|Poland needs to raise its voice to be heard in the EU, says Mr Kostrzewa-Zorbas|
Ewa Boniecka: There is a fundamental debate going on about the future of the EU, with EC President José Manuel Barroso having proposed the idea of a European federation. Do you think that this idea will appeal to the 27 members of the EU?
Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas: It might appeal to some governments, maybe to 15-20 members out of 27, but not to public opinion in EU countries. Also not to many opposition forces, who are usually more skeptical or even openly anti-European Union. I don’t say anti-European, because Europe is much bigger than the European Union.
So why did Mr Barroso use the word “federalism” in connection with the EU, when it is anathema to many EU leaders?
The idea of European federalism is much older and originated from the concept of a federal United States of Europe, invented not in continental Europe, but in England and the US. I think that Mr Barroso proposed it in a state of desperation, in an attempt to escape from the economic and political crisis by going forward, by offering a more ambitious and more effective vision of the EU.
But the popular mood in Europe runs contrary to that proposal. The so-called European idea, which was behind European integration from the early years of the Coal and Steel Community and which was for the last time expressed in the Lisbon Treaty, has now evaporated.
A united Europe, strong and powerful, number one in the world, paving the way for new achievements of humanity – this was the language used in the EU for many years, even quite recently. ... This is gone and now a new mood prevails among the EU population: national interests, a pragmatic approach to the EU, a focus on short term financial gains or losses, with no trace of bigger ideas and visions. So now calling for a European federation means a dramatic detachment from reality.
But there is also a feeling that to fight the crisis, closer integration is needed. Do you think this could be accepted by members and bring a solution to the present crisis?
Deeper integration could be a solution, however this is a theoretical solution that has no foundation in the minds and hearts of the peoples of Europe. The culture of Europe is a collection of national cultures and has a very weak pan-European identity, and that European identity is not growing, but is becoming weaker with time. So without the support of EU citizens, without their trust in EU institutions and policies, which is currently lacking, deeper integration will not be a workable solution.
Yet the members of the euro zone are already building structures for deepening integration, while leaving the rest of the EU outside. How will those new developments be accommodated?
Those new developments have weak support even among the population of the most pro-EU countries, and any support comes only from desperation and the fear that there is no other way out. However, an integration plan, to be effective enough to fight economic crises in the present and future, would require much more. The banking union, for example, may sound ambitious, but in fact it is a small piece of a large mosaic, and even the so-called fiscal pact is far from being enough. In my opinion, it still fails to address the roots of the financial and economic crises in the European Union.
What is necessary can be found in the theory of optimum currency areas, for which its principal author, Robert Mundell, received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1999. This theory is based on comprehensive and global factual research. It points out that a number of conditions must be met before the creation of a common currency and common monetary policy. A common currency helps the economy instead of harming it, but only if the area is homogeneous in terms of the level of development. This is not the case in the euro zone.
Does your conclusion drawn from that theory mean that the euro zone should break up and Greece be kicked out?
Exactly, for the good of Greece and other countries which have to leave. They would then have a better chance to recover, like Iceland has done thanks to the devaluation of its national currency.
So in your view we should stick to national currencies?
A narrower group of countries that meets the criteria of the theory will maintain the common currency, but this is absolutely impossible for the whole territory of the euro zone as of today. Another condition is a strong central government able to intervene in the economy of the area, with the power to make massive transfers of resources to regions and population groups negatively affected by the functioning of the common currency. And this is what exists in the United States, where the federal government can make massive economic interventions in economic crises, as we saw in the most recent one. This has no equivalent in the European Union. Here there is over 20 times less federalism than in the US, if measured by the share of GDP redistributed through the EU budget as compared to the US federal budget. The EU is too weak to meet this condition of the theory of optimum currency areas.
Let us turn to Poland’s policy within the European Union. Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is very much supportive of a federal structure for the EU, while Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski has reservations towards Poland joining the banking union. Is Poland’s European policy clearly defined during the present crisis?
I do not see a coherent government policy at the time of the current crisis and the international debate about the new political architecture of the European Union. There are proposals from Foreign Affairs Minister Sikorski to build a federal EU, while the Council of Ministers, the parliament and the president are keeping their distance from it. In my view the Polish government accepts stronger integration of the EU only in very general terms. Slogans like “we want more Europe, not less” are far from specific.
Do you think that verbal support from the Polish government for a policy of deep- ening integration is a useful strategy for Poland, and that the European Union does not need reforming?
It could be worse if the government engaged Poland in an unrealistic plan for creating a United States of Europe. But to show de facto passiveness in dealing with European Union problems is not useful. It is a time when Poland should undertake efforts and present proposals for reforming the EU, because reforms are needed. In the political domain, we should push toward more democracy in the EU, including democratic legitimization of EU institutions. In the economic domain, we should opt for lessening regulations, introducing more economic freedom, and reducing bureaucratic and legal burdens for European entrepreneurs.
Now the European Union is highly secretive and undemocratic in its decision making. All major decisions are made by the European Council and only rubber-stamped by the European Parliament. The European Council, whose members represent their nations, is not under the democratic control of the 500 million citizens of the European Union. The European Parliament is not a real parliament because all bills must come from the Council of the EU or the European Commission.
How to change the system? The directly elected members of the European Parliament should be given the right to initiate legislation. Parliament should also create – not only accept – the European Commission, like parliaments create executive cabinets. The head of the European Union, who is now Herman Van Rompuy as a powerless President of the European Council, should receive a real mandate through direct popular elections held across the European Union. I am for EU integration, but a fully democratic integration.
Poland’s foreign policy, including its European policy, is an area of confrontation between the Civic Platform-led government and the main opposition party Law and Justice (PiS). How do you see their rivalry?
When one puts aside emotions that appear during discussions between politicians and looks at the facts, one can see that there are no fundamental differences in the field of foreign policy between the government and the Law and Justice party. Both parties are for Poland’s participation in the EU and NATO, and close relations with the United States.
Contrary to some insinuations, PiS is not euro-skeptic in the true meaning of that word, which originated in the UK. PiS is against Poland quitting the European Union. Moreover, PiS supported the Lisbon Treaty and its ratification by Poland. The criticism expressed by PiS is focused mainly toward the way our foreign policy is conducted by the government, which they see as being ineffective.
The problem is, there is not a single foreign policy of the European Union. How can this be changed?
All the mechanisms created for running a common foreign policy of the European Union function poorly. Speaking in one voice on international problems, be- ing heard in the world, shaping relations on an equal footing with the US, China, Russia and other powers is a declared priority of the EU. But there is still a lack of a common vision for a foreign policy. In practice, member states put forward their own and different interests.
The European External Action Service, established by the Lisbon Treaty, started its work almost three years ago. It has about 140 permanent delegations around the world, and many other assets. But it is under strong criticism from many member states for being bureaucratic, badly managed, ineffective and invisible. The fact that decisions to appoint diplomats are made exclusively by Catherine Ashton is seen as extremely undemocratic. There is also a general opinion that the service does not fulfill the criteria of geographic balance and does not guarantee member states proportional representation. For instance, Poland is grossly underrepresented: We have only four ambassadors, and we should have at least 12.
What instruments should Poland use to strengthen its position in the European Union and also in its external diplomatic service?
We should strengthen the role of the Visegrad Group [of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia] and use the mechanism of building coalitions with some other new EU members, like Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states. We should also create coalitions with political parties across the internal borders of the EU, with business and other interest groups and nongovernmental organizations. This is the government’s responsibility. Mo-dern diplomacy requires making use of many instruments and the government often neglects them.
Jurgen Habermas, the prominent European philo-sopher and sociologist, has appealed recently for the European Council to undertake efforts to establish a body to begin working on a new European constitution. What is your reaction to this?
I am cautious on using the word “constitution,” but if a new treaty introduces more democracy and transparency in the European Union, I will support it. To prepare such a document looks very difficult, but possible. A new treaty should also bring more economic freedom, reduce EU bureaucracy and its outgrown legal apparatus, and contribute to the economic development of Europe. Yet I would be strongly against a single comprehensive constitution transforming the EU into a federal state. I rather have in mind the possibility of some specialized treaties, each dealing with thoroughly selected issues. One could be on economic freedom, another on democratic guarantees in the EU, including the legislative process and the role of the European Parliament. But first the European Union needs to conduct a comprehensive review of existing legislation. Many excessive regulations in the form of decisions, directives and lower-level acts should be simplified or entirely abolished.
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