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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 21, 2011
Politics & Society
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Row Over EU
December 21, 2011   
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A speech by Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski in Berlin calling for a stronger role for the European Commission and for more integration in the EU became the hottest political event in Poland at the end of the year. The opposition demanded that Sikorski face the State Tribunal for what they claimed was his betrayal of Poland’s national interests, but most other politicians—both at home and abroad—welcomed Sikorski’s proposals.

Sikorski’s speech in late November, headlined “Poland and the future of the European Union,” was delivered at a meeting of the German Society for Foreign Policy. Among listeners were German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and two former German presidents: Richard von Weizsaecker and Horst Koehler.

Sikorski’s proposals caused an immediate political storm in Warsaw. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice (PiS), the biggest opposition party, sent a special statement to the media.

The statement said, “By presenting ideas in Berlin that significantly restrict Poland’s sovereignty, and by dodging parliamentary control over the government, a principle enshrined in the Constitution, Radosław Sikorski has betrayed his oath as foreign minister. The oath goes, ‘Assuming the office of foreign minister, I solemnly declare that I shall remain faithful to the provisions of the Constitution and other laws of the Republic of Poland, while the good of the country and the welfare of its citizens will always be my greatest imperative.’ ”

According to Kaczyński, the government of Donald Tusk “fails to notice the threats to Poland stemming from an obvious effort to impose a hegemony of big players on the European Union, first and foremost Germany and France.”

PiS said it would press for a parliamentary vote of no confidence against Sikorski and would also seek to bring him before the State Tribunal—regardless of the fact that both these tactics are highly unlikely to succeed.

Politicians from the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party lashed out at PiS. Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Sikorski had his full support while taking the floor in Berlin, adding that Poland’s proposals for reforms to overcome the crisis in the EU had been regularly presented at EU meetings throughout Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2011. Other prominent PO politicians also praised the foreign minister, saying that he showed the kind of courage that many EU leaders had lacked so far.

Politicians from other parliamentary groups also distanced themselves from PiS’s criticism of Sikorski. Both the Palikot Movement and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) said Sikorski’s speech in Berlin was an important contribution to an ongoing debate on reforms needed in Europe.

Many European politicians voiced similar views, adding that Sikorski’s speech was an expression of political courage and political common sense. Some European media commentators called Sikorski a “visionary,” highlighting the fact that his political proposals are in harmony with EU development ideas long debated in Western Europe.

Key quotes from Sikorski’s Nov. 28 speech in Berlin
[The euro zone’s] founders created a system in which each of its members has the capacity to bring it down, with appalling costs to themselves and the entire neighborhood. The breakup would be a crisis of apocalyptic proportions beyond our financial system.

If we are not willing to risk a partial dismantling of the EU, then the choice becomes as stark as can be in the lives of federations: deeper integration, or collapse.

What’s urgent is that we save the euro zone. What’s important is that in so doing we preserve Europe as a democracy that respects the autonomy of its member states. This new European deal will need to balance Responsibility, Solidarity and Democracy as the cornerstones of our political union.

The European Commission needs to be stronger. If it is to play the role of an economic supervisor we need commissioners to be genuine leaders, with authority, personality—dare I say charisma—to be true representatives of common European interests. To be more effective, the Commission should be smaller. Any one of us who has chaired a meeting knows that they are most productive when up to a dozen people participate. The EC now has 27 members. Member States should rotate to have their commissioner.

The more power we give to European institutions, the more democratic legitimacy they need to have. The draconian powers to supervise national budgets should be wielded only by agreement of the European Parliament.

[...] we could elect some seats in the European Parliament from a pan-European list of candidates.

The parliament should have its seat in a single location.

We could also combine the posts of the President of the European Council and that of the European Commission.

The more power and legitimacy we give to federal institutions, the more secure member states should feel that certain prerogatives, everything to do with national identity, culture, religion, lifestyle, public morals, and rates of income, corporate and VAT taxes, should forever remain in the purview of states.

Today Poland is not the source of problems but a source of European solutions.

Poland also brings Europe a willingness to make compromises—even to pool sovereignty with others—in return for a fair role in a stronger Europe.

What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland today [...] It’s not terrorism, it’s not the Taliban, and it’s certainly not German tanks. It’s not even Russian missiles which President Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland would be the collapse of the euro zone.

And I demand of Germany that, for your own sake and for ours, you help it survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.

You have become Europe’s indispensable nation.

[...] we are standing on the edge of a precipice. This is the scariest moment of my ministerial life but therefore also the most sublime. Future generations will judge us by what we do, or fail to do.
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