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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 27, 2005
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Historic Bonds
April 27, 2005   
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Jan Edward Craanen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Poland, talks to Dena R. Gurgul.

¡ö How would you describe the history of cooperation and friendship between the Netherlands and Poland?
Our countries have a long tradition of cooperation and it is our challenge, our task to revitalize that beautiful past. During our golden era in the 17th century two out of three ships in the harbor of Gda¨½sk came from Holland. These close contacts, particularly with northern Poland, not only resulted in economic development but also in a common cultural heritage. Last week I was in Szczecin to open an exhibition of old Dutch masters in the national museum. I was impressed by the richness of the collection of Dutch art. Many places in Poland remind us of our close cooperation in the past.

This year Poland took its first steps in the EU and from what we have seen everything has gone quite smoothly. Last year we were told that Poland was not ready for EU competition and that exports of Polish meat, milk and foodstuffs to the EU should be limited. Now it seems almost ironic that exports of precisely these Polish exports have increased. We have also seen that trade between Poland and the Netherlands has steadily grown to the point that the balance of trade is positive for Poland.

¡ö What is the Dutch attitude towards the free movement of Polish workers in the EU?
The Netherlands is among the vast majority of countries that have opted for a transitional regime for the free movement of workers. In our case it means that certain professions are open to Polish workers while other fields are not yet completely free. Yet, there are many Polish workers in the Netherlands, although that was also the case prior to Polish accession. The transition period was originally adopted for two years. In May this year, there will be an evaluation of the past year and following the public discussion in the Netherlands, I expect that period will be extended.

Of course, if you ask people in the Netherlands, opinions differ depending on whom you talk to. An employer in the horticultural or construction business will say how pleased they are with Polish workers who are such tremendous employees. Others, who work in industries facing competition from Polish workers, are more afraid and critical. Some people need a little bit more time to adjust to the new situation. If you go too fast for the public opinion, you can run into serious difficulties.

¡ö How European are the Poles?
As European as the Dutch. Poland is a fundamentally European nation. Poles know they belong to Europe. They greatly contributed to Europe¡¯s rich culture and civilization. There is no question about where Poland belongs¡ªin the Union of free, democratic European nations.

Being a member of that family involves taking co-responsibility for the Union as a whole. That involves dialogue and a culture of give and take so that in the end we can find common ground and joint solutions. Poland is a country that during a long period in history had lost its independence and now cherishes its newly found sovereignty. Prime Minister Marek Belka recently said that the EU is a project in which countries have to share their sovereignty and that Polish politicians have to adapt themselves to the new situation.

¡ö What were the Dutch reactions to the recent death of Pope John Paul II, who was such an important figure for the Polish people?
As I watched Dutch television and read the press, I observed that much attention was devoted to the death of Pope John Paul II. Obviously, not as much as in Poland, but I found it very interesting to see that television and press in the Netherlands featured many discussions concerning the Pope¡¯s legacy. In the Netherlands, we admire the crucial role Pope John Paul II played in the changes which took place in Europe, his role in creating a dialogue with people of other faiths and his relentless combat for social justice in the world. Though some may disagree with certain policies propagated by the Pope, everyone agrees that he was a very great man.

¡ö For you as a foreigner in Poland, was the outpouring of emotion following his death in Poland surprising?
I have been in Poland now for almost three years and I have seen how proud the people are of their Polish Pope. Given the historical role Pope John Paul II played for Poland and given the love he had for his country and its people, one could not be surprised to see the outpouring of emotion following his death.
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