Poland has long been an engaged and committed member of international alliances. We are an active contributor as well as policy and project initiator. This year, 2019, is especially important to us. It marks 20 years since we joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and 15 years since we joined the European Union (EU).
NATO and the EU are unquestionably two of the most important international organisations that Poland is a member of. Accession to the European Union on May 1, 2004, was one of the most significant moments in modern Polish history. We looked forward to the security and prosperity the union would offer; the EU labour market opened to Polish workers, with the UK and Ireland becoming the first countries to open their doors as soon as we joined.
But we take also part in, and lead, many other important regional forums and initiatives. In our immediate neighbourhood, the Visegrád Four (V4), a political alliance comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, was created to advance military, cultural, economic, and energy cooperation in the region. With five Polish presidencies so far, we underpinned Poland’s high level of involvement and active participation. The prominent position of the V4 within the EU has allowed us to foster a community of interests at the European level. This has been of particular significance with regard to issues such as the future of the EU, its needed reforms, Brexit and the challenges caused by migration.
About a decade ago, Poland – then still a relatively new EU member state – put forward a proposal for an Eastern Partnership initiative. Launched in 2009 as a joint policy initiative with Sweden, the Eastern Partnership is an EU policy aimed at improving its political, economic and trade relations with our eastern neighbours and partners, seen to be of strategic importance in view of developing ever closer cooperation.
At the core of the policy of the Eastern Partnership is the promotion of and respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance. The initiative aims not only at working together with EU partner countries to develop a stronger, diversified and vibrant market economy based on sustainable development, but also on building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. Stronger economies, stronger governance, stronger connectivity and stronger societies – all make both the EU and its partners stronger and more able to deal with internal and external challenges.
Although consensus-based decisions between EU member states determine the policy of the Eastern Partnership, Poland has notably shaped its direction. Poland has a lot to offer: Polish experts and diplomats have the most valuable expertise on Eastern Europe and there have been a lot of initiatives to promote the Eastern Partnership within Poland and beyond, especially in 2019, to mark its 10th anniversary.
Timothy Snyder, author of The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, wrote about Poland’s stabilising role in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s: “Bold Polish eastern policy facilitated the peaceful end of Soviet rule in the region, prevented national disagreements from spilling into international conflict, and hastened European integration.” After 1989, a Polish geopolitical vision channeled national interest towards peace – and Poland continues to do so today by attaching great importance to the observance of the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to the respect of international law. Poland continues to support other countries as it did during the communist regime.
We reach more widely via one of the President’s Andrzej Duda priorities, the Three Seas Initiative, a platform for cooperation between the leaders of 12 countries located between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas. By standing closer together we aim to match the Central and Eastern European countries’ infrastructure, economy and development with these of Western European countries, as well as to ensure energy security. And we are glad that with the help of a robust growth rate and a modernised economy, Poland has been able to highlight the region on the global economic map.
Looking at security issues, we take an active part in the Bucharest Nine (B9). Through the B9 alliance, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia have established a recurrent format of political consultation, coordination, and cooperation within the framework of both NATO and the EU. The B9 can jointly contribute to EU initiatives in the field of security and defence. We strengthen the deterrence and defence of the Eastern flank with the support of the NATO and US military presence.
But it is essential to maintain a broader perspective of Central Europe. That is why Poland dedicates itself to support of our partners willing to join the EU. By taking the lead in the Berlin Process this year we share our pre-accession experience and present our Western Balkan friends how the full engagement in the European project can easily transform into a success story. Implementing the necessary reforms may not be easy but it’s definitely worth the effort.
The Western Balkans summit in Poznań, which took place last week and gathered heads of government of the Berlin Process and representatives of EU institutions and international organisations, was a place of discussion about key issues concerning the region. The leaders recognised the importance of strengthening local economies and fostering social entrepreneurship, especially among young people, as well as the need for cooperation in the field of trade and investment and development of the digital economy. During the Poznan Summit, the leaders agreed to work together in the launching of an ambitious Green Agenda to fight climate change and to protect the environment and boost connectivity, in terms of transport, energy as well as people-to-people connectivity with a focus on reconciliation and building good neighbourly relations. The Berlin Process has delivered on its objectives and has brought the region closer together and closer to the EU for the benefit of all.
We are glad that the recognition of Central and Eastern Europe’s global role is expanding. It is thus important to watch closely all regional initiatives from Central and Eastern Europe. And Poland within it.