainly a result of the so-called baby boom generation born in the 1980s

entering the labour market, which was unable to cater for a large increase

in the workforce. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, however, education

grew at a rapid rate. The number of Poles with a university degree doubled

and today about half of young Poles attend university.

These social problems of the 2000s created a sense of intense nostalgia for

the past regime. Society had become tired of constant reform and adaptation.

The number of those disillusioned by reforms was approximately proportionate

to the total number of unemployed, reaching over 40% in some

regions. The attraction of populist parties grew and the mainstream political

class were forced to involve them in governing the country. This resulted

in a deterioration of the democratic system. During this period historical

issues started to re-emerge with a new intensity. Society and its elites had

to deal with past anti-Semitism; new historical tensions arose in relations

with Russia and Germany; and the issue of collusion with the communist

secret police resurfaced throughout the decade.

A lot of this negativity dissipated following Poland’s accession to the European

Union in 2004. First, it became legal for Poles to seek work in other

European states. Millions immigrated to Ireland and the United Kingdom,

where local labour was in short supply and expensive. That helped to ease

the social and economic tensions within Poland. Surveys of public opinion

have revealed that this nostalgia was short-lived in Poland (unlike in some

other countries in the region). By 2010 almost all Poles consider democracy

a better political system than communism.

The death of Pope John Paul II saw the demise of the Polish Catholic

Church’s policy of non-interference in domestic politics. Deeply conservative

groups within the Church have become more vocal. The League

of Polish Families, a far-right party with ties to such groups, was elected

to the Polish parliament in 2001 and 2005 and to the European Parliament

in 2004, and was a junior partner in government in 2006-7. Following

the 2007 elections, however, the party was voted out of parliament and

razed from the Polish political landscape.

Joining the European Union provided the country with new spurs to economic

growth. The 1990s was a time of fresh inward investment which allowed

domestic enterprise to bring unemployed manual labourers into the

workforce. Many of Poland’s new jobs, however, are in the services sector.

Integration with the single European market boosted economic growth

to over 7% annually and since the crisis in 2008 the relatively large domestic

market has kept the economy growing at a time when exports have fallen


For over twenty years, the Polish eagle has continued to soar. Poland is the

only EU country to enjoy uninterrupted economic growth since 1991,


resulting in the economy growing over ten times its former size. Before

the economic crisis began in 2008, Poland was among the five fastest growing

economies in the world along with well known examples of China

and Vietnam. Between 1995 and 2009 Polish GDP per capita increased from

43% of the EU average to 61%. In 2009 and 2010, Poland had the fastest

growing EU economy.

The single most important undertaking of the current government of Prime

Minister Donald Tusk is to catch up with Western Europe in terms

of transportation infrastructure. Polish roads and railways lag behind many

Western European networks. Poor transportation links is a major factor inhibiting

the growth of disadvantaged regions. As a result of government

investment coupled with EU regional development funds, Poland is today

Europe’s largest construction site.

Clearly the picture is not all rosy. Despite high growth and many economic

and social reforms, the national budget and public finances require further

reform. For the past twenty years tackling the public deficit has been a challenge.

As the deficit remained unaddressed for many years, it has turned

into accumulated debt now approaching constitutional limits. This places

the government under both political and constitutional pressure. However

important it may be, reforming public finances may prove to be a difficult

challenge due to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2011. Political challenges,

however, have buffeted the eagle’s flight in the past, but none have

stopped it from soaring on the thermals of economic growth.

16 | Tiger Turned Eagle

| 17




The EU enlargement of 2004 was probably

the most important development

in the history of European integration since

the process first began in the 1950s.

A common pre-enlargement perception of this historic development

was that a group of reasonably democratic and wealthy nations of Western

Europe embraced a crowd of poor and semi-civilised cousins from

the Eastern flanks of the continent. Another view defines the process

as a mere enlargement of the status quo, expecting the newcomers to

behave and follow the leadership of the older, Western democracies.

The reality, however, is quite different. In the years following the 2004

enlargement, old European coalitions have been reshaped with the emer-

gence of new actors in the East. One partner in particular has certainly not

adapted to the prevailing pre-enlargement status quo: Poland.

There could have been no EU enlargement in 2004 without Poland. The

country is populated by the total population of the nine other countries

which joined that year, while its economic strength is equal to that of the

nine others combined. Furthermore, Poland is strategically located and

– perhaps most importantly – it is a country which the other post-Communist

states view with a combination of reluctance and respect as a political


France and Germany and most Western European nations also considered

that “the Eastern enlargement” without Poland would have been a political

impossibility. This strengthened Poland’s hand in negotiating its own terms

of accession, but as long as Poland remained a mere applicant its position

would never be equal to that of its Western European allies.


For tomorrow, you’ll learn

the whole “Ode to Joy”

by heart.

Marek Raczkowski

This changed in December 2002, when the terms of enlargement were

completed. Only days after the first round of negotiations, the government

in Warsaw sent a strong message to the EU: we think independently and

assertively. Poland’s flexing of its diplomatic muscle upset the political

consensus within the EU; the French President even commented that Poland

should know when to “keep quiet”. This was during the time leading

up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, which divided European nations. In December

2002 the Polish government took the decision to buy American

F-16s over the European Mirage (French) or Grippen (British-Swedish)

fighter jets. This was the first bold decision of many that caused consternation

among some Western European capitals. The following months saw

Polish troops deployed to Iraq and Warsaw adopted an equally aggressive

stance during the negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty during the

Intergovernmental Conference.

This was a shock to the EU system; an early sign that there was a new actor

in the European Union to which the older members would have to adapt.

Poland was not abusing its position or its rights – the Union was split in half

over the Iraqi conflict and many older EU states pursued similar policies

(including Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain). Therefore it had every

right to have its own policy, whatever the moral stance of the governments

in Paris or Berlin. Looking back at the decisions, policy-makers in Warsaw

understood that following the US in its Middle East policy was probably

18 | | 19

the wrong move; however, it generated important positive aspects for Poland. First,

its standing in international affairs was improved as it has proven itself a reliable

partner for the United States. Second, Poles were able to use their own military

capacities in the Iraqi and Afghan wars as a means of modernising the Polish army.

Following Poland’s accession to the European Union, it began contributing to the

EU’s policy on its new Eastern neighbourhood. When the presidential elections

in Ukraine were rigged, the Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski along with

his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus called for a strong EU engagement

in resolving the conflict. Their role was decisive in convincing Western European

leaders to engage with and convince the Ukrainian leaders to allow Europeans

to provide external assistance. The Ukrainian Orange Revolution was successful;

elections were repeated and by the end of the 2004 the president had been elected

through fair elections. This seemed like a positive beginning of an EU policy

towards Eastern Europe where Poland and other post-communist states would

be at the centre of policy formulation.

2005 saw the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in referenda held in France and

the Netherlands. Some commentators have attributed the failure to “enlargement

fatigue” – hostility among Western European societies of their respective governments’

openness towards migrants. Among other things, the 2004 enlargement

was expected to produce a further wave of migration, this time from Central and

Eastern Europe. In France the spectre of the “Polish plumber” depriving French

workers of jobs was popularised in the media. Poles took this fear and turned the

argument on its head. The Polish Tourism Organisation produced a very popular

advertisement featuring a male model dressed as a plumber with the caption, “I’m

staying in Poland. All are welcome.” (Je reste en Pologne. Venez nombreux).

Poland did not suffer from enlargement fatigue or fears related to migration (not

even that of a “brain drain”). On the contrary, many of the 40% unemployed young

Poles were eager to test the limits of the EU’s free movement of labour, with over

a million Poles migrating after 2004 mostly to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The reason why there was no fatigue in Poland is linked to the simple fact the all

the newer EU members and societies prepared themselves for EU accession. They

were not, however, anticipating accession to a different kind of a Union. In becoming

members they changed the very nature of the EU. At the same time a surprise

of a different nature was felt in Western Europe. The EU-15 societies were socially

unprepared for enlargement, with fears manifesting in popular caricatures such

as the “Polish plumber”. After all, it was the new members adhering to the EU, not

the other way round, so why should the older members need to adapt? At least, this

was the attitude among Western European states.

Enlargement did bring a certain “confidence” to Poland. In fact, a combination

of factors (such as accession, but also high unemployment, corruption and death

of John Paul II) culminated in the election of a new conservative-nationalist governing

coalition in 2006-7 under Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and President


Lech Kaczyński (2005-10). The election of the Kaczyński brothers inaugurated

a new period of Poland’s EU membership during which its reputation had been

largely compromised.

During late spring of 2006, Jarosław Kaczyński formed a government which included

extremist right-wing nationalist and populist parties. Conflicts between

Warsaw and a number of Western European countries emerged as the new government’s

rhetoric created friction with its EU partners. With Germany, numerous

unresolved historical conflicts such as the restitution of property on post-German

territory and the creation of the Centre Against Expulsions; treatment of Polish

nationals in Germany; and debates on the Russian-German pipeline under the Baltic

Sea caused tensions between Warsaw and Berlin. On EU issues, Poland and

Germany usually found themselves on opposing sides. Relations with France were

frozen ever since President Chirac’s comments on what he perceived as Poland’s

“missed opportunity to keep quiet” during the prelude to the Iraq War in 2003. The

Warsaw-Madrid axis on the Constitutional Treaty evaporated with the arrival of the

new socialist Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero. Relations with other new

Member States remained conditioned by the evolution of Polish-German relations.

Faced with lack of support in many of its policy battles, Poland of the Kaczyński

twins became increasingly isolated.

With the EU, Poland started to behave at times unpredictably and began to be per-

ceived as an unreliable partner. There were quite a few conflicts between Poland

and the European Commission or other institutions during the tenure of the

Kaczyński twins, including on milk quotas, pan-European banking consolidation,

the application of the Natura 2000 programme, state aid to shipyards, treatment

of minority rights, a Polish veto of the EU-Russia partnership and cooperation

agreement negotiations, total opposition to climate change policy, refusal to accept

the Charter of Fundamental Rights; opposition to the double majority voting system

in the Council; and the final delay with ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Poland.

As a result, Poland gained a negative reputation as conducting unrealistic EU

policy as well as new labels of “Russophobes” and “homophobes”, usually employed

unfairly by some left-wing politicians, but the Kaczyński government did little

to demerit the labels. It is quite unfortunate that even when the Warsaw government

was right (for example in its sceptical position on Russia), it was rarely able

to convince its EU partners due to its low credibility.

The people voted the conservative-nationalist government out of office in 2007.

Since taking office the centre-right government of Donald Tusk has established

itself as an influential and reliable partner in European politics. Relations with Germany

and France have been repaired, allowing for the solution of many previous

conflicts. Constructive dialogue with Russia turned out to be possible. Other ongoing

and new differences with the EU are dealt with through reasoned dialogue. The

2011 presidency of the Council is a culmination of the process of putting Poland

– the smallest and the poorest of the big EU nations and the largest of the small

nations – on the map of European politics as a respected, competent and reliable


20 | Difficult Partner

| 21






European Union foreign policy

is probably the most difficult EU

policy to negotiate since it

touches the very core of national

sovereignty, which is the right of

each Member State to establish

and develop bilateral and

independent relations with

fellow nations.


Lech Wałęsa beign carried

by people after committing

an application for registration

of “Solidarity”.

Warsaw, 24 th September 1980


foreign policy places a significant limitation on national

foreign policies of Member States of the European Union,

even if it may often be little more than a mere reflection

of the “lowest common denominator” among the twenty-seven national

foreign policies. That is, provided there is a policy at all. It is important

to remember that when EU Member States disagree on an issue, there is no EU

foreign policy position on that matter. The diverging positions of Member

States on the Iraq War or the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, for instance,

are two of many situations which clearly manifest this problem.

In short, achieving a European foreign policy is a constant struggle, but

it is a policy desired by most EU citizens and a tool needed by EU Member

States in order to enhance their own strength in international affairs.

It is supposed to be about striking a balance between national priorities

and promoting the Union’s interests and values. EU foreign policy uses primarily

“soft” tools, such as trade rules and liberalisation of market access,

as there is no European army and European defence cooperation is limited.

The Union is also the world’s foremost provider of overseas aid and

is a global norm-setter on many issues ranging from aviation and chemical

standardisation to environmental protection and financial supervision. The

Union’s most important partners are the United States, China and Russia,

while it pursues high-level strategic dialogue with many other partners such

as India, Pakistan, South Korea or Brazil.

22 | | 23

The Union aspires to be a global actor in world politics, yet it has often

failed to successfully resolve conflicts in its own doorstep. European Neighbourhood

Policy is popularly perceived as an ineffective, if not failed policy.

It was designed as a strategy that would encourage the EU’s neighbours

to adapt to European democratic and human rights norms, liberalise market

access and contribute to mutual economic progress through political and

economic incentives that would ultimately lead to stability and prosperity

in the EU’s backyard. Thus far, it has failed to achieve these objectives.

Neighbourhood policy alone has not provided sufficient incentives for the

EU’s neighbours to change voluntarily, while both EU Member States and

the neighbourhood countries have failed to live up to their mutual engagements.

Furthermore, third parties often undermine the EU’s efforts.

The greatest challenge is probably the fact that, as Polish foreign minister

Radosław Sikorski put it, “neighbourhood policy includes Europe’s neighbours

and European neighbours”, referring to the divide between other non-

EU states in Eastern Europe and countries in North Africa and the Middle

East. As Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the three Caucasus countries are

all European nations they have a theoretical right to one day become full

members of the European Union. The Southern Mediterranean partners

do not have such an option.

The creation of European foreign policy should be an attempt to provide

global leadership in areas where the EU can offer strong policy incentives

such as development assistance or climate change. But while seeking

to provide an ambitious leadership, EU foreign policy should also respect

the delicate balance between various national interests within the Union

and common European values such as respect for human dignity, free-

dom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights,

“including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”, to quote the

Union’s founding treaties.

The idea of an ambitious European foreign policy is not challenged in Warsaw

– quite the opposite in fact. But the Polish government considers that

should there be no leadership on a given issue, Poland will probably look

for alternative channels through which to influence global affairs. 2011

is a year of trials and tribulations for EU foreign policy chief Catherine

Ashton. Whether she will prove successful in establishing such an ambitious

policy is an open question, hence Poland’s theoretical option to seek alternative

means to a common EU approach. Yet for the time being, the focus

remains firmly on whether the EU’s high representative will prove successful.

Poland insists on a number of components that it considers as essential

in the formulation of European foreign policy. The first (and perhaps foremost)

includes a close relationship between the Union and all its Eastern

neighbours, including Russia. Poland, together with Sweden, was successful


“Solidarity. High noon June 4 th

1989”. Gary Cooper, the sheriff

from the poster, carries a ballot

paper instead of a gun,

a symbol of a peaceful


in putting Eastern Europe back on the EU’s foreign policy agenda in 2008

through the creation of the “Eastern Partnership” targeted towards Armenia,

Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Its objective

is to deepen the EU’s political, societal and economic relationship with

those countries. The Russian attack on Georgia the same year enhanced

European interest in the region. Today the principal outstanding issues

include completing negotiations with many Eastern European countries

on ambitious association agreements, including free trade and the possibility

of lifting EU visa requirements for citizens of those states.

A closer relationship between the European Union and Russia is vitally

important for both partners. A close strategic partnership will cement

24 | What European Foreign Policy

| 25

stability in Europe and bring greater prosperity to Russia, but it requires

reform from Europe’s giant neighbour to the East. The latest ideas such

as a “Partnership for Modernisation” are welcome, but need to be substantiated

by significant reforms in Russia, including an improvement in the

rule of law.

The second related priority for the European Union from a Polish perspective

is Union external energy policy. For the moment it does not exist per

se but is an absolute necessity. Without such a common EU position, companies

from outside the EU can create significant distortions on national

energy markets in situations where such markets often remain isolated from

other Member States.

The third priority for Union foreign policy – and a Polish speciality – is the

promotion of democracy. As a country which underwent one of the

world’s most successful peaceful transitions to democracy in 1989, it is now

keen to share its own experience. The EU played a major role in supporting

Poland’s democratic movement, and feels that this is precisely the role the

Union should continue to play for those nations that are striving for political

and economic freedom today, especially those in its own neighbourhood.

The final Polish priority is that of defence cooperation. The Union is not

and should not be a military union, nor should it attempt to rival the existing

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The EU does, however, need

to develop closer military cooperation in order to improve its own capacities

in deploying peacekeeping missions or simply in order to gain credibility

in the eyes of foreign partners, who do not consider the post-modern

European exercise as a meaningful one. Europeans should spend more

on their armies, but very few EU states in times of austerity are inclined

to increase their military budgets. In fact in recent years Poland was one

of very few European states to increase its defence spending.

In the debate on how to enhance European defence cooperation, Poland

usually takes a path separate to that of other EU Member States. Some argue

for closer EU military cooperation at the expense of NATO, while other

EU members remain strongly attached to NATO and are therefore opposed

to closer EU military cooperation. Poles argue that stronger European

cooperation is absolutely necessary, not as a rival to NATO, but as an independent

initiative that works in cooperation with NATO.

In a time of shifting global powers when Asian powers gain new competitive

edges over European or American partners on an almost weekly basis,

Western states weakened by the recent economic crisis should remain

as united as possible. At the same time, as much as transatlantic relations

need to remain the basis for European security, it is time for Europeans

to take a higher degree of responsibility for their own collective security.


The construction of European foreign policy is mainly in the hands

of Catherine Ashton and the newly created European External Action Service,

which she controls. Poles will keep their fingers crossed for her success

and are ready to assist the High Representative with specific ideas on how

to enhance the relationship with Eastern European nations, including Russia;

on how to strengthen European energy security; on how to promote EU

values in the world – especially among emerging democracies – and on how

to improve Europe’s defence capabilities.

Poland continues to support all other actions and dimensions of European

foreign policy, including preventing or looking for a sustainable and feasible

solution to conflicts in the Middle East and peaceful transformation in Arab

countries; in solving global problems such as pollution of environment

and pandemics; in peacekeeping operations in many parts in the world;

in strengthening global multilateralism and governance; and in providing

assistance to developing nations. After all, if the EU wants to be a respected

global actor, it also needs to improve its international position in all regions

of the world.

26 | What European Foreign Policy

| 27




Europe used to be a continent of confidence

and optimism. Only two decades ago the

European way of life was one that sparked

envy in other corners of the world.


he 2008 economic crisis only strengthened the feeling that the European

(as opposed to the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” light-touch)

approach to regulating financial markets was the correct model

to follow. Yet somewhere between the peak of the European social model

of the early 1990s and the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, European optimism

and confidence largely evaporated.

The European Union’s collective economy is still the largest in the world.

“Still” is the key word. Timing is not on EU’s side as the rise of Asian economies

challenges European global leadership in almost every field, with the

only likely exception being winter sports. The ongoing European debate

can be described as “how much time do we still have before the Chinese

overtake us?”. It came as some relief therefore to discover that the quality

of teaching at Chinese universities is relatively low due to the constant influx

of new students (there are more students in China then in the entire

EU) and that this should extend the quality of European universities over

Chinese universities for another ten to fifteen years.

Yet the feeling of pessimism and perpetual crisis persist. What some describe

as a culture of fear in Europe translates into a few direct problems,

which outwardly manifest themselves in increased support for extremist

and populist views. The population at large is fearful of the economic situation

(including rising unemployment, instability and unpredictability of the

current situation, and the crisis in the Eurozone) and is disenchanted with


The Schuman Parade

in Warsaw

national and European leadership. Fears are also fuelled by changing demographics

in many regions, especially rising immigration. Many European

intellectuals’ point their fingers directly at Europeans’ alleged Islamophobia,

while the term “Eurabia” has been created to frighten the public about the

influx of new migrants.

This negativity subsequently manifests itself in public unrest or higher support

for extremist parties and rising populism among the mainstream European

political classes. The European social model – praised and developed

for years – is now seriously challenged and requires major reform. Such reform

tends to be deeply unpopular, as it often entails cutting social benefits.

Europeans, for instance, are now being told to work longer hours, take fewer

holidays and retire at a later age. In return for cutting social costs, however,

there is no guarantee of a job or a decent wage. Many Europeans at least partially

blame the situation on the EU. This trend is particularly heightened

in economically depressed states like Greece or Ireland and in states with

a high ratio of immigrants such as Austria.

This pessimistic mood, however strong it may be, is not prevalent in each

European state. One nation (but not the only one) stands out considerably.

While many Europeans are fearful and pessimistic about the future, most

Poles are more optimistic and at times even enthusiastic about Europe and

the trends in their own country. Three quarters of Poles are positive about

28 | | 29

the European Union’s future (along with a majority of Danes, Dutch and

Slovaks). Poles are the most positive about the EU’s actions in restoring financial

stability. They also remain fiercely pro-European (i.e. they are more

supportive of their state’s membership of the European Union then in other

nations; according to some opinion poles as high as 86% of Poles support

EU membership) and three-quarters of Poles believe that Poland has largely

benefitted from membership (the same level of support exists also in Denmark,

Ireland and Slovakia).

The reason for Polish optimism about the European Union can be explained

by two factors. To begin with, the economic situation has improved

significantly in the country over the past twenty years, with EU accession

back in 2004 accelerating this process. European structural funds allowed

for improvement in infrastructure in literally every region of the country,

investment in thousands of companies and improvement of skills of tens

of thousands of individuals. Many Poles also used the opportunity to study

and work abroad. It is estimated that up to two million Polish citizens left

the country after 2004 to take up legal employment in another EU state.

Yet economic growth is only the second factor behind Polish optimism. The

main reason is the limited expectations people had during the internal debates

on EU accession in 2003. At that time the discussion was organised

ahead of the national referendum on EU membership. Various arguments

for the “Yes” and “No” camps were presented, but those advocating a “Yes”

vote rarely presented economic arguments. Their main reasoning was that

EU accession for Poland was more a cultural choice than an economic one.

For years Poles were told that they were a European nation and their right

place was among other European nations. The Cold War division of Europe

proved to be artificial in the long run, but back in 2003 Poles had to confirm

the choice made in 1989 to pursue closer integration with Western Europe.

The spiritual leader of the nation, Pope John Paul II, was whole-heartedly

supportive of the EU’s Eastern enlargement. However, he said – and Poles

agreed – that EU enlargement was not so much an enlargement as a reunification

of the continent otherwise long divided. East and West are two lungs

of the same organism, according to the late pope. He referred to the Polish

historical experience as a journey “from the Lublin Union to the European

Union”. The Lublin Union of 1569 established a federal-type system in the

form of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with a common foreign

policy, single currency and a free market for land property. The Polish and

Lithuanian armies, however, remained separate.

The cultural choice made in 2003 had its consequences. For example,

it meant that Poles did not expect that their lives would radically change

overnight on 1 May 2004 (EU accession). It seemed their decision was

rather a mid- to long-term investment, so there was no immediate pressure

to “deliver” as there was in other acceding states. Low expectations therefore

allowed Poland to maintain high support for membership ever since 2004.


Another consequence of the Polish approach was that Poles felt at home

in the Union almost immediately. They did not take full responsibility for

the European “house” nor were they expected to do so – but they spoke

freely and made use of various rights almost immediately, such as the decision

by many Polish citizens to take advantage of free movement rights

immediately after accession in 2004, or the government’s tough position

during negotiations on the multi-annual budget in 2005.

It is important to stress, however, that while Poles remain optimistic about

the EU and its future, they remain largely sceptical towards their own national

authorities. Hence trust of European institutions (such as the Commission

or the Parliament) is generally higher than that of national institutions

(parliament, government). This scepticism towards national authority

(native or imposed) has a long history in Poland: the noblemen of the 16th

Century were suspicious of the king during the Lublin Union; Poles were

suspicious of occupying German, Russian and Austrian powers in 19th

Century; and later of the imposed Communist dictators in 20th Century.

However, growing pessimism towards the EU benefits many parties with

extremist views or populist ideals. This phenomenon is widespread, and

only a handful of EU states do not include such parties in their parliaments

(such as Germany and Spain). Poland is a rare case of a country where one

far-right party and one populist party participated in government (2006-7),

but both parties were voted out of the national parliament in 2007 and from

the European Parliament in 2009. The decision of the electorate to kick out

these extremists should be viewed as a sign of maturity of Polish democracy.

Can optimism become widespread in Europe again in the future? Surely

this must be possible: the Polish experience clearly illustrates that it is. However,

it would require a significant improvement of the economic situation

in Europe, including a sharp decrease in unemployment. Also the issue

of immigration-phobia needs to be addressed. Immigration is not bad per

se and, quite to the contrary, is necessary for economic growth.

What Europeans need is an optimistic perspective on the future for themselves,

their countries and the entire continent. Nations that already hold

this perspective are less fearful of contemporary crises. Poles are among

such optimists – they know what they want for their country and the European

continent. They also know what they want is not cost-free, but they

seem ready to share the price of further economic reforms. In fact, optimism

is one of the messages of the Polish Presidency of the Council of the

European Union in the second half of 2011. Europe can be on the offensive,

but it needs to focus on what is achievable and needs to stay ahead of the

curve. The continent can grow and develop; its potential is so enormous

that the entire world can – and should – benefit from it.

30 | European Optimism

| 31




An ambitious Europe

with strong institutions

running common policies

on an unbiased basis is one dream.


he second is to allow as many European nations as possible into the

European house – based on the belief that all of Europe has a right

to live by EU rules and participate in the process of making those

rules. The third dream is more of a concern: How to maintain and develop

such a “big” – widened and deepened – Europe in a unified way? This is the

Polish answer to Europe’s future.

Two dimensions have been central to European integration over the past

60 years. The question of borders, of “widening” or future enlargements,

has been always present – since before the first enlargement in the 1970s

through the addition of Southern European countries in the 1980s and

Eastern European ones in the 2000s. The second question, about degrees

of integration or “deepening,” about transferring new powers (Which ones?

How much? How fast?) to the pan-European level, is even older.

Where does Europe end? Its borders are known to be malleable. The western

border is the Atlantic, the southern is the Mediterranean, the Nordic

is the Arctic, but where is the eastern border? The question of political

Europe’s geographical borders is as old as European integration history.

In the current context, it is equally relevant: Should the Union welcome

Turkey as full member? Can an average EU citizen imagine a common border

between the EU and Iran? Even the enlargement to the Western Balkans

is sometimes questioned: Will Europe continue to bring democratic

standards to the region, or we will witness the opposite, a “balkanisation”

of European politics?


Folk ornament arabesque

Where does Europe end? How many decisions have to be taken in Brussels

and need to be coordinated at the highest political level? What are the limits

of European integration; does the EU really need to have a single currency,

a single army and a single policy on everything? Will there be European

taxes one day and a pan-European FBI?

The European debate on the issue of where Europe ends is multifaceted and

becomes even more diverse the more nations participate in the process, and

the higher the degree of already-existing integration. As all new treaties require

universal ratification, getting all members to agree to, and then adopt

them becomes more and more challenging.

There are two main and two less-popular views on the deepening/widening

debate. The most popular views are those favouring one over the other; e.g.

British governments are known to pursue a policy favouring future enlargements

at the expense of deepening. This logic implies that the larger the

Union, the more difficult it would be to agree on future deepening. It also

implies that the preferred view on what the EU should be is a sort of upgraded

version of a free-trade area.

The opposite view favours deepening over widening. Supporters of this logic

recognise the inflexibility of a larger Union and for this reason advocate

a much more cautious approach to enlargements. They argue that before

32 | | 33

the Union enlarges, it needs to deepen its structures. The European federalists

are strong protagonists of such an approach; they advocate a much

deeper Union with stronger supranational institutions with wider competencies.

They, in fact, advocate for a pan-European federation.

The two other approaches are compromises, in which it is argued that deepening

and widening should be treated equally. The first of these suggests

this should be a cautious process, in which enlargement would happen only

after many years of consideration and preparation. Deepening is likewise

considered a nuisance that would happen only rarely or under strong pressure

from other partners. Such a passive approach is preferred in some capitals

that are satisfied with the status quo.

The fourth option belongs to the optimists who strongly promote further

enlargements, even when they are against their own interests, and support

the further transfer of powers to the Brussels institutions. As recently as the

early 2000s, ahead of the “big bang” enlargement in 2004, which saw the

simultaneous accession of 10 new states, and the EU’s Constitutional Treaty

of the same year, Germany was the country supporting keeping a parallel

(limited) distance from both deepening and widening. But German policy

changed in more recent years, when future enlargement started to mean the

accession of Turkey (an idea deeply unpopular in Germany) and with the

beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, when the Berlin government lost

some of its trust in European institutions, especially the European Commission.

After some hesitation in the first year following its accession in 2004, Po-

land is today a strong supporter of a bold and optimistic approach in both

directions. The Polish answer to the question “What kind of Europe do you

want” is simple: a big one. Poles support a larger European Union that

is open to all European nations. They champion a Union that continues

to deepen its structures to become more flexible and competitive worldwide.

They support supranational institutions and are unafraid to shift competencies

to them. Poles seem to recognise that their key ally in European poli-

tics is the European Commission, and to believe that the Union should

modify and potentially expand its budget to reflect its new competencies.

As for future enlargement, Poland supports the accession of Croatia, Turkey

and Iceland. It advocates Western Balkan membership and would like to see

a perspective considering a possible future enlargement that includes some

of the EU’s Eastern European neighbours, especially Ukraine and Moldova.

The Polish vision of Europe’s future is clearly not based only on national

economic interests. If that was the case, Turkish or Ukrainian accession

would be last among Warsaw’s priorities. After all, those two large and poor

countries would each significantly reduce the transfers of structural funds

to relatively richer Poland. Moreover, Ukrainian agriculture is highly competitive

with the Polish sector. To welcome Ukrainian products could prove

Illustration of Turkish tiles


economically tricky; to subsidise them with EU funds, even more problematic.

Still, in a spirit of solidarity and in the belief that all European nations

have the right (not the privilege) to be members of the European Union,

Poland remains a strong advocate for future enlargements.

For the moment only a few countries can realistically expect to become

EU members within a few years. The country closest to joining the family

is Croatia. Among Western Balkan countries the only two states without

border, governance or name problems are Montenegro and Albania. Only

they can join the EU within a few years – following an ambitious domestic

reform agenda and relatively smooth accession talks. For Serbia the final

status of Kosovo is the ultimate limitation. Bosnia and Herzegovina continues

to struggle over its governance structure with many doubting the sustainability

of the system. FYROM, or Macedonia, remains in a conflict situation

with Greece over the name of the country whose capital is in Skopje.

The Icelandic and Turkish accessions remain problematic. The continuing

issue in Cyprus (Turkey does not recognise the government in Nicosia)

blocks any progress between the EU and Turkey. Icelanders worry about

their fishing zones and the solution to the banking debt problem. Unless

those two problems are dealt with, no accession is possible for either

country. Eastern European enlargement is even more distant as none of the

countries has any “promise” of membership. Partially due to this reason

Poles are paying the utmost attention to keeping Ukraine and fellow nations

as close to the EU as possible. Should the new deep and comprehensive

free-trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine become reality, it would

be a major step towards anchoring Ukraine in Europe. Negotiations over

new agreements with Georgia and Moldova are also in the pipeline.

Strong Union competencies and policies are the backbone of the success

of European integration. Independent institutions responsible for running

those policies are the veins of the system, while the compliance of EU member

states with the laws is the oxygen needed for its proper functioning.

In recent years there have been attempts or suggestions to challenge some

of the EU’s most important policies, such as the single market or the competition

policy and state aid rules. Poland opposes those moves and supports

the traditional EU policies. It opposes any preferential treatment to any specific

company or state – it should be the policy of the European Commission

not to allow for any single market distortion. However, the institution

needs to be strong to guard its own independence, not to mention the Commission’s

main goal: to be the guardian of the treaties.

The political independence of the Commission has been questioned and

its position shaken in recent years. Back in 2003 Germany and France

challenged the institution over the Stability and Growth Pact rules (rules

on the Euro zone) and the Commission was unable to resist a united

Franco-German front. The struggle to re-establish the political standing

34 | Big Europe

| 35

of the Commission, especially vis-à-vis the largest and most powerful EU

members, became an ongoing challenge. Poles are one-sidedly on the side

of the Commission when its independence is at stake. The Warsaw government

understood well the general rule that the Commission is the natural

ally of the smaller or poorer nations. Its strong position is particularly

necessary when there is a specific problem in a larger member country.

An unbiased approach in applying EU rules is crucial and the central position

of the Commission is the key.

Poles go further and want the Union to develop and run new policies, with

the completion of building the single market being the absolutely central

element. The dearest part for Poland in this process is the future of small-

and medium-sized enterprises. Poland also supports the establishment

of a strong European energy policy in all its dimensions. First, the con-

struction of the interconnectors between national markets should be the basis

for any policy. Second, the development of an internal and external policy for

the Union is important for free-market competition as well as for creating

a better negotiation position for the Union of 27 with third-party partners.

Other new policies also need to be strengthened. Two stand out in particular.

Military and defence cooperation among European member states

is limping. It needs significant improvement if the Union is to be taken

as a credible partner in its own backyard – in the Western Balkans, the

Middle East, the Caucasus or Africa. Second is foreign policy. Until recently

the EU has been better known for its disagreements on major foreign-poli-

cy issues (wars in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, the Iraq war of the 2000s,

Russia, Cuba, the Chinese embargo, the status of Kosovo, and, more recently,

the conflict in Libya) than for its accomplishments. With the new rulebook

in the form the Treaty of Lisbon it has gained new instruments with which

to have more success. Poland strongly supports the EU’s foreign policy and

expects to have input into it.

The deepening of the European project does not only refer to its policies

or institutions. The European budget also needs reform. The Polish stand

on the budget debate is to link it more closely with the Union’s competencies.

Currently large sums are spent on the agriculture and cohesion policies,

as if the EU’s powers had remained unchanged since the 1980s. Make

no mistake – the cohesion and agriculture policies have been largely successful

over the years and Poles want to keep them. However, they support

reforms within the agricultural dossier as long as the basic principle of equal

treatment is respected.

The big discussion about the European budget will be faced in the coming

years. In order to prepare themselves for the difficult negotiations, Poles are

trying to send the message that the current budget is not only not reflecting

the Union’s competencies, but is also extremely small. Less than 1 percent

of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on European Union


An example of Turkish

needlework art

policies, while national budget revenues are up to 60 percent of national

GDPs. At the same time about a quarter of all laws applicable in member

countries come from the EU. In short, the EU’s responsibilities call for

an increased Union budget – joint management could, in fact, bring savings

to the national accounts through the simple mechanism of the economies

of scale.

This is the big Europe for which Poles advocate – larger, with more powers

and with stronger institutions responsible for an increased budget. How

to keep such a Union running is a challenge. The Polish contribution comes

down to one word – “solidarity”. A bigger Union can be fully manageable

if the principle of solidarity is given similar value as other guiding rules.

After all, the EU is not based only on interests, but also on values. Existing

major divergences can be only addressed with a higher degree of solidarity.

Though the prospect of a “bigger” Union might be distant, some of its elements

are on the European agenda in 2011 and hence on the desk of the

Polish presidency of the Council. The closer macroeconomic cooperation

between European nations is a clear development in terms of “deepening”

the Union. If Croatia finalises its accession negotiations this year, it will join

the club soon, turning EU-27 into EU-28. Once again, a small enlargement

would be coupled with a small treaty revision.

36 | Big Europe

| 37


The Green


When the economic indicators for the

performance of European countries were

coming in towards the end of 2009,

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk held a press

conference and proudly announced that while

other EU nations were in recession, Poland was

the only state enjoying “positive growth”.

Poland was the green island on a red map.


nterestingly, many economists in Europe and the United States started in 2009 to differentiate

between the oxymoron “negative growth” and the pleonasm “positive growth”;

the word “contraction” became widely used only a couple of months later. While quite

a few economies started to “enjoy” their economic “negative growth,” Poles for many months

defended the green island. In the most difficult year, 2009, Polish growth was reduced to 1.7

percent, compared to an EU average of -4.2 percent. In 2010 it continued to grow at a high

speed of 3.9 percent compared with the EU average of 2.1 percent. (A few other states had

faster growth, mainly due to a worse recession a year earlier,) The overall Polish economy grew

by some 25 percent since 2005 and income per capita increased from 51 percent of the EU

average in 2005 to 61 percent in 2009 (the equivalent of 14,300 Euro or $20,000).

Employment figures were as positive as the overall growth trend in the critical year 2009.

Unemployment in Poland had traditionally been high ever since the transition began in 1989.

Throughout the 1990s about 12 to 15 percent of the working-age population was without

a job. In the early 2000s every fifth Pole was without work. This situation has radically improved

since EU accession in 2004. Before the crisis erupted in the second half of 2008,


Press image of Warsaw

Stock Exchange

unemployment was at 7.1 percent. Since then, while unemployment

in other states has radically risen (e.g. in Spain from 8.3 percent in 2007

to 20.4 percent in January 2011 and in Ireland from 4.6 percent in 2007

to 13.5 percent in January 2011), in Poland unemployment has risen mode-

rately to 9.7 percent in January 2011.

Why was the Polish economy so resilient to the crisis? This was the question

asked across the continent in 2009 and 2010 with a mixture of admiration

and disbelief. Poles themselves were surprised by the unexpected results.

From the short-range perspective of 2011 a few factors played in favour of the

Polish case. First, the country’s size mattered. Its internal market is much

larger than that of any other newer member country; hence its economy

is less exposed to exports. When exports all around Europe sharply decreased

in 2009, Poland’s stable internal consumption served as a cushion. Second

were the exports themselves, which picked up immediately when Western

European governments started their stimulus packages. Polish exports are

also widely diversified, which helped in limiting the negative impact.

The situation was enhanced through the currency exchange – the national

currency, the zloty, remained fully fluid; it was weakened considerably during

the worst months of the crisis, further benefiting Polish exports and

reducing labour costs. The third factor was a combination of low levels

of bank lending and no real-estate bubble. Fourth was the influx of EU

funding for many projects aimed at enhancing Poland’s economic competitiveness

and creativity as well as improving its infrastructure. Since 2007,

Poland has been Europe’s largest construction site; most European construction

companies are present here and tried to win Polish public contracts

in 2009 as many other projects around Europe were frozen at the

time. This in turn lowered prices for roadwork. In short, a combination

of factors has created a very positive situation for Poland.

38 | | 39

The Polish green island successfully survived the difficult moments of 2009.

Yet in order to catch up fully Poles need to continue to invest. Some studies

have already predicted that due to major investments in education, Poles

have a strong chance to become level economically with Western European

societies within a couple of decades. Polish students already achieve much

better results than the European average. Even if the quality of university

teaching has been average in recent years, two factors point to an upcoming

major change. First, the massive influx of new university graduates (raising

the level of tertiary education among Poles from 7 percent to 15 percent

within 10 years with about 50 percent of young Poles attending university)

came to an end as the baby boomers from the early 1980s graduated. Now

the universities have to compete for students and are forced to improve the

quality of teaching they offer. Secondly, government policy is changing, favouring

not only teaching, but also spending more resources on research

projects. As a consequence one should expect a radical increase in the quality

of Polish universities in the years to come.

Poland continues to invest in its people. It was the first country in Europe

to create a state ministry responsible for public education – back in 1773.

Today there are more than 400 higher education centres such as universities

and polytechnics, both public and private. The total number of university

students is about 2 million.

The new sources of economic growth are to be generated mainly from research

and development and from services. Those segments of the economy

are expanding while manufacturing rises more slowly. In fact, within a few

years, Poland has become a major centre for business-process outsourcing.

Other segments of the economy driving growth forward include the

aerospace and automotive industries, house appliances, yacht building and

industrial manufacturing. Polish organic agriculture is also fast-developing,

as is health-services tourism.

Some say the sky is the limit. This is also what some companies in Poland

seem to think. The largest oil refiner has established a strong position in the

region and many other companies in the field are looking for new business

opportunities worldwide. Many Poles dream of becoming a new Qatar; apparently

there are large deposits of shale gas all around the country. If this

information is confirmed, Poland could within a decade transform from

a gas importer into a gas-exporting nation. This would be a reversal of history:

It was in Poland in the mid-19th century that the first oil refinery was created.

Poland has also become one of the most attractive markets for foreign direct

investments. Throughout the 2000s more than 100 billion Euros have been

invested. The privatisation process has been ongoing since 1989. Though

the state still controls parts of important companies, large percentages

of their shares have been privatised. In 2010 alone the government sold

shares in companies valued at a total of more than 6 billion Euros.

Press image of Warsaw

Stock Exchange

Press image of Solaris


None of the Polish companies have yet made any major international breakthrough;

the quest for the Polish Nokia-type company continues. Some firms

have tried to “go global,” but so far with limited success. The next in line

are few. Apart from the oil and gas producers, there is KGHM. Already

a major company – it is the second-largest manufacturer of silver in the

world and among the leading copper producers – in the second decade

of the 2000s its strategy is to expand and consolidate. The Warsaw Stock

Exchange also has large ambitions to become the central stock exchange

for all of Central Eastern Europe, challenging the other regional contenders

in Prague, Budapest and Vienna. There are also many other companies

with very strong regional position in their segments such as Solaris (buses),

Reserved (retail), Nowy Styl (furniture) or Coffee Heaven (coffee shops


If no Polish company is yet globally known, the best-known Polish product

is vodka. Its export is booming despite the crisis (or maybe thanks to it)

and Polish vodka brands like Belvedere, Wyborowa or Żubrówka are among

the most recognisable. The fame of Polish vodka entered Hollywood when

actor Bruce Willis invested in a vodka company.

Still, the single most important reason why the green island of Poland continues

to develop is the fact that Poles are hungry to grow. During more

than 20 years of continuous change, the only constant element of the Polish

landscape was “change” itself. Every eight years or so society becomes

too tired to run at the same speed and needs a break. But these periods

of rest are short and once they end society demands to run again without

delay. There were two periods in which this pattern of constant change

had to be reduced. First in 1996-7 there was a certain relaxation among

the general public. After the hardships of the first transformation years the

Poles needed a break. But once this break was over they embraced a change

of government in 1997 and a new wave of structural reforms. The second

break came in 2006-7, when society tired of the witch-hunt performed

by the government and changed it. The new government of Donald Tusk,

taking advantage of sound performance of the Polish economy, provided

the break: reforms were slowed down and social peace was reclaimed. Still,

opinion polls in recent months suggest society is once again ready to take

another leap forward.

Poland might have been the only country to grow in 2009. This unique

situation most likely will not repeat itself in the coming years. Still, the

Polish green island’s uniqueness lies in its society’s ability and willingness

to embrace change. The Polish Presidency of the Council of the EU can only

hope that other European nations will follow suit in accepting ideas aimed

at strengthening the European economy’s increased competitiveness.

40 | Tiger Green Island

| 41






or the European Union as a whole, Eastern Europe is a new neighbourhood.

The first EU country to share a physical border with any

of the Eastern European nations was Finland, which joined the EU

in 1995. After the 2004 enlargement, Eastern Europe emerged as a central

issue on the EU agenda partly because the EU’s land borders had by then

become predominantly shared with Eastern European nations (as well

as with Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the Western Balkan countries)

and partly because of new developments in the region.

Two of these developments were especially important: the Ukrainian

Orange Revolution of 2004 and the change in Russian policy as Moscow

tried to leverage the energy dependence of some EU states for political

gain. A few years later the Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008 became

another game-changer for the EU’s policy towards the region.


Eastern Europe plays an important role in

the policies of most EU member states. From

France and the U.K. to Italy and Cyprus, from

the Nordic states to Austria and Bulgaria, from

Estonia to Poland and Germany – they all care

about Eastern Europe because what happens

there has an impact on all EU countries.

Kruszyniany – Poland’s oldest

Muslim temple

The orthodox church

What is “Eastern Europe”? Many EU members, after all, are sometimes considered

to be Eastern European nations, but in fact most of the newer EU

members do not perceive themselves that way. The three Baltic republics

(Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) often consider themselves Nordic, while Poland,

Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary think of themselves as Central

Europe, and Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia as South-eastern Europe. Taking

these reservations into account, the notion of Eastern Europe describes

the European nations that are located east of the EU and were once part

of the Soviet empire (with the exception of the Baltic republics). Russia

is the largest of them; Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova have direct land borders

with the European Union; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are located

between Europe and the Middle East in the Southern Caucasus.

Over the years the EU has developed policies towards each of its partner

countries. With the exception of Russia, all of them are subject to the EU’s

neighbourhood policy and form, with the EU, the Eastern Partnership. Due

to Russia’s unique size and importance, as well as its choice not to be considered

part of the group, the EU’s Russia policy is different from its policies

towards Eastern European nations.

Relations between Poland and Eastern European states have a long history.

Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians once formed a common state with

Poles, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which ceased to exist by the

end of the 18th century. In the 19th century, when the modern European

national awakening began, none of these peoples (Poles included) had their

own state; they all were parts of the Russian Empire. For this reason the

modern development of a mutual relationship took place only after 1918,

42 | | 43

when independent Poland and Lithuania were created and the Ukrainian

independent state also briefly existed.

At the time in Poland there was debate on what sort of state this newly re-established

Poland should be. If it were to take the borders of the 1770s, before

the Commonwealth was partitioned by Russia, Prussia (Germany) and Austria,

then less than half of the population would be ethnically Polish (an issue

irrelevant in the 18th and earlier centuries). The opposite view was that

the new Poland’s borders should not be extended too far east and should be

limited only to the territories inhabited by ethnic Poles. The debate on the

eastern border could be discussed only because there was a Polish-Soviet

war in 1920 won by Poland. As the new state successfully defended itself

from the Soviets and pushed the Red Army back east beyond Minsk and

Kiev, the issue of borders was wide open. A Polish-Polish compromise was

that the new borders would not be extended eastward as far as they were

in the 1770s, but that large parts of today’s Belarus and Ukraine would become

territories of the Polish Republic. Relations with Lithuania were very

tense in the inter-war period after the Polish army militarily took over the

country’s capital, Vilnius, in 1920. The Poles’ main argument for doing this

was that the majority of Vilnius inhabitants at the time were Polish.

In Poland between 1918 and 1939, a third of the population belonged

to an ethnic minority. The Ukrainians were the largest minority, but there

were also sizeable communities of Jews, Germans, Belarusians, Russians,

Armenians, Czechs and others. Ethnic tensions flared within the state borders

and the disease of anti-Semitism was present among the population,

problems the relatively weak state had trouble addressing.

The Second World War put a sharp end to considerations of what relationship

Poles should have with fellow nations in Eastern Europe. The country’s

borders were moved some 200 km westwards in 1945 as the eastern

part of Poland became part of the Soviet Union and Poland acquired land

from Germany. Almost all of the minorities disappeared. Belarusian and

Ukrainian minorities now found themselves in the Soviet Union; Germans

were relocated to Germany and Jews were either killed by the Nazis or escaped

the region. (After 1945 many surviving Jews also left – or were forced

to leave – communist Poland.) Thus what was once one of the most ethnically

diverse nations in Europe became a mono-ethnic society with more

than 98% ethnic Poles as inhabitants.

The war served as a cold shower on many aspects of history. This also meant

ending the old historical deliberations based on the paternalistic Polish selfperception

of a certain “responsibility” for all nations between Poland and

Russia. Yet one Polish intellectual, born in pre-war Eastern Europe and after

the war an émigré in France, thought ahead. Jerzy Giedroyc established

a magazine, “Kultura,” in Paris in 1947, where a significant intellectual

debate took place over the years on how relations should look between


Lizhensk, the grave of Tzadik,

visited by pilgrims from Europe,

Israel, USA, Canada.

Poland and Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine – the old nations of the Commonwealth

with which Poland today shares a border. The conclusion of this

debate was that Poland’s future Eastern policy – when it was to regain its

sovereignty, as all of this took place before 1989 – should be based on respect

for the common border established in 1945. No revisionism was possible

as to what Poland is, not only because revising the borders in the east

could open a Pandora’s box in the west (the border with Germany), but also

because of the changed approach to the Eastern European nations’ aspirations

of independence.

Giedroyc argued first, and the vast majority of the Polish political class

shares the view, that it is a vital Polish interest, the raison d’être of Poland,

to support the sovereignty of all nations east of Poland. They, as Poles and

all other nations, have the right to an independent state, “Kultura” argued

beginning in 1974. On that basis Poland should develop close and friendly

relationships with all of those states, respecting their independence and

sovereignty. This is how and why the country that once pursued a paternalistic

policy in Eastern Europe no longer perceives itself as a dominator and

does not pursue a policy aimed at domination in the region, as was the case

only in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Giedroyc legacy is widely accepted and has been developed fur-

ther since Poland regained its own independence in 1989. When Ukraine

44 | Past-Present-Future

| 45

announced its independence in 1991, Warsaw was one of the first foreign

capitals to recognise the new state. Ever since, the Polish policy towards

Eastern Europe has been targeted – to no surprise – towards supporting

those nations’ independence. When the societies of Georgia (2003) and

Ukraine (2004) demanded more democracy and the situation in the latter

required foreign assistance, Poles and Lithuanians were the first to respond.

Over the years many in Poland have felt disappointment with the events

in Eastern Europe, but they have always been paying the utmost attention

to the developments there.

Once Poland reoriented its own policy towards the West, culminating

in its accession to the European Union in 2004, it has been a Polish dream

for the Eastern Europeans to follow its lead. Though this has yet to materialise,

ever-engaged Poles developed a new strategy: to be the protagonist

of Eastern Europeans’ interests within the EU, to pull them in as much

as possible without forcing the process on anyone. The Polish dream of seeing

the Eastern European nations in the EU one day is, however, no matter

how friendly the Warsaw perspective might be, almost fully in the hands

of the Eastern Europeans.

An icon

The land of

open shutters


In the 2000s the Russian policy towards the nations between the EU and

the Russian Federation became more assertive, if not aggressive. In 2004

Eastern Europe became the EU’s proper neighbourhood, but at the same

time it was Russia’s own “closer neighbourhood”. Naturally, in such a situation

there was a tendency for the EU and Russia to agree on policy towards

the mutual neighbourhood. Poles and other likeminded states were

opposed to such thinking. They argued, as one Polish saying goes, that

the “nothing about us without us” rule should be applied and that the countries

of Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan have

the same, if not more, right to decide on the relationship between the region

and the EU and/or Russia.

Eastern Europe is among the priorities on the agenda of the Polish Presidency

of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2011. Subject to difficult

and detailed negotiations, what is on the agenda looks very promising

for fostering the integration of Eastern European nations with the EU.

The deep and comprehensive free trade established with Ukraine this fall

might be a pattern for other states – the first of which are expected to be

Moldova and Georgia – to follow. Other ambitious elements are a road map

to eliminate visa requirements for travel between Eastern Europe and the

EU, and cooperation in the many areas of mutual interest, such as energy

security and aviation. The question of even closer cooperation between the

EU and Eastern Europe remains to be decided in the further future and will

depend on the progress of the Eastern Partnership as well as on internal

developments both in the EU and the Eastern Partnership member states.

46 | Past-Present-Future

| 47






hese are members of the generation of leaders that, following

the traumatic and often personal experiences of the Second

World War, overcame thousand-year-old differences to embark

on a common future.

The traditional list of EU founding fathers includes Schuman, Monnet,

Adenauer, Spaak, de Gasperi, Benen and Bech, from the six first members

of the European Steel and Coal Community. Among other founders often

mentioned are Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Winston Churchill, Altiero

Spinelli, Salvador de Madariaga and two presidents of the European Commission:

Sicco Mansholt and Jacques Delors. All in all, the group includes

European leaders responsible for the most important steps in developing

European integration.

Drawing from the inspiration of Coudenhove-Kalergi and following the

trauma of the war, the post-1945 national leaders of France, Germany, Italy,

Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg established the process. Its next

steps of development included the designing of the agriculture policy (during

the Mansholt era) and the single market (in Delors’ time).


Each European state has its own national myth,

and all Western European nations also have

mythical – by today’s standards – fathers

of European integration.

Solidarity, May 1989

Warsaw, 1 st May 1989.

A march organised by the

“Solidarity” on the occasion

of Labor Day, legally

for the first time.

The reunification of two parts of Europe that took place with the “big bang”

enlargement of 2004 was – in terms of magnitude – the most important

development in the EU project since the 1950s. There are many who have

contributed to this process, often faceless victims of the communist dictatorships

in the Eastern part of the continent. Leaders of the anti-communist

movements are in fact the more modern founding fathers (and mothers)

of the united Europe we know today.

Solidarność was the movement in Poland in the 1980s that attracted at its

peak as many as 10 million members. It was established as a trade union,

but in fact was much more. Over the decade it developed an alternative

society to the official communist state. The rise of Solidarność and the force

48 | | 49

of its conviction brought an end to communism not only in Poland, but

in the entire Soviet bloc.

The movement was all about its people. They had no armies behind them,

just the power of staying in solidarity with one another. Their leader was

Lech Wałęsa, one of the most globally recognised Polish figures in the 20th

century. Born in 1943, Wałęsa was working in 1980 at the Gdansk Lenin

Shipyard, where the Solidarność movement was established with him

as a charismatic and unifying leader. Once communism collapsed, Wałęsa,

who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, became the first Polish president

elected in a popular vote, in 1990. During his term, which lasted until 1995,

he oversaw the process of reorienting Poland towards Western Europe.

He was the first former Warsaw Pact member to lay out an ambitious plan

to join NATO. Following his time as president, Wałęsa has tirelessly advocated

for human rights and democracy worldwide.

Wałęsa’s rise could not have been possible without the inspiration of the

Polish opposition by John Paul II (born Karol Wojtyła), the pope of the

Catholic Church and a spiritual leader for a quarter of a century to more than

a billion Catholics worldwide. Born in 1920 in Southern Poland, Wojtyła

was personally marked by the horrific events of the Second World War.

When elected pope in 1978, he became the first non-Italian to hold

the office in more than 450 years. Upon his first visit to Poland as head

of the Catholic Church in 1979, John Paul II inspired many Poles to stand

up in defence of their rights by saying: “Do not be afraid.”

If he was not Poland’s spiritual leader in 1979, it was only because of widely

respected Cardinal Wyszyński, a long-standing cardinal whose uncompromising

attitude ensured the Catholic Church independence in the

communist country. After 1989 the pope often became an ultimate reference

for many Poles and Polish public figures. A convinced European,

he urged the deepening and widening of European integration. In 2003, ahead

of the decisive referendum, he said: “This accession is a historical justice and

enriches Europe. Europe needs Poland. Poland needs Europe.” His passing

in 2005 was mourned by the nation; many felt that Poland was orphaned

the day he died.

If John Paul II inspired the creation of the Solidarność movement led

by Wałęsa, its success could not have been possible without the commitment

of millions of others. The structure was sustainable because of a variety

of other leaders, all members of the Solidarność generation, who rose

to meaningful positions after 1989. Tadeusz Mazowiecki (born in 1927) was

Eastern Europe’s first non-communist prime minister after the Cold War.

He was elected in 1989 and led a government that pursued many parallel

reforms aimed at establishing a market economy and reorienting the state’s

foreign affairs.


Gdansk Shipyard

The Mazowiecki government included many Solidarność members, two

of whom marked the country for at least the following two decades. Leszek

Balcerowicz (born in 1947) was the co-author of the shock therapy that

reformed the Polish economy. He was Solidarność’s economic expert in the

1980s, served twice as finance minister in the 1990s (1989-91 and 1997-

2000) and then was chief of the national bank (2001-2007). He is credited

as the father of Poland’s economic success.

The second minister in Mazowiecki’s government with a lasting legacy was

Jacek Kuroń (1934-2004), the labour and social affairs minister. He created

from scratch the social support programmes for the unemployed that were

named after him as “kuroniówka”. Under communism, unemployment

could not have existed; hence there was no policy towards the unemployed.

Lech Kaczyński (1949-2010) was second in command in the Solidarność

trade union in the 1980s. After holding various public offices (including the

post of justice minister) in the 1990s he was elected the country’s president

in 2005. He died tragically in a plane accident in 2010.

A central figure in Poland’s transformation and EU accession was Bronisław

Geremek (1932-2008). Among the most important advisors to Wałęsa

in the 1980s, he later played a central role in the round-table negotiations

50 | The Solidarność Generation

| 51

with the communists towards a peaceful transition of power. Geremek

was the first leader of the Solidarność parliamentary club following the

1989 elections and served as the country’s foreign minister (1997-2000)

overseeing its accession to NATO and the beginning of negotiations with

the EU.

The last to be mentioned, but by no means the least important, is Jerzy

Buzek (born in 1940), the current president of the European Parliament

and Poland’s prime minister (1997-2001) at the crucial moment when the

EU accession negotiations were held. He was also one of the most important

figures in the Solidarność movement in the 1980s, when he was chairman

of the national general meetings of illegal Solidarność gatherings.

These men of the Solidarność generation played a central role in winning

democracy in a peaceful way in Poland and the rest of the communist sphere.

They are the fathers of the united Europe among the Western Europeans and

other leaders in fellow Central and Eastern European nations.

The younger generation of Polish leaders is also rooted in the Solidarność

movement, even if its members were not at the union’s helm. These figures

Monument to

the Fallen Shipyard

Workers of 1970


include Donald Tusk (born in 1957), Poland’s prime minister; Radosław

Sikorski (born in 1963), the country’s foreign minister; and Bogdan Klich

(born in 1960), the defence minister.

President Bronisław Komorowski (born in 1952) was also active in the anticommunist

opposition. Similar to his predecessor, he held various public

offices (including defence minister). He was elected president after serving

as speaker of the Sejm (the Parliament) in 2010.

Unlike the communist dictators, the politicians of the Solidarność generation

could not take any part of their political life for granted. They were

constantly confronted with new challenges in the 1990s, when the one big

Solidarność movement split into fractured political groups. The reformed

post-communist comeback in 1993 was the first of many miracles: Only

four years after the transition, the reformed communists were now a democratic

left-wing party. Their support also evaporated and today’s political

landscape in Poland is dominated by post-Solidarność parties or by new

politicians born too late to experience the country’s dictatorial past.

The entire generation of Poles born between the 1920s and the 1940s, not

only the leaders mentioned above, brought about change that was unexpected

by anyone. They could not have imagined in the grey days of the

1980s how their country would change. They could not have imagined that

a once-marginalised outcast on the continent would become co-responsible

for all of Europe. It was their conviction, spirit and unity that brought the

Berlin Wall down. It was their struggle and courage that led to the freedom

of some 300 million people who had been oppressed by the communist regimes.

It is thanks to their commitment that today’s Polish youth can profit

from all the benefits of the European Union. To quote the most important

Pole of the 20th century, according to Poles themselves: Europe needs

Poland. Poland needs Europe.

52 | The Solidarność Generation

| 53




of Europe

The geographical midpoint of Europe

is widely disputed. About 10 countries,

stretching from France to Lithuania,

claim that the Old Continent’s centre

lies within their borders.


bviously the difficulty in determining where the European heart lies is a direct

result of the fact that European borders are discretional. In some

calculations the eastern border is the Ural Mountains, in others it is the

eastern edge of the EU. The inclusion of islands is also disputed; Iceland pushes the

European centre northwest and Spitsbergen even farther north. Whether the Azores,

Malta and the Canary Islands should also be included is another point.

Clearly each country participating in this geographical quarrel uses the arguments

that best fit its own cause. Yet there is a second, deeper set of questions behind all

the fuss about the European centre: Where is the European decision-making centre,

which states belong to it and how open is it to other countries? What is the relationship

between the European centre and the European periphery? Should one country

be in the centre of European decision-making, this very fact means a higher degree

of self-perceived responsibility and ownership for the project of European integration.

Poland’s candidate to be the European centre lies in the small village of Suchowola

in the northeast Podlasie region. This is one of the European Union’s poorest regions,

far away from any centre of decision-making – be it national or continent-wide.


Panoramic image of Warsaw

Still, from another town in this region, Siemiatycze, there are direct buses

to Brussels, the EU’s headquarters.

As if travel back in time were possible, Europe’s economic, cultural, political

and religious centres of decision-making have after 1945 moved back more

than 1,000 years to the Charlemagne era, when his kingdom ruled a large

territory covering most of today’s France, Benelux, Germany, Switzerland,

parts of Spain and Austria and northern Italy. After Charlemagne’s death

the country was divided; the central kingdom was a north-south territory

from today’s Netherlands and Belgium down to Rome. This is where all

central EU institutions are located today: Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg

and Frankfurt. If we add to this list the capitals of states situated in the area

– Paris and Berlin – we arrive at what is often considered the political centre

of European decision-making.

Still, there is pre-determination of what is central and what is peripheral.

Northern Italy is in an economic sense still in the absolute centre of power,

yet the Italian governments for decades have been drifting away from the

position Alcide de Gasperi once had as an equal interlocutor to his German

and French counterparts. If the United Kingdom was committed to Euro-

pean integration it could have been in the absolute centre of European politics;

instead it chose a different path of authonomisation from the conti-

nent and opts not to be engaged. At the same time, London is the European

financial centre and British universities dominate the European landscape.

54 | | 55

Other states have been able to move from the periphery to the centre

on their own terms. In fact, being at the centre of European decision

-making is not a result of historical decisions; it is a combination of capacity

(i.e. economic weight) and political commitment (i.e. belonging to all

structures of closer cooperation, such as the common currency, the euro).

Since accession 25 years ago, for example, all Spanish political and economic

actors have chosen to take a pro-European stance. The economic development

of the country and its strong integration into the joint political

structures allowed the Spaniards to grow (surpassing the economic development

of Italy, for example) economically and politically. Spain today

is in the absolute centre of European decision-making.

The smaller nations can also be at the centre of Europe. Ireland is by far the

biggest winner of European integration. When it joined the Union in the

1970s it was the bloc’s poorest country. Thirty years later it was the EU’s

second-richest state after Luxembourg, ahead of the U.K. and the others.

Once a country of emigrants Ireland became home to communities of immigrants.

The current economic crisis strongly challenges the positive picture

of Ireland and Spain, but the ongoing difficulties do not change the

overall trend. Many other smaller nations which were either historically

peripheral (i.e. Finland) or became marginalised in the 20th century (i.e.

Austria) were also able to establish themselves as equal partners with fellow

European nations.

One of the lessons of European integration is that the countries which

are on the periphery do not have to stay there. This is the lesson Poles try

to embrace to the fullest. Some studies have already claimed that Poland

will overtake the German economy in 2040 since Poles invest much more

in education. Since the time horizon remains distant only one fact can

be confirmed at this stage: The level of ambition remains high in Poland and

some other countries on the Eastern flank of the EU. They want to catch

up, match up and possibly even overtake Western European countries

in terms of economic performance.

Is Poland destined to be on the periphery? Not at all; this is the challenge for

the decision-makers in Warsaw in this new decade. They have high aspirations

to lead Europe by promoting a bigger and more forward-looking Union

able to compete in global affairs politically, culturally and economically. Their

ambition will, however, be confronted with the objective limitations of the

Polish state. Though it is one of the EU’s fastest-growing economies, it is also

still one of the bloc’s poorest nations. Its economy is being reshaped from

one based on heavy-industry production and agricultural goods to one focused

on services delivery and newer technologies. Its new industrial and

technological bases are being constructed as we write, and as the basic infrastructure

– motorways, railways and airports – is developed in parallel to the

new sites. This work in progress aims to multiply growth in the future, but

in the short term there will be some delays and room for frustration.

Gdańsk – Neptune,

god of Seas and Oceans

The country is stepping into the 21st century with ambition and desires,

but a shortage of instruments. Hopefully this will generate a creative tension

attractive for both Poles and fellow Europeans. In the current decade

Poland’s role in Europe is undoubtedly on the rise. With its political role

as presidency of the Council of the EU in 2011 and its major sportive contribution

as a co-host with Ukraine of the European Championship in football

in 2012, Poland is already proving to be more in the European spotlight

than ever before.

The challenges – apart from the economic catching up – are in the society

and the political class. There is a risk of a generational split between the

younger, better educated and wealthier urban population and the generation

of their parents as well as the population of smaller towns and lowerincome

rural areas. This risk applies to political parties which are more inclined

to look backwards than to look forward. This choice can be divisive

and problematic; it may create unnecessary tensions that undermine social

peace. Such tensions also exist in Ireland and Spain. This is already a worry

for some who pose the question of whether the Irish and Spanish examples

have to be followed by Poland. Those two Catholic nations over the past decades

exploded economically and opened up socially – a trend unwelcomed

by many in Poland.


The second unknown challenge is the lack of consensus on a ‘Polish way.’

Unlike Ireland or Estonia the Polish political elites constantly argue with

56 | The Centre of Europe

| 57

one another. The level of confrontational politics remains high. Some want

to increase taxes, others want to reduce them; when in office those who

advocated “x” do “y” and those who advocated “y” do “x”. This is confusing

for the public, but also challenges the creation of any coherent policy.

This is not to support radical solutions or discourage debate; this is simply

to say that a higher degree of agreement between the political parties on what

is needed for the country would be beneficial for the nation.

So, where is the centre of Europe and why can it be Warsaw? In 2016 a Po-

lish city will be the European Capital of Culture. There are five candidates

for one spot: Gdansk, Katowice, Lublin, Warsaw and Wroclaw. (Krakow was

the European Capital of Culture back in 2000.) All five candidates fully

deserve to be promoted across the continent; all five have unique stories

to tell and rich offerings for visitors. Gdansk is the city of the defiant, the

Baltic Sea’s largest port in the Middle Ages and a proud free city-member

of the Hanseatic League. This is where the Second World War began in 1939

and where the end of communism began in 1980 with the emergence of So-

lidarność. Rich with historical references, Gdansk is today the most important

city among the Polish Baltic Sea resorts with its vibrant student life.


the Market Square

Warsaw – Most Świętokrzyski

(Holly Cross Brigde)

over the Vistula River

ern Poland. Lublin is the emanation of the old, historical Polish-Lithuanian

Commonwealth (16th -18th centuries) established with the “Union of Lublin.”

Wroclaw is one of the fastest-growing economies in Poland, with

a vibrant university scene and an incomparable past: Its entire population

was exchanged after 1945; Germans were moved to Germany and Poles

from Eastern Poland were relocated here.

Last of the candidates is Warsaw, the capital city and a phoenix. It was almost

completely erased from the planet in 1944 after two unsuccessful uprisings

against the Nazis. (The Warsaw uprising in 1944 is now excellently

documented in a newly opened museum and the Ghetto uprising will also

be interactively documented in a new Museum of the History of the Polish

Jews scheduled to open in 2012.) Yet it was rebuilt and today is one

of Europe’s most energetic places in terms of science, culture, business

and art. If you have been here, you know where the socio-cultural centre

of Europe is in the current decade. If you are coming soon you are going

to find out where Europe’s heartbeat has migrated.


Katowice is the largest of the cities in Upper Silesia. It is fast departing from

its industrial past and embracing a new role as a key trade centre in south-

58 | The Centre of Europe

| 59

Published by:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

in the framework of the Polish Presidency in the EU Council (2011)

Public and Cultural Diplomacy Department

The author:

Piotr Maciej Kaczyński

– a research fellow with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), often presented

as the EU’s most authoratative think tank, where he runs a team of researchers dealing

with the political and institutional aspects of the European integration.

Contact: piotr.kaczynski@ceps.eu

Graphic design:

Adam Żebrowski (prostygrafik@use.pl)


www.poland.gov.pl – 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 15, 23, 25, 29, 43, 45, 46, 49, 51, 52, 55, 57, 58, 59

pixmac royalty-free images – 33, 34/35, 37

Press images of Warszawska Giełda Papierów Wartościowych – 39, 40/41

Press images of Solaris – 40/41

Printed by:


Copyrights by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this publication.

Circulation: 2000 copies

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