– There is a lot of gas on the market. LNG has finally become competitive. We are combining the political effect with business. The gas that is imported to Poland is not political, just like gas from Russia. Moscow uses this product as an instrument of blackmail against others, including Poland – said the Polish minister of foreign affairs Witold Waszczykowski in an interview for BiznesAlert.pl.
BiznesAlert.pl: Together with PGNiG representatives, you visited the capital of Texas, where talks were due to be held about LNG deliveries from the USA to Poland. What agreements were concluded?
Witold Waszczykowski: Diplomacy neither buys nor sells, that’s clear. What the diplomatic corps can do is create a climate for development. It is important to create a friendly environment, to exchange of knowledge and contacts. This is currently being implemented.
The Russian side argued that the purchase of LNG from across the Atlantic is expensive and unprofitable. Kommersant published an interview with you, in which there are references to expensive LNG.
You are referring to my talks with the Russian press a few months ago when we were just starting talks. At that time the price was higher. The Americans have now begun to supply this raw material to the whole world. Prices have since fallen, due to the growing supply of the raw material on the market. There is a lot of gas on the market. LNG has finally become competitive. We are combining the political effect with business. The gas that is imported to Poland is not political, just like gas from Russia. Moscow uses this product as an instrument of blackmail against others, including Poland. We are closer to Russia than to Germany, and yet we pay more for this raw material than our western neighbour. So it is politically motivated. In the case of the USA, there is no such dependence outside of pure economics. The Americans will not sell us gas for a dollar, but their offer is competitive and has a political umbrella.
What are the other reasons for why Poland needs a diplomatic mission in Houston?
Our predecessors limited the number of missions, cooperation, which was developed by previous governments together with the Ministry of Economy. The government withdrew Poland from UN operations, conducted by our country, for example in the Middle East. These are the assets that are used with regard to regions and our coalition partners. Ten years ago, as the deputy head of the MFA, I was asked in Israel about the restitution of property that was not completed after World War II, and we would argue that it was a complex and expensive administrative matter, but our interlocutors should note that Poland protects Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, as our troops are part of the UN contingent.
It was an instrument of influence, also in relations with the USA as well as other countries. It is a tool that we need to recover now and we need to open several diplomatic missions. Above all, our mission in Houston is a new field of our activity in the USA. Texas is always associated with shale gas and LNG terminals. However, there are also large science centers there. The Polish-American Chamber of Commerce is not an environment of older members of the Polish community who are at the end of their careers, but rather young people. These Poles work in large corporations in the USA and created the Chamber on their own initiative. They made us understand that they are there to act as a bridge between our countries. To help Poland. They work in the largest companies in the world, so they inevitably have contacts. These are all advantages that can be taken advantage of. I also wanted to open a consulate in Seattle. This city is another great industrial and innovative centre. Google or Boeing are there. There need to be more of such cooperation centres in order to conduct lively economic cooperation with this rich, innovative country.
Media in countries that are unfriendly to us believe that the purchase of LNG from the USA is a purely political move. To what extent can economic cooperation with the USA in the form of LNG or construction of a nuclear power plant increase our commitment to defending countries in our Central and Eastern Europe region?
This is already happening. The US did not wait for the NATO decision, which was made in Warsaw in 2016. At that time, the Alliance decided to deploy NATO forces, but the Americans had previously decided to send battalion combat groups to Poland. They decided to send a brigade, that is almost four thousand soldiers, several hundred pieces of military hardware, including tanks and other combat vehicles. In 2018, we will have a permanent presence in the USA in the form of an anti-missile shield. It will therefore be protected by US missile forces. Most likely, this is not the end. After deploying troops, one will need to create a command that will manage the presence of NATO forces, including US troops. Infrastructure and logistics will grow and develop. We are therefore part of US defence planning. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Pact was confirmed not only on paper, but also in specific actions, such as the deployment of troops. We have forces on the ground that will help deter low-intensity hybrid activities. However, following the visit of NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg in August, which coincided with the Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 exercises, we know that the Alliance began work on the next steps of our response, the Follow-On Forces, in case of a larger scale conflict that would lead to part of a member state’s territory bring occupied. Preventive actions should then be replaced with those for the recovery of territory. Preliminary work on legal issues is currently being carried out, creating something similar to the Schengen area in NATO, and in doing so facilitating the movement and logistics of large armed forces across the territory of the member states. It turns out that this issue was neglected after the fall of the Cold War. NATO wants to set an example through these preparations that we are ready for this type of threats and for larger operations. To do this, it is necessary to regulate the legal and logistic issue regarding the deployment of American troops to Europe.
The controversy over Jerusalem shows that there are an increasing number of areas where the US and the EU do not operate symmetrically. Where does Poland find itself in this difficult dialogue?
In the case of Jerusalem, we have, on our own initiative, expressed a different opinion from the US for the sake of the peace process. We know that there is also a debate in the USA about how and when to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Poland did not take sides. We invariably hold the position that is not only the position of the EU, but also that of the UN: we support the two states in Palestine and the direct bilateral negotiations between these parties and based on the resolutions of the Security Council. There is also a debate in the US and in the EU on how to deal with the administration of President Donald Trump. It turns out that some elites do not respect democratic elections. Some of the liberal elites are surprised, puzzled by the victory of the conservative forces and react nervously, even out of character, in an unpredictable way, unsanctioned by any diplomatic practice. For example, during the NATO ministerial meeting, representatives of Germany and France ostentatiously left part of the meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It is also worth taking note of the words spoken by the head of German diplomacy. He effectively denies US diplomacy the right to be the leader of the Western world.
At the same time, the same politician undermines the legitimacy of sanctions and supports Nord Stream 2.
Germany assumed that Nord Stream 1 would subordinate Russia to trade with Europe. We responded that it would give tools to exert pressure on Western Europe and would facilitate the blackmail of Eastern Europe. We know that this is how exactly what has happened. Nord Stream 2 will lead to even greater dependence and expansion of the possibility of blackmail. The German side argues that it is purely business. Well, it is political and we want this to be recognised. If they demand solidarity from us, it is a two-way street. Germany’s actions expose Poland to Russia’s negative actions.
How does Polish diplomacy respond to allegations by critics that it is heading in an anti-EU and nationalist direction, and that the reform of courts will end with the putinisation of the country?
Gently speaking, this is nonsense. Polish diplomacy never went down the road of, for example, Marine Le Pen, despite the fact that I was accused of this many times. My meetings with her were of an exploratory nature. Many of the issues she raised were taken over by President Macron. He now speaks – like Le Pen did earlier – about intelligent protectionism. He spoke out against the directive on posted workers. In doing so he opposed the free market, one of the Treaty freedoms, and thus the flow of goods and services. This created a paradox. In the founding countries of the EU, views are beginning to be associated with restrictions on treaty freedoms: the restriction of European integration, the creation of divisions within the EU. From our part of Europe there are appeals for unity. Poland lived in a divided Europe. We have experienced firsthand what a divided Europe is like. Larger and richer external partners will pursue their own interests at our expense. Poland does not want this and warns against it.
Meanwhile, Poland is being criticized for its reforms of the judiciary. The European Commission has launched the procedure enshrined in Article 7.1 of the Treaty, which opens the way to possible sanctions being imposed on our country for changes undertaken in violation of European law. How will Polish diplomacy convince foreign investors that the situation is stable?
We have been defending ourselves effectively for two years. In January 2016, there was an attempt to lower ratings for Poland, but it turned out that they returned to normal. Our judicial reform does not affect the economy. Threats at Poland are motivated by ideology. We are not breaking the law, nor are we violating the separation of power principle.
We are changing the administrative dimension of the courts, we are not taking away their sovereignty. We are not telling judges how they need to adjudicate. We want the courts to work more effectively. The dispute concerns the interpretation of whether the country has the right to continue reforms according to its own ideas. These are solutions that already exist in other member states. Brussels responds by expecting a “model reform”, i.e. not accepting changes analogous to the countries of the “old EU” in the “young EU” countries. We do not have to adopt the standards invented by the Venice Commission and we have the right to model ourselves on other EU countries. However, despite disputes with commissioners, our performance with regard to trade is excellent. We trade more with Germany than they do with Russia. The economy is doing well. The figures speak for themselves. Abroad, people don’t pay much attention to news reports from opposition media outlets in Poland, they look at our results. And they are good.
Should Poland be preparing itself for the breakup of the European Union?
Not necessarily. We continue to appeal for the unity of the European Union. We want to integrate its eastern part more meaningfully through the Three Seas Initiative, which will allow the region to catch up in relation to the so-called “Old EU”, who also organize their meetings, for example within the eurozone. The Three Seas initiative is centred around infrastructure and energy cooperation. It complements European integration. We can link efforts with the aim of using EU funds, for example on Via Carpathia. We are also considering getting involved in the Chinese Belgrade-Budapest rapid rail project implemented as part of the 16 + 1 format. However, this will not be a geopolitical alternative, but rather a business one. The Americans, in turn, backed the Three Seas initiative and offered to support LNG to the region.
Will we have to rely on such activities instead of the EU? This is an important question in the context of the temptations offered by the do-called Polexit, promoted especially in the Russian media.
I hope not. I think that after being exposed to ideas of cutting the Union out of the Union and the creation a new government in Germany, we will return to a factual discussion about the reform of the EU. There are also fewer ideas for creating a EU federation. The Union is meant to improve the well-being of citizens, not create new institutions that won’t bring added value. We must remember this when looking for a solution aimed at healing our organization.
How does one encourage critics to engage in dialogue?
We are doing this. The leader of the opposition Grzegorz Schetyna is the head of the Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Committee. However, he uses this position to play a political game against us, not a constructive cooperation or dialogue.
What would ideal co-operation between diplomacy and business look like in the work carried out by the MFA In the next two years?
I dream of having representatives of business institutions join me on my plane, as is the case with state-owned companies do. The Minister of Foreign Affairs can open many doors abroad. If he receives information that a new diplomatic mission could be useful, then he can open it. I am hopeful that such co-operaton will take fruit, but there haven’t been many applications.
What needs to be done to end the dispute over reforms?
The opposition must admit that it lost the election and let us get in with our work. Let them try to win the elections in two years time, rather than try to topple the government using foreign instruments. I am happy to take opposition deputies on foreign visits along with business representatives, but I cannot take those who delegitimize the democratic government.
Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik