Peek into Poland

August 25, 2011 by J-Wire
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Poland’s ambassador to Australia Andrzej Jaroszynski spoke to the Capital Jewish Forum at the Polish Embassy in Canberra. Members of the Australian Union of Jewish Students in Canberra for their annual political training seminar were among the guests…the ambassador spoke on “Europe and the Polish Presidency”.

Manny Waks and Ambassador Andrzej Jaroszynski Pic: Sylvia Deutch

CJF Founder and Executive Director, Manny Waks, commented: “It was a great opportunity for members of the Jewish community to hear from the senior Polish diplomat about a range of issues which are of interest and concern to our community. As the current holders of the rotating European Union Presidency, it was particularly interesting to hear from the Ambassador Poland’s vision vis-a-vis its current leadership role within the EU. It is worth noting that the CJF held an event earlier this year with the Hungarian Ambassador to Australia – Hungary handed over the EU Presidency to Poland on 1 July this year.”

J-Wire reproduces the address in full…

“On 1st July 2011, following Hungary, Poland took on the presidency the Presidency of the Council of the Union.  It is a momentous event since just 22 years have passed since the fall of communism in 1989 and our peaceful transition to democracy.

In Poland the story of the EU is viewed with optimism.  We see its strength as a result of growth, teamwork and commitment. This confidence stems also from the Polish success story of the recent three decades.

Therefore, let me outline the present state of affairs of the country which, by holding the EU Council presidency, will soon face one of the most important tests in the international arena.

As Radek Sikorski, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in his March expose in the Polish Parliament: “Poland today is – still far from ideal – the best Poland we have ever had”.

Today, it is the 20th largest economy in the world, and the 6th largest in Europe. Twenty years ago, Poland’s gross domestic product, in terms of purchasing power parity, was around USD 160 billion. Today, it is over USD 717 billion, or four and a half times greater.  Our GDP could grow by another USD 300 billion in this decade, reaching above 4%.

In 2009 Poland’s GDP totalled EUR 332billion, with the agricultural sector accounting for 4.6%, the industrial sector 28.1%, and the services sector 67.3%. Our GDP amounts to one-third of Russia’s, but is two-and-a-half times that of the Ukraine, and thirteen times that of Lithuania.

We are increasing our trade levels.  Polish exports have exceeded 1990 levels ninefold, and they are still higher than they were before the global financial crisis, reaching a record sum of USD 162 billion last year. Poland has also reached the largest volume in exports of agricultural goods in Europe. Polish foreign direct investments are already at a level of USD 27 billion. This strengthens Poland’s position in the countries in which these investments are made, in particular amongst our neighbours – Germany, the Ukraine and Lithuania.

There is no doubt that EU membership has made Poland stronger. EU Member States account for two-thirds of our trade. Poland continues to lead in the spending of EU funds, receiving the most regional development assistance granted by the EU since 2006. One in five euros disbursed by the EU goes to Poland. Since 2007, over EUR 16 billion has been spent creating an effective system that translates into growing enterprises and new jobs.

The Polish economy performed very well during the global economic crisis. It was the only country in the EU to register economic growth in 2009. This was due, among other reasons, to large domestic consumption, the high level of EU funds, lower dependence on foreign trade (34.7% in 2009), and a banking credit system stricter than in other countries.  Warsaw is becoming the region’s financial hub. Poland rose to the 7th position in Europe in terms of FDI, up one notch from last year. It is worth mentioning that Poland as having good investment opportunities has recently drawn attention of Australian business. See, for example, the following press articles: Poland plays it cool amid turmoil by Marcin Sobczyk, “The Australian” 10.08.2011; Landlords see sweet spots in sour European economy – Australian retail groups are defying Europe’s debt crisis by Bridget Carter, “The Australian” 15.08.2011.

Poles are becoming more prosperous.  Over 85 % of our society recognises the positive impact of our EU membership. Our sense of security has increased. Poles are the most optimistic nation in Europe.

 To take advantage of the current situation, we need stable relations with all our partners, and our neighbours in particular.

Poland shares common interests and democratic values with Germany which has consolidated its key position in Europe. It is in our interest that Germany impacts Europe through the consultation mechanism, on which Member States – including Poland – have significant influence.

Poland and Germany – despite their differences in potential and location – take a similar view of the EU neighbourhood. They work together to foster democracy, both in the south and the east. Our common initiatives in the Ukraine and Belarus increase our influence. Close cooperation with Germany paves the way to the top levels of EU decision-making and helps us in our dealings with Russia. Germany is also Poland’s biggest economic partner.  Our trade with Germany is also bigger than Germany’s trade with Russia.

Together with Germany and France, we have finally reactivated the Weimar Triangle at the level of heads of state and government, and we hold discussions about EU relations with Russia and other Eastern European states, as well as about defence cooperation.

Great Britain, which shares our views on, among other things, the EU internal market and security, also remains our close partner. Poland’s export to the UK noted a trade surplus of 3.69 billion euro.

Those who believe that one way of thinking reigns in Russia are mistaken. Russia is developing and opening up to the outside world, though it does so according to a cultural code different from ours. There are of course those who still “live in the past” and continue to long for superpower glory and heavy-handed rule. However, many Russians, including top leaders, are becoming aware of the need to curb corruption, modernise the economy, and strengthen the rule of law and democracy.  In short, they realise modernisation is necessary.  It is not certain which way Russia will go. But if it chooses the democratic path leading to integration with the West, then Poland will perhaps gain the most from this in Europe.

By the way, an interesting essay by John Besemeres, a Fellow of the Centre for European Studies, ANU, Heading west, heading east: impressions from Warsaw and Moscow,  appeared in “Inside Story” comparing the present state of affairs in Poland and Russia. See: http://inside.org.au/heading-west-heading-east-impressions-from-warsaw-and-moscow/.

Ukraine is our strategic partner. Its accession to the EU is in our long-term interest. Consequently, every time Poland is in a position to do so, and Kiev wants us to, we shall provide the Ukraine with our support.

Poland’s alliance with the United States in NATO remains strong. Our relations with the U.S. are friendly, but mature, given our respective potential. During his recent visit to Warsaw on 28-9 May, President Obama reaffirmed close relations between the two countries. On the first day of Obama’s visit, a meeting of Presidents of Central European States focused on ways to support pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.

Poland has been building on its reliability in the area of security. Our demands to strengthen the role of Article 5 and those articles concerning new security interests have won the support of our allies and are reflected in NATO’s New Strategic Concept.

We act to strengthen NATO’s cohesion. We aim to do away with anachronistic divisions between “old” and “new” members of the Alliance. We point to the need to deploy NATO defence infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe. This region deserves the same level of security as that enjoyed by Western Europe. Thanks in part to our efforts, NATO has adopted contingency plans for Poland and the Baltic States.

In Afghanistan, where we have been pursuing objectives in accordance with the UN Charter, Poland has increased the number of its troops by 30% since April 2010 reaching the number of over 2000 troops.  The Polish military contingent is the seventh largest of the 48 ISAF states, and the fifth largest European contingent.

There is no easy way out of Afghanistan. In accordance with NATO’s decision, 2011 has marked the beginning of the process of handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan people. 2014 should see the end of the presence of Polish combat units there.

It should be mentioned that the Polish Minister of Foreign, Radosław Sikorski, paid an official visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan in August, on behalf of High Representative C. Ashton, reaffirming the EU’s commitment to building a strong long-term partnership with both countries.

Solidarity holds a special meaning for Poles. Not only the administration, but also dozens of Polish NGOs are involved in supporting the Belarusian people. In the name of solidarity, a month after most of the Belarusian presidential candidates were beaten up and detained, Poland organised a donors’ conference in Warsaw, at which several dozen delegations representing states and international organisations committed over EUR 87m to the cause.

Poland’s political and economic transformation was made easier by the support of our friends. Now we are helping others.  A recent initiative has been to send to Tunisia former Solidarity leaders, headed by the former president Lech Wałęsa, to assist Tunisians to build democratic institutions based on the Polish experience of the Solidarity movement. In May, Radek Sikorski was the first Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Benghazi where he met with the leadership of the Provisional Government and agreed to the training in Poland of a group of young Libyan activists.

 The upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU will provide a great opportunity and a challenge for the whole Polish government. It is an opportunity to increase confidence in our country as an important EU member. A successful Presidency will promote Poland and thereby increase its visibility in the international scene. But the Presidency is also a challenge

Under the presidency Poland will focus on the three following priorities: Economy, Security, and Openness.

1. First, Poland wants a Growing Europe. 1. A deeper internal market (including the electronic market) will lead to an unobstructed flow of trade, services and workers, boosting EU competitiveness. In this area Poland will try to save Schengen as one of the greatest achievements of Europe. 2. An ambitious budget will enable us to invest in proactive development projects. Poland will begin negotiations on the EU budget after 2013 which should be an investment tool contributing to the growth of the EU. And, finally, knowledge, expertise and the development of education will help tap into the potential within each and every European citizen.

2. Secondly, we want a Secure Europe. Poland believes that due to the work on a new energy strategy for the next decade, it will be necessary to examine the state of the external EU energy policy and to develop solutions that will strengthen it. Europe also oversees the stable supply of energy to all its Member States and citizens. From 2015, thanks to the construction of new connections, no EU country will be isolated from the European gas and electrical grids. Successive Polish governments have worked hard to achieve this. The aim of our Presidency will be to regulate cooperation with energy exporters and transit countries. A strategic partnership with the U.S., Russia and China will serve the EU’s global engagement.

Poland will also promote the issue of food security. During the Polish presidency, the discussion on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy will enter a decisive phase. The CAP should provide greater market orientation and include public goods, including food security and multifunctional development. An important element will be decisions on direct payments and support for rural development, but also the agricultural product quality policy.

Another task of the Polish presidency will be to strengthen the military and civilian capabilities of the EU. We will support activities aimed at preserving a direct dialogue between the EU and NATO.

3. Thirdly, we need an Open Europe. Poland will support the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which aims at strengthening the EU’s position in the international area. Through the Eastern Partnership, our Presidency will contribute to enlarging the area covered by EU rules and regulations.

We will hold an Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in September this autumn. Within the Eastern Partnership we will seek to conclude association agreements and create free trade areas, such as finalising negotiations with the Ukraine and Moldova. The Eastern Partnership also consists of projects that support small and medium enterprises, energy efficiency and administrative reform. It also includes dialogue between parliamentarians and efforts to liberalise the visa regime.

Poland supports the enlargement process. The door to Europe was opened for us, and today we hold it open for others. The Polish Presidency will aim to finalise accession negotiations with Croatia and continue them with Turkey. Poland also supports finalising the EU integration of the Western Balkans.

The Polish Presidency will encourage Belarus to cooperate with the West, provided it respects basic democratic principles and human rights. During the presidency, Poland will want to establish a new framework for cooperation between the EU and Russia and develop the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation.

The Polish Presidency will support the development of a new relationship between the EU and the Arab world and a comprehensive action for the region supporting the democratisation and the creation of modern state structures in the countries of North Africa.  We plan a high level conference in December to share practices from our transformation and help facilitate change and democratisation in the South.

 There are two great challenges facing the EU in the coming months.

The first challenge is the proposal to enhance the coordination of national economic policies and concern for the common currency – the euro. The Franco-German “Euro Pact” calls for harmonising debt ceilings, the retirement age and certain tax bases. These are reasonable proposals. Most of them are already being implemented in Poland. We can draw satisfaction from the fact that the rest of Europe accepted Poland’s idea to open up the Pact to all those who conduct an accountable financial policy. The timeframe for our accession to the eurozone – something we are required to do under our Accession Treaty – remains to be decided. It is mainly the economists who will decide when and at what rate the advantages of cheaper borrowing outweigh the loss of our economic flexibility.

 The second challenge concerns the historic changes taking place in the Arab world. Just as the 1980 freedom protests and the creation of Solidarity on the Polish coast started a new era, so do the current events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in the region. Naturally, there are no simple analogies. Let us remember, however, that in 1989 we too were not expected to succeed. The Polish presidency will help work out new relations with the Arab world and a comprehensive strategy of actions in favour of this region.

Poland has more to say on the topic of systemic transformation than others. That is why we will share our experience of freedom with the Tunisians, Egyptians and any others willing to make use of this knowledge. It is hoped that the newly democratic Arab states will support the peace process between a democratic Israel and a Palestine on its path to independence.

The Middle East problem is a test for the common foreign policy that is currently in the making. The European Union must speak with one voice, and it must be heard throughout its

It is often said that today Europe is faced with huge challenges. In many parts of the European Union public debts are growing. Unemployment is stubbornly high. New jobs are not emerging. We face other painful strategic questions: long-term energy supplies; migration and border control; fierce economic and political competition from other parts of the world; instability across North Africa and the Middle East. Above all, we face the issues around the Eurozone and Europe’s financial markets.

All these problems are combing to test, as never before, some of the deepest shared assumptions of Europe-wide solidarity and common resolve.

Few Presidencies push through sudden changes of direction or achieve dramatic policy jumps, planned before the Presidency started. Some even suggest that Poland should just survive the Presidency showing restraint and self-denial because modest success is better than glorious failure.

But a new Presidency brings renewed energy; change of style; a chance to identify new themes. The Polish position, therefore, is neither overambitious nor groundless.

First, in Poland there is high support for the membership and the EU. Presidency is welcomed by all political parties, leading institutions, and above all, by young generations of Poles as a unique opportunity to present a vibrant and modern face of Poland, a Poland of today and tomorrow.

Secondly, Poland has fast-growing economy that has avoided the global financial crisis and has stable relations with its neighbours. Trust in the European integration is as a driving force for national growth is higher than in many “older” members of the Union.

Thirdly, Poland seeks a bigger role in diplomacy and defence pushing for greater EU military integration, and deeper relations with the EU’s eastern borderlands. Above all, The EU can draw on the hard-won experience of Poland and other countries which have cleared the rubble of oppression to build modern policies and free transparent institution.

If one thing is certain in uncertain world, it is that something unexpected – and probably unwelcome – will come along during the Polish Presidency. We will be ready for that too as we were ready for big changes over the decades.

Poland takes on the EU Presidency in this spirit.

A spirit of solidarity and optimism.

Learning lessons from the past – working for our common future.

Q&A session points

  • • The restitution of lost property of Jews within Poland is a complex matter. There are a number of reasons for this:
  1. 1. The sheer number of properties that were seized was enormous. It is estimated that the value of these properties is around $60 billion. The legitimate sources claiming these properties are comprised of many different groups. The compensation covers all the Polish citizens and their descendants of which Polish Jews constitute up to 17%. Thus, it is not considered only as a matter of Polish-Jewish relations.
  2. 2. The properties were seized under two very different regimes – the Nazis and the Communists (the latter through its policy of nationalisation).
  • • It should be noted that all those who had their properties seized (and their descendents) can try to claim these through the Polish courts. This applies to cases where property was nationalised without any legal basis or in breach of the laws effective at that time. From mid-2001 to the end of 2010 the total amount of disbursements  amounted to around $240 million, which was distributed to some 2,300 beneficiaries
  • • Communal Jewish property is being returned since 1997. So far, hundreds of properties have been returned amounting to around $20 million.
  • • Moreover, Poland in 1960s signed claims settlement agreements with the US and 11 other countries whereby Poland paid millions of dollars as compensation for properties of US citizens and other nationals who had their properties seized as part of the nationalisation policy. Of course this does not impact in particular Holocaust survivors and their descendents. However, it does demonstrate that Poland is genuinely attempting to resolve this matter.
  • • The process of transformation within Poland still is not over. There are major challenges – not least because Poland is not a particularly wealthy country and therefore it is unable to compensate at this stage all those who have just claims to these properties. The process of legal framework of the compensation for lost property was not abandoned but suspended. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a press conference on 11 March this year said that “in the suitable time the government bill on compensation will be presented to the Parliament for adoption”.
  • • The relationship with Russia is a challenge for both Poland and the European Union.
  • • Russia is at a crossroad. It has no history as a democratic country in a sense that it was established in the early 1990s after 70 years of communist rule. Therefore it has somewhat of an identity crisis. This is further exacerbated by the perception it has of having lost an empire – the Soviet Union. Its ambition to regain the empire is still popular among many Russians. Russia does not want to be identified merely as European. It is almost blasphemous for them to be seen as just another country like other countries in Europe.
  • • In everyday behaviour there are many similarities between Poles and Russians than between Poles and other Europeans. Trade between Poland and Russia is growing rapidly. Part of the reason for this is because Poles understand Russians and their culture very well.
  • • The recent tragedy that resulted in the untimely death of the Polish President will be analysed for a very long time – possibly decades. This is the nature of major tragedies – they elicit much speculation.  This could be compared to the JFK tragedy – there are still speculations about his death.
  • • The tragedy prompted an awakening process in Russia. It made Russians see Poland differently – in a compassionate light.
  • • There is an element of envy from some parts of Russian society. Russians are raised to view their homeland as an empire with significant influence and power. However, while this more accurately reflects their past, Russians now look at Poland with some envy due to its success – as a part of the former Soviet Union, Poland is now seen as a respected and successful sovereign state. This is in stark contrast to the current situation in Russia.
  • • There is no doubt that the late Pope’s upbringing in Poland greatly impacted on his positive attitude towards Jews. Certainly his war-time experience contributed to this. He was the first Pope to declare antisemitism as a sin. He greatly influenced the Church’s teachings in this regard.
  • • Since the demise of communist rule, Poland has experienced its greatest Jewish revival. The best example of this is the Annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Kraków, the largest such Jewish festival in Europe.
  • • Europe is seen as being the least confrontational continent in the world. Financial matters are viewed as its major challenges. But its non-confrontation nature is also what seems to make them somewhat look less influential and weaker on the world stage.

 

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