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European Unity cannot be a decoration - Sławomir Dębski interviews Minister Konrad Szymański

SD: A year and a half ago, in an article published in Polski Przegląd Dyplomatyczny [Polish Diplomatic Review] you stated that we need to change the way in which we approach the question of the future of the European Union. You argued that we need to focus on issues that bind Europeans together, in order to boost our spirit of unity. Almost two years later, what is your assessment of Europe’s cohesion?

KS: The unity of Europe is important not just to make it look pretty in another commemoration photo but for practical and political reasons. Division within the Union along any line proves Europe has become weaker. There are very serious challenges ahead of us related to increasing the sense of security, maintaining Europes position in global trade, and defending its socio-economic model. The EU will not be able to face any of these challenges if it decides to reinforce the differences. Initiating divisions is wrong and constitutes harmful policy. One can sometimes hear that deepening the diversity of European integration is a problem faced by Poland and other Central European states and that it does not concern the rest of Europe but the weakening of Europe because of EU divisions will affect everybody.

Is Polands position and status within the European Union not of concern then?

No, it is not. We are not concerned about our position. It is we who decide where we want to be. Our status increasingly will derive from the economic potential of Central Europe. In the last quarter century, this region has been the fastest-developing part of the continent and it is already a more important economic partner for Germany than France. And this potential will continue to grow. Therefore, Poland and other states of the region will actively participate in the debate on the future of Europe. We will take part in the creation of new integration architecture, provided it is conducive to building unity. We have, contrary to many other states, complete freedom in this. At its own right moment, Poland will make decisions as to the scope and pace of its participation in the new forms of integration. The question of unity will constitute a criterion for evaluating the ideas of what the future of Europe should look like. The emphasis on this aspect of integration stems from our care for Europe and the Union as a whole. If the Union ceases to meet the expectations of all European societies, it will no longer be perceived as an important European policy instrument. If the Union wants to maintain its political importance and does not wish to become politically out of date, it must respond to contemporary challenges, and it can do so only if it maintains unity and the ability to bring about reform.

We are talking about European unity at a crucial historical  juncture, namely that one European society with some of the greatest contributions to the history of Europe has decided it is time to leave the European Union. The British decided their country will be better off outside the Union rather than in it. This will surely entail serious political consequences. What are the consequences of this event for Poland? Is European integration losing momentum, and is the Union, instead of seeking to further enhance its clout, shrinking?

The consequences are numerous. First, the effects of Brexit are quite bad for the Union itself, since without the UK, the risk of making wrong decisions will be greater than with the UK. It was an essential element of the Unions strategic and regulatory balance. That must somehow be replaced and I believe that the question is a lively one in capital cities such as The Hague or Warsaw, since it not only a question of narrowly understood interests. We are talking about balance in the process of integration and in the debate on relations between the EU institutions. After the UK has left the EU, all these issues will be left up in the air.

Can the cooperation of states that launched the Three Seas Initiative compensate--at least in part--for the loss of the UK?

These states are surely far more attached to the value of the common market than certain Western European countries. Stronger cooperation among them definitely strengthens this attitude, so it will be restoring the necessary balance. Nevertheless, the deficit that will appear after Brexit will be noticeable in many other areas. TSI is focused on eliminating development inequalities between the eastern and western part of the European Union. This instrument may also be effective in eradicating protectionist concepts and regulations that limit economic freedom, but it no longer can be used to fill the gap in European security after Brexit. In this respect, we have to seek the balance elsewhere. On the one hand, Poland is urging the Union to create security and foreign policy cooperation mechanisms that can compensate for the absence of Britain in the Union. And nothing in this matter will absolve European leaders from this responsibility. It is worth remembering that out of the two permanent seats on the UN Security Council that EU Member States had at their disposal, only one will be left—France’s. We need to answer the question of how to fill this gap.

So, how can we fill that gap?

Neither routine solutions, nor temporary ones in relation to other states, including those outside the EU, can be adopted. Poland will, in the best interest of all Europe, urge the UK to have its own significant place in the European security architecture. If Londons voice is to be heard, Europe should have more opportunities in the area of security. But this cannot be done without the UK. It is an unfortunate coincidence that Britain will no longer be an EU Member State, but this does not justify idleness and lack of creativity in this matter. Europeans need the UK to feel more secure.

You are talking about the role of European leaders in restoring the vitality of the European Union after the UK has departed, but what about Poland’s role?

Of course, Poland will also compensate for Brexit using its own measures. It is no coincidence that Polish-British intergovernmental cooperation has been significantly extended. Poland is one of the few countries to hold regular intergovernmental consultations with the UK. We are about to ratify a bilateral treaty on defence and security, which is our way of balancing Brexit. We cooperate in NATO, which will gain importance after the UK has left the EU. Poland, together with the entire European Union, must devise methods of compensating for the losses we have been suffering. We cannot adopt a passive attitude and we certainly should not share the sometimes difficult-to-hide satisfaction that the British experiment of Union membership has finally been completed. This constitutes total irresponsibility and thinking in terms of particular interests instead of a focus on a united Europe.

Can any politician reasonably hope that the UK will one day rejoin the EU?

It is difficult to imagine. The Union has been addressing its own problems and Brexit is no accident. The EU has ceased to be an attractive place to countries with high GDP per capita. It is still attractive to countries seeking to bridge their development gap because integration can significantly increase their prosperity and their global position. Such countries still perceive the EU as an attractive instrument. That conviction is absent in the UK and in Norway. In short, the countries that feel strong have doubts today, and this constitutes the Unions existential problem. Scepticism is visible in nearly all EU founding states.

 

Meanwhile, support for European integration in Poland is at a record high. Does this mean we feel weak?

We still have problems understanding we joined the EU not to sit idle at the table but to strengthen both our own potential and that of all of Europe. Our participation in European integration serves both objectives well. It could serve them even better but there has been unprecedented hesitation, mainly by the founding states. Negative assessments of the EU has been the highest in its western Member States and lowest in the eastern ones. Of course, the Union is doing much better than it appears from the outside. The single market, together with its regulatory area, produces excellent results. We have the common commercial policy, Schengen, and the external dimension of migration policy, where the Union proves it is able to do something good and effective at the same time, so it is not disintegrating. But we do have an unprecedented state of public hesitation. We need to put an end to this as soon as possible, because if we get used to it, the Union might not fall apart but will lose its importance in the eyes of the states participating in integration. And this would be only the beginning of the way to disintegration.

You said  that the Union has ceased to be attractive to strong states. Indeed, the Unions two most influential Member States, Germany and France, aspire to determine the future of the whole continent. One could claim that in this way they want to make the Union more attractive to themselves. Is this a good direction? Is th the French-German tandem  capable of coming up with solutions that will benefit all of Europe?

The EU’s future is good if each Member State maintains a sense of responsibility for the European project in some proportion to their scale or power. There are states with different potential within the bloc. Nobody should neglect this fact. It is important. Nevertheless, we sometimes notice sheer paternalism in discussions about the French-German responsibility for the European Union. This is manifested by the belief that every German and French compromise is good for everybody. I am not convinced. If Member States were asked about their stance on the French-German concepts, I doubt the majority would express passionate enthusiasm. If such risky thinking that a new idea of Europe can be produced entirely in Paris and Berlin dominates, we have a serious problem. The lack of co-responsibility—the sense of shared ownership of this project—constitutes one of the Unions problems today. This sense is not created by saying states have the privilege of accepting the Berlin-Paris solutions. This is absolutely ahistoric and entirely inconsistent with the expectations and aspirations of European societies, even, I think, the proportional aspirations of all Member States, including the smallest ones.

And what is our response? What are our aspirations?

Each EU Member States vote on the future of Europe must be treated with respect and consider the discussions on this issue. A loss of a sense of shared ownership and, as a result, co-responsibility, along with indifference to the future of Europe, also constitute alternatives here. This is not only about anti-European attitudes. Indifference is enough for the Union to collapse. Germany and France have an important role to play, but they must consider that the Union belongs to all its members, otherwise more states will leave. Brexit was a very important event for the outside world, more important than the numerous European successes celebrated within the EU. These successes have been eclipsed by the unprecedented event of a country leaving the Union, not irrationally.

The debate on the future of the Union has been dominated by the view that deepening integration, creating new institutions, and integration of a smaller group can be a viable solution to present day problems. Is Brexit not a signal that the current institutional architecture of the EU has been rejected? President Macron said not so long ago that if there was a referendum in France, it would end in the same way as the one in the UK.

Everything seems to indicate that there would not be enough Frenchmen keen on leaving their houses to give a vote in favour of membership.

So, would the French vote as the British had voted and reject the EU?

I share the opinion of President Macron, who probably knows more about the French than I do, that it would be difficult to gain sufficient support to continue Frances membership in the EU. That in France referendums related to Europe are lost is nothing new. This also does not come from nowhere. Talk about the degeneration of democracy, that again it is the bad populists who have spoilt something, does not explain anything. It is simply of great importance in democracy that loads of people are, even unjustifiably, led to draw such political conclusions.

If we opened a debate about the new architecture of the EU now, what in your opinion should be the starting point?

When the Union was being created, German-French reconciliation after two world wars was of utmost importance. That was an event of existential importance to Europe. However, the same cannot be said today or forever. It is an ahistorical way of thinking, detached from the European reality and may have disastrous consequences for states that have been part of the Union for a long time and want to feel good in it without the need to recognise the special status of the relation between those two states. Nevertheless, we also need to be aware that harmonious German-French cooperation is to some extent a marketing gimmick—it does not matter whether this is truth, all that matters is whether it sounds good. Tensions between the North and the South, whose plenipotentiaries are Germany and France, are indeed considerable. A new government has just been formed in Berlin, and we will see whether the ambitious expectations, firmly rooted in the European rhetoric of Paris, will be embodied by real action. I cannot exclude that the compromise will be the implementation of French-German concepts that will lead to the creation of something in French packaging but with German content. This may include symbolic matters, such as appointing a European Minister of Finance, which is a relatively simple operation, but in reality not a minister and for sure not a kind of minister expected by Paris. Just like appointing the High Representative is not tantamount to appointing a Minister of Foreign Affairs of Europe. This is a person who plays a very similar role, but certainly is not the head of Europes diplomacy.

Let me clarify: Are we afraid of this French-German tandem, or do we just think that this is not a good solution for Europe?

We are afraid of it since it is not good for Europe. This is not a matter of excluding Poland or our region. This is not a matter of our status in Europe. This is a very risky path for the Union. A good agreement between Berlin and Paris is, of course, important, and in many cases, necessary, but limiting European policy to this agreement is totally out of touch with reality. A good agreement means a sense of comfort that should be present in every Member State, or at least the vast majority of them. This is because they will not withstand being supporters.

The Article 7 proceedings triggered against Poland by the European Commission are certainly of great importance as we look for our place in the European Union.

I would prefer this unfortunate incident not play an essential role in matters as important as the future of the Union. This, of course, cannot be completely ignored since it also shows how easy it is to embark on a path from which it will be difficult to find a way back. Let us recognise that both parties have their own reasons to act the way they do. Politics is there to act in a prudent manner, considering the consequences. And here, I think, such prudent politics has been lacking. The clear expectation of Poland that the Union would treat the reforms of the Polish justice system—which is not an area subject to European integration—with greater care, has been disregarded. Instead, opinions and recommendations were presented, often in a know-it-all tone, in such a way as if the European Union had only been dealing with European courts. There was no prudence and now we have, I think, a common problem.

It seems that there are different interpretations of the idea of the rule of law, so is this the core of the problem?

The rule of law is absolutely crucial to both the Polish constitution and European treaties. That is obvious. We do not question this principle. However, the European Commission should be satisfied with the fact that Member States are in agreement as to the critical importance of this principle to the civilisational order in Europe and the form of government of the European Union, but the way in which they give voice to it in their own constitutional order and in laws made by the parliaments of the Member States have not been unified yet. This should be enough for the European Commission to not become overactive in this matter. In Poland, nobody intends to undermine the rule of law. Particular elements of the reform, however assessed, certainly concern the exclusive rights of the EU Member States. If we adopted an absurdly extended interpretation that on the basis of the significance of the rule of law itself such wide-ranging consequences can be taken, like the Commission did in relation to Poland given the general wording of Article 2 TEU, which concerns a very wide catalogue of values, it would be possible to find competences for the European Union in any field with the same ease. There would be no areas left where Member States would be allowed to regulate freely and independently without the necessity to implement the recommendations specially issued by the European Commission or to receive its avuncular consent to whatever activity. Such interpretation of Article 2 in correlation with Article 7 would have absurd consequences. And it would be better to avoid those.

What is our strategy in this case?

Our political strategy is primarily to settle down, as this case entails disproportionate, harmful side effects, until we start thinking about ourselves in terms of this single case. It would be good if we could lock it up in a certain set of affairs between Poland and the Union, which are numerous and different. Many of them have been successfully completed or we appear in them jointly, with similar objectives. There is no reason to boil down the relations between Poland and the Union to this unfortunate matter.

One can often hear an opinion that the settlement of the dispute between the European Commission and Poland over the rule of law may be of great importance to the future of European integration. It is said that for Europe this is even a systemic dispute. Do you agree with such an approach?

I think this cannot be excluded. If it turns out this issue cannot be sorted out and that an interpretation of Article 2 in conjunction with Article 7, common to all bodies of the Union and Member States, cannot be unambiguously determined, the Commission may confirm its conviction that it indeed has the right to make an independent interpretation of Article 2. That would be a systemic change in the European Union from an incidental disagreement between Poland and the European Commission—an accidental dispute. The question is what are Member States going to do about it, because if that is the case, the Commission would have not only the possibility but also the responsibility for making an extended interpretation of Article 2 in specific political circumstances. The moment might come when somebody will want the Commission to deal with reforms implemented by other Member States in areas not subject to European integration. I do not know if the Commission will be delighted if anybody, pointing to the example of Poland, says that since you dealt with this case then you should also act over here, since these issues are similar to each other given the general catalogue of values under Article 2. It may turn out that such disputes involving Member States increase.

Member States are the ownersof the treaty, and the Commission is merely their “guardian.” What are the results of the talks you conducted with your European partners? Are the Commissions aspirations of playing a an even more prominent role in the European institutional architecture met with acceptance?

I think there is increasing awareness of this issue in the capitals of Member States. At the beginning, as in many other cases, the governments felt comfortable saying let the Commission deal with that.But it has turned out that this dealingby the Commission has become a situation in which the governments of the EU Member States must have their say, and this alters the situation a lot. It results in accelerated political reflection in capitals. They ask, what does this mean for us in regard to the system? In the General Affairs Council, will we address the issues of justice, the health service, or system of education forever? Or is this only a one-off, just the Polish case? Since if this is indeed going to be a systemic change, then we might deal with such issues indefinitely. What is happening in Slovakia? How are the reforms in Greece going in terms of respect for human dignity and equality, the values listed in the same Article 2? And how will Article 2 apply to the territorial system of Spain? Because all the issues could be easily presented as correlated to the basic issues, such as the dignity and equality of citizens, minority rights, availability of courts, the rule of law. All of them can be interpreted this way. There is an abundance of such cases in the constitutional courts of Member States, where citizens or other stakeholders, rightly or wrongly, try to show their constitutional rights have been infringed by one or another decision of parliament. Should the EU indeed start dealing with all these cases now? I am not convinced whether this organisation would be able to cope with that, even at the best of times.

The debate on the future of Europe very often overlaps with another one, namely, how the Union will finance itself in the future and what it is going to finance. What is our, Polish, position on financial flows, structural funds, subject to additional criteria against the treaty?

Money always constitutes one of the key measures or criteria of the real political hierarchy. Without money, only symbolic actions—which can be important, and in many political fields they indeed are hugely important—take place. Let us ask a question: what does the Union really want to deal with today? Poland, like other Central European states, has had a really good integration experience, showing that money invested in Poland, whether agricultural policy, cohesion policy or structural funds, constitute public money that is very well spent. These means have brought about socio-economic convergence, essential for maintaining the single market. This is added value for the whole of Europe.

And yet we often hear that Central European states benefit most from European integration and then are ungrateful towards the donors.

This is an obvious misunderstanding. There is no donor-beneficiary relation in the EU. We talk about common European policies implementing common, agreed objectives. We do not want Poland to be the only state that develops dynamically. Of course, we are happy about that, but this is of utmost importance from the point of view of single market cohesion and that of the entire EU. Nowadays, if there is anybody in Paris who complains about being under too much pressure from a Polish plumber or driver, that person should remember that if not for the convergence supported by the Unions common policies, this pressure would be much higher. What we did in the labour market between the years 2004 and 2018 has resulted in—a fact disliked in one or another capital—competition that is less fierce, since Poles have increased in wealth. This is not my favourite argument, since I am not of the opinion that the competition is too fierce, but I know that many politicians have built their political careers on that and have won elections criticising European convergence policy, and still call themselves pro-European politicians. So, I believe that recognising the necessity of the reforms of Community policies and that there are new challenges ahead for the Union, one should seek balance between the proposed new instruments and those that have brought the Union success so far. I am talking here about the policies substantiated by the treaties that have also proven successful. They brought the desired result. Poland is open to the discussion, not only about reform of these policies but also about reform on the revenue side of the EU. There is no taboo on our part here. I think that others experience much stronger emotions in this case.

Does it mean we cannot exclude a European tax?

No, it does not. It is, of course, very difficult to imagine a tax that would be effective that would constitute a proportionate fiscal burden across Europe at the same time. That is an enormous challenge. However, we are open to any talks about new measures. We are also open to talks about a common budget increase because the EU, if it is indeed to survive, must show its relevance and that it is helpful and able to act. This cannot be done without money. It’s funny that on the other side, there are often states always keen to invoke their European conscience while at the same time putting pressure on the EU to limit funding for years, and not for the first time. This is a complete contradiction.

So, does this mean Poland, soon a net contributor to the EU budget, is ready to pay more provided that the money will be spent more wisely?

Yes, it does. Provided we have reached agreement on the objectives of Community policies. It must not be the case that on a political request and due to a political situation we overturn the structure of the European budget simply because there is something we like or do not like about it. We have these more or less skilful manoeuvres to introduce political, not macroeconomic conditionality to the EU budget. And the same states that would systematically break macroeconomic conditionality now are in favour of political conditionality. Regular breaking of the rules of responsible economic management expected by the Union in subsequent principles should have financial consequences. However, it turns out that the discussion on macroeconomic conditionality is to be replaced by one on political conditionality, this time focusing on the issue of the rule of law. Who is to measure it, and according to what criteria? When it comes to macroeconomics, we measure it using objective data from Eurostat and nobody protests. It is recognised as hard macroeconomic data and Eurostat as an objective and reliable institution providing statistics. I do not know what criteria will be applied to measure the rule of law, since it is not, I think, zero-one in nature but has scale and is implemented differently in various Member States. So, first, I would like to learn what measure we are going to use and, second, I would like to know who is going to use the measure, since this would constitute a key element of the whole system. As long as we do not see it, we will not make serious comments on this matter. If these are to be discretionary criteria, that is, not defined and without reference points and a clearly defined institution responsible for them, this will mean we are creating a system in which there is a mechanism of total political freedom in the EU budget. A voluntarism that one morning someone could wake up with a vision different from the one adopted in the European Council. If we agree that the rule of law constitutes a fundamental value to all of us, then we must think about legal certainty, about the bases of legal and treaty-implementing instruments. Conditionality based on the criterion of the rule of law may be the greatest contradiction to the principle of the rule of law.

Let me get back to the question related to the argument concerning donors and beneficiaries of cohesion policy. How do you respond to such arguments?

This is a very journalistic view of the problem with the EU budget, since, first, all Member States make contributions to the budget and the sums are not modest, which is a neglected fact. Poland also pays contributions to the EU budget. Second, the EU budget does not assume an aid policy or nonrefundable loans. Conversely, it assumes co-financing the implementation of EU objectives in the Member States. Purely and simply, the objectives of the EU. This money cannot be spent on objectives that are not included, a subject of a relatively difficult compromise—what we want and do not want to promote. And we are absolutely open to the discussion about what we want and what we do not want to promote. On the other hand, a discussion based on you should be indebted to us, since our balance of payments is negative, and yours is positive,is meaningless.

For the states that joined the EU over the past fifteen years, to adjust to the Union’s conditions, their societies were required to make numerous sacrifices and  work hard to fulfil the membership criteria. Sometimes this fact is also neglected. While it should be obvious for everyone that the entire Europe benefits from the effects.

Yes, it does. In Poland, everybody takes advantage of the effective spending of  EU funds, primarily due to trade integration, ease of investment, substantial profits related to the single market, and by all players, not only Polish ones. Not to mention that the money, even indirectly, in implementing contracts very often comes back to the economies of the states-contributors. Therefore, it is absolutely ridiculous that some states or the entire system call themselves victims, since the profits related to the entire single market system, including those from European funds, even in the case of the largest contributors to the EU budget, are much higher. We are all beneficiaries in this sense.

And now we get to the fundamental issue, the eurozone. We are a future member. We base our arguments related to the future of the eurozone on precisely the fact that we are interested in it as a future member, so we need to participate in the eurozone reforms. How is our argument perceived?

I think this is a convincing argument. The possibility of taking a shortcut and building a new eurozone architecture without considering the expectations of the states that do not yet belong to the zone may preclude the possibility of its future extension. Nobody wants that. The Polish government wants to prevent such a scenario. The way the European Commission perceives the possibility of putting in place reform of the eurozone reflects to a large extent the same things we say about it. The Commission puts pressure on, among other things, institutional integrity, the inclusion of the fiscal pact into the EUs treaty architecture, and on other kinds of management of the European Stability Mechanism, to be more communal. All these observations are very accurate. The Commission has certainly been deliberating leaving the eurozone open for extension. This is also a belief that it makes no sense to create a banking union without the countries outside the eurozone interested in the union, like Poland. So, these interests go hand in hand, which goes against the typical journalistic portrayals.

Does that mean the sense of conflict is greatly exaggerated?

There is no conflict between the members and non-members of the eurozone in the Union today. The tension between the North and the South of the zone itself constitutes the greatest concern. This is not only our problem. Of course, we are interested in solving this problem because the eurozone is too important a trading partner to have even a neutral attitude to what is happening there. We would like everything to go well, even though this to a large extent does not depend on us. But we will certainly not disturb this process if the essential criteria are met—institutional integration, openness, inclusiveness, reforms—but this is how the Commission perceives it, so there is no conflict here.

In the last few months, Polish politicians have pointed to the conclusion that the eurozone after the Greek experience and the financial crisis is no longer attractive to the public, which eventually has to vote on joining the zone.

The zone has certainly ceased to be a certain haven. Before the eurozone crisis, whatever was thought about the Union, the overwhelming majority of societies was convinced that even if there was anything wrong with the Union, it still was an organisation that was able to be in control of our fate in terms of economic governance, monetary policy, and the protection of monetary value. Monetary integration was its strongest expression. People thought that since we use the same currency, its future was certainly safe. It turned out that in an obvious way it is not fully safe, since inequalities and the different levels of indebtedness of Member States may push the entire integration to the edge of breakup. I think this was a terrible shock. We as a society did not experience it so strongly, but in countries where citizens had that currency in their pockets and knew what was happening to the debt progress, strong emotions were present, which afterwards we noticed in the results of elections.

We indeed did not appreciate this fact in Poland, as we were idealising the European success too much.

The rebellion in German politics broke out not because of migration but because of the issue of responsibility for the future of the eurozone. And this was the first breach in Germanys idea of Europe. Earlier, there had been no essential breach in that notion. Of course, later there was another more socially serious breach in the form of migration policy, but I think that the first one, which lessened the necessity for this consensus, was the most important.

Indeed, on migration policy, it is believed, especially in Germany, that lack of solutions to the problem of the migration crisis has become one of the sources of more serious doubt about the future of the Union. There are voices that the obligations of Member States in relation to Schengen should be relaxed. Are we facing a risk of dismantling our common project?

In my opinion, leaky external boarders entail the dismantling of Schengen. People have the right to expect that since we have decided on an incredibly comfortable and commercially significant model of free movement of people and goods, without border controls, somebody has to guarantee surveillance of our external borders, and every country has an external border somewhere. This is our proposal. Poland, as a border country responsible for a very long land border, has been doing a lot in this respect for ages. I think we have been doing a good job on our eastern border. In recent years, we have shown a strong commitment to supporting rapid progress in enhancing European border guards at sections of the border where we have no direct responsibility, which was not obvious from the beginning. The fate of Schengen depends on the security of its external border. Today, this border is secured to such an extent that maintaining border controls on its individual sections, especially in our area, should be limited. Poland has never been directly affected by that. However, it is a concern for countries to the south, where controls are maintained all the time. One should be careful about that, as people may become accustomed to this and it may turn out it becomes the desired state. That would be a great loss, not only for Central European countries but also for the integration and the economy of the entire EU, since the possible reintroduction of border controls would result in far-reaching, immediate consequences on the internal market.

The migration problem is related to the assessment of the Lisbon Treaty and the system of qualified majority voting in the Council. A decision-making method very deeply related to state sovereignty was used in taking the decision about migration and the redistribution mechanism, how can this problem be solved? Will Member States avoid repeating such votes that interfere with their sovereign policy or, after these experiences, will such a mechanism be extended instead?

The expectations are contradictory. I think experience has shown that you do not need to use an instrument only because you own it. Apart from the instrument, you also need to have a political mind to refuse this pleasure. The ramifications may be totally disproportionate to the scale of the problem. Majority voting, of course, facilitates decisions, but this is not the sole criterion we should apply when assessing this method. There is a risk related to the method that the interests of particular states will not be considered. If it is done once, twice, or three times, it may turn out that the ramifications are unpleasant, permanent, and irreversible. In this regard, this method should not be adopted in every matter. Poland will certainly be cautious about proposals to simplify and extend the use of majority voting to other areas because we see that this instrument can be used irresponsibly. It would be better to think about a decision-making process that will be assessed not only in terms of effectiveness but also in terms of legitimacy. In the case of international organisations like the European Union, legitimacy is of key importance. If the Union lacks it, it will crack.

Limiting the number of commissioners was another provision of the Lisbon Treaty. What is our response to these expectations? Are we going to approve a limit on the number of commissioners?

This is again related to legitimacy. In my opinion, this is not an urgent need today. All the expectations that the Commission should operate more efficiently can be met by better organisation of its work. Which indeed has happened during Juncker's Commission, which was highly reorganised. It is no longer as collegial as it used to be. I think there has been an unprecedented curtailment of Commission collegiality, so it is better to stick to such solutions rather than introduce treaty changes in relation to this issue, which is strongly symbolic. In my opinion, this is the last thing we need today in such a discussion.

Minister, this is going to be my last question. After several years of experience with supporting system of Polands European policy, what is your assessment of its institutional architecture? Does it work well in its present condition? Is there anything that could be improved or changed? There are ideas to establish two offices, one to deal with foreign affairs and the other to deal with European policy management. How should we think about it in terms of institutions?

Nothing can replace good cooperation between institutions and people. This is the foundation and it works well. However, when considering changes in how the Union is managed, I believe today that Member States have no single model that can could be recognised as the most appropriate. On the one hand is the significant role of the European Commission. This enhances the involvement and responsibility of the prime minister. One day, this could result in a return of European matters to the very centre of the administration, that is, to the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. On the other hand is how countriesown internal policies are organised. This requires, of course, extraordinary cooperation between the European unit and all Polish ministries, since basically all of them implement certain elements of European policy, sometimes also politically significant to the country, and they certainly have an impact on Poland’s relations with the Union. The Committee for European Affairs also plays an important role here, but it cannot replace all the other institutions. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that all participants share one thought: what we want from the European Union, what it means to the hierarchy of our objectives, what instruments we want to use, and what language we want to use to tell both the domestic and foreign audience about it. These are significant, so I would not seek a key to the success of European policy in institutional matters. I am of the opinion that a good agreement on the substance of European policy of a given state, in this case, Poland, and loyal cooperation between offices and national institutions are the key elements. And this is already working well.

Thank you for the interview.

 
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