"I will probably be first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.'"
A Pole must have reasonable grounds to make such an appeal to the Germans a little more than 70 years after Germany invaded Poland, unleashing World War II. But Radoslaw Sikorski said more: "What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland today, on 28th November 2011? It’s not terrorism, it’s not the Taliban, and it’s certainly not German tanks. It’s not even Russian missiles which President Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland would be the collapse of the eurozone."
In the face of this threat the Polish foreign minister went to Berlin to urge Germany to act immediately: "And I demand of Germany that, for your own sake and for ours, you help it survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. [...] As a Pole and a European, here in Berlin, I say: the time to act is now."
In an extremely emotional speech before the German Society for Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski calls bluntly Germany to admit that it is not "an innocent victim of others’ profligacy”, that it has also violated the Stability and Growth Pact, and its banks “also recklessly bought risky bonds”, that the borrowing cost of Germany would have never be so low had investors not tried to get rid of the bonds of threatened countries, that the German economy will suffer if its neighbours suffer, that despite the fear of inflation it appreciates that the danger of collapse is much a bigger threat and, finally, "because of your size and your history you have a special responsibility to preserve peace and democracy on the continent."
The timing is too crucial to beat about the bush. And Mr Sikorski does not hesitate to name the choice Europe is facing: "deeper integration, or collapse" that “would be a crisis of apocalyptic proportions beyond our financial system". And "if renationalisation or collapse is unacceptable, then only one way remains: making Europe, as Europe, governable at last, and hence – in due course – more credible." Although politics is often balancing between the urgent and the important, the Polish top diplomat says, while solving the urgent - saving the eurozone - we must defend the important - "to preserve Europe as a democracy that respects the autonomy of its member states. This new European deal will need to balance Responsibility, Solidarity and Democracy as the cornerstones of our political union."
How to get there?
In response to this question Radoslaw Sikorski recalls the work done so far, like the EU economic governance package and the new proposals made by the European Commission for the euro area, concluding that if the new rules were adopted by the European Council, "the European Central Bank should become a proper central bank, a lender of last resort that underpins the credibility to the entire eurozone." But until that happens,"the ECB needs to act soon."
That will prevent the disaster, but will not solve the problems. Therefore, "Poland has all along supported the idea of a new treaty that would make the EU more effective." This means a stronger European Commission in which commissioners are not bureaucrats but leaders with a strong personality and charisma. And they should be less than the current 27 so that member states should rotate to have the right to determine a Commissioner [something that is provided in the Lisbon Treaty from 2014].
"The more power we give to European institutions, the more democratic legitimacy they need to have. The draconian powers to supervise national budgets should be wielded only by agreement of the European Parliament."
And not only – the political union needs "political expression to the European public
opinion." To this end, Radoslaw Sikorski proposes some of the MEPs to be elected by a pan-European list of candidates (similar idea was proposed by Andrew Duff, MEP, but the Parliament has postponed the discussion on the electoral reform). Furthermore, Parliament should be located in one place, unlike now - in Brussels and Strasbourg, the Polish Foreign Minister says. According to him, the posts of a president of the European Council and of the European Commission can be combined and even, as suggested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel - the person for this new post could be directly elected by European voters.
"What is crucial is that we maintain coherence between the euro area and the EU as a whole."
The unity, however, must not be hypothetical, i.e. countries to participate once they join the eurozone. Instead of holding summits of the euro area, separate from the European Council, we may have common summits, “where all may attend, but only members vote”, Mr Sikorski suggests. He makes a very strong appeal to the United Kingdom to support the proposed reforms recalling that the British gave the union its common language, the brilliant idea of the Single Market, the first common EU top diplomat (High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton), but also that the British would only lose if the eurozone collapsed. Given the UK's total sovereign, corporate and household debt of over 400% of GDP, “are you sure markets will always favour you?"
"We would prefer you in, but if you can’t join, please allow us to forge ahead. And please start explaining to your people that European decisions are not Brussels’ diktats but results of agreements in which you freely participate."
From the outset of the debate on the separation of the eurozone from the other 10 countries, Poland has been among the countries most fiercely defending the need for unity. Now, Radoslaw Sikorski pulls the heavy artillery, to refute all the "hostile" theories. As the one that the crisis was caused by EU enlargement. "Thanks to the advantages of trading in an enlarged market, West European welfare states have been forced to face reality only now."
To the theories of the divisions into North and South, "core" and "periphery", or "strong" and "weak," Mr Sikorski opposes a different point of view. In the last four years the accumulated GDP growth in Poland amounts to 15.4%. The second place in the EU, with 8% belongs to a eurozone country - Slovakia, given the EU average is minus 0.4%. "To those who would like to divide Europe, I say: how about a natural division into growth-Europe and non-growth Europe?"
And to all those who doubt the Polish grounds for such a direct tone and high demands or resist the need for fiscal discipline and reforms, Radoslaw Sikorski recalls that behind the economic success of Poland stand painful decisions and sacrifices: privatisation, pension reform, opening to globalisation. Poland was among the first to introduce a debt brake in its constitution. The country, which is in an excessive deficit procedure, will bring the deficit in the limits of 3% in 2012, and its overall debt amounts to 52% of GDP.
"The retirement age will be lifted to 67 years for both genders. Pension privileges for soldiers, policemen and priests will be cut."
Moreover, by the end of this Parliament (2015) Poland will meet the criteria for euro membership. "That’s because we want the eurozone to survive and flourish. And we plan to be in it." Regarding what Poland is ready to do for the EU and expects the other 26 to do the same is "a willingness to make compromises - even to pool sovereignty with others - in return for a fair role in a stronger Europe."
I can hardly conclude with words, stronger than the speech of Radoslaw Sikorski itself. I can only hope all European countries to have leaders with such a clear vision for direction, declared so boldly, firmly and with the necessary self confidence. euinside has written many times about the Polish European spirit. I hope it will prove contagious.