As President of a think tank primarily involved in the activities in the field of Poland’s foreign and EU politics, which burning issues do you see in this respect now for the country and your organisation as a research institution?
First of all, we want to continue our activities within EU topics, and we are highly worried about Poland’s future in the EU. Up to date, good cooperation and partnership with EU leading countries, and in particular Germany as our neighbour, but also other states have been crucial for us. Hence, we would like to find out the position of the new Polish government towards the key point of reference in our foreign policy. That’s why the EU role and the position of Poland in the EU is the number one question, especially concerning our German neighbours. If there is a change in the position, we would like to understand, which accents have been set. Of course, our role in the EU is quite important and no one neglects that, but the accent and the details is the question.
On 19 January 2016, Beata Szydło, Polish Prime Minister, defended the position of her government at the European Parliament. Besides, Zbigniew Ziobro, Polish Minister of Justice, harshly reacted to the rule of law framework initiated by the European Commission. What do you expect from these EC-Poland negotiations?
I do hope there will be more understanding between the parties – and that will relieve the situation. In fact, I don’t see any interest from the Polish side or from the European Commission or any other of the EU Institutions to deteriorate this issue between a member state and the EU Institutions. I believe both parties are interested in finding a better way of communication and handling all the matters, which are not well presented or explained in the mutual context. Certainly, the result of this process will depend on what the attitude of the EU institutions towards these explanations will be and which decisions will be met on the Polish side. If both parties want to cooperate well, they will easily resolve the occurred problem. And I do hope there will be no need for more debates on Poland at the European Parliament.
Poland is not the first state in the European Union, which was criticised by the European Commission. The first striking case was probably Hungary – and media used comparisons by describing situations in Hungary and in Poland. Is there a real threat coming from Hungary to Poland? Or is it a completely internal issue?
Well, it is not only a political debate. It is definitely something more resulting from the worries Polish citizens can have about the approach of the new government towards the basic values we want to stand by. We don’t say there will be definitely happening something wrong, but we might expect after two-three months that those moves would lead in the wrong direction. Some reactions may appear a bit too radical but it is happening due to the fact that people may conclude from the steps taken, what might follow. And of course, we don’t want our government to go beyond certain power limits it has to have. We strongly believe in the respect of the laws and that every single citizen, including politicians – regardless of their parties, leadership patterns, or positions, should stand by the law, while the laws should be respected. These are the basics of the current debate. As of today, the situation might progress in different directions, but there are some signals we observe, which make people get worried. Nevertheless, that development is not as radical as and as bad as some comments from the EU side say and surely far from drifting towards a Putin-style politics.
Sometimes, Viktor Orbán’s moves – like those of the current Polish government – are also compared to Putin’s Russia, but you consider that not a correct comparison…
Exactly! I would even say that such statements bring an opposite effect. They are so far from reality that it is very easy to contest them. It would have been much better if the critics had been a little bit more moderate and looked at facts, be some of the facts worrying indeed. The major problem is the composition of the Constitutional Tribunal – and that was really the issue going too far from the side of the government. But let us not exaggerate.
Another issue in Europe you have been dealing with at the Centre for International Relations is migration. What is your reaction to the current refugee crisis in Europe as a research institution?
I can see two aspects of this situation. The first one is public opinion in Europe including Poland. People who are not very familiar with these matters have a lot of worries about the migration crisis. In most of the cases, people are afraid, because they don’t feel secure with living side by side with people from different continents. They just want to be safe. The numbers of incoming refugees are worrying, because there get more and more. People are also scared of illegal migration, as long as we don’t really know who exactly is coming. On the policy level, I think that the right approach to the crisis would be that all the EU member states would acknowledge it as a common problem and not that of one or two countries only. However, the solutions we are looking for have to be discussed and accepted by everybody, ie we shouldn’t suggest or push for some solutions but we have to agree on solutions acceptable by everybody. Especially Germans have to be careful, because their style of leading Europe has to be softened. If they start to push, the others will react negatively. Certainly, it is bad, when the proposals given by the countries are not in favour of all of them, but there are solutions, which are good for some countries and bad for the others. In this case we will never find the right approach to the crisis. However, to find it, we have to really admit this an everybody’s problem. Shouldn’t we admit this fundamental issue, there will always be a chance for looking for ways to transfer the problem to the others.
Your organisation has been a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum for several years already. What challenges do you see for the work of the Forum nowadays?
I believe the most important objective of the Forum on the organisation level is to do common work and projects, to maintain people-to-people contacts and direct relations without paying too much attention to the political environment. We have to go on with our cooperation by implementing common projects, actions, and activities. That not only brings people together but also lets them understand the others better. And this is always something positive, whatever country and whatever political environment we live in. While reaching out to this objective, we also learn from each other. Forum is a learning tool for both EU and Russia to be able to observe the situation from another point of view. Whatever we can do together, it has to be good for both sides.
What is the Forum’s value for particularly your organisation?
Being a typical think tank in the field of foreign affairs and not a human rights or a social NGO, we are much interested in understanding Russia, covering the situation in Russia from the economic, political, social, and cultural point of view. We are one of the organisations, which are interested in implementing projects with colleagues and partners both from Russia and the EU. We see the positive aspects of the Forum being a place we can learn, discuss, and better understand each other. We use the Forum’s outcomes in our publications – policy papers, analyses, and all the other activities think tank usually does. Yet, we would also like to act, so we see it as a good platform to get to know reliable organisations from other countries for future cooperations. I believe that true cooperation grows to a significant extent from learning and understanding.
What would you like to wish to Forum members?
I wish them less talking and more acting. I believe Forum has to have more outcome than it used to be before.
The interview was shot via Skype on 20 January 2016 by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.