Time for European solidarity
Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Jaroslaw Sellin, MP, about the Polish presidency of the EU Council, the mysterious and opposing priorities as well as the shameful matters and smuggling of national interests.
Wieslawa Lewandowska: – 1 July 2011 begins the Polish presidency of the European Union Council and – as the media are trying to convince us – we should be proud since we will be the most important people in Europe for half a year…
Jaroslaw Sellin, MP: – The sense of pride should be kept till the end of our presidency and now we need a realistic evaluation. Till the Treaty of Lisbon, till the year 2009, the presidencies were of key importance and the countries that took over presidency actually directed the whole European Union. Take for example the French presidency in 2008 when we faced the invasion against Georgia and President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Moscow to negotiate with Putin on behalf of the whole EU. Now this diplomatic independence is not possible because the special European diplomatic service, with a high representative for foreign politics and security headed by Catherine Ashton from Great Britain, deals with the EU international politics.
– What is the power of the present presidency?
– One can say that the country presiding over the EU Council is still ‘the face and voice’ of the EU but rather informally. First of all, it has the possibility to turn attention of the other EU countries to the issues the country sees as essential. Thus this country creates the so-called priorities that should be of European dimension, which does not exclude ‘smuggling’ its own national interests.
– In Poland we can hear that smuggling our own interests does not simply become us and one should give them up. Did the other countries smuggle their interests?
– Of course, they did! Spain made Europe discuss on the collaboration with Latin America. France directed attention of the whole EU to the Mediterranean countries. Currently, Hungary is proposing the so-called Danube Strategy. During its presidency every country tries to introduce into the European platform themes that are important to their own interests. Poland is a part of Europe and it is not really difficult to convince other countries that the issues that are important to us are also important to the entire Europe.
– But several days before the start of our presidency Poland seems not to have her own ideas. Anyway, there has been no serious political debate on this topic. Or there might have been but the media neglected it?
– In fact, there has been no debate, no ‘brainstorming.’ When we wanted to talk about the presidency on the forum of the Parliamentary Committee for the EU we were either told that the priorities would be presented just at the last moment or calmed down that they had already been described in some areas but needed more details. Thus we get to know the slogans: ‘European integration as a source of growth,’ ‘Safe Europe,’ ‘Europe benefiting from openness’ and the descriptions that it is worth working for growth, it is worth enlarging the home market through … developing on-line trade. It is almost the only concrete thing one can find in the presentations given to the MPs.
– Why did the Law and Justice Party (PiS) decide to present its proposal a month before the beginning of our presidency although it is known that there are no chances for their consideration?
– It is our reaction to this mystery of the governmental priorities and the lack of open discussion. Not knowing the governmental proposals we have decided to present some priorities that in our opinion seem to be obvious regarding the interests of both Europe and Poland.
– Which things according to PiS should we deal with during our presidency?
– First of all, we should struggle for a good European budget in the new seven-year perspective 2014-2020. Towards the end of June the European Commission is to present its first draft budget and the discussion on the budget will begin during the Polish presidency. It is an extraordinary chance for us to impose to a small extent the tone and directions of this discussion. We should do our best not to have the budget decreased.
– And considering the mood in the ‘old EU countries’ there is such a threat…
– Yes, and it is a very real one. The big EU countries, as netto taxpayers, are rebelling, thinking that they should contribute less to the EU budget. W should also insist that the so-called policy of integrity, i.e., equalising the level of infrastructure between particular EU member states and particular regions, will be still financed. Today in Europe there are strong tendencies to cut its budget exactly in this area.
– The Common Agricultural Policy seems to be evoking most controversies. Recently PiS has presented a motion to call off the minister for agriculture for that very reason that he did not force agricultural matters as an important topic for the Polish presidency.
– We think that the Polish presidency should stress that the continuation of financing the Common Agricultural Policy on the present scale is extremely important taking into account the food security of the Europeans and also because of the global challenges: quick increase in consumption in the enriching Asian countries. Europe should use its chance to export its food by supporting and developing agriculture. But it is known that in the EU there are tendencies to limit the Common Agricultural Policy for the cause of something what the rich European countries call innovativeness or investing in technologically advanced branches of industry. Of course, it means that the money from the EU will be sent to the rich and not the poor countries, and not to agriculture. I think that Poland should not allow such solutions to be adopted.
– The Polish media, the ruling parties, suggest that demanding the equalisation of the agricultural subsidies will be an expression of the Polish egoism and that we should not insist on this matter
– But we are not caring only for the interests of Polish farmers but also Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech, Slovakian, and Lithuanian… We have a paradoxical situation that generally, the poorer get more money and the richer get less in various EU programmes; and only in agriculture it is the opposite: rich farmers get more and the poorer get less. And after all, farmers in Poland, Estonia, Germany or Spain pay almost the same prices for seeds, fuel, plant protection whereas the subsidies are blatantly different. After Poland’s access to the EU the Polish farmers had six times lower subsidies than the German ones and in 2013 the Polish farmers are still to get twice less. It is worth asking where one can find the European solidarity and where free competition is. It must be changed and this change will be beneficial to the whole continent and not only to the ‘greedy’ Polish farmers.
– Would it be possible to force the matter of equalisation of subsidies during the Polish presidency?
– We should try. Unfortunately, I am sure that the government will not raise this question; it has already hung a white flag. Minister Sawicki has already signed some preliminary document that speaks about ‘more just’ distribution of means and not about a just one. It means that our government has accepted the fact that there will be certain flattening of subsidies and no equalizing.
– Where does the compliance of the minister come from?
– From the political doctrine of this government that is, ‘We are floating in the main current’ and it is known that this tendency is set by the French and the Germans. The PO politicians have told me a rather odd argument that the equalisation of subsidies will increase the populism of the right wing circles in the rich countries.
– Do you think it is ‘never fear’?
– One should choose: we either fight for the European principles or give up choosing cheap political arguments. I think that it would be good to muster the courage since all arguments, not only moral but also free market ones, speak for the equalization of the subsidies.
– The PiS proposal of priorities contains a controversial idea of equalizing the subsidies and also the general postulate of Europe’s solidarity?
– I am afraid so. Although at the moment we do not know the slogan of our presidency it seems obvious that it should be ‘Europe demonstrating solidarity.’ To stress our contribution to the unification of Europe through the idea of solidarity. All the priorities we are proposing are subordinate to this idea. For example, we are proposing the energy solidarity.
– Which means?
– The thing is to limit somehow the Russian manipulation of energy safety towards the European countries, especially the Central countries of this continent. The EU should recognise that energy is as strategic element as to have a common policy in this sphere and even striving for building, as Jerzy Buzek and Jacques Delors proposed, the European Energy Community. Currently, we have 27 energy markets, which are often not connected with one another. So we cannot speak about mutual energy help because there are not even connections of the markets through the border…
– Additionally, instead of energy help and solidarity we have got rather energy egoism…
– Unfortunately, we have. The Baltic pipe, i.e., the North Stream, is an example of the lack of Europe’s solidarity and even of the German egoism. The Germans do not pay attention to the fact that it is a project directed aggressively against the transit countries, i.e., Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. Such cases of egoism should be eliminated in Europe demonstrating solidarity.
– Among the proposals of PiS the one concerning actions to stop the demographic collapse in Europe is the least concentrated on the Polish interests.
– But actually it is the most important matter to us! The Germans tried to speak about it during their presidency and the Hungarians are raising this problem but in a rather loose discussion but we should propose to write a strategic document and show ways to support and finance appropriate activities. It is the Poles that should ‘egoistically’ raise this problem since our total fertility rate is smaller than the average TTR in Europe (only 1.23 and in Europe – 1.5). Besides this problem concerns other difficult issues in Europe, e.g., immigration, multiculturalism. There are many things to be discussed in this sphere.
– Europe does not benefit much from multiculturalism but it succeeds in discrediting Christianity. That’s why PiS wants the Polish presidency to give some impulse to defend Christianity in the world, doesn’t it?
– We think that Europe should support the persecuted Christians minorities in a special way because it is her historical and moral obligation. Europe should express her firm and tough opinion about this issue.
– Can the European leaders and establishment be convinced to take such a stand? Apparently futile efforts…
– Of course, the left-liberal elites in Europe want to defend all minorities and they eagerly include sexual minorities, too. I hope that the right and conservative circles will treat our proposal favourably. Unconditionally, it is the Polish presidency that should be involved in defending Christians in some significant way.
– Why? Because Poland is a Christian country and we owe that to John Paul II?
– The fact that the Polish presidency coincides with the beatification of John Paul II should make us not forget that it was John Paul II that contributed to the destruction of the Iron Curtain and to connect, as he said, the two lungs of Europe, that he left us a very deepened reflection on what Europe should be. I think that we should propose a large conference of the European intellectualists to get to know and think over again the teaching of John Paul II on Europe and work out our attitude towards the teaching to begin a new debate on what Europe should be: only a community of interests or first of all, a community of values.
– Are you not letting your imagination run away with you?
– One can say that the founding fathers of united Europe did daydream. Unfortunately, we realise that our reference to John Paul II can be ridiculed by many. One should also suppose that the pro-family politics, the defence of Christianity and return to the teaching of John Paul II are exactly what differs us from the governmental vision of the Polish presidency.
– Can we suppose that there will be some harmony between the government and the opposition concerning the vision of our presidency in the ‘geographical’ matters, e.g., the Eastern Partnership?
– We think that during our presidency we should strengthen the programme of the Eastern Partnership financially to a considerable extent. Today the so-called southern policy devours three times more money than the eastern one. It seems to be irrational since the countries located towards the south of the EU – contrary to the eastern ones – will not join the EU anyway.
– What concrete proposals should Poland suggest in this matter?
– In our opinion we should propose the EU to sign an association agreement with Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia quickly since these countries are almost ready to do it. As far as I know the government of PO wants to lead to an association agreement only with Ukraine. The same should concern the free trade area – Moldova and Georgia as well as Ukraine should join it. We would also suggest cancelling visa to all countries, except Belarus, of the Eastern Partnership, e.g., for the Ukrainians, Moldavians, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
– Can the Polish presidency be a good occasion to discuss difficult matters connected with Russia?
– We should propose to begin working on a common EU strategy towards Russia. The EU must simply decide whether its closer strategic partner is Russia and the United States. It should define its interests towards Russia and work a common strategy. It would be good if Poland suggested such an agenda…
– Why Poland?
– Since Poland is less naive than the Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards or Italians in this matter.
– And what about the so-called southern policy that keeps the EU politicians awake at night? It might not be possible to exclude it from the sphere of interests of the Polish presidency?
– Of course, Poland should propose a very active policy towards the South. It is not enough ‘to share experiences in building democracy.’ We propose – and our government preparing to the presidency did not conceive this idea – to organise three summits: the European Union – the African Union, the European Union – the League of Arab States and the European Union – Israel. Participats of such forums should be able to discern the situation and suggest some forms of help.
– Since the possibilities to shape the foreign politics through presidency are rather limited would it not be better to focus on the EU domestic affairs?
– It is obvious. On should finalise the access of Croatia to the EU, continue the access negotiations with Iceland and Western Balkan countries: Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo. And finally, one should care for a proper development of the macroregional strategies. The so-called Baltic Strategy must be strengthened, described in detail and it requires more money. We propose another strategy – the Carpathian Strategy embracing the member states: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the accession country – Ukraine. It is an area that has rich cultures, is socially diversified, has unique natural environment resources and first of all, includes the poorest EU regions. And the Carpathian Strategy should embrace these aspects.
– The Polish government seems to be rather enthusiastic about strengthening integration within the framework of common European politics concerning security and defence. What does the opposition think about it?
– We think that Europe is still not prepared to conduct such a consistent foreign politics so that it can lead to a good common policy of defence. France, Germany and Great Britain are still carrying out this policy on their own. We can see it when we look at the diversified attitude towards Libya. So it is not time to have such a common policy. But if someone speaks about it today it can be regarded as a step towards weakening NATO, i.e., undermining the close relationship between Europe and the United States in the area of security. It is unreasonable.
– The spiteful say that the Polish presidency will be only a form of administration and continuation of the present processes. Do you agree with this opinion?
– Certainly many things will be done on the level of propaganda and public relations. Even if it is a purely administrative presidency it will be presented as extremely important and as a turning point. Not only Polish politicians but also the European establishment that appreciates the Polish compliance will say so.
– We can still hope that our presidency will be something more than only an element of the RP campaign of the Civic Platform before the approaching elections…
– However, the fact that PO did not decide to have the elections earlier, before our presidency, testifies about it. It is obvious that this presidency is to serve the election campaign. It gives a possibility to bathe in the reflected light of ‘the great of this world.’ I only hope that Poles are not so naive and this ‘saloon game’ will be obvious to them.