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The Polish Eagle is prepared to lead Europe

Submitted by on 14 Apr 2011 – 13:46

By Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg – Quaestor of European Parliament, Member of EP Bureau

Seven years after its accession to the European Union, Poland is about to take over its first EU rotating Presidency, starting on July 1st, 2011. Intensive preparations for the organisation of the Presidency started in 2009 with the approval of the multi-annual programme to which 430.4 million Polish złoty, 108.5 million euro, were allocated.

The Polish Foreign Ministry has been attentive to minor and major details alike: thousand of Polish officials received special training in foreign languages, structure of the European Union institutions, negotiation and time management courses; 1,250 formal meetings are expected to take place during the Presidency in Brussels and Luxembourg, for which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made 12,000 hotel pre-reservations in Poland for accommodating translators and other delegates. Over 2,000 events, including promotional, cultural and business ones will be organised in Poland. In addition to those, the Presidency plans to hold events with reference to the European Year of Volunteering, the European Culture Congress, the European Congress of People with Disabilities and the Internal Market Forum.

The Polish EU Presidency adopted its general priorities of the Presidency at the end of July 2010. These include:

1. Strengthening the internal market
2. Promoting relations with the East
3. Strengthening EU’s external energy policy
4. Common Security and Defense Policy
5. Negotiations on the 2014-2020 financial framework
6. Full utilisation of Europe’s intellectual capital

While the Presidency is prepared to deal with the various scenarios deriving from these priorities, particular emphasis will be placed on the Eastern Partnership and the relations with Russia. It comes as no wonder then that the Eastern Partnership is, for the first time, set as a priority in the agenda of EU Presidency.

Inaugurated in 2009, the Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a Polish-Swedish initiative launched within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the EU Enlargement Policy. The partnership aims to expand and links between the European Union and Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Although the EaP sets ambitious goals of transforming the EU’s Eastern neighbours into well-governed, secure and economically prosperous countries by bringing them closer to the Union, the Partnership is becoming characterised by mutual frustration. While the EaP countries are disappointed with the lack of perspectives for joining the European Union, the Union is frustrated by the lack of progress in the process of democratic transformation in those countries; it is enough to look at the recent election dispute in Belarus to demonstrate this point. Add to this equation the increasing economic problems, as well as the ongoing restrictions on civil society and free press, and the outcome will provide mutual growing deception.

Poland, a country that shares borders, history and close contacts with the Eastern European countries, is determined to use its term as EU President to influence and positively affect the situation.

A primary action by the Polish Presidency will be to host in the autumn the Eastern Partnership summit, which will gather EU high level EU representatives, leaders from all 27 EU member states and the six participants in the Eastern Partnership. Moreover, the Presidency has already opened negotiations with all the participating states, except Belarus, concerning Treaties of Accession and agreements on free trade areas.  It is also expected to make progress on visa liberation, intensification of economic cooperation and, of course, strengthening the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

However, the EaP does not stand alone but is backed by its bigger neighbour – Russia. The Polish Presidency has already spoken about a rapprochement with Russia during the Presidency. This approach will include supporting Russian accession to the WTO, as well as the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation. Furthermore, high level meetings are planned to take place, such include a mini EU-Russia summit.

The importance Poland is giving to the EaP and its relations to Russia not only demonstrate the fact it has moved beyond the history, but it also shows Poland’s view as a worthy, integrated European country. By embracing the past, Poland is looking straight into the future for a stronger, more unified EU, and this approach will be mostly demonstrated during the Polish Presidency.