Minister Jacek Czaputowicz on Polish diplomacy priorities in 2019
Chief of Polish diplomacy Jacek Czaputowicz delivered Information of the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Polish foreign policy tasks in 2019 at the Sejm.
Below you will find the full version of his speech.
Information of the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Polish Foreign Policy Tasks in 2019
Prime Minister, Colleagues Ministers,
Members of the House,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is the second time I have the honour of standing before you as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and informing the House, its guests and the Polish citizens about foreign policy. A foreign policy address of the minister of foreign affairs must meet two conditions: it should report on the government’s achievements to date, and it should set out plans for the future – the challenges we have defined and the ways of addressing them we propose.
I am presenting to the House and to the Polish citizens a report on what the United Right’s government has been able to achieve on the international stage following the 2015 election, and how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been operating both under my leadership and during the tenure of my predecessor, Sejm Deputy Mr Witold Waszczykowski. I would like to underscore the role of President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, and all the ministers as co-authors of our foreign policy. My thanks are also due to the Polish Sejm and Senate for their very important and effective activities in the field of parliamentary democracy.
Thanks to cooperation between all institutions responsible for foreign policy, and thanks to the combination of visions, aims, and efforts of senior state officials, today Poland is an active country whose voice is being heard, and a country that commands growing respect among its foreign partners.
Members of the House,
It is the 30th foreign policy address delivered by a foreign minister since the transformation of 1989, when the Polish people defeated the communist regime. The Solidarity movement and the outcomes of the 4 June 1989 election set in motion a chain of events that led to the collapse of walls dividing East and West. We remember and take pride in the fact that it was us the Poles who began our march, as a matter of fact the march of all Central and Eastern Europe as a whole towards long awaited freedom. If it had not been for Solidarity’s victory, the Berlin Wall would not have come down, and the continent’s division would not have been overcome.
June 1989 started the process of restoring Poland’s rightful place in the world. Polish diplomacy could set about realizing European and Atlantic aspirations, which were so deeply rooted in our society. We have come a long way from a country dependent on the Soviet Union to a pillar of NATO and a co-host of the European project.
We would like this year’s celebrations of the 30th anniversary of June 1989 to highlight Poland’s place in the democratization of Europe. A special role should be played by the Parliament, especially the Senate, which was elected in a fully democratic way on 4 June 1989, when the sweeping victory of Solidarity candidates showed the true nature of public aspirations.
Drawing on the values that guided Solidarity, we believe that diplomacy is a service to the citizens, who in turn make their active contribution to it. They do so indirectly by choosing from amongst themselves the President and the political representation in the Parliament, which elects the Prime Minister and gives its vote of confidence to the Council of Ministers. And they do so indirectly by participating in a public debate on foreign policy, or in public consultations on the future of Europe, as was the case last year.
Mr Speaker, Members of the House,
Poland’s accession to the European Union crowned the efforts of all governments that were formed after Solidarity’s victory in 1989. 1 May will mark 15 years since that event. EU membership has become a foundation for the modernization of our state, economy, and foreign policy. Our citizens and companies benefit from the open borders and common market. Funds we receive from the EU budget are invested in making our country more competitive and prosperous.
In 2004, our GDP per capita was 47% of the EU average; today, it is as much as 70%. The aim of the government is to catch up with the most developed EU countries in the near future in terms of living standards, something that the economic growth of 5% will help to achieve.
2019 is a very significant year for the EU. In May, the European Parliament election will open a new institutional cycle. This invites reflection on the priorities we should pursue. Next week’s European Council meeting will start a discussion about key policy aims with respect to the internal market. On 9 May, the heads of state and government will travel to Sibiu for an informal summit on the future of the European Union, while the European Council meeting in June will be devoted to the adoption of a new Strategic Agenda for the EU.
Polish diplomacy will play an active part in the discussion on the future shape of the European Union. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has invited the leaders of the member states that have joined the EU since 2004 to Warsaw for a meeting that will be held on 1 May, i.e. 15 years after Poland and other countries of the region acceded to the EU. We want to come together and celebrate an anniversary that is so important to the citizens of Central Europe; we also want to voice the region’s opinion on which way the European Union should be headed. We want to have an active part in the Sibiu discussion.
We advocate a strong Union, one that enjoys the support of its constituent states and nations; a Union that fosters economic growth and the prosperity of its societies; a Union that helps to ensure equal living standards for the citizens of all member states; a Union that taps into the potential of the common market and respects all the four freedoms: the free movement of goods, capital, persons, and services.
Poland will work to rebuild citizens’ trust in the EU institutions. Our overriding aim must be to restore the EU’s full and unquestionable legitimacy, to win back voters’ trust in the European institutions, and to restore their ability to solve people’s real problems.
Reform of the EU system should be accompanied by a genuine democratic mandate granted in a national electoral process. The key role should be played by national parliaments, which reflect the will of the citizens of the countries that make up our community.
Today, the European project is also under threat from populist movements on the left and on the right. We consider these threats as a symptom of the crisis Europe is going through, not as its cause. The EU institutions should operate on the basis of powers set out in the treaties, and pursue objectives that advance [the interests of] all the members.
In our view, increasing the number of issues that can be decided by majority voting in the EU is a controversial proposal.
First, it illustrates the fact that compromise is no longer sought, even though unity should undergird the EU. Many EU member states believe that their voices do not count the same when key issues are on the agenda. I guess that it was precisely this sense of lack of say over the decisions taken in Brussels that prompted a large group of Britons to vote for leaving the EU.
Second, the EU system of weighting votes gives privileges to the largest member states, with the weight of the biggest countries set to increase even further after Brexit. When this system was being introduced, no one anticipated that a big member state like the United Kingdom would exit the Union, something that is bound to have a major impact on the coalition-building capacity within the Council. As a result, Brexit will weaken the Community method of taking decisions, and make it difficult for the European Commission to balance the interests of big and small countries.
Members of the House,
The European Union is not only a platform of cooperation among the member states. It is also a forum where their interests clash. A country’s maturity can be measured by its ability to advance its interests. While planning for Europe’s future, we also make the case for Poland.
We are actively seeking to enhance the global competitiveness of the European economy. Along with sixteen other member states, we are championing the strengthening of the Single Market and European digital policy through a deeper integration of the services sector and the elimination of barriers on the common market. We are also arguing for an environment that would foster digital transformation, including a strong EU position in artificial intelligence and a data-driven economy. We will aim to implement these proposals. The European Union is threatened by protectionism, which strikes at entrepreneurs and workers on the EU labour market.
Our vision of the European Union also includes an effective fight against tax fraud, which poses a major challenge to many member states. Our partners appreciate measures that have been adopted by the Polish government to close the VAT gap. Realizing the scale of this phenomenon and the challenges it involves, we are willing to share our experiences and solutions with the member states and the EU institutions, e.g. in the form of expert seminars (most recently such seminars were held in Paris and Brussels).
Brexit represents a serious challenge to the European Union and its member states. The UK’s negotiated withdrawal deal from the EU guarantees citizens’ rights and British payments to the EU budget, and gives assurance to businesspeople in the form of a transition period. Thanks to Poland’s active involvement, the EU adopted measures that give Polish road hauliers and air carriers access to the UK market. In case a no-deal Brexit materialises, the UK government set out its plans for protecting EU citizens, including Poles, while the Polish government adopted a legislative package safeguarding the rights of the British citizens who live in our country. Having said that, we believe a no-deal Brexit would be the worst scenario, which is why we shall keep looking for solutions to enlist support for the negotiated agreement.
The new EU budget will take shape in a new political environment at the European Parliament, and with a new European Commission in place. We oppose cuts to the EU budget, and favour keeping a high level of financing for the cohesion policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Let us recall that the transfer of EU funds is meant to compensate weaker economies for opening their markets to the competition from stronger economies, to a considerable benefit of the latter. To make up for the post-Brexit financial shortfall, we should give up budget rebates and increase contributions of the remaining member states. Poland stands ready to increase ours accordingly.
It is unacceptable to propose, as the Commission did, that payments from the Community budget should be contingent on an arbitrary assessment of the rule of law in the countries benefitting from such payments. The payment of these funds is a treaty obligation. What is striking about the Commission’s proposal is the lack of strict criteria for how to assess the rule of law, a much lower threshold for blocking decisions, and, most importantly, the lack of legal grounds for such measures. Neither the European Commission nor such purely political body as the Council were given the right to pass judgments; what the member states did confer on them was merely the power to refer matters to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
It should also be emphasized that our reservations were largely shared by lawyers of the Council, who supervise the legislative process in Brussels. This position was reflected in the legal opinion of 25 October last year issued by the Council Legal Service.
Mr Speaker, Members of the House,
Confronted with unprecedented challenges, today’s world is much less stable, less predictable than in the past decades. We are witnessing a steady erosion of a world order based on the conviction that democracy is the best form of governance, that human rights are universal and inherent, and that international law should underpin international relations. The use of military force has again become a tool for changing state borders.
In this situation, strong Polish Armed Forces that are consistently modernized are the main instrument for defending our borders and building our allied credibility, while it is up to our diplomacy to create an international architecture that will foster our security.
This month marks 20 years since Poland joined NATO. The hoisting of a Polish flag at NATO headquarters symbolized Poland’s return to its rightful place in Europe. It also opened a new era in our security.
We continue to prioritize a stronger military presence of NATO on the eastern flank of the Alliance, especially a closer military cooperation between Poland and the United States. We have been working on this with nine countries of our region as part of the Bucharest Format. The fourth meeting of the Bucharest Format heads state held in Kosice on 28 February is the most recent example of the common coordinated voice with which countries of the region speak about their assessment of threats and ways to improve security of the eastern flank.
We are especially interested in enhancing the Alliance’s deterrence and defence potential. Our aspiration to be the core of the NATO and US military presence in the region is real. There are NATO troops stationed in our country: US soldiers, but also personnel from the UK, Romania, and Croatia. Elblag is home to a multinational command that is tasked with coordinating allied activities along the eastern flank. A US armoured brigade is stationed on a rotational and permanent basis in western Poland.
For another year, the Ministry of National Defence has been coordinating work on the establishment of a missile defence base at Redzikowo as a permanent strategic base of US troops. The ongoing bilateral negotiations are fleshing out Poland’s proposal of increasing the US military presence in our territory.
Improving military mobility remains an important task. Mass Russian manoeuvres at NATO’s eastern flank call for a quick formation of allied military units that would be capable of ensuring a balance of power in the region. This is also needed if deterrence is to be credible. Poland has already significantly shortened the procedures for issuing military transit permits, and we expect our allies to follow suit. Figuratively speaking, we advocate establishing ‘a military Schengen’ within NATO. We support NATO-EU collaboration on this.
Like other members of the North Atlantic Alliance, we believe that the US decision to suspend its obligations arising from the treaty on the complete elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles (the so-called INF treaty) was a legitimate response to Russia’s prolonged violation of the treaty.
Poland believes that the North Atlantic Alliance should maintain its open door policy. NATO’s credibility in this respect was confirmed by the recent signing of the Republic of North Macedonia’s accession protocol. We want to deepen cooperation with NATO partner countries, especially those in our immediate neighbourhood: Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, countries with which we share a very similar outlook on the nature of threats to international security.
We are seeking the Alliance’s support for our eastern neighbours. A Polish- Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade is stationed in Lublin; last February, the presidents of the three countries paid a visit there. Together with our allies, we are setting up the NATO-Ukraine Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare. Its aims include increasing resilience in such areas as the protection of critical infrastructure, cyber defence, and combating terrorism.
Speaking from this place during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting last year, I emphasized the need to fulfil obligations and meet the level of defence spending according to NATO criteria. Poland is already spending 2% of its GDP on defence, and we intend to gradually increase that figure to 2.5% by 2030, or maybe even earlier. Our efforts are being noticed by NATO and allies, which I experienced myself during the recent visits to Poland by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Poland is held up by these leaders and by other people as an example for others to follow.
At the same time, we are pragmatic about developing defence cooperation within the European Union. We lay store by supporting the interoperability and compatibility of European countries’ armed forces, and we want to enhance the mobility of armies and military equipment. We believe that the European Defence Fund is an opportunity for the Polish arms industry to spur innovation, and for our defence sector to solidify its presence in the European chain of R&D cooperation. However, we believe that the European Union must not build its strategic autonomy at the expense of NATO or by weakening transatlantic ties.
Poland stands ready to share responsibility for peace and security in Europe and beyond, in the spirit of the 360 degree approach. To defend allied territory, Polish troops are present in Latvia and Romania as part of NATO forces, while Polish aircraft police the skies over Lithuania.
Poland is also helping to combat terrorism, to address the causes of migration beyond NATO, through activities in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Mediterranean, and Africa. Due to geographic proximity, we attach particular importance to the EU training missions in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Since the 1990s, Poland has been involved in the NATO and EU missions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Furthermore, we are part of military operations of the Global Coalition against Daesh, and of NATO’s training missions in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar. In Afghanistan, the Polish Armed Forces are helping to build local security structures.
We are also returning to UN peacekeeping missions, with a Polish contingent expected to be deployed under the UNIFIL operation in Lebanon this coming November.
We are taking part in the EU Sophia operation in the Mediterranean, with individual Polish civilian experts, observers, and staff officers working with the EU missions in Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and off the Horn of Africa.
Poland favours strengthening the Sahel countries' ability to fight organized crime and terrorism, and to protect borders, notably through the so-called G5 Sahel Joint Force. To that end, we supported the Chadian Armed Forces with EUR 600,000 worth of ammunition. Moreover, we have offered the G5 Sahel countries training in how to defuse improvised explosive devices.
Roughly 1,500 Polish soldiers are currently stationed abroad. May I thank them for their difficult service, which stands as an example of solidarity with our allies. Their commitment is helping to maintain peace in the world, and it is making our country safer.
One of the major Poland's foreign policy aims is also to ensure energy security, which we can only achieve by becoming independent of Russian gas supplies.
We have been consistently opposed to the Nord Stream 2 project, and we concur with the European Commission's criticism of it. Revision of the so-called Gas Directive aims to extend the application of EU law to third countries' gas pipelines. In 2018, we built a coalition of a dozen or so states, and agreed on the wording of the revision, which should make it difficult for Gazprom to exploit its privileged position on the European market. This has not changed our negative opinion about Nord Stream 2.
A key project in terms of security of gas supplies is the construction of the Baltic Pipe, a gas pipeline that will link Poland, through Denmark and Norway, with gas fields in the North Sea. In December 2018 a bilateral agreement was signed that regulates the legal framework of the gas pipeline. When it is complete in October 2022, the Baltic Pipe – together with the President Lech Kaczyński LNG Terminal in Swinoujscie – will offer Poland genuine energy independence as well as allowing us to support other countries in the region in this regard.
Members of the House,
Poland has consistently strengthened its strategic partnership with the United States, a key ally in NATO. Recently, we have successfully developed a high-level political dialogue, as evidenced by the Warsaw visit of US President Donald Trump in July 2017, the Washington visit of Polish President Andrzej Duda in September 2018, and a number of other meetings, including the visit of Vice President Michael Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Poland this February.
Prospects for the development of Polish-US cooperation are set out in the declaration signed in September last year by the presidents of the Republic of Poland and the United States of America, “Safeguarding freedom, building prosperity through Poland-US Strategic Partnership.“ It creates more ways in which the US administration can help us meet our security priorities, including strengthening the US military presence in Poland and cooperation in the energy sector, and boosting trade and bilateral investment. To this end, economic visits to the US will be carried out later this year, by both the Polish president and the prime minister.
Our priorities in relations with the US include the extension of US military presence in Poland as part of the strengthening of NATO's eastern flank, joint security and defence projects such as the installation of the American missile defence system in Redzikowo and cooperation between the air forces of the two countries, and the steady enhancement of cooperation in energy security, the economy, investment, and people-to-people contacts.
Last year, we launched a strategic energy dialogue with the US aimed at improving the potential for diversifying raw material supplies.
New prospects for Poland's research and innovation sector emerged last year with an agreement between Poland and the US on scientific and technological cooperation, signed thanks to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. This agreement facilitates closer cooperation between scientists from both countries and their government agencies that finance research.
Poland's strategic partnership with the United States represents a significant component of the transatlantic community. We are convinced that it is in everyone's interest to maintain a strong transatlantic link on both sides of the Atlantic. Poland is a strong advocate of dialogue in the situation of different positions among the transatlantic community partners that reflect different conditions, assessments, and experiences.
In this context, Poland and Canada have recently been steadily reinforcing their cooperation, both in terms of political and economic relations. Security issues traditionally remain at the core of our dialogue. Polish and Canadian troops are partnering successfully within the NATO Battalion Combat Group in Latvia.
Members of the House,
Mr Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Federal Republic of Germany is our most important neighbour and partner in the European Union. Germany is the major trading partner for Poland, buying 28% of its exports. A strong and stable German economy is therefore indispensable for the economic success of our country and, more broadly, our region. The total balance of the Visegrad Group's trade volume with Germany exceeds that of the United States, Russia or China. That makes us a major outlet for Germany, one that helps keep a significant number of jobs in the German economy, and at the same time a valuable source of labour migrants who considerably contribute to GDP growth beyond the Oder River.
The past year has been marked by a lively dialogue with Germany. Meetings took place between the presidents of both countries and the intergovernmental consultations featuring heads of government. I have met five times with my German colleague. In the joint statement of 2 November 2018 we set out a framework for cooperation between our countries.
Germany is an important country of the European Union, and its decisions are crucial for the bloc's reform. We have similar positions in many areas; among other things we are in favour of full respect for the four freedoms of the single market, including the deepening of its digital dimension. In the debate on the future of the Union, we look forward to continuing the intensive dialogue.
We note with satisfaction that Germany's actions to transform the euro area show that they take care not to increase divisions within the European Union. We also welcome Germany’s position to uphold sanctions imposed against Russia over its aggression in Crimea and Donbas. However, the Nord Stream 2 project is where we differ in our approach; we believe it will not help ensure energy security of the European Union.
Issues related to the rights of the Polish community and Poles living in Germany remain another challenge in Polish-German relations. It is a positive signal that a Polish-German Round Table meeting will be held this year on, among others, the situation of the Polish community in Germany.
We also recognise the need to discuss historical issues, which will be encouraged by the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. WWII reparations is another important subject for discussion between our countries.
France is an important reference for us in European, political and military, and economic matters. The historical picture of a friendly France is part of Poland's collective memory from the times of being under foreign rule and fighting to regain independence. The image of France as a champion of the freedom of peoples against absolute monarchies is deeply rooted in Polish culture.
We have a lot in common in our mutual relationship and we can achieve new goals together. For example, this year we will be celebrating the Polish-French Year of Science, which we hope will facilitate closer cooperation between the societies of both countries.
But our visions of the European Union's future currently diverge on a number of points. We are concerned about the idea of a multi-speed Europe, protectionist measures and those that amount to using double standards towards EU Member States. But we applaud France's participation in measures to bolster NATO's eastern borders, e.g. in Estonia, and last year in Lithuania. Given France's importance in Europe and the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament, developments in the country will have a significant impact on the future of the European Union, which, of course, is of great interest to Poland.
In addition to developing bilateral relations with France and Germany, we also want to reinvigorate cooperation with these two countries within the Weimar Triangle.
Our relations with the United Kingdom have been very intensive and across many areas. They reflect the close partnership in security, the strong pro-Atlantic views our two countries share, and a realistic assessment of Russia’s policy.
The United Kingdom has been one of Poland's three key trading partners for years and it is our goal to maintain this status. We have established different formats of cooperation to be continued after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, such as the annual intergovernmental consultations (the latest in London in December 2018) and the Quadriga dialogue of the foreign and defence ministers. The Polish-British Belvedere Forum, whose third edition was held last week, facilitates a better mutual understanding of the Polish and British political, non-governmental and expert communities.
With Italy, we share a vision of the place that sovereign Member States will have in a future reformed European Union and the strong resolve to defend the EU's external borders from illegal immigration. In 2018, Italy was Poland's fifth largest trading partner, with trade in goods characterised by a negative trade balance. In January, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini paid a visit to Poland, while the Italian foreign minister took part in the Middle East conference in Warsaw.
With Spain, we share a high degree of convergence of positions on a two-speed EU, the ambitious budget and the shape of the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy. Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell will be visiting Warsaw next week. We are also looking forward to the resumption of the Polish-Spanish intergovernmental consultations.
As regards the Netherlands, we continue to work constructively within the Utrecht Conference, an important forum for discussion on bilateral and EU matters. We are also engaged in an intensive dialogue with Belgium, as of this January also within the UN Security Council. Both countries will be visited by President Andrzej Duda in connection with the events to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their liberation by Polish troops.
Relations between Poland and the Holy See are unique. This week's visit of the Holy See Secretary of State to mark the century of restoring diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Poland and the sixth anniversary of His Holiness Pope Francis's pontificate represent an opportunity to take stock of joint achievements and to set new avenues for future cooperation.
Mr Speaker, Members of the House,
The development of regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe is an important constituent of the process of European integration. Shared historical experiences, cultural proximity, similar record of economic and social development, and similar priorities in the EU are all factors which bring the countries of our region closer together. Acting together, speaking with one voice, we are just stronger.
The most important fora for regional cooperation are the Visegrad Group, the Three Seas Initiative, and the Bucharest Nine.
For Poland, the Visegrad Group (V4) provides an essential framework for pursuing regional policy and advancing the interests of the Central Europe region in the international arena. The broad EU agenda lies at the core of the V4's political cooperation. In January and June last year we worked out a common position on the EU's future laid out in declarations adopted by the prime ministers. Our position on migration has been reflected in the decisions of the EU as a whole. At the same time, we remain open to pragmatic cooperation in the V4+ format, in particular with our European neighbours.
We have reactivated the Friends of Cohesion Policy Group, within which we work towards the best shape of the Multiannual Financial Framework. The Cohesion Policy Group Summit in Bratislava in November issued a joint declaration of the 14 states on the maintenance of the existing priorities, namely the Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy.
Launched in 2015 by the presidents of Poland and Croatia, the Three Seas Initiative has been growing successfully as a political cooperation mechanism of twelve Central European EU countries in the transport, energy, and the broadly understood digital agenda sectors. We hope that the expansion of north-south transport links will contribute to the deepening of regional cooperation in this part of Europe and to the strengthening of the EU as a whole. The Warsaw Three Seas summit of 2017 brought US support for this initiative, while the Bucharest summit last year secured support from European institutions and Germany and marked the project's transition from the political and conceptual phase to intergovernmental budget decisions. This Summit also initiated the establishment of a Three Seas Fund, networks of chambers of commerce and industry, and a Business Forum. We hope that with the fourth summit scheduled for June this year in Slovenia, the initiative will gain even greater momentum.
Our bilateral relations with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary have been experiencing rapid growth. Close political cooperation at the level of presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers is complemented by extensive business and civil society contacts. The rising trade volumes are a source of optimism. We will make efforts to keep this trend, which is a positive development for us all.
Our cooperation with Romania has been excellent; last year we launched bilateral intergovernmental consultations, which will be continued this year. The friendly and very good relations with Bulgaria were demonstrated by a Warsaw visit of the country's foreign minister in February.
We are also deepening dialogue with the Baltic States. In 2018, President Andrzej Duda visited Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, while Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met twice with his counterparts from these countries. With the Baltic States, we share an assessment of the dangers from the East and strive to strengthen the transatlantic links and synchronise the energy infrastructure. At the same time, the conditions for Orlen's operations in Lithuania have also improved. Celebrations marking the centenary of independence of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were accompanied by numerous expressions of reciprocal sympathy. In June last year, their presidents attended anniversary celebrations in Warsaw.
We also cooperate intensively with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. With Denmark, we have signed the agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border and the construction of the Baltic Pipe, which will enable transferring gas from Norwegian fields. With Sweden, we will work together to develop the Eastern Partnership in the year of its tenth anniversary. In two weeks, I will be hosting the Swedish foreign minister in Warsaw, with whom I will take part in a consultation between the region's heads of EU delegations to reflect on the initiative's future, on the future of the Eastern Partnership. This June in Gdansk, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will be hosting the 10th Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, at the level of prime ministers of these states.
Poland actively supports the European integration of the Western Balkan countries. Last year, I visited North Macedonia, Albania, and Serbia, and took part in the opening of the Skopje, Tirana, and Belgrade conferences, whose purpose involves sharing Polish experiences of the accession process. This May, President Andrzej Duda is to meet with Western Balkan presidents at a conference in Tirana.
This year we hold the presidency of the Berlin Process — an initiative to support the Balkan countries in their aspirations to European Union membership. A meeting of the Berlin Process foreign ministers will be held in Warsaw this April, the Forum of Cities and Regions with the participation of ministers for development in Rzeszow in June, while the Western Balkans Summit with over a dozen heads of government, ministers of foreign affairs, ministers of home affairs, and economy, and representatives of business and civil society will be held in Poznan in early July. This will be yet another occasion to reaffirm our commitment to stability in Europe and a networking opportunity for Polish companies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The situation in the East is a major challenge for Poland. Russia continues to pursue its aggressive policy against Ukraine, as recently evidenced by the conflict in the Kerch Strait. This has been accompanied by an intensive disinformation and propaganda war, attempted destabilisation of the Balkans, the maintaining of frozen conflicts in the Caucasus and Transnistria, and the acts of terror perpetrated on the territories of NATO and EU Member States. Poland favours a strong response to these actions. Any possible dialogue with the Russian Federation as part of the Euro-Atlantic and European structures should be conditional upon the fulfilment of demands from the international community. In particular, we call on Russia to release the arrested Ukrainian sailors, return the captured Ukrainian vessels, and restore free navigation between the Azov Sea and the Black Sea proper.
We also urge the implementation of the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, adopted also with the involvement of Polish parliamentarians, which calls on Russia to transfer the wreckage of the Tu-154 government plane to Poland.
At the same time, in Polish-Russian relations we are looking for areas where joint involvement can help rebuild conditions for cooperation. Last year, Polish and Russian experts together prepared teaching aids for history teachers; an agreement was made on the number of transport permits; we started important talks on diplomatic property and organised a study visit for representatives of the Russian media.
The regions of north-eastern Poland and Kaliningrad Oblast can count on financing under the Cross-Border Cooperation Programme in a total amount of almost EUR 60 million.
Poland invariably supports Ukraine's territorial integrity and the sovereignty of its government throughout the country's territory within its internationally recognised borders. I received Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin during an official visit to Warsaw last October. I was the first foreign minister to visit Kyiv after the incident in the Kerch Strait. The humanitarian situation in Crimea and Donbass is the subject we also raise at the UN by organising open meetings of the Security Council.
Relations between Poland and Ukraine as regards practical cooperation are good, and even very good in the fields of military cooperation and security and energy policy. Trade between our two states increased by 9% in 2018 compared with 2017. Many Ukrainian citizens are working in Poland and our consuls issued nearly 850,000 visas last year. There are also around 40,000 Ukrainian students in Poland.
We still need to work on the dialogue about history with Ukraine. Poland's condition is that the ban on the exhumation of the remains of Poles should be lifted, incomprehensible as it is to us in the light of civilised standards. We look forward to the right decisions of the Ukrainian side in this respect.
We consider the existence of an independent Belarus to be a key foundation of the international order in Central and Eastern Europe or more widely, across Europe. In the current environment, our bilateral relationship is focused on practical neighbourly cooperation in response to the willingness presented by the Belarusian partners. An inter-ministerial agreement was signed last year for the maintenance of road bridges at the Polish-Belarusian border and a visa-free travel regime was introduced in the region of the Augustow Canal, Brest, Grodno, and at the Minsk airport. We hope that the Belarusian authorities will revisit a local border traffic agreement as it would, in a positive way, open the border regions to even stronger contacts between local communities.
In the regional dimension, Poland is a leader in implementing European Neighbourhood Instrument programmes. According to the budgetary criterion, the Poland-Belarus-Ukraine 2014-2020 programme is the largest cross-border programme in the European Union.
Poland consistently supports the territorial integrity and European and Atlantic ambitions of Georgia. Last year and early this year, Tbilisi was visited by President Andrzej Duda and the Speakers of the Sejm and Senate, Marek Kuchciński and Stanisław Karczewski. A Parliamentary Assembly of Poland and Georgia has also been established. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a joint visit of the foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia and the deputy prime minister of Ukraine to Georgia on the 10th anniversary of President Lech Kaczyński's historic visit to this country together with the leaders of other countries in the region.
It is also worth noting that since 1 January this year, the Polish Embassy in Tbilisi has been the NATO Contact Point Embassy. For Poland, the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia and of other countries of the region, which have such ambitions, is a guarantee of long-lasting stability and economic, political and social growth of our partners. We are expecting a visit of Georgia’s President to Warsaw in the first half of this year.
We support the pro-European orientation of Moldova. We have declared our support for a stronger engagement of the European Union in political dialogue with Chisinau, leading to the resolution of the frozen conflict in Transnistria. We also seek to bring forward our dialogue with Azerbaijan and Armenia, looking closely at political transformations that are taking place in these countries.
Furthermore, Poland has been consistently developing its contacts with the countries of South Caucasus and Central Asia, guided by the principle of respect for territorial integrity and sovereign equality of states and their freedom to choose priorities of political and social development. We want to build good political relations and develop economic cooperation with our partners in this region by taking part in such initiatives as the construction of transport corridors linking the West and the East and by expanding the possibilities for our business presence in these countries. This will be the goal of President Andrzej Duda’s planned visit to Azerbaijan.
Our strategic objective is an effective eastern policy implemented by the European Union. Under this policy, Poland focuses on sustaining a strong and uniform position towards Russia and on pursuing an agenda in relations with the Eastern Partnership countries that is as ambitious as possible. In 2019, we will join the celebrations to mark the tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. We hope that partner countries will make strong efforts this year to implement the obligations arising from association agreements and that we will have a platform for reflection on the future of the Partnership. We will show to the European Union citizens that forging closer ties with the East is an investment in a stable future of the whole united Europe.
Members of the House,
Asia and the Pacific is an area that offers not only many opportunities, but also challenges for our diplomacy. Poland’s policy towards the region and our growing presence in it are aimed at our economic development by accessing new markets and investment opportunities.
We highly value Poland’s strategic partnerships with Japan, the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China. This year marks round anniversaries of establishing our diplomatic relations with these states.
Celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan were inaugurated already last year, during the visit of the Japanese foreign minister to Warsaw. His visit was also an opportunity to forge closer economic relations in trade and investment. Japan remains key Asian investor in Poland; we appreciate the presence of Japanese businesses on the Polish market for close to thirty years. The entry into force of the EU-Japan economic partnership on 1 February 2019 opened the door for new investment and trade opportunities for Polish entrepreneurs.
Traditionally, we attach great importance to our relations with the Republic of Korea, the largest Asian investor in Poland. Its direct investments in Poland have exceeded USD one billion. The Warsaw Middle East Ministerial was an opportunity to hold bilateral talks with the Korean foreign minister.
As a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, we are following the talks aimed at bringing stability to the Korean Peninsula, hoping that they prove successful.
One of Poland’s major partners in Asia is the People’s Republic of China. Trade is the key to Poland-China cooperation. We hope that the activities of the Polish economic diplomacy and of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, which in November 2018 opened its second Chinese office after Shanghai in Chengdu, will help to improve our bilateral trade balance.
Development of economic cooperation is our priority also in our relations with India. Poland is the largest recipient of Indian investments in Central and Eastern Europe and one of the largest in the European Union.
We also cooperate with countries from South-East Asia which belong to ASEAN. In November last year, I paid a visit to Indonesia which has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council since January this year. The ASEAN states are interested in Polish technologies, for example used in agriculture.
The agenda of the first in history official visit of the Polish President to Australia and New Zealand in August 2018 included the Polish Australian Economic Forum in Sydney and business talks in Auckland.
It is important to note that in 2018, LOT Polish Airlines established direct flight connections between Warsaw and Singapore. In 2019, LOT is planning to launch flights to South Asia, including Delhi. This creates a good environment for trade and tourism.
Mr Speaker, Members of the House,
The region of the Middle East and North Africa has long been a hot spot on the global map, a source of threats of international terrorism and uncontrolled migrations. We should not, however, view this region only in the context of security challenges, but we should look at it also through the prism of its potential, in particular for economic cooperation.
Since parliamentary elections in 2015, Poland has brought a new momentum to its relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. For the first time in many years, high-level visits of officials from Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Libya, Sudan, and the Maghreb states took place.
As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, we are strongly engaged in measures to ensure global peace. The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, organized together with the United States in February this year in Warsaw, was a sign of our involvement in this region. For the first time in many years, the meeting was attended by foreign ministers of key Arab states and the prime minister of Israel.
The Conference launched the so-called Warsaw Process. We hope that it will start an international dialogue at expert level. Working groups which were set up under this process will discuss countering terrorism, ballistic missile proliferation, maritime, aviation and energy security, cybersecurity, humanitarian issues, refugee-related topics and human rights.
We also support the efforts of the United States and of the international community to resume the Middle East peace process. We are in favour of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state model, which provides for the creation of an independent and democratic Palestine, while guaranteeing Israel’s security interests.
As far as our relations with Israel are concerned, we believe that the joint declaration of prime ministers signed in June 2018 ends last year’s dispute on the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). In this context, we note with sadness and dismay the fact that some Israeli politicians are still voicing unjust accusations against Poland and the Poles. Unfortunately, it is also a consequence of longtime negligence in historical policy and of the lack of adequate reactions to the fact that Poland’s image has been slandered in the world, which reinforced false stereotypes.
We can already see the first tangible effects of taking decisive steps, taking strong measures by Polish state institutions and diplomacy to promote knowledge on Polish history. We are happy that in the face of these accusations influential Jewish circles and high-ranking representatives of US diplomacy have voiced their support for our position, and that US and Israeli media depicted the problem of Polish-Jewish relations during World War II in a more balanced way, much more balanced way, than they did last year.
Speaking about the future of Polish-Israeli relations, I would also like to strongly emphasize that we are ready to continue our cooperation with Israel, and to engage in a discussion on difficult issues that relate to our common history. We cannot accept, however, statements that perpetuate false stereotypes, using a simplistic vision of the tragic fate of both nations. Our dialogue should be based on openness, mutual understanding, and respect for the other side’s arguments.
Members of the House,
The Warsaw conference helped to strengthen our relations with the countries in the Arab Peninsula. We shall continue this cooperation and capitalize on it in bilateral political and economic dimensions, and in the context of actions to preserve regional and global security.
In the face of the conflict in Syria, Poland supports measures aimed at real political changes in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 under the so-called Geneva Process, including the activities of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, which are aimed at establishing a Constitutional Commission and holding free and democratic elections in Syria.
We also support international efforts to return to peace talks in Yemen. The ceasefire agreement, reached in December 2018 in the Swedish city of Rimbo sends a good message. We also declare humanitarian support - practical and financial humanitarian support - for the Yemeni civilian population.
It is in the interest of the international community to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Given the discrepancies between the United States and the European Union on the way to address the threats in the Middle East, we invariably believe that trans-Atlantic unity should be maintained. At the same time, Poland’s relations with Iran should be built on the basis of the existing relations based on friendship and mutual respect.
Poland plays an active role in stabilization activities in the so-called South neighbourhood of the European Union. The Polish Government has earmarked EUR 10 million for financing the second phase of the project of Integrated Management of Libya’s Borders, together with our partners from the Visegrad Group. We also reiterate our support for the recovery, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq.
We plan to intensify our political dialogue and economic relations with the states of Maghreb and with Egypt. Together, we will explore migration policy and exchange experiences in combating terrorism and radicalism.
The region of sub-Saharan Africa has a huge potential, and this is why we are increasing our diplomatic presence there. Last year, I officially opened two of our missions: in Tanzania’s Dar es Saalam, and in Senegal’s Dakar. In Khartoum in Sudan, we appointed a visiting ambassador. The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is opening new trade offices in this region (for example in Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal). We will also bring forward our cooperation in mining, agriculture and services.
Visits of MFA senior officials to countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Senegal, which are scheduled to take place this year, will have a major economic focus. Poland’s flagship development project in Africa is the assistance in establishing the Maritime Academy in Angola’s Namibe.
Members of the House,
Our challenge in relations with Latin America over the recent three years has been to create conditions that are favourable for a comprehensive development of cooperation, in particular in the economy. A stable economic and social situation in the key countries of this continent, progressing trade liberalization with the European Union and a strong and well-established presence of the Polish community give us ground for optimism.
We have reversed the previous trend to close Polish missions in the region. In January 2018, we opened a Polish mission in Panama, which met with a positive response of Polish pilgrims who took part in the World Youth Day in that country.
We seek to develop our relations with Mexico on the basis of the declaration which was signed by the presidents in April 2017. Mexico’s capital hosts the first foreign trade office in the region established by the PAIH. Poland was present at the Pacific Alliance Forum (Mexico, Columbia, Peru, and Chile), which is the fastest growing bloc in the region, with a view to enhancing our cooperation in trade and investment.
We have resumed political and economic dialogue between the Polish and Brazilian foreign ministries. On 1 January this year, I participated in the swearing-in ceremony of President Jair Bolsonaro, which also offered an opportunity for bilateral talks. In turn, Brazil’s foreign minister took part in the Warsaw Middle East Conference. There is fertile ground for boosting cooperation between our states.
We have been actively engaged in shaping the EU’s policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, by addressing such difficult issues as the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela which is growing more and more acute.
Members of the House,
In 2018, Poland was effectively engaged in multilateral cooperation, especially on the UN Security Council and in its bid to join the Human Rights Council. To implement its Security Council priority to promote international law, Poland held a high-level open debate chaired by President Andrzej Duda, and Arria-formula Meetings dedicated to relations between the International Criminal Court and the Security Council and to the ways of boosting the effectiveness of international crime prevention.
In 2018 and in early 2019, we organized or co-organized a number of meetings to discuss the situation of civilian population during armed conflicts, impact of climate change on international peace and security, and developments in different countries, including Ukraine and Syria.
In 2018, we chaired the Preparatory Committee for the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (the so-called NPT treaty). We also led the work of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. We believe that the effectiveness of both regimes should be enhanced by increasing transparency and strengthening dialogue between states that have nuclear weapons and their allies.
In December 2018, Poland hosted the Climate Conference COP24 for the third time. Thanks to the so-called Katowice Climate Package, which was adopted at the conference and which contains a set of guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement, the capital of Upper Silesia made a lasting contribution to global climate policy. Katowice hosted 30,000 delegates from all over the world. The event offered an opportunity to promote Silesia and all Poland as an open and modern country that cherishes its historical and natural heritage, and to promote Polish solutions in energy efficiency and pollutant emission.
I would like to thank President Andrzej Duda, Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, President of COP24 Michał Kurtyka and all people who were involved in the organization of this event. Thanks to you, the conference was a success, both in terms of its content and its organization, which was widely reported and appreciated in the world.
Poland supports human rights defenders and facilitates contacts between people who are involved in democratic transformations across the world. During the seventh Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy, we hosted several dozen representatives of civic society from all parts of the world. The foreign minister’s “Pro Dignitate Humana” award in 2018 was given to Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov to honour his outstanding contribution to human rights protection.
In March this year, this month, Poland was invited to join the International Contact Group on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, which aims at forging close cooperation and coordination to promote freedom of religion. We treat this as a recognition of our active commitment to protecting the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, including Christians.
Poland was also invited to join the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee for 2018-2022, and for the third consecutive time, we were selected to the Council of the International Telecommunications Union for 2019-2022. In addition, Poland’s representative became a member of the UN International Civil Service Commission for 2019-2022.
In turn, Minister of Sports and Tourism Witold Bańka is the candidate of the whole Europe for the President of the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA. The Ministry has been pursuing its diplomatic efforts to muster support of non-European voters in the WADA elections, which are scheduled to take place in May this year.
Mr Speaker, Members of the House,
Since November 2015, when the United Right took power, Poland signed 215 bilateral agreements with more than 60 states and 14 multilateral agreements. In the same period, 223 bilateral agreements concluded with 70 states entered into force. Moreover, Poland became a party to 50 multilateral agreements.
I would like to draw your attention to the Polish-Danish agreement signed on 19 November last year, which delimitates the so-called grey zone, located South of Bornholm. Its aim is to end a more than forty-year-long dispute and to ensure legal certainty in the Baltic Sea region. The Polish MFA managed to negotiate a much better outcome than other countries of the region with respect to similar solutions.
In consultation with the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology, we are terminating the agreements on investment protection (the so-called BITs), which the EU Court of Justice deemed to be incompatible with EU law.
There is a clear downward trend in the number of applications against Poland, filed with the European Court of Human Rights. In 2018, 1,941 new applications were filed, which is 120 fewer than in 2018, and a lot fewer than in 2010, when 5,768 new applications were lodged with the Strasbourg Court. As a result of these trends, last year the number of new applications against Poland in relation to the number of inhabitants stayed below the European average.
We are also making efforts to execute judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. By the end of last year, we reached a record low level of 100 judgements which were pending execution, compared with 2015, when there were 313 judgments pending execution, and with 2011, when 924 judgements were unexecuted.
We will play an active role in the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe; on this occasion, next week Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s Secretary General, is paying a visit to Warsaw.
The public opinion sometimes has concerns about the US JUST Act and about the issue of post-war property restitution. It needs to be noted explicitly that the act is a part of US domestic legislation, it does not entail any duties on the part of other states, and provides no legal basis for making any legal claims relating to property located in Poland, which had been taken away by Nazi Germany or by Soviet Russia during World War II and by the communist authorities after the war. Potential claims of eligible persons, irrespective of their nationality, are examined under judicial or administrative proceedings in line with the rules and procedures provided for in the Polish legal system, on general terms.
Members of the House,
Another important goal of diplomacy is to foster Poland's economic development. We have a reason to be satisfied: according to the World Bank, Poland now ranks as 23rd largest economy in the world, and our above-average economic growth may rank us even two positions higher on the nex list.
We use our wide network of missions to provide Polish companies with information on the specific nature of individual markets and their legal and financial conditions. In 2018, our embassies and consulates informed or intervened on behalf of 4,000 Polish companies, most of them in Europe, where 80 percent of Polish exports is destined. At the same time, we are more active in other regions. In Asia, more than 500 companies received our help, 490 in the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States, more than 480 in the region of Africa and the Middle East, and over 340 in both Americas. The MFA also offers permanent support for the Polish defence industry. We encourage companies in the defence sector to become involved in multinational research projects, development programmes and initiatives to acquire military capabilities using the European Defence Fund.
The Polish Investment and Trade Agency is opening new Foreign Trade Offices. There will be 70 such offices before the end of 2019, including 22 in Asia, 13 in the Americas, nine in Africa and the rest in Europe. A great majority of these offices have already reached full operational capacity.
We are also trying to increase the participation of Polish businesses in tenders and projects of international organizations. In June 2019, we are holding an International Fair for Humanitarian and Development Assistance - Warsaw Humanitarian Expo, which will be the first such event in Central and Eastern Europe. We would like the Expo to provide an opportunity to present Polish products and services, which are used in providing humanitarian assistance and running development projects. Among them are food, medical equipment, IT services and renewable energy sources.
The Warsaw Humanitarian Expo will also be a platform for a discussion on the relations between Polish non-governmental organizations and business aimed at achieving a better synergy of actions.
The initiative to establish the Polish Technology Hub is addressed mainly to Asian and Middle Eastern markets in response to the challenges faced by high-tech companies, especially in the IT sector.
We will continue our involvement in the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and support its enlargement by further European countries and its activities in Asian and African countries, with which Poland enhances its economic cooperation. We plan to take advantage of this year’s 120th anniversary of the birth of Michał Kalecki, an outstanding Polish economist, to remind at the forum of this organization about Polish economic thought concerning the theory of economic cycles, economic growth models and economic issues of developing countries.
Members of the House,
Development cooperation is an expression of our solidarity with developing countries. Remembering the solidarity we experienced in difficult times, today we want to share this solidarity with others. It is also an investment in world’s stability and security and thus in the stability and security of Poland.
Development cooperation is also connected with fulfilling Poland’s obligations as a member of international organizations. We are involved in the actions of the international community to implement Sustainable Development Goals, which are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, eradicate poverty, promote social growth and provide assistance to communities affected by armed conflicts.
According to preliminary estimates, which are not yet final but allow us to say that in 2018 Poland spent PLN 2.8 billion on Official Development Assistance.
Our eastern partners, in particular Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, remain a key area of our activity. In our opinion, fundamental reform and building modern states are the only way to stabilize the territory of the former Soviet Union in the long-term perspective. In these countries, we are supporting the development of a professional civil service by running the Eastern Partnership Academy of Public Administration. We are also supporting the development of a system of secure border management.
Other priority regions of Polish development cooperation are five African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda) and three Asian and Middle Eastern countries (Myanmar, Lebanon, and Palestine). Development assistance in these areas covers projects developing human capital, entrepreneurship and environmental standards as well as scholarships to study in Poland.
A good example of development cooperation activities is a project which has been run in Kenya for the past four years by Polish firefighters and the Polish Center for International Aid. The project offers specialist training courses for Kenyan fire services, which improve their professionalism and efficiency. Thanks to Polish Aid, the very first fire service training service in Kenya and in the whole Horn of Africa is under construction outside Nairobi. Forty percent of Kenya’s firefighters (about 450 people) have already been trained. They also received modern rescue equipment.
Humanitarian aid provided to war and conflict victims is also an integral part of Polish foreign policy. He are active in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Ukraine. Last year, we provided medical care and rehabilitation to 30 thousand people, mainly women and children; over 35 thousand refugees received emergency aid and shelter.
We support a systemic vision of actions, which includes providing assistance and effective response to challenges as close to the sources of humanitarian and migration crises as possible and cannot agree to an unconditional and automatic admission of all migrants.
We are the biggest donor of European Investment Bank’s Economic Resilience Initiative, with EUR 50 million allocated to supporting economic growth of Lebanon and Jordan which are affected by the refugee crisis. Together with the Visegrad Group countries, we are also financing activities aimed at a better management of Libya’s borders.
We are consistently increasing humanitarian aid funds. In 2015, we spent PLN 24 million, while last year our spending increased to PLN 135 million. Our contributions are meant to advance the priorities of the Polish development assistance programme, while the UN contributions are meant to advance the priorities of Polish presidency of the Security Council.
At the same time, we are strengthening our ties with major partners within the global humanitarian aid system. In 2018, on behalf of Poland, I signed a cooperation agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Members of the House,
The position of a country depends to a large extent on the opinions made by the global public opinion. Positive associations with Poland, the knowledge about its culture and history and respect for them are key to success of our undertakings on the international arena.
Polish Institutes, which operate in twenty-five countries, play a special role in promoting Poland and its culture abroad. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, which aims to ensure better coordination of projects implemented by Polish Institutes and other diplomatic and consular missions and tap into the joint potential of all national cultural institutions to promote Polish culture abroad.
In 2018, our diplomats, in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and the representatives of Polish community abroad, commemorated the centenary of Polish independence, organizing over 1,200 exhibitions, publications, conferences, films and other forms of promotion. The most memorable moment of international celebrations was white and red illumination of several dozen prestigious buildings across five continents, which allowed us to reach millions of people around the world informing them about this extraordinary anniversary.
We promote knowledge about Polish history and heroic actions of Poles. In Brussels, we held an exhibition titled “Armoured Wings” to recall the deeds of General Maczek and the Polish liberators of Flanders. In January this year, I had the honour of launching the exhibition together with my Belgian counterpart.
Thanks to the great work and efforts by the Polish Embassy in Bern the whole world learned about the members of the so-called Bernese Group – Polish diplomats in Switzerland led by envoy Aleksander Ładoś, who saved Jews during Holocaust by issuing them great numbers of fake Latin American passports.
As a result of joint efforts of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Krakow’s tradition of making nativity scenes was recognized as valuable enough to be inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list features practices and phenomena from around the world, which represent the diversity of intangible heritage and raise the awareness of its importance.
The 550th anniversary of Polish parliamentarism served to promote our country’s contribution to the development of representative democracy. It was celebrated both in Poland and abroad, including Strasburg and Vilnius.
I would like to thank the Honourable Members of the House for conducting active parliamentary diplomacy at the level of chairpersons of chambers, committees, several dozen bilateral groups and permanent parliamentary delegations. I thank you for your presence. Your activity in the field of foreign affairs constitutes an invaluable contribution to the efforts of the president of Poland and the government.
I look forward to our fruitful cooperation in this regard. This year will provide several opportunities to do so, as 2019 marks many important anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, the 15th anniversary of Poland’s membership in the European Union, the 30th anniversary of Solidarity’s victory in the elections on 4 June 1989. We will also celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising and the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
These anniversaries offer an excellent opportunity to highlight Poland’s role and its contribution to the groundbreaking events in world’s history. We hope that Poland’s voice telling the story of these extraordinary events will be heard loud and clear in 2019.
It is also important for us to raise the awareness about international affairs in our society. The Regional Centres for International Debate serve as a tool to educate and hold debates on this topic. Since July 2016, over 100 thousand people have participated in conferences, workshops, training sessions and debates organised by the Regional Centres.
Members of the House,
Today, 20 million Poles or people of Polish descent live abroad. Some of them stayed behind in the East after Poland’s borders were redrawn, some others are emigrants who form today’s Polish diaspora. Both these groups, completely dissimilar, face different problems and need a different approach.
In 2017, this House passed the amended Act on Repatriation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues its efforts based on this act to use its tools as widely as possible to increase the number of Poles and people of Polish origin who willingly repatriate from the Asian part of the former Soviet Union, especially from Kazakhstan. In 2017, 298 visas were issued for the purpose of repatriation, while in 2018 this number increased to 717.
Many people remain interested in the Polish Card. Last year, over 22 thousand cards were issued, while over 13 thousand were renewed.
We have been consistently improving the operation of consular offices. The Consular Information Centre and the Integrated Call Centre allow our compatriots to receive assistance outside office hours. Since the launch of both services on 30 January 2017, the centre answered 170 thousand phone calls.
Recently, the activity of our mission in Norway to protect parental rights of Polish citizens and the rights of the children has received a lot of attention. Polish consuls contact Norwegian social services, verify their actions and react whenever needed to protect family life of our citizens. The protection of the rights of Poles is one of the cornerstones of our diplomacy.
We also strive to improve our bilateral cooperation with Norway in terms of the protection of minors. In early March, a few days ago, employees of Norwegian offices for the protection of children came on a study visit to discuss the main challenges to cross-border cooperation.
Clearly, it is not in Poland’s interest to have more Poles leaving Poland and it is not our intention, nor government’s intention to inspire it. Poland’s economic growth, improved quality of life of its citizens and lower unemployment can convince many Poles to return to the country. We are counting on it and we are encouraging it.
At the same time, the presence of a numerous Polish community abroad is an opportunity to actively promote Polish interests. It its especially important to support Polish diaspora to further strengthen Poland’s security, raise the profile of reforms implemented by the government and promote the truth about Polish history. We would like our compatriots to become an important ally of the government in promoting Poland’s national interest, Polish culture, national remembrance and Polish historical narrative.
One example of success in this area was the successful defense of the Katyn memorial in New Jersey with key participation of local Polish community. Furthermore, the choice of a Polish aviator, Colonel Franciszek Kornicki in a voting in the United Kingdom, to become RAF’s World War II symbol would not be possible without mass voting by fellow Poles living in the UK. I would like to express my gratitude to all people involved in these two matters.
Members of the House,
Policy regarding Polish diaspora, in order to be effective, should be implemented not only for Polish community abroad, but also with its participation. We will continue to develop the Polish Diaspora Consultative Councils at Polish foreign posts and to support Polish diaspora organizations, Polish media and education who act as guardians of culture and national tradition. This latter task is of special importance for our compatriots in the East. We support the activities of the Ministry of National Education to increase the number of teachers seconded to Polish communities in this region, as well as the civic activity in terms of providing aid to fellow Poles living in the East.
We will advocate the rights of Poles wherever they are not adequately protected, using, if need be, the multilateral fora. It is our immutable goal that Poles living abroad enjoy all rights under bilateral agreements and European standards. Our special focus will be to make the teaching of the Polish language more available, particularly for school-age children.
We discuss education with the Belarusian side during all our bilateral talks. We expect that the treaty obligation to create the conditions for the education of Polish minority to be fulfilled. There are also positive sides of our cooperation. During a visit to Belarus, I opened the military cemetery in Dunilavicy which is a burial site of soldiers fallen during the Polish-Soviet war, which was renovated with the consent of local authorities.
The Ministry of National Education is holding talks with Lithuania on improving the conditions for functioning of the Polish education system in this country. As of May 2018, there are five Polish Television (TVP) channels available in the Vilnius Region, which contributes to the strengthening of Polish identity and immunizes our compatriots against Russian disinformation. The planned launch of TVP Wilno channel will be an important event. Thanks to the cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Polish Television and the involvement of the local community of Polish journalists, it will be possible to reach our compatriots in Lithuania with our message about contemporary Poland, its culture and history.
The Polish-German treaty gave our relations a special character granting the Polish community in Germany a special status, and guaranteeing equal rights of the German minority in Poland and the Polish diaspora in Germany. During talks with the federal government, we have been consistently raising the issues of improving the conditions for developing and strengthening cultural and linguistic identity of people of Polish descent living in Germany. We hope that Polish-German Round Table talks, planned to take place in June with the participation of government officials, Polish community in Germany and German community in Poland, will allow us to achieve tangible effects, in particular with regards to teaching of Polish language as a native language, the renovation and running of the Union of Poles’ House in Bochum, Germany, the commemoration of Polish World War II victims in Germany, including the pre-war Polish minority.
Members of the House,
Today’s world requires of us to clearly explain our reasons, our position and our decisions and build a positive image of our country. We need to appropriately identify and respond adequately to challenges as they arise. The diplomatic service is beautiful and honourable, but also difficult. We have been consistently modernizing Polish foreign service, in terms of human resources, legal capacity and infrastructure. We are fully aware that the human resources of Polish diplomacy play a key role in achieving the priorities of Poland’s foreign policy.
We are adapting the policy of developing the competencies of foreign services to new challenges. The traditional diplomatic skills remain necessary in a situation, when international relations are becoming increasingly complex. We consistently employ young well-educated people. It is with great satisfaction that we note a considerable interest in employment at the ministry – each time, over 400 candidates apply to the Diplomatic Academy. Last year was the first time we decided to repeat the recruitment to the diplomatic and consular training programme.
On the initiative of the Parliament and with the support of the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament, the Act on Foreign Service was amended, which resulted in the removal from the service of persons with ties to special services of communist Poland.
We also need to have sufficient diplomatic representation. Over the last three years, we reopened our missions in Panama, Tanzania, Senegal and the Philippines. We opened consulates in Houston and Belfast and we launched a Polish Institute in Tbilisi.
Analyses show that our foreign posts in the Americas, Asia and Africa are understaffed, while our European missions, both in Western and Eastern Europe, are overstaffed. We will gradually change these proportions and strengthen the non-European foreign posts, as this is where the centre of gravity of global economy is shifting and this is where our growing interests lie.
The staff working at the MFA headquarters is scattered across Warsaw, with employees often working at distant locations. This hampers the coordination of our actions and generates costs. Therefore, we made a decision to start the works to build new premises on a lot we already own, which is adjacent to the MFA’s main building. This investment will allow to move the staff to one location, which will facilitate management and reduce the running costs of the ministry by limiting rental fees.
We are also running real estate projects abroad. Last year, we opened the combined embassy and Polish institute in the renovated Pac Palace in Vilnius. We are also preparing to launch construction works of a new seat of our embassy in Berlin and Minsk.
Mr Speaker, Mr President, Prime Minister, Members of the House,
State foreign policy is a national, not a partisan matter. The role of a foreign minister is to gain cross-party support. I trust that the main directions of our foreign policy – the concern for the security and development of our country, the support for building an efficient, effective and cohesive European Union enjoying a strong democratic mandate, regional cooperation in Central Europe, the support for the independence and territorial integrity of our neighbours are matters which unite us above party lines.
It does not mean that foreign policy should not be subject to critical evaluation. I hope that the information I presented on Polish foreign policy tasks in 2019 will prompt an in-depth debate.
Thanking once again for your attention and the attendance of the President, Prime Minister and Members of the House, I would therefore ask the Sejm to accept the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ information on Polish foreign policy tasks in 2019.
MFA Press Office
Photo Sebastian Indra / MFA