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Interview: A European 'realist'

6th February 2012
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Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first post-communist prime minister and a current adviser to the president, talks to WBJ about the situation in Europe and Poland's European policy

Former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki says there needs to be a "balance" of leadership in the EU
Courtesy of Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Ewa Boniecka: As a former special United Nations envoy sent to observe the tragic conflicts in the Balkans in 1992-1995, how do you assess the fact that Croatia will now likely be joining the European Union in July 2013?

Tadeusz Mazowiecki: I am very satisfied that the majority of Croats expressed support for the country’s entry into the European Union. It is understood, taking into account the history and the current mood in the country, that Croatia sees its future in the European Union. This is a very positive sign because I am convinced that the future of all Balkan countries, and the healing of injures that happened during the dramatic conflicts there, can occur within the European Community.

I have great hopes that the other Balkan countries, first in the form of association, later through other means, move close to the European Union. I’m thinking about Bosnia especially here, since in a certain sense it is the crucial country for illustrating the problems of the region. There is a need for coexistence between the different nations and groups in order to establish proper relations between them. I think that giving all Balkan countries real prospects for close association with the European Union would help to speed up that region’s process of democratic stabilization and serve the interests of the EU as the whole.

Yet the EU, which is now beset with a deep internal crisis, is not very keen on thinking about further enlargement, with even the idea of establishing a strategic partnership with Ukraine – an aim Poland was hoping to achieve during its presidency – appearing to be fading. How do you view the outlook for building closer relations between the EU and Ukraine?

If the outlook for establishing a strategic partnership between the EU and Ukraine is fading, the reasons for this are in Ukraine, not in the European Union. This is because the European Union requires the acceptance of certain standards, not only economic ones, but also with respect to the rule of law, human rights and political freedoms. And it is here, unfortunately, that Ukraine has not made any progress lately. Indeed, on the contrary, it has even moved backwards.

I think that the most drastic example of this is the issue of putting former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in prison after her trial, which to a significant degree had the character of a political trial. So the further shape of relations between the European Union and Ukraine depends on the development of the situation in that country.

Do you think that the dream of European unity and Poles’ enthusiasm for the European Union are diminishing ?

I do not think that there has been a decisive reversal. If we put aside the exploitation of the current crisis in the EU and our internal political battle, and if we take into consideration the feelings of ordinary people, I would say that there is now a certain changing of moods due to so much talk about crisis.

Certainly the people know that in many EU countries there has been a serious drop in economic development, that there is a financial crisis in the euro zone. This has had a psychological effect on Poles, but I do not think it has had a fundamental influence on our attitude towards the European Union, which remains positive. There is a deep-rooted social awareness that the future of Poland is linked with the European Union, and the young generation does not remember the time when we fought for our membership of the EU, and treats it as a natural thing.

How do you view the leading role of Germany and France in the EU and in creating the treaty for fiscal union in Europe?

I have always thought that the Franco-German-Polish line of cooperation is fundamental for Europe and the EU. So my view now is that this line has to be lengthened to include Poland in reality. The Weimar Triangle is in essence a forum of consultation in a triangle comprising France, Germany and Poland. But it has to be understood not as a decoration, but as an essential element of European policy.

Recently Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that an agreement between Rome and Warsaw could supplement the Berlin-Paris line. I think that this was a very good diplomatic step because on one side it is an acknowledgment of the reality that Germany and France have crucial meaning in Europe, but on the other, it is a signal that they have not been given leadership of the EU for ever and in all matters. The point is to keep a balance in the EU, which is very necessary.

How can Poland make the Weimar Triangle a key vehicle for shaping European policy and strengthening its influence in the EU?

Let’s remember that when the European Union opened its doors to Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, there was a real change in the character of the Union, from being a Western European grouping to becoming a real European Union. So in the present EU of 27 members, there are also significant numbers from our region of Europe – in which Poland is the biggest country. Our participation at the top of the EU therefore has essential meaning for shaping the development of the whole Union.

The EU has attacked Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies, accusing him of violating the independence of the central bank, for example. Prime Minister Tusk, meanwhile, has said that Poland would support Hungary politically and has even remarked that some of the EU’s accusations are exaggerated. What is your view?

I share Prime Minister Tusk’s opinion that there is a certain exaggeration in the attacks on Hungary, but one needs to look at the exact meaning of the prime minister’s remarks and not read too much into them. All he said was that it is not necessary to use so many exaggerated accusations towards Hungary.

Let’s also remember that in the EU, when issues arise concerning a member’s internal situation, a very sensitive problem arises. On one hand, some EU members want to make sure there is not a precedent for the violation of EU principles – and they have the right to speak out against such behavior. On the other hand, it is important to preserve a certain moderation in the criticism and to not humiliate a partner, even in a situation where there may be reason for concern.

How should Poland conduct preparations for entering the euro zone, and do you think that Poles are ready to accept the single currency?

Poland is required to eventually adopt the euro by its accession treaty. And, in due course Poland should adopt the single currency, because it is in Poland’s interest. But I think a broad debate on adopting the euro is needed, because society should be prepared to take such a step.

Do you think, as some are saying, that if the EU does not resolve its present crisis, it will break up and collapse?

I believe the alarmist voices expressing this possibility are exaggerated, not only because Europe has overcome many crises, but first and foremost because all Europeans know how valuable the EU is and what a terrible loss its break-up would be. In my view, Europeans do not want the collapse of the EU and a return to the “Concert of Powers” and the hostile rivalry between European countries. Even those who present the vision of the Union’s collapse are aware of the value of the EU.

I have to stress that I am not a supporter of simple descriptions of the European Union. I subscribe to the formula which was once expressed by Jacques Delors, who said the Union is a “sui generis” creation. And indeed it is a unique creation. Now, the EU needs more integration and if any new institutions are created inside the EU, they should not break the Union into two separate parts.

While looking now at the changes in the EU and the present crisis, are you still optimistic about the EU’s future?

I smile when I hear that question, because in matters relating to the European Union, I am always asked whether I am an optimist or pessimist. I always answer as I will answer you now: I am a realist. I think that the Union has to deal with its present difficulties and financial crisis, while it must also draw conclusions from these experiences. In my opinion these conclusions should not only apply to the fact that the governments must ab-solutely abide by measures of financial discipline, but also to the issue that forces that are beyond the control of democratic societies – namely the participants of financial markets – do not replace democratic order. A remedy has to be found to ensure that – this is not easy, but is worth being conscious of.

Poland’s foreign policy in general, and its European policy in particular, have been criticized strongly by opposition parties PiS and Solidarity Poland, which have both accused the government of “selling Poland’s independence” and succumbing to the rule of the EU. What is your view on their opposition?

I see it as misleading public opinion, but then the opposition is the opposition. Nonetheless, I would prefer that the opposition would not turn to such statements, which have no basis in reality. It is a bad play on emotions.

The US’s security strategy suggests strongly that it will concentrate on developing its relations with Asian countries, with European states relegated in importance as a result. How do you view the outlook for transatlantic relations?

Poland has many times underlined that along with the development of the European Union, it is important to develop transatlantic relations, and that, for Europe’s security, it is a crucial problem. Indeed, the alliance and the close cooperation between Europe and the US is essential for our security. In the present time, with the growth of the United States’ interest towards other regions, and especially Asia, Europe has to think more about fulfilling its own obligations, about putting security matters on two legs: not only on the Atlantic one, but also on a European one. The crucial organ of our common security is NATO and Europe has to be an effective ally for the US within this organization, not only count on the American umbrella for defense.

Yet many Europeans had doubts about American actions in Iraq and also about NATO operations in Afghanistan, and generally about the evolution of NATO that has seen it become increasingly willing to conduct operations beyond the borders of member countries. Will differences in attitudes between the US and Europe remain?

NATO has been evolving since the end of the Cold War and will probably evolve further, but the crucial thing is that the essence of the treaty is never questioned. There could be various different moments and moods in NATO, but the essence of the North Atlantic Treaty – the common defense of the members of the treaty – should remain unchanged. Also, the close relations between Europe and the United States will never be questioned because they determine security and peace in that part of the world.

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