Ernest Wyciszkiewicz: The EU and NATO are the Cornerstones of Polish Security

On February 2–3, 2017, Russian International Affairs Council in cooperation with the EU Delegation to the Russian Federation held a seminar "The Relationship between the EU, Russia and the US.” Ernest Wyciszkiewicz, Director of the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding (CPRDiP) shares his views on recent political developments in Poland, the deployment of NATO troops and the expectations of Trump’s policy in Poland.

Recently Polish domestic policy has been shifting to the right. How did the changes affect Poland-EU relations?

There are no Poland–EU relations because Poland is an integral part of the EU. This journalistic short-cut distorts the reality. But to the point, there are various political trends emerging throughout the whole continent, not only in Poland. Current situation is very dynamic. Some governments make new attempts to manage relations with the supra-national bodies, mostly the European Commission, which is usually interested in enlarging its own powers. There have been permanent discussions within the EU between supporters of more intergovernmental management and those in favour of supra-national structures. The conflicts that arose in recent months are part of these competitive strategies, and though they became very hot, they still to large extent are typical for the EU, in particular given the turbulences the EU has been experiencing recently.

In case of today’s Poland, inter-governmental method is clearly seen as preferable. But it has no anti-EU dimension, since majority of Poles, and it means also majority of constituencies, are still Euro-enthusiastic. You will not hear from a serious representative of the Polish government that we would like to leave the EU. The EU and NATO are still the cornerstones of Polish security, welfare and development. In my personal opinion, the situation we are facing now is a manageable crisis among family members.

So, the criticism towards the EU policies is temporary?

The EU is shaking a bit, especially given immigration crisis, Brexit, and rise of populist forces here and there that feed their voters with anti-EU agenda. We expect quite a few important elections this year (in France, Germany, but also in the Netherlands and Czech Republic) which may or may not reshuffle political scene in the EU.

It’s quite natural that some governments want to initiate the debate about the future of the European Union. In the EU very often crises triggered reforms. This is something that has been associated with the EU integration from the very beginning. The EU, as a matter of fact, is a club of constant negotiations, of constant low-intensity conflicts between the member-states that are managed on daily basis through common institutions, treaties and procedures. Sooner or later we will find a solution acceptable both for national governments and the European Commission.

Poland has asked NATO for additional troops to be deployed. How do you think it will affect the regional security system – would it help it, or would it undermine it?

It is part of the NATO reassurance policy. We have been a NATO member for eighteen years right now, and it was quite surprising for the Polish society that there were no NATO presence on Poland’s territory. A feeling emerged that there were first and second category members, for which Poland has never given consent. This preference to have NATO boots on the ground was reinforced after the annexation of Crimea along with the military build-up of Russian forces. Having NATO soldiers in Poland and in the Baltic states is obviously a part of reassurance policy badly needed under current circumstances. It is not something that strategically changes the existing imbalance: from the perspective of Russian capabilities it’s almost nothing, but from the perspective of Polish society, of Baltic societies, it is something that increases NATO’s real-life credibility, questioned by some in Europe, and is a way to inform the citizens that the government is taking steps to improve their security.

Do you think the balance of power in the region is going to change somehow, due to these developments?

Let’s leave these empty phrases to international relations handbooks. Geopolitical argumentation usually completely misses the point by focusing on impersonal systemic forces instead of people taking decision and thus responsibility. But I understand that such abstract concept can be instrumental to hide political errors behind them. It’s about politics, not Realpolitik. It’s about meeting expectations of the people/voters to feel more secure and this is what e.g. Polish government aims for. Yet, even if we apply military balance of capabilities approach, these measures – a couple of thousand soldiers rotating – cannot be seriously interpreted as something that changed material situation significantly. In particular when you compare them with the scope of regular Russian exercises conducted not far from NATO borders in recent couple of years.

To shift a little towards the EU-U.S. relations, what are the expectations about Trump’s foreign policy input?

Everyone had expectations of different kind and everyone now has to do a reality-check. The new administration’s moves are fast and a bit erratic. Inconsistent messages have been sent by newcomers and it is still difficult to re-construct coherent future U.S. policy. Despite flood of forecasts, from self-confident through self-serving to self-delusional, majority of observers are in wait-and-see mode still. Initial shock related to rapid decision on e.g. immigration is partially gone, now the time has come for distinguishing between rhetoric and real actions. Everyone tries to find a key to new administration collective mindset, be it Western allies, Russia or China. This uncertainty cannot last long and sooner rather than later we will see the contours of U.S. foreign policy which may well not be very different from the previous one.

Interviewed by Maria Smekalova, RIAC Website editor


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