Thursday, 20 December 2007

Tusk tries to mend fences

The new Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, has moved to try to repair the damaged relations between his country and Russia by abandoning his country’s opposition to Russia joining the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. “I have informed Russia that Poland will no longer block the negotiations,” said Tusk, adding that he hoped to visit Moscow soon. His predecessor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the President’s twin brother, had frozen relations with Russia when it placed an embargo on Polish meat imports in November 2005.

Moscow would thereby become the third foreign destination for the new Prime Minister, after Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, in late November, and Rome in early December, to see the Pope. It remains to be seen when he will go to Germany. Tusk is said to want an improvement in relations with Berlin but he is approaching the issue cautiously since he does not want to be denounced as “pro-German” by President Kaczynski. On 21 November, Tusk appointed Wladyslaw Bartoszewski to the post of State Secretary to the Prime Minister. Bartoszewski, 85, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz but who has since become an indefatigable proponent of German-Polish reconciliation, and who speaks German fluently, is a popular figure in Germany. In 1995, when Foreign Minister, he gave a noted speech to the Bundestag for commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the World War. He said on that occasion that he regretted the expulsion of Germans from what became Polish territory.

Perhaps the most significant appointment in the new Tusk government, however, is that of Radek Sikorski who becomes the new Foreign Minister. Sikorski, 44, who has British citizenship having studied at Oxford, is married to Anne Applebaum, the noted Washington Post columnist. For several years he worked at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most influential neo-conservative think tanks, and his elevation to head of the Polish Foreign Office means that Warsaw’s foreign policy will be every bit as pro-American as it was under the previous Kaczynski government, in which Sikorski was Minister of Defence. [Célia Chauffour, Le Monde, 29 November 2007]

Indeed, in an interview, Tusk has confirmed that his country remains as Atlanticist as ever. He told Le Monde that he is opposed to a purely European system of defence and that all military matters must remain within NATO. He also said that he was very pleased when Mr. Sarkozy went to Washington because good relations between France and America were good for Europe. Tusk said that Poland would probably be the first country in Europe to ratify the new Lisbon Treaty, the replacement for the old Constitution. “That will enable us to be seen as the most European country in Europe,” he said. He claimed that public opinion in Poland was 80 per cent in favour of the EU and that he wanted his country to shake off the Eurosceptic reputation it had acquired in recent years under the Kaczynski government. Tusk refused to be drawn on his position on the proposed anti-missile shield for which the Americans want to station launch sites in Poland. He had suggested in his campaign that he was against it: watch this space. [Interview in Le Monde, 8 December 2007]

The new government in Warsaw has also made it clear that it sees no way that Poland can adopt the euro before 2012. The Finance Minister, Jacek Rostowski has said, “This goal goes beyond the horizon of the four-year legislative period.” Tusk has said, “Poland’s accession to the eurozone must not represent any kind of danger for the economy and it must be especially useful for the ordinary citizen.” Poland in this respect resembles most of the other new Member States of the EU, which also are not expected to adopt the euro until 2012. (Slovenia is the exception: it adopted it this year. Slovakia hopes to adopt the euro in 2009. Bulgaria has aligned it currency to the euro for some time and might also adopt it before 2012).

The main reason for Warsaw’s caution is economics: Poland does not satisfy the criteria. Inflation remains at 4 per cent, well above the required level, and prices are still rising. The deficit is also above 3 per cent of GDP although the government has said that it will try to bring this down. On the other hand, the new government has also promised spending on various big projects like roads, and to raise the salaries of teachers. But there are also political obstacles. The Polish constitution would have to be changed if the country wanted to adopt the euro, because it specifies that the National Bank issues currency. A two-thirds majority in Parliament would be needed to change this, and the Law and Justice Party of the Kaczynski brothers would probably vote against. [Reinhold Vetter, Handelsblatt, 29 November 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

1 comment:

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