„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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SIDE 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,
the winner of two
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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”
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
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
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
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
Lech Wałęsa beign carried
by people after committing
an application for registration
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The land of
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Adam Żebrowski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
Copyrights by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this publication.
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