IPCS Discussion

Between Brexit and an Assertive Russia: Role for Poland

07 Nov, 2016    ·   5168

Niharika Tagotra reports on the proceedings of the discussion held on 18 October 2016

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in the fifth interaction under the aegis of its Twentieth Anniversary Plenum Series, hosted His Excellency Mr. Tomasz Łukaszuk, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives, who spoke on 'Between Brexit and an Assertive Russia: Role for Poland'.
The interaction was held on Tuesday, 18 October 2016, at the IPCS Conference Room in New Delhi, and was moderated by Ambassador (Retd) TCA Rangachari, Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former Indian Ambassador to Germany, France and Algeria.
The following are the introductory remarks and the transcript of Ambassador Łukaszuk's speech.
Ambassador (Retd) TCA Rangachari
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former Indian Ambassador to Germany, France and Algeria
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. On behalf of the IPCS, I welcome you Ambassador Łukaszuk, to the Institute. I am delighted that the IPCS and you both agreed on a subject that is very important but unfortunately not discussed in great detail in India. What happens to Europe in the near future will set a pattern, if not a trend, for other organisations looking for regional cooperation. 
A few years ago, the then president of the European Council spoke at the India International Centre in New Delhi. During his address, he mentioned that India and Europe shared many similarities. However, this statement overlooked the fact that while India is a political union, Europe, very determinedly, does not wish to be a political union. Also, India, unlike the EU, is not a single market. There are still many legislative provisions that restrict India from becoming a single market. And unless India becomes a single market, we are not going to truly be able to realise our economic potential. 
We also have various other halfway house measures such as the lack of restrictions on inter-state migration, settlement, residence, etc. The scale of operation of these issues in the EU is entirely different. It is therefore very appropriate that we have the ambassador of Poland, the fifth largest country of the EU, amongst us to speak on these issues. 
Poland is a big constituency of the EU. And like many other countries of the Union, Poland faces many questions in context of Brexit. These include the choices it will have to make regarding its membership of the EU or to what extent the EU should have commonality not just in terms of market mechanisms but also in terms of social cultural values, political systems, democratic institutions, rule of law et al. Poland has a very strong civil society and this will be a long-standing debate because there are clearly different sets of views held and represented by the various parties in Poland. 
Therefore in my view, Poland brings a very unique perspective to the kind of decision that the British people have taken to stay out of the EU. Personally, in anticipation of what you are going to say, maybe the Europeans are better off without Britain because it was never truly European in the same sense as many other European countries. It did not become a part of many of the mechanisms such as the Schengen or the Maastricht Treaty. Maybe, in some ways, Britain was holding the EU back from moving at the pace that the EU wanted to. This is a problem that we too encounter in SAARC, because of a particular country that does not want to move as fast as the rest insofar as regional integration is concerned, and this creates complications. This is however an opinion that is open for discussion and there is probably nobody better qualified to speak on it than the Ambassador of Poland. 
Therefore, I invite the Ambassador to address us on the subject. He has a very vast territory under his charge, which includes all of South Asia, minus one country. Earlier, he had an even larger territory under his jurisdiction, which included all of Southeast Asia. So, given his vast experiences in Europe and Asia, I am sure we will gain by listening to what the Ambassador has to say. 

H.E. Mr. Tomasz Łukaszuk
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives

Thank you, Ambassador. According to historian Norman Davies, Poland is "God's Playground." However, in the past, we were also the playground of two major countries, Germany and Russia; and this was an important part of our modern history. Poland is also unique in the sense that while 38 million people live in Poland, roughly 16 million Polish people live abroad. Therefore, our diaspora is bigger than the Indian diaspora. Given that there are one million Polish people living in the UK, Brexit was a very important moment in our modern history, and still is. 

When our Prime Minister met the Prime Minister of UK, the future of those 1 million Polish citizens living in the UK was the first topic on her agenda. The government of Poland is trying hard to reach an agreement with the UK in order to protect the interests of the Polish citizens living in the country. The current Polish government has very good relations with the UK and their opinions about the future of the EU are similar. The EU should not be a federation. It should be a union of independent countries.
The EU should be an economic and trade union with free movement of people and goods. The support offered by the EU to Poland since 1993 was tremendous and was very significant for our modernisation. Poland was not among the recipients of the Marshall Plan after World War II. We were able to receive funds from the Plan only after 1993. Poland was able to establish its economy in the past 20 years and is currently one of the most developed EU countries. Poland has a strong manufacturing sector, being the largest producer of home appliances, boats, TV sets etc, as well as being the largest producer and exporter of fruits in Europe.
UK is an important market for our products. The export of Polish beer to the UK was a psychological breakthrough for many of us in Poland. While you may know the UK for whiskey, for us, the UK is known more for beer than whiskey. We have very warm feelings towards the UK because they supported us in our bid for the EU and they supported our development during the last twenty years. We in Poland share the view that the EU or any other organisation, for that matter, is not status quoist. Like there have been calls for the reform of the UN, the EU must also be reformed. It should not be a closed chapter in the development of international organisations but should be adjusted according to the challenges of the modern world, including the challenge of migration. 
The EU was looking at the Middle East as its prospective member. In fact, some of the countries from the sovereign neighbourhood such as Morocco had even applied for membership. However, developments such as Arab Spring and developments in Syria were a setback to the process. It appeared that while we did have a strategy towards the Middle East as a future member of the EU, we were certainly not prepared for the criss. We were not prepared for thousands of people coming to Europe every day. From our perspective, the situation in the Middle East is a common concern. The solution to this problem, however, does not lie in establishing new settlements or cities in Europe for these people. The solution is to help them in the region. For this reason, the government of Poland has allocated millions of dollars for monetary and development assistance in Middle East, to help them on site. Relocating from their traditional homes and changing their histories or moving to Europe is not a solution to the problem. The solution of the problem should always be found in the country. 
Brexit was also caused by the restructuring of societies. It was a matter of demography and development in every country. It is important for a country to adjust its policies not only according to the developments in one’s own country, but also on the basis of the developments in the countries around it. For us, the UK is home to one million Polish citizens and we would like to have the UK with us. Poland would like the UK to be a part of the wider European family.
Russia, on the other hand, is a neighbourhood matter for us. We share a love-hate relationship manifesting at different levels. People-to-people contacts are very friendly and are a part of the history of our relationship with Russia. Russia is, however, trying to reinvent its policies based on old ideas, which is unfortunate for the relationship between the two countries. Poland, like many other countries in the neighbourhood of Russia, is a sovereign country and a very important player in international relations. It would not like to be treated as a part of Russia's influence zone - Poland was under the Communists for a very short period in history. Out of the one thousand fifty years of our history, it was only for forty nine years that we were in the Communist bloc. This was totally against our logic, beliefs, and decisions. The decision for us was made by others and therefore we have now made it a matter of principle that every decision that is relevant to us should not be decided without us.
During World War II, our fate was decided without us and we would not like history to repeat itself in a different/modern module. We dream of a democratic Russia that can become a friendly neighbour for European nations. However, in reality, a part of one of its neighbouring countries, Ukraine, was invaded by Russia. In the modern world, one cannot, in the Russian way, discuss border issues. 
If Poland were to go the Russian way, approximately 20 per cent of Russian territory would then be part of Poland. Border issues are never ending. But in the modern world, civilised dialogue and instruments of international law should be preferred over military solutions. 
Economically, we are interconnected like all other neighbours. Therefore, finding a solution within international law would be better for both the EU and Russia. We should restart our economic relationship, which is crucial for both sides. Russia has a lot to offer us. Poland, as one of the bread baskets of the world, used to export a lot of food products to Russia; we also shared our food processing technologies. We used to be one of the shopping hotspots for Russians. We believe that Russia could be a rational and responsible player in international relations, especially in its relationships with members of the EU.
The 2015 NATO Summit was very symbolic for us, given the communist bloc's Warsaw Pact ; a cruel irony. Now, we have had the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Since 1999, we have been well established in the organisation. We would like to continue to be a part of NATO and be secured by it. We would like to avoid the mistakes made by our forefathers in choosing alliances and partners for the security of Poland, and are open for any dialogue, but it should be within the framework of the UN and international law. Iin George Friedman's book, ‘The Next 100 Years’, Poland and Turkey are mentioned as the future European superpowers. To this, I would say that we would not like to be a superpower, but an important power in international relations. 
Thank you.
Rapporteured by Niharika Tagotra, Research Intern, IPCS