In an interview with RFE/RL's Christian Caryl, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski describes the issues that Poland intends to highlight during its tenure as president of the Council of the European Council, which it assumes on July 1.
RFE/RL: During his visit to Warsaw President Obama said that Poland should serve as an example for the new democracies of the Middle East and North Africa. Will this be one of the themes of Poland's EU presidency?
Radoslaw Sikorski: Yes, it will. I visited Benghazi and I talked to the provisional council there, and it was revealing for me to realize that what they will face in Libya if and when they take power in Tripoli is pretty much similar to what we faced 22 years ago. If you break down the transition process into its components, they will have to answer whether they want a presidential system or a cabinet-parliamentary one; what to do with the secret police of the past, or to do with the former ruling party; what to do about the judiciary; what to do about exiles; what kind of party system to have; what is the correct relationship between the state and religion. And I believe that our region -- and Poland in particular -- is a useful database of solutions -- not only our successes but also our many failures. Because it's better to learn what decisions lead to what outcomes in order to avoid the mistakes as well.
RFE/RL: What does Warsaw see as the best way forward toward a common European defense and security policy?
Sikorski: Well, Poland would like to have two insurance policies rather than one. I believe that NATO is a military alliance devoted to the defense of the territory of its members. But as we've seen in Afghanistan, there are things that we could better -- for example, the financing of operations is a question of caveats; in general the sharing of risks and costs. I think Libya shows that sometimes the United States might want to take a backseat when it's involved in two other wars as now in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so Europe should be able to act in its immediate vicinity so that the debacle of the Balkans may never happen again. And so I see Libya as an argument in favor of, for example, establishing a European operational headquarters. Europe has in recent years conducted over 20 operations, but each time we have to scramble for a way to command them.
RFE/RL: Since you mentioned Libya -- what is Poland's view on how Europe should proceed? So far it seems that Europe really hasn't managed to agree on a position. Is there going to be a particular course of action that Poland will follow on Libya as EU president?
Sikorski: Well, the European Presidency after the Lisbon Treaty does not have the lead on Europe's external policy. That is now decided by the president of the Council and by the high representative. But I will be supporting her and it was in that role that I visited Benghazi. Individual member states contribute what they can. Britain is the biggest military power in Europe, France the second -- so they took the lead on the military side. Germany is the biggest economy, so it has led on economic sanctions. And Poland's value-added is its experience of a successful transition. So this is where we see our strengths.
We will also contribute to a humanitarian effort. I also think that we should draw a larger lesson from the Arab Spring, and I have proposed something that we hope to launch during the Polish presidency, which is to say, a European endowment for democracy based on the American model that served us so well when we were fighting communism.
RFE/RL: What will that look like? Will that be modeled on comparable American democracy promotion institutions?
Sikorski: Indeed, that's the idea. I've proposed it as a convention that countries can join and to which the European Commission can contribute funds. So irrespective of our wheelings and dealings with nation states, this would the expression of our collective prejudice in favor of democracy in our neighborhood.
RFE/RL: In that context, what about the EU Eastern Partnership program in which Poland has played such an important role in the past. So far it doesn't really seem to have delivered on its potential. "The Economist" recently wrote that "the miasma of failure" is hanging over it -- particularly with reference to Belarus, where Lukashenka seems to be firmly in the saddle. What can Poland do as EU president to give the Eastern Partnership new life?
Sikorski: The Eastern Partnership is about practical measures that can bring countries closer to the EU. When countries don't want to get closer to the EU, like Belarus, clearly it doesn't work. But it's about mobility. So, for example, helping countries to meet the criteria for, first, visa facilitation and then visa-free regimes.
Also we're conducting intense negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova on establishing deep and comprehensive free-trade zones which would integrate those countries economically with the EU. And it's also about things like helping them deal with corruption or with better use of energy or trans-border programs -- very practical things that are not spectacular. And Poland wants to make it a priority of our presidency. In September, we'll be holding the second summit of the EU at which the European Commission will present an action plan for the next few years backed up by increased funding which will now exceed 1 billion euros for that particular program, which is real money, I think.
RFE/RL: And, to follow up, what is Poland's policy on Ukrainian and Moldovan accession to the EU? Is that something that the Polish presidency will be pushing forward?
Sikorski: We hope to sign the accession treaty of Croatia because the job in the Balkans is not done yet. And as regards further enlargement, I think there needs to be a lot of homework done on behalf of those countries, so that when the mood in Europe changes in favor of enlargement they will be readier than they are today.
RFE/RL: Right now that mood is not necessarily in favor?
Sikorski: Right now the key priority of the Polish presidency is to restart growth in Europe, and we intend to do it by completing the single market in the services area and in internet trade, which we estimate can add four percent to Europe's GDP this decade. That hopefully would lift the mood and make us more generous towards our neighbors.
RFE/RL: And speaking of economics, how will the Polish presidency attempt to affect the agenda on the European financial crisis? And, in particular, will Poland be pushing for restructuring of Greek debt? Or is the view that EU governments should just go on financing Greece indefinitely?
Sikorski: Well, Poland is in a somewhat awkward position on this, since, on the one hand, we did not suffer a recession at all, and we are growing very healthily right now at about 4 percent. On the other hand, we are not in the Euro Group. But what we are somewhat satisfied about is that the Euro Group is now adopting the kinds of measures that have served us well in the crisis. Namely we have a constitutional ceiling on indebtedness. If you reach 55 percent of GDP, the following year's budget has to be balanced. In fact, we were close to that ceiling and that prompted us to cut spending. So I think other countries would be wise to adopt that.
RFE/RL: And what about Greece?
Sikorski: I'm not the finance minister, and it's the Ecofin, the Financial Council of the EU, that will deal with it. But, as you know, there's a lively debate within Europe about whether the restructuring should not have been tried right away.
RFE/RL: What about EU policy toward Russia? What will the Polish presidency do on this score, and will there be a particular emphasis on furthering human rights and democracy in Russia, since you mentioned that this will be a priority in policy towards other parts of Eastern Europe?
Sikorski: I considered launching talks on a new strategy towards Russia, and then I looked at the existing strategy from a few years back and I found that it was actually a very good document, with all the things that you would find desirable like rule of law and human rights very prominently there. The problem is not strategy, the problem is enforcement; and here I think we need to be sober and to keep to the legal document that we have -- namely, a unanimously agreed mandate for the European Commission to negotiate a partnership and cooperation agreement with Russia. There have been over a dozen rounds of negotiations, and that will be a legally binding document for the relationship.
Now I also think we should be helpful to Russia where they ask for things that benefit both their citizens and the EU. For example, we held useful talks with [Russian Foreign] Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, my German colleagues and myself, just last month in Kaliningrad, and Poland has been the lead on trying to establish a so-called local border traffic agreement, so that inhabitants of the Kaliningrad exclave could travel to parts of the EU without visas. We think that Europeanizing Russia is in Europe's interests as well, and those kinds of initiatives will have Poland's support during its presidency.
RFE/RL: A question about European energy security. What will the Polish presidency do to further that cause, and in particular, Poland has discovered that it commands enormous reserves of shale gas. Is that an issue that could figure in Poland's policy towards European energy security?
Sikorski: This is a very complex issue, because on the one hand we had the gas crisis between Ukraine and Russia, but also interruption of supplies from Libya, but also the nuclear accident in Japan; and it's all happening in the context of a very ambitious program to limit CO2 emissions in Europe, which is particularly hard on Poland because God gave Poland coal, and 96 percent of our electricity is generated from coal. So we have plans to build nuclear power stations just as our neighbor Germany is closing them down.
But you're quite right. Shale gas seems to be a key element of reducing CO2 emissions because we would be converting from coal-fired stations and increasing Europe's own fuel and energy security. What's encouraging is that shale appears to be present in many places. For example, France has the second-largest deposits in Europe, but also Germany, Britain, China, Libya. It's a part of the earth's' crust which crops up in many places, I'm sure all over Russia as well. The question is how economically it can be reached.
RFE/RL: Are there particular initiatives Poland will be pursuing to promote European energy security?
Sikorski: Yes. Implementing the Third Energy Package, which is to do with liberalizing intra-European trade in energy, building interconnections between gas systems -- because it's really about gas. Oil is a fungible good. It's to do with making our market more competitive and putting into practice the principle of solidarity, and making it physically possible to help one another in a crisis.
RFE/RL: Is there another priority of the Polish presidency that we haven't talked about?
Sikorski: Let me also say that I think that the visit by [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama in the last few days in Poland reassures us that Poland's priority in strengthening Europe's security and defense policy is in line with what the United States would like Europe to do. The U.S. needs a Europe that is more capable militarily so that it can be more effective partner for the U.S. We were very pleased to host President Obama here. He was co-host of a summit of presidents from Central Europe broadly understood, because it included the president of Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and all the countries in between. So we are very happy that the U.S. chose Warsaw to hold this summit with the entire region.
RFE/RL: And yet as we know the European countries are spending much less on defense than Washington would probably like, and that figure looks unlikely to increase given the economic conditions. Is there anything that Poland as EU president can do in this respect?
Sikorski: We could propose something but there is no consensus on it. Poland for itself -- we have a sort of super-law that guarantees the defense minister 1.95 percent of GDP, which this year is $11 billion, which makes us the eighteenth largest spender on defense in the world. So we feel we are making a worthwhile contribution.