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EU Eastern Policy – Polish Perspective

/ Ed. 16. 11. 2015

Public lecture of Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Poland, organized by the Association for International Affairs

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Young Friends!

Thank you for the warm words of welcome. Let me express how glad I am to have the privilege to address such a distinguished audience.

I’d like to share with you today Polish thoughts and ideas on the future of Europe, and particularly on relations of the enlarged European Union with its future Eastern neighbours. Almost everyone knows and feels that now it is an extremely important moment in the history of Poland, Czech Republic, other acceding countries and of course of the European Union. We have successfully completed our accession negotiations. As a result in April, during the EU summit in Athens, we will sign the Accession Treaty. We are in the middle of an intensive internal debate on the European integration that will lead us to a referendum, which in Poland will be held in June. The result of the referendum will determine Poland’s place in the united Europe. On the other hand the candidate countries are contributing to the debate on the future of EU held now within the Convention, which will be concluded by the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference. There is every indication that 2004 will mark a watershed in the Polish history. After years of divisions, the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, Central European countries will return once and for all to where our geographical, historical and cultural, though not always political, place has been. “Our new Europe has been born“ – said the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen when announcing the results of the Copenhagen summit. In my opinion he’s right. Although tired of long anticipation and tough negotiations, we are at the same time delighted to be a part of this project – the most ambitious in the history of Europe – that will unify 25 with population of about 450 million.

We are not acceding to the EU in order to turn our back on our Eastern partners, though some may think we do. Just the opposite – we will make every possible effort to prevent creating any new divisions between “our new Europe born” in Copenhagen and the rest of the continent. Poland should like to contribute to strengthening of the New Neighbours Policy of the enlarged EU. The EU needs a clear vision of relations with its neighbours, particularly at its Eastern borders. Our partners in the Union can certainly expect from us an open attitude and full co-operation. Poland has recently presented its concept of the future Eastern policy of the European Union, thus proving that immediate interests are not our sole concern. We care about the countries east of Poland, about their prospects as far as the political, economic and social development are concerned, because this will affect the entire Europe, its sense of unity and security. Poland would like the EU enlargement to give a new impetus to the development in the whole region. Therefore we endorse the concept of the Eastern Dimension of the Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear students,
Some of you may already have heard about Polish proposals on the future EU policy towards Eastern European countries, which have been presented in January to all EU and candidate countries as well as Eastern European states. Yesterday we discussed them at an international conference in Warsaw. Let me present the main ideas and our line of thought behind them.

1. We are convinced that the European Union should create a new framework in its policy: the Eastern Dimension. This is not a new concept. The Eastern Dimension could constitute a coherent, comprehensive framework of the EU’s Eastern policy that will facilitate co-ordination of policies of the enlarged EU and its member states towards the EU Eastern neighbours, as well as of the projects. It should also allow for co-ordination and synergy of activities of the EU and other regional as well as international structures and organisations, particularly the assistance projects. The Central European Initiative, in which Poland holds presidency this year, could also contribute to the Eastern Dimension of the EU. The Eastern Dimension umbrella would enable a more effective use of the assistance for the Eastern European states and facilitate a greater involvement of international financial institutions and private capital in assistance projects.

2. Poland agrees with many of the EU countries that the relations of the Union with its future Eastern neighbours should be differentiated. Their development should depend on the progress of the countries concerned in their reforms as well as on the degree of convergence of their values and foreign policies with these of the EU. On the other hand it should be relevant to their aspirations concerning their relations with the EU. Poland has always supported and welcomed the European orientation in the policy of our neighbours. We want to be a good advocate of their integration with Europe. The Polish approach is more open than that of several EU member states. We advocate the view that Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, if the latter’s authorities introduce democratic reforms, should have an option to join the EU some time in future if they wish so and if they are able to meet the membership criteria. Without such a prospect they will lack perhaps the strongest possible incentive to pursue further difficult reforms. They are all European countries and therefore should have an open option to decide on their future place in Europe. We argue in favour of making up a road map for Ukraine and Moldova, setting immediate steps in their approximation with the European Union. Ukraine has already announced its interest in becoming a member of the EU and Moldova is following the suit, with its government now working on the programme of integration with the EU. We believe that Ukraine’s declaration stating that its long–term objective is to become a member of the European Union deserves to be appreciated by Brussels, though if this objective is to be achieved the aforementioned declaration must be underpinned by actions, i.e. further reforms. Nevertheless, this effort should meet a helping hand on the part of the EU. Poland will lend its support to Ukraine’s endeavours to conclude the association agreement. As far as EU relations with Russia are concerned, Poland shares the opinion that there is a need to strengthen the strategic partnership based on the European values and the common political and economic interests. Europe and the Transatlantic community has appreciated the reforms introduced in Russia and its openness to co-operation with the West, which pave the way for real abolition of divisions in Europe. Poland has welcomed this step change in Russian policy toward Europe and wishes to contribute to shaping EU partnership with Russia. Hopefully the preparation of the new EU Common Strategy for Russia will offer us the first real opportunity to do so. In EU relations with Russia there is undoubtedly a need to make a better use of the developed, existing framework for co-operation to achieve concrete results. In case of all EU Eastern neighbours we find it necessary to underpin high level political contacts with practical co-operation on the working level, including respectively the state administration, regional and local governments. I can hardly imagine a genuinely new Europe without division lines if such working co-operation does not exist or is inefficient.

3. In our opinion the priorities of EU relations with new Eastern neighbours should reflect their importance for the enlarged Union, for its security, stability at its borders and its economic interests. They should address the outstanding problems. We are ready for co-operation with our partners from Visegrad Group, including the Czech Republic, to discuss and define common position on general direction of EU relations with the new Eastern neighbours as well as to carry out joint projects. However, I would like to emphasise that the EU Eastern Dimension should become a common of the entire EU, not only of the interested Central European member states. The EU relations with its Eastern neighbours should in the mid term evolve into an European space of political and economic co-operation, which should comprise the following elements:

  • Enhanced political dialogue of the EU with the countries of Eastern Europe should be comprehensive and focus on human and minority rights, democratic reforms, resolution of regional tensions and conflicts in accordance with international standards, fighting terrorism and trans-national crime, non proliferation as well as global problems. There is certainly a ground for co-operation within the area of Common Foreign & Security Policy, including dialogue within the European Security and Defence Policy and possible contribution of these states to the EU missions. Prospect of closer co-operation with the EU should serve as an incentive for finding a political solution to the outstanding conflicts.
  • Development of economic co-operation should in the medium and long term be mutually beneficial for the EU and the Eastern European countries. Trade and investment may be the most important factors for development. The first step seems to be the recognition of these countries as market economies – hopefully the EU will finally take such a decision regarding Ukraine in March. The Eastern European countries need assistance in improving competitiveness of their economies, as well as in preparing for WTO membership which should happen on general terms. After the accession of the Eastern European countries to the WTO, the EU should establish with them free trade, which will facilitate a gradual harmonisation of business law in Eastern European states with the acquis communautaire. Moldova, which already is a member of WTO, could be the first to conclude an agreement of this kind. I’m sure that free trade agreements could be a good starting point or further economic integration of the countries concerned with the single market.
  • The energy co-operation with Russia and Ukraine aiming at securing stable and reliable energy supply to the enlarged EU will without any doubt remain high on the list of priorities. The economic co-operation should also focus on joint infrastructure projects in the energy sector, transport and communications.
  • In the Poland’s opinion the co-operation in the area of justice and home affairs should be further expanded to tackle common problems, particularly organised crime, including drug production, smuggling and dealing, money laundering, human trafficking and sex slavery, illegal immigration as well as all forms of terrorist activities. It’s particularly important for the Visegrad Group countries, including Czech Republic, that are the first that have to do with the organised crime from Eastern Europe. Poland considers that it’s in the interest of the EU to provide assistance for its Eastern neighbours for example in establishment of effective border controls with third countries. In the near future we should find a viable solution, in conformity with the Schengen acquis, to allow for local border traffic. Readmission agreements should be concluded with Eastern European states. In the future, if certain conditions are met by the neighbouring states, i.e. they establish efficient external border controls, have travel documents meeting international standards and there is a low risk of illegal immigration, some flexibility in the visa regime might be considered.
  • The EU has recognised the importance of co-operation in solving specific security problems, like the destruction of old weapons. It should be extended to cover prevention and crisis management in case of natural or man-made disasters.
  • We are aware that people-to-people and cultural contacts as well as free access to information are of crucial importance for rapprochement of the Eastern European countries with the EU, its values as well as political and economic system. The EU could provide better conditions enhancing these contacts, co-operation between universities and schools, co-operation of regional and local authorities as well as of non-governmental organisations. Perhaps the greatest need for such contacts is in Belarus – its society should not be left convinced that Europe is indifferent to them, that it does not care.
  • Poland is determined to abolish obstacles in border crossing on our Eastern borders – to make the procedures less time-consuming and more comfortable. However we can only succeed if our Eastern neighbours join us in this effort. It should become the objective of the whole, enlarged EU. It should be certainly accompanied by an effective functioning of borders in conformity with the Schengen Agreement.

4. I’d like to emphasise that Poland shares the position of the EU partners that development of co-operation with Eastern European states should be gradual. It should depend on progress in democratic reforms, respect of human and minority rights and values that the Union is based on, and respect of standards recognised by the international community in international relations. Such factors as building democratic institutions and market economy, improving governance as well as fighting corruption should matter as well. And what is vitally important from the Polish perspective, the conditionality principle should be applied evenly to relations with all Eastern European neighbours, neither discriminating nor favouring any of them.

5. In order to increase the momentum of co-operation of the enlarged EU with its new Eastern European neighbours, a mid-term Action Plan for the Eastern Dimension and Action Plans for co-operation with individual countries could be adopted. Setting a road-map and specifying benefits resulting from reforms and development of co-operation with the EU would motivate the countries concerned to further reforms. In our opinion the Action Plans should be agreed upon in close co-operation with the countries concerned if they are to be realistic and should be accompanied by their national action plans for co-operation or integration with the EU.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Students,
Closeness and neighbourhood impose upon us, new EU member states, particular obligation to build friendly and partner-like ties with Eastern European countries. EU policy towards its new Eastern neighbours should be supported by relevant assistance programmes. The volume of assistance should be at least maintained on the present level, though if possible, and Poland supports this idea, it should be increased. Assistance in transformations in the countries concerned should be enhanced and reformed. In my view the obvious objectives of the assistance are the advancement of democratic reforms and development of the civic society. A substantial effort should be made to assist these countries in coping with problems of insufficient, outdated legal framework, ineffective institutions, administration that doesn’t have adequate capacity, inefficient judiciary and law enforcement institutions and last, but not least – the problem of corruption. Economic stability, sustainable development and economic reforms, particularly improving legal and administrative environment for enterprises as well as supporting development of small and medium sized businesses should be another priority for the EU assistance. Countries in transition need support for modernisation of their social policy, to counteract social exclusion and negative perception of the reforms in the respective societies. Eastern European countries should have access to know-how and financial assistance to improve and modernise their management of environment. Having indicated these comprehensive objectives, I am far from expecting the EU to do all the job for the Eastern European states – we should rather concentrate on helping them to help themselves, providing them with ideas, know-how, skills and financial assistance for investments in priority areas.

Poland suggests the EU considers the following proposals:

  • Better co-ordination and synergy of the INTERREG and TACIS CBC assistance programmes is necessary if they really are to serve transborder co-operation.
  • Establishment of a European Democracy Fund, or of a European Freedom Fund, which would have as its objective promoting democratic values in countries of Eastern Europe and transfer of know-how necessary in the transformation process. Another solution could be the European Peace Corps that would capitalise on the positive experience and success of its American prototype. Such new instruments would make the assistance more accessible for non governmental organisations, which find the present arrangements within the TACIS programmes too lengthy and bureaucratic.
  • The EU and other donors should concentrate their assistance on development of human capital – through scholarship scheme, internships, study visits, seminars and workshops, supporting European programmes and chairs at the universities in Eastern European states and joint projects. Institutions like yours, that is prestigious universities, could play a great role in the assistance projects. I’d like to use this opportunity to ask the authorities of the University to support this idea. Poland suggests the EU should launch a special scholarship programme for students from Eastern European countries (European Scholarship Programme) and an internship programme for university graduates and young professionals as well as for those with some experience (European Internship Programme). Another option could be granting scholarships for students taking up distant learning courses at universities in the EU countries, combined with short stays at these universities. Other ways of assistance may include: supporting European chairs or European programmes at Eastern European universities, as well as of joint projects carried out together with EU universities. I should like to support my appeal to the EU to step up this kind of assistance by information that the Polish government is going to offer about 200 scholarships for students from Eastern European states, which will be available from the next academic year.
  • Assistance programmes in institution building could be facilitated by study visits, twinning projects and advice on specific reforms, internships in relevant institutions of the EU member states. There is also a need for assistance in the form of co-financing of training and seminars or conferences on common problems allowing exchange of experience and sharing know-how, including joint cross-border training projects.
  • Countries in transition need strong support for developing local government structures, their capacity to perform the tasks they must accomplish in the process of decentralisation, management of social services and financing local investments. Therefore a technical assistance in the form of know-how shared by partner local governments in EU countries, particularly new member states, will certainly be appreciated.
  • To meet the immense need of information on the EU, its member states, democratic world etc, the EU should consider assistance in the establishment of the European Information Centres in the Eastern European states. These centres could offer broadband, quick access to Internet and perhaps information materials in a multimedia form. Let’s take Poland as an example – Institute of High Technologies in Warsaw in co-operation with UNDP and a Japanese donor is now implementing such a project in Ukraine.
  • Small and medium sized enterprises are a major driving force of economic development and further reforms in Eastern European states. Therefore, they should get more significant assistance – either through training courses, business incubators or through establishment of European Investment Fund for Eastern Europe. The latter would not only facilitate access to start up capital, but first of all provide advice, information and assistance in preparing a business plan and in initial stages of activity of the company. Projects supporting the development of small business organisations as well as vocational associations should also prove to be useful
  • The EU assistance programmes should make use of the experience of the future new member states and their know-how, which would also meet expectations of the Eastern European states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, while preparing to join the EU, we are facing new challenges, but we also have to be aware that there are fears and doubts on the other side of the enlarged European Union’s eastern borders.
There is certainly a need for a more active promotion of the European Union, its forthcoming enlargement and of opportunities as well as benefits that can be derived from closer co-operation with the EU. Poland looks forward to co-operation with the EU, its present and new member states, in promoting the idea and knowledge of European integration in the future Eastern neighbouring states and in providing all possible assistance to these countries, so as to enable them to get ready for capitalising on the opportunities the EU enlargement will bring. We look forward to the proposals that will be produced by the European Commission and the High Representative for CFSP, standing by to provide assistance and advice if the European Commission and High Representative are interested. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now preparing more concrete, country-specific proposals and this is made in close co-operation with Polish non- governmental organisations involved in assistance projects in Eastern Europe. In the Polish concept of EU Eastern Policy NGOs play an important role, constituting its third pillar alongside the EU activities as well as policies of Union’s member states. We are also doing our homework to establish what kind of assistance Poland can offer to Eastern European states. Until now the focus has been on Ukraine and our co-operation has been carried out mainly within the framework of the Permanent Polish-Ukrainian Conference on European Integration; nevertheless Poland would like to pay more attention to Belarus and also to Moldova, not allowing them to feel left behind. Last year we have presented our offer to the Kaliningrad Region. I think that The Visegrad Group co-operation could become a good forum for co-operation in shaping EU Eastern Policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Students,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to present to you the highlights of Poland’s vision on the future of the EU eastern policy. Thank you for your attention.

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Evropská unie 1832
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