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The North-South Line and orientation of Polish foreign policy.

Published on February 15, 2011 by: in: Politics

Interview with Adam Balcer – Program Director in DemosEuropa – Centre of European Analysis.


In the article ‘Orientation of Polish foreign policy’ published in a magazine ‘Debata’ including main thesis of a future book ‘A quarterback or a pawn’ (“Rozgrywający czy pionek?”) you suggested, along with Kazimierz Wóycicki, reorientation of Polish foreign policy in the direction of the North-South line, arguing that the East-West line is not enough to realize a successful foreign policy.

It is necessary to enlarge the strategic perspective of Polish foreign policy. Poland is too narrow-minded about Eastern direction, while the efficiency in the East will be possible as long as this involvement will be oriented to the South-East line. It is because the South, especially the Muslim world, will be crucial for Europe. Without modernization of the South (Mediterranean Basin) European Union will be in danger of having instable neighbors and will not be able to play an important role in the world – then it will be marginalized. And this will not do any good to Poland either.

South-Eastern direction means, speaking facetiously, ‘islamization’ of Polish foreign policy to a certain extent, namely Poland focusing on the meeting point between South and East: on Turkey, Black Sea direction and Central Asia as well as on the post-Soviet areas.

Why this direction of the North-South is so important for Poland within the European Union?

Poland is in a special situation in the European Union as a country which can be in a group, concert of powerful European players, such as France or Germany. It is clear that Poland, due to its demographic and economic situation should play such a role. But it should not forget that it is perceived by many countries from the North-South axis as a potential ally and organizer of cooperation between these countries, who can build various task-oriented coalitions within the European Union.

Key issue is that Poland should play two pianos, bearing in mind those connections – on one hand it is worth having support of medium countries and thanks to it gaining stronger position among big players. On the other hand however it should use the position it has among big countries in order to promote cooperation within the North-South axis.

Which countries of the North-South axis you mean?

I mean countries from the Visegrad Group, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Baltic republics and Scandinavian countries, in the future after accession to the European Union also Western Balkans. It is very important that this coalition would not be limited only to post-Communist countries, that a kind of ‘poverty-group’ would not be created. This is why the participation of the countries such as Finland or Sweden, with whom Poland has many common interests, among others concerning the Eastern policy of the European Union, is so important. The next step should be always looking for allies within the European Union but outside of the axis. Sweden is an important investor in our country and is very interested in our market. Poland needs support when it comes to R&D and the Swedish have great achievements in this area. Apart from this, Poland has to change its energy balance, reduce the use of the coal and here we come to various opportunities of renewable energy, biomass, nuclear energy, CCS – in all of these areas. The Swedish are strong. This partnership can be strategic and permanent.

You point out in your article that emergence of Central Europe as an independent European player will have consequences visible in 10-20 years. What kind of consequences you mean?

Central Europe understood geopolitically, namely Visegrad Group, Baltic states, Bulgaria and Romania, means nowadays almost 100 millions of inhabitants with GDP close to Italy.

Our part of Europe has generally good perspectives in a long run (20 years), its economic potential will rise. As a result it can become a small locomotive of the European Union. This region might also become Achilles’ heel of the EU as in longer run it faces also serious challenges, for example demographic ones (population shrinking more rapidly than in the West). From the Polish perspective the situation of other countries of Central Europe is very important, because this is what will define our place within the EU. In case of permanent problems in the neighborhood it will be difficult for us to remain a green island.

This is why it is necessary to counteract against such situation when the region, to which Poland belongs, becomes a weak link in the EU, periphery on the border with the area of instability in the East, which would lose importance in the EU in favor of the South. The best method would be coordination of social and economic policies among the countries of Central Europe leading to implementation of common economic model based on the innovation.

In your article you clearly point out the importance of Turkey and treat Ukraine with caution. Should the membership of Turkey be more important for Poland than the membership of Ukraine?

Ukrainian membership in the European Union is a strategic aim for Poland. Our thesis is however that we should be also prepared for a scenario in which it will not happen. At this stage it is more possible that in the perspective of 20-30 years Ukraine not only will not become a member of the EU but it will not even get on the road leading to membership. Ukraine nowadays has GDP in purchasing power lower than GDP of the Czech Republic, GDP per capita in Ukraine is lower than in Albania and the population is rapidly shrinking.

Obviously we should do everything so that the scenario of Ukraine remaining outside the European Union would not come true as the stabilization of the Eastern neighborhood is in the best interest both of Poland and of the Union. We have to convince the EU that the long term stabilization of the countries located in the East and in the South of Poland (Turkey, Western Balkans) requires building there liberal democracy based on the rule of law. Without long term perspective of membership the success of this process is not very probable.

Why is Turkey so important?

In the post-Soviet areas in the East current situation and processes which will take place mean that in a long run we have to reconsider almost obsessive thinking about Russia as the main reference point. We have to realize that new, very important players will appear. Heavyweight player, namely China, already very powerful in Central Asia, will come on the territory of the Eastern Partnership. On the other hand there is Turkey, which has much better than Russia demographic forecasts; in a few decades Russia will have population only slightly bigger than Turkey. The same applies to the economy.

In the first two quarters of this year Turkey had two-digit economic growth. According to OECD the average economic growth in the next few years will be around 7%. Turkish economy will be stronger and stronger which will mean also growing Turkish influence on the post-Soviet areas, which already today are significant, especially in Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Turkey will influence hugely Russia because there will be a change in a religious mosaic of Russia. Population will be more Muslim and the vast majority of Muslims will be of a Turkic origin (Tatars, Bashkirs and various Turkic people living in the Northern Caucasus).

Russia will remain an important international player because it is a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations Organization, has nuclear arsenal and energy resources. At the same time it is a country which has numerous very serious internal problems (for example instable Northern Caucasus, authoritarian political elites with limited abilities for modernization, very high level of corruption and mono economy). Obviously Turkey has to face internal challenges as well, among others the most important one – Kurdish issue, but all what is happening in Turkey brings about some optimism. Realization of the most positive scenario for Turkey (stable, democratic, rich regional empire) depends however to a great extent on the future of Turkish process of European integration. Permanent crisis of this process will have serious implications for the European Union.

If the relations between Turkey and the European Union permanently break off we might have to deal in case of Turkey with sophisticated and soft variation of Russia, with a country which would conclude strategic alliances with China, Russia and Iran, which would seriously hinder realization of European Union’s agenda in the East and in the South.

For Poland Turkey can be important when it comes to our demographic problems. One of the necessary action that has to be undertaken is opening Poland to immigration. Nowadays immigration, especially from the Muslim world, is a taboo in Poland but it seems to be inevitable that at least part of new Polish citizens, taking into consideration migration trends in Europe and very difficult demographic situation in our neighborhood, will be Muslims. The Turkish, especially after the accession of Turkey, can turn out to be optimal immigrants from the Muslim world in Poland.

Membership of Turkey in the European Union is harshly criticized in the Western Europe. Nicholas Sarkozy says that Europe cannot fund itself a border with Iraq and that Turkey itself is located in Anatolia, not in Europe.

From the geographic perspective Cyprus is also 100% outside Europe. France was outside Europe in 75% when the EU was founded because it was in Africa – Algeria was its integral part. Are opponents of the Turkish membership aware of the negative consequences of breaking off the accession process of Turkey? What will happen with the neighborhood policy, regions such as Middle East, Black Sea? The world is globalized to such a big extent that statement that the border with Iran or Iraq is a threat is ridiculous. Turkey is already a country with better perspectives concerning the development than the countries of the European Union. It is a country which undergoes rapid modernization, for example the agrarian population is shrinking, the expenditures on R&D are increasing. In a few years this country will be richer and modernized. Membership of such Turkey will be for the European Union a chance, not a threat.

Turkish membership in the European Union can be a positive spur, also for the EU itself. Turkish membership can cause something positive for the internal structure of the Union, enforce institutional and financial reforms. There were many cases in the history of the Union when the enlargements led to institutional and economic reforms.

How to convince the citizens of Old Europe to it?

Above all we have to think strategically abort ourselves, namely about the European Union and about Turkey, which should be perceived as a very important element in the process of making a global player out of the EU. The Union is able to ‘digest’ Turkish membership but the political will and strategic vision of Europe among our elites are necessary. There are three scenarios for the European Union and process of enlargement. The first one assumes that the EU integrates internally and successfully enlarges becoming a global player capable of stabilizing its neighborhood. According to the second one the EU closes itself, becoming a fortress under siege, surrounded by areas of instability. The third scenario assumes that the EU becomes weaker as a consequence of process of integration carried out in a wrong way, which becomes a source of internal conflicts. In both last cases we deal with marginalization of the EU in a global scale.

What attributes does Poland have, which could be attractive for the countries in the East and Southern-East?

Our international position will depend on our economy. When it comes to population and GDP we are the sixth member of the EU. Poland is among 20 biggest economies in the world and has GDP per capita clearly above world average. According to Human Development Report we are already a developed, not a developing country. Poland has better economic perspectives than the Western European countries do and it is important that we should keep rapid pace of development, mainly through efficient solving the demographic problem and modernizing our economy.

Radical decrease in the agrarian sector and the increase of innovation in our economy through big investments in the development and research are necessary. If we continue to treat the Union as a cashbox defending fiercely subsides to agriculture, as the governments continuously declare, it will mean that we are losing contact with the reality.

What are the main obstacles on the way to development of Poland and realization of successful foreign policy?

The last 20 years are a huge success of Poland, but nowadays Poland does not use its potential to the full. There are countries in Europe which have big potential but are not able to use it. Italy is such a country, it could be in European first league but it is surely not.

Unfortunately it cannot be ruled out that the same will happen in case of Poland and we will fight below our weight category. 15% of Polish population are farmers and this number decreases at the slowest pace among new members of the European Union. In Bulgaria this group  shrank by 50% within 10 years, in Poland only by 10%. Poland does not devote enough money for R&D (0.6%) – it is over double less than Estonia. If we take a look at the European Innovation Score Index it will turn out that other countries in this part of Europe are much faster in chasing Europe.

When it comes to foreign policy Poland should move from words to actions and use to bigger extent its potential to build our position in other countries. Expenditures for the development aid reach the level of 0.08% of GDP, while Portugal, which is not much more affluent than Poland, devotes for this aim 0.24% of its GDP. It is also difficult to understand why the main benefactor of bilateral Polish development aid is recently China.

Poland occupies the last position within the EU when it comes to foreign students studying at our universities – 0.5%. We say that it is important to educate elites in the East but we do not do it sufficiently. Our foreign investments are small and are directed to Central Eastern Europe only to a limited extent. In 2008, before the crisis, Polish investments abroad were not much bigger than those of Hungary, which has over 3.5 times smaller economy.  The vast majority of Hungarian investments were directed to Central Eastern Europe, in case of Poland it was less than 20%.

How do you assess the chances for such reorientation of foreign policy that we have just talked about?

Poland has built coalition within the European Union along with the North-South axis. We are also developing our cooperation with the partners within the Visegrad Group, with Romania and with the Baltic states.

Bigger Polish interest in Turkey is visible. It would be good to increase our involvement within Western Balkans. Generally, in the relations between Poland and the axis countries it is not the most important to visit each other and cut the ribbons, what counts are concrete issues such as investment, trade exchange. Cooperation with the European Union countries and the North-South line should have more planned and creative character, rather than being improvised and reactionary. It would be beneficial to maximally widen the agenda of cooperation.

We are now in a transitory period when Poland has to think over its position in the world and within the European Union, its foreign policy. And think about new strategic directions, priorities, taking into account changes happening in the world, as for example increasing importance of China and India. I hope that the reorientation of the Polish foreign policy accordingly with the North-South line will be the result of this reflection.

Interviewed by Wojciech Białożyt

Translation: Martyna Bojarska

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About Wojciech Bialozyt

Graduate of Ecole Internationale des Sciences Politiques. He was an intern in the office of the European Parliament member Miquel Mayol and Raynal (ERC) and a consultant of the Regional Centre of European Information in Katowice. He took part in the observatory mission of the OSCE during the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004, in 2006 he represented Poland on the UN conference ‘European youth Leadership Summit’. He works in the consulting company in Warsaw.

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