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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 25, 2013
Politics & Society
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Allowing Poland to Spread its Wings by Paweł ¦wieboda
April 25, 2013   
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A sound foreign policy will be much in demand in this era of massive global shifts of power. Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski made this clear in his annual speech to parliament last month. For Poland, this means an altogether new type of diplomatic effort compared with the one it has pursued since 1989. Most of that period has been spent on anchoring the country in the West. Poland mastered the art of accession better than many people feared. But what if the anchor falters?

It was all meant to be different. Poland joined NATO and the European Union to have peace of mind, allowing it to spend the next decade or two on catching up with the West. Now, the European project is in existential crisis and the transatlantic alliance is suffering from U.S. disengagement. For some time, other people’s curse was Poland’s blessing. In the first part of the crisis, the country punched above its weight in Europe as others sank. This ride is now coming to an end as the Polish economy itself contracts an infection from the eurozone.

The time has come for Poland to capitalize on its credibility in the EU in order to help save the common currency project. It is abundantly clear that without the latter, the EU itself will have no future.

Radosław Sikorski showed how this could be done in his Berlin speech in the autumn of 2011. What is now needed in Europe is a compromise between Germany and its allies in Northern Europe on the one hand and France and its friends on the other. The compromise will have to concern economic doctrine but also the extent of sharing sovereignty. Restoring trust and confidence will only be possible if that happens. Poland has a huge role to play, even if it is not a eurozone member.

The reverse side of the coin in the European crisis is the weakening of the continent’s ability to look after its own security and defense. This is happening in parallel with the U.S. pivot away from Europe and towards more pressing challenges in the Pacific. Poland’s immediate reaction is to pour money into its own consolidation. After a decade of expeditionary involvement, the country will spend the next few years looking after its own potential and filling the gaps in areas such as air defense. A more concerted effort will be needed at the European level to link the dots and ensure that respective national capabilities add up.

Efforts will have to be made to create joint armed units that would cater for functions such as patrolling the sea border. This must be a Polish-German-French project of the future.

Finally, Polish foreign policy will need to better serve the next stage of the country’s modernization. Poland desperately needs to build new competitive advantages and move up the value curve. Greater internationalization of Polish enterprises is a must as it not only creates an opportunity to tap into the new layers of demand but also helps improve management strategies and the overall competitiveness of enterprises. The Polish foreign policy apparatus is slowly getting geared towards aiding this transformation. More will need to be done in this area, going beyond basic commercial promotion towards an active protection of the interests of Polish exporters and investors. Preserving a level-playing field in the world will also be crucial to enable Poland to spread its wings beyond the local success story of recent years.

The author is president of the demosEuropa Centre for European Strategy, a Warsaw-based think-tank.
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