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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 26, 2012
Politics & Society
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Polish EU Presidency a Success, Gov’t Says
January 26, 2012   
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Poland’s first turn at the rotating presidency of the European Union ended Dec. 31.

According to the governing coalition, Poland passed this difficult six-month test successfully.

Six months before the start of the Polish presidency, the government said Poland would focus on three key priorities while at the helm of the EU: integration as a source of economic growth, a secure Europe, and a Europe benefiting from openness.

However, the Polish presidency coincided with an exceptionally difficult period for the EU. A financial crisis threatening to bring about the collapse of the euro zone—in the wake of chancy economic practices in a number of “old” EU member countries for many years—led to a situation in which, instead of focusing on steady development, EU politicians had to frantically devise rescue plans. Poland’s involvement in these plans was limited because the country is not part of the euro zone.

Still, according to Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, Poland’s minister for European affairs, Poland managed to strengthen its reputation as an economic success story and as the most pro-European member of the EU. Poland either initiated or encouraged the continuation of dialogue on many important issues, Dowgielewicz says. For example, it unveiled proposals to strengthen economic coordination and ensure greater unity between the euro zone and the rest of the EU. Poland also managed to sort out certain issues related to energy, common foreign policy and security policy, Dowgielewicz says.

Paweł Zalewski, an Eurodeputy hailing from the governing Civic Platform party, lists other successes of the Polish presidency. First, he says, Poland set the tone of political debate on issues such as an expansion of the powers of the European parliament. Moreover, debate began about the budget, and greater emphasis was placed on the EU’s neighborhood policy oriented at countries including Belarus and Ukraine.

Various EU leaders have praised the Polish presidency. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, sent a letter to Poland’s foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, in late December in which she congratulated Poland on a “very successful” presidency of the Council of the EU. Ashton said she hoped to continue to work closely with Sikorski as part of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

The Polish presidency was also expected to work toward further strengthening the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, which covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. However, this task proved to be harder than expected: an Eastern Partnership summit held in Warsaw in late September produced little success. The main obstacle was the position of Belarus, clearly hostile toward the partnership, and other stumbling blocks included the issue of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Ukraine, and the problem of internal conflicts in other countries covered by the EU initiative.

The Polish presidency was not only about politics and the economy. The six-month period marked many interesting developments also in areas such as culture and education.

“The artistic events that took place in Poland and abroad are an investment for the years ahead,” said Poland’s Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski, summing up the cultural agenda of the Polish presidency. In total, about 1,400 cultural projects were carried out, including about 400 abroad.

Another success of the Polish presidency was successful work on a number of legislative proposals, Zdrojewski said. In November, EU culture ministers meeting in Brussels voted in favor of strengthening the protection of children from access to undesirable content on the internet.

As part of the international program, many events were held that attracted large audiences. These included the Poland-Germany: 1,000 Years of History in Art exhibition that opened in September last year at the Martin-Gropius-Bau venue in Berlin. It has drawn 50,000 visitors so far. The Power of Fantasy: Modern and Contemporary Polish Art exhibition also got positive reviews. Held at the Bozar gallery in Brussels, it brought together more than 200 works by 35 Polish artists. From June 24 to Sept. 18 it was visited by over 18,000 people.

Another exhibition in Brussels, Alina Szapocznikow: 1955-1973, at the Wiels Contemporary Art Center, has drawn almost 10,000 visitors. The Whitechapel Gallery in London, in turn, hosted a solo exhibition of work by Wilhelm Sasnal for the first time in Britain. More than 60 of the artist’s works from the last 10 years were shown at the exhibition from Oct. 14 to Jan. 1.

A total of 7,500 reviews about Polish cultural events abroad appeared in the European, Chinese and Japanese media during the Polish presidency, according to Paweł Potoroczyn, head of the Warsaw-based Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

In science and higher education, the successes of the Polish presidency included the adoption of a draft program for financing research and innovation and for jointly setting the guidelines of reforming European universities. During the Polish presidency, the European Commission unveiled a draft program for financing research, Horizon 2020, with a record 80-billion-euro budget for the 2014-2020 period.

“A well-designed financing program may be a significant driver for Europe to stimulate its economy, a key factor at a time of economic crisis,” said Prof. Barbara Kudrycka, the Polish minister of science and higher education, adding that the efficient work on that document was also a Polish success.

Horizon 2020 marks the first time all EU funds earmarked for research and innovation have been brought together in a single document. The draft provides for facilitated access to those funds for individual researchers as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. The paperwork has been cut back and procedures simplified in order to attract a greater number of top scientists and make it easier for smaller research teams to apply for grants.

During the Polish presidency, the EU Council announced a set of conclusions related to modernizing higher education. Under these conclusions, EU countries should strive to bind the academic community more closely to its surroundings, support entrepreneurship and innovation among students and researchers and monitor the professional careers of graduates in order to better adapt educational opportunities to the demands of the job market.

In its recommendations, the Council underlined the need to improve the quality of higher education by ensuring greater student and researcher mobility as well as more intensive cross-border cooperation. The Council has recommended reforms to member states that will allow more flexible management of universities and a more effective—performance- and competitiveness-related—way of financing them.

“The recommendations of the EU Council are fully convergent with the reforms of Poland’s higher education introduced in October 2011,” said Kudrycka. “I am happy we have been able to share our experience in modernizing the higher education system with other EU countries. The solutions developed in Poland have met with wide recognition in Europe.”

The Polish presidency also pressed for a wider inclusion of students from Eastern Partnership countries in EU programs, especially the Erasmus program. The “Go East, Erasmus!” ministerial conference focused on that subject. Held in October in Białystok in eastern Poland, it was attended by representatives from more than a dozen countries.
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