• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland

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  • Today Rzeczpospolita daily published an interview with the chief of the Polish diplomacy. In the conversation with Bogusław Chrabota, editor-in-chief of the paper, Minister Schetyna summed up his first two weeks in office as foreign minister and outlined the priorities of Polish foreign policy for the near future.



    Bogusław Chrabota: How do you feel as foreign minister? As a man who is back in the big game or a man left standing in a minefield?

    Grzegorz Schetyna: To hold the office of foreign minister is a both a great honour and a great responsibility. That is why I got down to work right from the start. I am back from my first visits to Paris and Berlin, our most important partners in the European Union. Together we set our priorities for the year to come. These include the stepping up of cooperation within the Weimar Triangle, so that it becomes a driving force for Europe. The three of us will now meet in early November. So I believe my suggestions have gained traction.

    What will you be discussing?

    Matters vital to Europe and Poland. Surely our Eastern policy, meaning support for Ukraine and an effective response to challenges posed by Russia. The South presents no less serious challenges, though. Since we require our partners’ commitment to the East, we should also be active on Syria, Iraq and Libya.

    Will we be active?

    We already are. We are providing political support for actions taken by the international coalition against the Islamic State; we are sending humanitarian aid. We will respond in line with events on the ground. The threat is indeed enormous, but it might not always appear such from our perspective.

    Is Weimar Triangle unity on Ukraine conceivable? It does not look good from the outside.

    It is better than you think, and alarmist and pessimistic opinions often stem from ignorance. It is to my predecessor’s great credit that he succeeded in engaging the chiefs of the French and German diplomacies during the peak of the Ukrainian crisis. This changed the viewpoint on the conflict in Europe and made major countries step in to act to settle it. It is no co-incidence that France and Germany are ready today to monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border with their troops and drones. I am positive all of this would look different if it had not been for the February mission of Sikorski, Fabius and Steinmeier.

    How about Atlantic relations?

    Let me start with NATO. The Newport summit declarations to strengthen the Alliance’s eastern flank were favourable for us, but they must now be implemented. On Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed in Warsaw his full resolve to deliver on these declarations. Poland was his first visit after taking office, which really is important and symbolic. We will help achieve this and we will encourage others; we will also create favourable conditions for deploying NATO troops in Poland.

    And what about America?

    We enjoy good, ever closer cooperation. My first official meeting as foreign minister was with Penny Pritzker, the US Secretary of Commerce. US troop numbers in Poland are increasing, the missile shield programme is going according to schedule, business is growing, and we are seeing more and more investors, including big players such as Amazon. Americans see that Poland is heading in the right direction, which showed, among others, in a recent article by the New York Times that praised the Polish economy. We stand a chance of not exceeding the threshold of 8% of visa application rejections this year, which gives hope for inclusion in the visa waiver programme. But these are American decisions and I would not like to anticipate them.

    How soon after the cabinet was sworn in did you speak with the Prime Minister about her statement, in the context of Ukraine, that we’re defending our own home? Is this not a redefinition of the previous policy?

    I would not be afraid of the Prime Minister’s words about defending our home. The Polish people want assurances that there will be no war. Such voices were to be heard everywhere. This would come up on many occasions during my meetings. Security is of the utmost importance today. Prime Minister Kopacz spoke about the home in this specific context. This was a good message, clear to Poles. Which does not mean we will not be strongly supporting Ukraine. And I think that Ms Kopacz’s matter-of-fact and determined policy address spelled this out.

    Does this not signal a new isolationism?

    Absolutely not. My predecessor Radosław Sikorski did a huge amount of work. I see the MFA is continuously reforming; there are lots of young, well-educated people here. The same goes for Poland’s foreign policy: it is well-defined, thought-out, with a clearly defined hierarchy of objectives. I intend to keep its course and intensity, obviously with some corrections. That is what is required by the flexibility of diplomacy, which must be complemented by the resolve to pursue a defined goal. I can be both resolute and flexible.

    First we had the Eastern Partnership, then the encouragement of Ukraine to sign the association agreement, finally the Vilnius summit. After the Maidan events, Poland played a key role in European policy on Ukraine, and eventually we were sidelined on it. Is there a chance of Poland re-embracing its leadership role on Ukraine?

    Let me repeat that the role of Poland, and that of Mr Sikorski himself ever since the conflict in Ukraine started cannot be overestimated. I am well aware of this, because a few weeks after the February deal between the government and the opposition was signed, I was in Kyiv with my partners from the foreign affairs committees of the Weimar Triangle countries – and they were telling me that themselves. On the other hand, we have the strong voice of Prime Minister Kopacz, who is saying that only a common EU stance can be effective in helping Ukraine. This is the framework within which we must act: decidedly, but in unity. That was also the subject of my talks in Paris and Berlin.

    You visited the Maidan. Today we have Poroshenko as President, Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister, but also the association agreement being put on hold and the Donbas and Crimea under Russian control. Brussels sometimes represents Moscow’s interests in talks with Kyiv.

    Ukraine is democratic and sovereign. It is for her to decide. We helped the country embark on a pro-European path, but it is the Ukrainian people themselves who must want further changes and must have the determination to bring them about. Poland is helpful in that, because it is associated with the success story of the past 25 years. Some time ago, Wałęsa, Mazowiecki and Balcerowicz were making the toughest decisions in Poland. Today Ukraine is faced with those very same choices.

    Do you believe in a European perspective and NATO prospects for Ukraine?

    The EU prospects are real, but progress along the way depends mainly on Ukraine. As for Kiev’s NATO membership, it is not under consideration right now.

    What can be done to bring those prospects closer in time?

    Introduce reforms, adopt modern legislation, take difficult decisions which are sometimes unpopular with the public, as is the case with the set of anti-corruption laws that was passed yesterday. It is a risk, but one that can pay off. Much depends on the outcome of the next parliamentary elections.

    Should Ukraine be supplied with weapons?

    Weapons mean war. In July, the EU lifted an embargo on the supply of weapons to Ukraine. From the legal and practical point of view, there is no problem for Ukraine to purchase weapons in Poland, but that will not solve the issue. What is needed is humanitarian aid, and let the relevant institutions and companies deal with weapons on a commercial basis.

    If Ukrainians run out of gas or coal in the winter, will we help them?

    If they start to have problems heating houses in the winter because of Russian actions, we will not leave them on their own. This will be a form of humanitarian aid and we should take the lead.

    The Russian Foreign Minister proposed a “reset 2.0” to America. What is your opinion?

    The proposed reset is a sign that our sanctions are working and giving Russia a hard time. The entire free world is involved in the sanctions, not only the United States. When I hear assurances from Berlin today that the sanctions against Russia should not be lifted, and perhaps even new ones should be imposed until Moscow starts to deliver on its Ukraine agreements, I am rather confident and see this rather as a success of our policy.

    What do Russians have to do to have the sanctions lifted?

    Proceed from the military phase to diplomacy and start implementing the commitments. It is not about words but deeds. Example: the implementation of the Minsk accord.

    Does Russia have to return Crimea for the sanctions to be lifted?

    We cannot forget about Crimea. It is concerning that in his recent speech at the United Nations, President Barack Obama did not directly refer to Crimea. We must not accept Russian aggression―it would be tantamount to accepting further violations of the international order. It is important to speak with one voice on this matter.

    Have you already talked to the foreign ministers of the Baltic States?

    They will be among my first interlocutors. Support for the Baltic States is a very important issue and I will certainly focus on it as foreign minister. We feel that we are bound by ties of history. Then there is also the Visegrad Group and the need to strengthen our common position. We have managed to achieve unity in recent years. Now, this unity is at risk because of particularistic economic interests and different approaches towards Russia. I think that we should rebuild our unity for the sake of the entire region, which has become an important player and a real brand in the EU. I will invest my efforts in strengthening the Visegrad Group.

    Three years ago in Berlin, Radosław Sikorski said that Germany should take the lead in Europe.

    They have taken up this challenge, as evidenced by their reaction to the crisis in Greece. Thanks to Germany, the crisis has been resolved even though Greece seemed doomed to bankruptcy.

    Should Poland join the euro area?

    Yes, and I would like to remind you that it is our obligation under the Accession Treaty. I think that joining the euro area will benefit Poland. We need a debate that will be free from negative emotions. People should hear how they can benefit from joining the euro area, not only financially but also politically. We cannot always indulge in a pseudo-debate about treason and the Targowica Confederation. We have to convince people that they should support joining the euro area. I believe in the educational role of such a campaign.

    Will you recruit new staff at the MFA?

    Every newly appointed minister has the right to employ new people – but I respect Radosław Sikorski’s achievements. This time is different from 2007, when I took the helm of the Ministry of the Interior from Minister Władysław Stasiak, my colleague from Wroclaw representing the party that had lost the elections.

    Do you feel that the MFA is a well-functioning machine?

    To a large degree, yes. If I will want to change something, I will do so. But remember that when you’re on the home straight, in order to win you speed up rather than change tyres.

    Will Civic Platform be the same after Donald Tusk’s resignation as party chairman?

    It will be a slightly different party, because the priorities are different. We should return to the ideas that date back to our beginnings. Keep what is best and redefine our presence on the political scene. This is normal after the resignation of a chairman who had a strong mandate in the party.

    You played football with Donald Tusk lately. Did you cooperate?

    We played in our old line-up: I was a defender, Donald Tusk was a forward. He scored a goal, I scored a goal. There was a good, sportsmanlike atmosphere. I couldn’t imagine a better closure.

    What do you expect from your cooperation with the new head of the European Council?

    I’m sure it will be more than beneficial for Poland. We may have differed at home, but we have viewed Europe the same way for years. We will show the good quality of our cooperation, as we recently did on the football pitch.

    Paweł Kowal says that European policy will be shaped by Donald Tusk and Elżbieta Bieńkowska. Then there is President Komorowski. Where do you fit in?

    My look at Polish affairs is much broader than that of my colleague Paweł Kowal. Donald Tusk will be representing the interests of the entire Union outside, not only inside. At the same time, I do not agree that the so-called big palace cannot be in agreement with the small palace. Both have a common outlook on the future. After all, we all hail from the same political circle, which bears responsibility for Poland. The Civic Platform must tap into the wisdom of past generations and the experience of recent years. I do not want to place myself in opposition to the President, the Prime Minister, or our people in Brussels.

    So you go for team spirit?

    Absolutely. I am confident that we can define cooperation in these terms.

    But Donald Tusk has turned Civic Platform into a one-leader party, although at first there were three leaders.

    Ancient history teaches us that triumvirates do not last forever. First you have three leaders, then two.

    And then you end up with one.

    …but then you can have three again. People have put new faith in Civic Platform. Poles have realized that they are not condemned to a Law and Justice victory. We want to get to the parliamentary campaign in good shape and win the election under Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’s leadership with a new idea for Poland and a reenergized Civic Platform.

    Should we be afraid of infighting within the Civic Platform?

    Personal ambitions should not affect the party’s strength, value or subjectivity.

    Are all sides aware of this?

    I think they are. A debate about the party’s future should overlap with the election of its leader.

    Are you planning to become the leader of Civic Platform?

    Civic Platform has a leader, who will step down on 8 November. Then the reins will be taken up by the first chairperson, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. There is broad agreement that the new party leader should be chosen following the parliamentary elections, i.e. after November 2015.

    So we can rule out early elections?

    There are three election campaigns ahead. One has already begun, soon we will have the presidential elections, and then come the key parliamentary elections. If we were to choose the leader today, this would only weaken the party.

    Aren’t you disappointed to have been made foreign minister rather than interior minister as before?

    You cannot step into the same river twice. I have already been at the ministry on Batory Street, and now I am on Szucha Avenue. I view this as a project that is meant to benefit Poland and the Polish people. After my first contacts with international partners I can see considerable room for manoeuvre, and I intend to use it.

    When will you give your first interview in English?

    I have held all my meetings in English so far, without an interpreter.

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