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Vol 2, No 18
9 May 2000
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EU flag sliceStaying the Course
Rafał Riedel

Poland is currently a first-round candidate for European Union (EU) membership, owing largely to the consistent work of all of the nation's post-Communist governments and to an existing domestic political consensus on the direction of Poland's European policies in general and European integration policies, in particular.

Work toward EU membership and on forging this domestic consensus has proceeded, despite pressure on particular government bodies from a variety of political groups, to such an extent that the quest for EU membership has remained a consistent pillar of Polish foreign policy across all post-Communist governments. A closer examination of some documentary evidence reveals this consistency in policy since 1989 and identifies Poland's goals in seeking entry to the EU.

Of course, varying opinions regarding the tempo and degree of Polish integration do exist, but official statements made by Polish authorities since the country regained national sovereignty in 1989 indicate a decidedly pro-European stance across the board. (By authorities or government organs, I am here specifically thinking of those which, under the Constitution, are charged with carrying out Polish policies abroad.)

The President, according to the Constitution, is the highest representative of the Republic of Poland on foreign policy issues. In the immediate aftermath of 1989, Poland's first post-Communist President, Lech Wałęsa, highlighted his support for the multilateral integration of Poland into Western structures, calling them "institutions that have proven their efficacy in resolving the problems of their members," [1] and current (since November 1995) President Aleksander Kwaśniewski's presidency has seen a significant intensification of measures aimed at effecting Poland's entry into the European Union.

In a late 1996 address to a Paris conference on Poland and the European Union, President Kwaśniewski presented Poland's official position and simultaneously expressed his intentions of personally leading Poland into the EU.

"For Poles," he said, "this question is of key importance. It is essentially a question of Poland's future and its place among European nations and, to a certain degree, of its internal organisation." [2] The President also drew attention to the dual character of accession talks and the necessity of continued pro-European development:

The 21st century presents a new calling. A friendly world is awaiting us, but, simultaneously, one that is founded on competition. Before us lies a time when, more than ever, efficacy, justice and solidarity will count. Europe cannot go into the millennium merely as the "old continent." To suit these new times, a new dynamic vision of Europe must be formed: Europe as the cradle of a new, modern model of civilisation. Our continent could stand a new Renaissance. Europe must become synonymous with the description "continent modern." [3]

At the same conference, the President highlighted the attributes that Poland brings to the European community of nations and will, in the future, bring to the EU. Among these he included:

  • the desire to participate in every aspect of the integration process, including the areas of foreign, security and defence policy, encompassed by the "third pillar" [of the "three pillars" underlining conflict resolution in foreign policy as outlined in, among others, Dennis J D Sandole's A Comprehensive Mapping of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: A three pillar approach, George Mason University, Washington, 1998; available for download on Dennis Sandole's website, ed];
  • familiarity with the realities of the Western part of the continent and the ability to make use of East-West similarities;
  • a strategic geopolitical location;
  • considerable economic potential and a market encompassing 40 million people;
  • attractive investment opportunities, due not only to low production costs but also to a relatively well-prepared industry;
  • a culture that is more than a thousand years old, clearly entrenched in European traditions.

The Polish government had made the goals of its European foreign policy clear on numerous previous occasions. Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Poland's first post-Communist foreign minister, delineated these goals precisely when he said:

This longing results from our statehood and [the ability to] determine its course and, let us be frank, will decide our place in Europe. One must be aware that there are long-term consequences here. [4]

Minister Skubiszewski fully supported the deepening of integration, while also realising Poland's place in the old continent's new structures, rooted in Maastricht. [5]

Skubiszewski's successors, Andrzej Olechowski and Władysław Bartoszewski, carried out the demands of their offices under the PSL-PPL (Polish People's Party-Polish Peasant Party) coalition government. The coalition also fully supported Poland's pro-Western development and integration into European structures but simultaneously attached great significance to forms of regional integration - within Visegrad, Central Europe and the Baltics - as well as other policies geared toward the East. [6]

The next government, under Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz (Prime Minister from 1996-1997), also made European Union membership a priority. The head of government, addressing the Sejm and the mixed committee for European affairs on 29 February 1996, stressed that:

...European orientation is primarily dictated by the fundamental interests of our country and is supported by values commonly articulated by Poland and the EU. This is why the integration process... constitutes a strategic goal for our country. ...in this respect it is not debatable either in the government's or the opposition's opinions. [7]

Full support for the unification process was behind numerous initiatives undertaken by consecutive governments, the most important of which were tied into the workings of the Committee for European Integration.

One of the most significant initiatives was Poland's opening statement at the beginning of negotiations on EU membership in Brussels, on 31 March 1998. Here, the government "greeted with immense pleasure" the invitation to negotiate membership, saying that "the negotiations beginning today mark a historic moment, launching perhaps a decisive phase in a process leading to the final elimination of divisive structures in Europe." [8]

The Polish government highlighted to its counterparts across the table that Poland was approaching the negotiations with the conviction that EU membership was the most advantageous choice from the point of view of state security, stability of democratic structures, the securing of the basis of rapid and balanced economic development and the building of a modern civil society.

EU membership is an opportunity and a calling for Poland. We realise the enormity of the tasks that lie ahead. We are simultaneously convinced that we are up for this job. The condition for Poland's effective participation in European integration is the completion of the reform process. This is why the government of the Republic of Poland will continue its alignment work, restructuring, modernising, privatising and restituting and undertaking reforms of the health and social security services as well as administrative reforms. [9]

The decision in favour of EU membership was treated by the Polish government as the final step toward the end of the continent's involuntary division, or at least a partial recouping of losses suffered in the wake of the Yalta conference. Poland made its contribution to the liquidation of the Communist system and the building of a new Europe, feeling that as a nation it had, over the course of the past decade, tragically discovered the consequences of a politically divided continent. Poland, the delegation said, has the right to a safe future, and EU membership was thus a high priority in the Polish foreign policy of the day - and remains so today.

In his address to the Sejm in May 1995, Minister of Foreign Affairs Władysław Bartoszewski layed out the following priorities, which, he said, had remained the same since "the historic break in 1989":

  • discuss, reasonably quickly, integration into NATO and the EU;
  • build good, friendly relations with all our neighbours, [while] continuing to actively participate in regional co-operation;
  • intensively develop economic relations with the world's dynamic markets. [10]

Just as Poland was formally entering advanced stages of discussion, the Sejm enacted a bill, on 20 March 1998, regarding Polish membership in the EU. In its opening paragraph, the Sejm clearly delineated the perceived benefits of Polish membership, both to the nation and to the Union:

The Sejm of the Polish Republic eagerly anticipates the beginning of negotiations between Poland and the EU regarding membership. We express the conviction that... the planned deliberations [will] usefully contribute to the idea of European integration and benefit all Europeans, and Polish traditions, culture and economic potential will find greater potential within the EU to contribute to the shaping of a future, unified Europe. Developing our own identity and maintaining Polish sovereignty, we long for [membership in] the EU, recognising it as an organisation that retains respect for diversity.

Parliamentarians also defined Poland's expectations of the Union, saying the nation desires membership in an EU that is strong, unified and harmonious, based on principles of a Union supported by states, nations and societies. The Sejm expressed the conviction that fulfilling Poles' European aspirations would be possible over the next few years.

Echoing statements by government officials, the Sejm stressed that the broadening of the EU to include Poland and other countries would be a decisive step on the road to repairing the consequences of a ruptured Europe and would serve to stabilise and develop the democratic order in Central and Eastern Europe.

As we can see, despite an active culture of political debate - with its frequent crises, debates over the principles of political culture and passionate protests - and changes in government, the official position of Polish authorities regarding the question of EU accession has remained consistent over the past ten years. This is of great importance, demonstrating a commonality of purpose in discussions with EU negotiators and the importance with which Polish statehood is treated by all actors on the political scene.

Rafał Riedel, revised 4 May 2000

Translated by Joanna Rohozińska

Moving on:


1.President Lech Walesa's meeting with the European Club, Rzeczpospolita, 4 October 1995. ^

2.Text of President Aleksander Kwasnieski's address to the conference "Poland and the European Union: Together in the 21st Century," at the French Institute for International Affairs, Paris, 4 December 1996. ^

3.Ibid ^

4.Spr. sten. z Sejmu, 27 June 1991, p 14. ^

5.E. Stadtmueller, Debaty polityczne wokól integracji Polski z Unia Europejska, in Jaka Europa?, ed E. Stadtmueller, Wroclaw, 1998. ^

6.Spr. sten. z Sejmu, 12 May 1994.^

7.Spr. sten. z Sejmu, 1 March 1996, p 269.^

8."Opening Statement," Brussels 31 March 1998.^


10.Minister of Foreign Affairs Wladyslaw Bartoszewski's address to the Sejm, 24 May 1995.^


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