When Poles are asked who they think is best qualified to overcome the current crisis, they point to the European institutions. The achievements of Poland are living proof of the success of the European ideal, says Donald Tusk, Polish Prime Minister, in an exclusive interview for this website stressing that his country now would like to share its experience and ideas with the rest of Europe. Poland holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union during the second half of 2011.
Prime Minister, the programme put forward for the first Polish Presidency of the Council of the EU stresses that the main task is to steer the European Union on to the path towards economic growth. How can this be achieved given the mounting challenges and difficulties the Union faces?
The current crisis is the most serious challenge yet to further growth in Europe. The EU has already proved that it knows how to deal with an economic slump. The experience of an excessive public debt and low level of European economic competitiveness have taught us some lessons. We have taken the first steps towards correcting past mistakes: we have introduced the Euro Plus Pact, and we have also decided to create such instruments as the European Stability Mechanism. However, those essential reforms are only the first step. Although indispensable, they are not enough. We must go further and launch a joint discussion as to the basis for European economic growth in the coming decades.
We have specific ideas on this. We believe that further integration of the European internal market is one way of promoting sustained economic growth over the next few decades. Although Poland is not yet a member of the euro area, it has already set a good example in that it is one of the first countries in Europe to stipulate in its constitution that public debt may not exceed 60 % of GDP. We were also one of the first states to pass a law prohibiting excessive increase in the budget deficit. Today, we are also proud to have one of the most dynamic economies in Europe – in the first quarter of 2011, our GDP increased by as much as 4.4 %, and this was one of the best results in the EU as a whole.
What arguments can you put forward to support the idea of stimulating economic growth through the further development of the internal market and using the EU budget to create a more competitive Europe?
Although the internal market has been in place for 20 years, it still has enormous untapped potential. In our opinion, dismantling the barriers which are still in place (for instance, in the e‑commerce market) could accelerate the EU’s GDP growth by as much as two percentage points per annum. Only when the internal market becomes a truly single market, will European firms be able to reap the full benefits of the opportunities afforded by access to half a billion consumers.
We must dispel any fear of deeper economic integration, since such integration is our only chance of securing a permanent way out of the crisis and chasing away the spectre of its return. Let us not mince our words: the export success of the German or Dutch economies would not has been possible without a vast European market. Poland, as the only EU country not to have sunk into recession, would not have been so fortunate had it not been for the market of the European Union. This internal market represents our greatest competitive advantage, and Europe’s global position depends on its strength. Jacques Delors once claimed that it was “difficult to fall in love with the common market”. Well, we have no other option at present than to develop that market and fall head over heels in love with it.
During our Presidency we will launch discussions on the new multiannual financial frameworks on the basis of proposals put forward by the European Commission. Like any Presidency, Poland will act as an impartial moderator in those discussions, seeking compromises and solutions which benefit all European partners. This does not mean, however, that Poland does not have its own views in such discussions. Our budget philosophy may be summed up in one sentence: “The budget´s objective is to invest in Europe”. The EU budget must become the main instrument in implementing the “Europe 2020” strategy.
What comments would you make regarding the other priority: Secure Europe – improving security in terms of defence, energy and food?
It is evident today that cooperation between the EU and NATO needs to be strengthened at both political and operational level. If all EU Member States agree, we will launch a political discussion on that subject in cooperation with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The Polish‑Franco‑German “Weimar Battle Group” which is currently being set up, may become a textbook example for Union “battle groups”, providing the Union with a genuine instrument for conducting military operations (e.g. stabilisation activities).
In terms of energy policy, the Polish Presidency would like to initiate a political debate on the external aspect of our strategy in that area. We believe that the Union’s position on major producers, consumers and on transit countries could be far stronger if we spoke with one voice. We intend to liaise with all member states and EU institutions with a view to identifying instruments needed to lay out such an external energy policy.
The third element in our definition of a “Secure Europe” is food supply security. The events of recent weeks, when the whole of Europe was justifiably gripped by fear as a result of the possible infection of vegetables with E. Coli bacteria, are fresh in our minds. It is clear that the Union must take additional steps to increase food safety. However, our proposal amount to more. Europe must be able to develop its production capacity so as to keep up with predicted world population growth. During the Polish Presidency, discussions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will enter a decisive phase (although they will not be completed). We would like the reformed Common Agricultural Policy to make effective use of EU financial resources, to be market‑oriented and to take account of the common good – in particular that the reformed CAP safeguards the natural environment.
The Polish Presidency intends to enhance cooperation between the EU and southern countries while ensuring that Europe does not lose sight of its eastern neighbours. What expectations do you have of the Warsaw summit with the Eastern Partners at the end of September?
We would like to see the Eastern Partnership summit adopt key political decisions on principles of cooperation with our eastern neighbours. The summit, which will be attended by dozens of Heads of State or Government, must breathe new life into the project. The Eastern Partnership is already a success – our relations with Ukraine and Moldova are proof of that. Ukraine should soon be finalising negotiations on an Association and enhanced economic cooperation Agreement.
But we must not stop there. The Eastern Partnership must also be an instrument for Union policy vis‑à‑vis Belarus. The Belarus authorities have rejected Europe’s offer and continue their policy of repression of democratic opposition. Europe cannot tolerate infringements of fundamental human rights, but at the same time it must do everything it can to prevent ordinary Belarusians from falling victim to any tightening of sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. We therefore need to redefine the Eastern Partnership so that it focuses more on the principle of “more for more” and “less for less”. Our neighbours must see that if they take the path of democratic and market reform, they will be rewarded. Choosing to go in the opposite direction will have serious consequences.
The Poles are one of the most EU‑friendly nations. Some experts expect the Polish Presidency to inject a certain optimism into European Union affairs. Could they be right?
Poles are Europhiles and believe in the European project. They only have to open their eyes to see that it is working. For years opinion polls have confirmed that Poles are among the staunchest supporters of the European institutions and closer European integration. When Poles are asked who they think is best qualified to overcome the current crisis they point without hesitation to the European institutions. The achievements of our country (population 38 million) are living proof of the success of the European ideal. We would like to share our experience and ideas with the rest of Europe.
In what ways will the Polish Presidency work together with the future holders of the Presidency, Denmark and Cyprus?
Cooperation is excellent. Poland, Denmark and Cyprus have prepared the 18‑month Presidency work programme covering these three consecutive Presidencies. It is a sound document: it reflects not only the challenges facing the Union but also our own original ideas which we would like to put to all EU partners. We hope that our jointly prepared programme will form a solid basis for planning the activities of the Council of the European Union.