At one point this summer Ursula von der Leyen said her Commission will be “geopolitical”, as opposed to the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker.
There was no meaning to the adjective back then. There is little meaning to it today. Still, the adjective is growing on the Commission.
First foreign trip of the new President: Ethiopia. To mark the European strategic interest in the continent. But as the EU fights it’s own war on global relevance between US and China, it needs to chose its battles carefully. Africa will be an interesting field to watch.
The challenges are many for the Commission and the whole of Europe. The most important is unity. Brexit et al. do not help. Donald Tusk, the ex-EUCO boss and new head of the EPP says that the fight to preserve or protect the EU’s unity was a constant battle over the past five years. Little changed.
Provided unity is preserved, the outside world is as scary as promising. The same story, but changing. Terrorist threats, trade wars, migration flows, climate crisis, populist leaders and all the other challenges out there are met with business opportunities as new technologies come to the market, new greening of the economy constitutes a major push for innovation in Europe and new trade agreements open new markets.
Will fears dominate hopes? First days tell little of the future, but for the ball to be moved to the external field EU and its Commission needs to play bold and safe at the same time. Not to be reactive but proactive. To look for opportunities where others don’t.
EU is not and won’t be a security power. It’s magic is located elsewhere. Preservation of and expansion of the multilateral system is what EU wants. The not-so-secret weapon of the Union is the strength of its single market. Expansion and deepening into the digital single market will be matched with re-calibrating it on the sustainability tracks.
The more-secret-but-not-totally-unknown EU magic is its regulatory power. It may have lost the 5G battle to the Chinese and the Americans but the other two are nowhere close to the regulatory might of the EU.
Yes, the EU is the soft power. In the times of nationalism and populism and climate change it has been doing surprisingly well, despite the fall backs along the way.
At the end of the day what may determine our future is our free will and determination. I do not know if the Commission has it. But I hope the basic fact that 202 million people voted for this thing back in May means something.
History: It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Europe: Deadly alternative between domination and decay, needs to be avoided.
Poland: This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland. Why should we lose it all?
Global challenges: Only cooperation at every level, of all with everybody, we can meet the challenges of the globe.
Geopolitics: In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire.
Doubt: Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs. Doubt!
3 May 1791, the first Constitution in Europe is adopted. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopts the most important act just a few months before the French first Constitution, and three-and-a-half years after the U.S. Constitution.
3 May 2019, this is a national Constitution Day in Poland. Even if the current Constitution was adopted on 2 April 1997, it is the “3 May” which is the day of the most important legal document of the land.
On the very day the president of the European Council Donald Tusk addresses the big crowd gathered in the Warsaw University main hall, and thousands of others watch him outside the building or on TV. The EUCO President speaks for nearly one hour, and if you understand Polish, you can re-watch it here:
Tusk starts by saying he is not alone on the stage today. He is here “with the hero of the day, the Constitution”.
A footnote to take off: “Those who say that as the president of the European Council I shouldn’t advocate for one political party’s campaign are right”, but at the same time “it is my right and duty as the president of the European Council to support the Europeans in every country of the European Union, all those who are stubborn to unite people, not to divide them”, for their own nation state, and for Europe.
Tusk embraces the Macron’s initiative of “European universities” that the host, the Warsaw University (UW), is bidding in with partners from Copenhagen, Milan, Heidelberg and Paris. Tusk supports the UW’s bid and hopes “there will be plenty of the Warsaw University in Europe and of Europe in the UW”.
A minute of silence follows for the late Karol Modzelewski, who recently died at the age of 81. Mr Modzelewski was a well-known opposition activist during the communist Poland and a senator in the independent Poland. He advocated for the trade union to adopt its name, “Solidarność” or “Solidarity”, back in 1980.
Let the historian talk history
Tusk talks about the communist past, when the communist Poland banned two Polish “holly days”, 11 November (re-gained independence in 1918) and 3 May (1791 Constitution). As a young man, Tusk was exposed to the teachings of Lech Bądkowski, who taught his young adepts that a free Poland has to be acceptable for all. Tusk today says “Poland is one. Everybody who takes up the fight has to bear in mind how to turn a motherland into a home for everyone, not for selected few”.
“Why 3 May is important?” asks Tusk. As a young historian, Tusk back in 1980 thought of the Constitution as of a symbol of freedom and independence. As a historian, Tusk accuses the 3 May 1791 Constitution of not being progressive enough by today’s standards. “Compare it with the US Constitution, just a little bit older, which is binding – with a few changes adopted along the way – until today”, says Tusk. “Under the 3 May Constitution it would be difficult to imagine today’s governance system”. Yet, Tusk defends the 18th century Constitution as giving Poles hope for a change of the status quo of the day. The status quo was hopelessness, chaos, divisions, a social injustice, lack of army and no foreign policy. Against this picture, the 3 May 1791 act was an ambitious step “towards freedom, human and citizen rights, a modern governance system, […] towards the then-European norms”. Tusk quotes Edmund Burke and George Washington, who praised the 1791 document as “perfect”.
Why 3 May constitution is important? Tusk, the historian, says: “This is then when the Poles discovered they constitute a political community”.
Since then, Tusk says, Poles know how important the Constitution is and how evil is its violation. “The Constitution’s violation undermines the most basic element of the community”, says the European Council President.
“Targowica” is a label associated with betrayal in Poland. Back in 1791, the opposition to the 3 May Constitution was called the “Targowica Confederation”. They opposed the document, and were inspired and paid for by foreign powers. With backing of Russia the Targowica Confederation started a war, and once the government was defeated, the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place by 1792, and the final, third, by 1795. Independent Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist until 1918.
The essence of Targowica, according to Mr Tusk: “it is a synonym of betrayal and lies”. Following 3 May, under the mottos of “pride” and “independence” the Targowica Confederation led back to chaos and enslavement of the peasants, dependency of Russia, war and state failure. “The act of Targowica Confederation was a spectacular manifestation of cynicism and propaganda. It appealed to national emotions but was contrary to national interests. This lesson is relevant today, as it carries an universal message: how easy it is to flatter national emotions, acting de facto in contradiction with national interests”.
Soberly, Tusk remarks: “Constitution is not sacred”. It can be changed and improved. What is “sacred” is to respect its provisions “by all the citizens, especially the authorities”. This is a clear reference to the accusations by the Polish opposition against the Law and Justice (PiS) government and president Andrzej Duda that they have violated the current Constitution many times.
It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Nie może być tak, że władza raz do roku obchodzi święto Konstytucji, a na co dzień Konstytucję obchodzi.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
This is an untranslatable game of words: “obchodzi” has two meanings, “to celebrate” and “to evade”.
Let the European talk Europe
Every constitution allows for an inclusive political construction, that can accommodate different people. “United with the respect for one another and for law, but not unified. Equally understanding their obligations to their own country, to their own community, to the freedom of other people, but how different in their views, customs and behaviours”, says the president of the European Council.
More on the definition of freedom by the former Polish premier: “Respect for people who think differently and understand their freedom in a way that least reduces the freedom of other people.” Tusk embraces the EU’s motto: United in diversity. In varietate concordia.
This is also the message for Poland: diversity, not uniformity. Tusk puts the “constitution” and the European Union as equal values, for they have a lot in common. Tusk: “they are to protect citizens from the stronger and more powerful people”.
World is full of stories of politicians, nations and places that aspired to be “the centres of the world”. Tusk mentions the Venetians, Egyptians, Indians and the Ganges, Greece, Mecca, and the Middle Kingdom, China. “The trouble is that this perspective, in a sense natural and understandable, usually translates into a pretence to hegemony, superiority, domination”.
Against those hegemonic tendencies Tusk raises defences. “The national constitution and Europe in the international dimension, is the denial of this logic, the denial of this need, this temptation, this danger of hegemony and domination”.
The philosopher lands home with a joke: Tusk talks about “Poland at the heart of Europe”, the PiS motto in the European elections. He says anatomical references are confusing: if Poland was the heart, then Sweden should be the head, but Hungary – “Viktor Orbán can feel slightly embarrassed”. The joke is warmly received. The head of the Hungarian government should smile, too.
The most important dilemma of the day in Europe is the following: “to avoid the alternative between domination, hegemony and decay and entropy”. Those two tendencies, on the one hand, the nationalism that ends with an attempt to dominate, and on the other hand, the decay, the implosion. “This alternative is deadly”, warns Tusk.
This alternative requires change. It needs to be replaced “by the type of political construction which requires a wise and respected national constitution, and in the international dimension an internationally respected and strengthened European Union”, advocates the head of the European Council.
Earlier in the day Donald Tusk met president Andrzej Duda, who supports the idea of mentioning the Polish membership in the EU and NATO in the Polish constitution. Tusk says: “This statement is worth as much, it would truly strengthen our presence in the EU as much, as it would be met with the determination to observe the Constitution”. And then he continues to ask “why change or improve Constitution if it is disrespected?”.
Let the Pole talk Poland
“Europe, as an idea in which human freedom, human rights, a balance between values, a Europe that has not always managed to defend those values, needs a global partnership”, and according to Tusk this global partnership needs to be trans-Atlantic “at any cost”.
Tusk repeats that in today’s world all European nations are small and the world outside of the EU is brutal. “Geopolitics, demography, statistics are merciless”. If the EU can be successful the only way to achieve this is unity, and the trans-Atlantic community needs fostering.
Tusk then turns to soft criticism of the Polish government. He argues for the inclusive policies, not exclusive ones. Tusk agrees with the pro-American policy of the Polish government, but implies it should not be a choice “US or EU”. Tusk ponders on “and/or” between “us or them” v “us and them”, “an individual or a community” v “an individual and a community”, “security or freedom” v “security and freedom”. This is Tusk’s political grammar. He clearly prefers inclusiveness, “and” wins over “or”.
In politics it can not mean that someone should defeat someone else and annihilate them.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“You can win or lose, but we both will continue to live in the same country”, says Tusk. He disagrees with the approach “I won the elections, Poland is mine, not yours, you are excluded”. It is applicable in Poland and in Europe, says EUCO President and calls on those who listen to “stop this spiral of reluctance, hostility, and hate”.
If we do not stop this spiral [of hate] we shall lose the same way we lost when the 3 May Constitution was adopted only for a few months.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Poland is not the sick man of Europe”, claims Tusk. Poland is much stronger than 228 years ago. Today Poland has “prescriptions” for a good political health, but they can be empty without the respect of the Constitution.
“This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland”, Tusk is fully convinced of that. He shares the conviction with the Polish president Andrzej Duda. Yet, as Tusk asks, “do we really have to be wise again after the damage? Do we really have to give up what has become the foundation of Poland’s unprecedented success just because today the logic of dislike, hatred and aggression is winning?”
Tusk is on fire: “Why should we forget this lesson? […] Without respect for the law, without respecting people of different views, without respect for ourselves and strangers, without understanding that Europe is more than a few treaties and boundaries, why should we lose it somewhere in this fight?”
A Game of Thrones viewer, Tusk says: “politics is a competition, but not a fight to death” like the Winterfell battle. “I do not want for all of us to lose this fight”.
Let the global leader talk global challenges
Poland and whole of Europe face major challenges that can be overwhelming if approached individually by each of the nations alone. “The 21st century problems need to be solved together, because we do not have the chance to face them if we fight with each other to death”.
Environment. Climate change. Air quality in Poland. Tusk quotes Yuval Harari “nationalists are unable to find an answer to the challenges such as climate change. Therefore the only way for them is to deny that such a problem exists in the first place”.
Tusk dwells on the poor air quality in Poland. Most of the country has the worst quality of air in Europe. Tusk: 50 thousand people die every year in Poland due to air pollution. “Would you take a decision to give your child, your grandchild, a package of cigarettes to smoke every day?” he asks rhetorically.
Tusk’s answer to climate change: cooperation at every level, of all with everybody. Example: the plastic. “It is difficult to believe in the effectiveness of our fight against the excess of plastic if other countries are throwing tons of plastic every hour into the sea. This is one of the proofs that we will not be able to deal with the problem alone, without full and harmonious cooperation”, says the European Council head.
Artificial intelligence is another challenge. Tusk talks about the Chinese social credit system and presents it as a system in which a totalitarian government controls every action of a 1.3 billion persons, its nation. It requires a great capacity of analysis of big data. And Tusk says: “This is no science fiction. This is not futurology. This is not my fear when I look at my grand children. This is happening today, now, in this world, in the largest country on the planet, in the country best prepared to de facto control not only behaviour, but also needs, dreams, values of each and every one of the Chinese”.
Tusk is relieved, briefly: “we think we are safe in the West as we are beneficiaries and victims of the same technological revolution, but there is no temptation in us to use this technology to obtain a full state control over the individual”. But, are we? Tusk talks GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple.
In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Are we Internet-junkies?” asks the historian-turned politician.
Tusks warns of the future industries, in which there is no work, but not because of unemployment, but because of technological revolution. He mentions the “value engineers” and other challenges for the civilisation and for the political world.
Let the doubter doubt
“We dream of the rule of the Constitution, yet instead we see those who seek power reach only fiction, and those who seek truth about the world have to compromise even dreaming about power”, says Tusk and soberly notes, “Man by nature prefers power, not truth”.
Fiction today is not only a commercial tool, but it is becoming a major political tool. That’s a challenge for all of us.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
The issue should be dealt with by education and healthcare. “We need a revolution in thinking about education”, says Tusk. “Young people need vaccines against a dangerous world of fiction and being dependent on others’ values.”
Those and other challenges and our responses to them will determine the future of Poles and of other Europeans. It is important to ask questions, says Donald Tusk: “this is the essence of political freedom, we are to disturb and not support, we have to seek, we have to question”.
Cogito ergo sum of Descartes, “I doubt hence I am” is quoted, as is Ortega y Gasset: “the essence of Europe and its great cultural and civilisational advantages was precisely that its people thought, doubted, were in constant motion”. Be in motion, asks president Tusk.
Tusks follows the Ortega y Gasset quote: “European civilisation has deep doubts about itself” and adds “I hope it truly does”. The Spaniard is quoted: “I do not recall that any civilisation ever would die of doubt attacks. I remember, however, they usually die because of the petrification of their traditional faith and sclerosis of beliefs”.
Tusk adds: “Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs”.
Let the dreamer dream
The president of the European Council quotes a long passage from the Polish 1997 Constitution. It is its preamble, as proposed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a Polish statesman and prime minister 1989-1990.
Tusk wants to be proud of Poland again. He dreams it is possible, as it once was. “I have been many times in my life witness to the admiration the world and Europe looked at Poland. And so it can be again”.
Over a few last days two simultaneous geopolitical events took place. It would be fair to treat them separately, but as they have a rare joint actor, we won’t. First, Mike Pompeo announced that there will be a Middle East conference – Iran being the most important topic – in Warsaw. This triggered an outcry in Tehran against Poland, with whom Poland has had traditionally good relations.
First the facts. In May 2018 the United States triggered a new conflict with Tehran by withdrawing from the agreement about the Iranian nuclear program supervision. The new American anti-Iranian sanctions were infuriating for the European diplomats, who continue to work on countermeasures. Yet the Europeans do not attempt to withdraw from the agreement with Iran. Mogherini in January 2019 wrote on her blog: “I confirmed the international community’s determination to preserve the deal and its implementation” and “European countries have started preparations to create a mechanism to let our firms continue their legitimate business with Iran“. A little reminder: the European top diplomat never crosses any of EU member states, Poland included.
A year ago Poland entered into a diplomatic controversy with Israel, another country it traditionally kept good relations with. In order to smooth things out, Polish diplomacy rushed to Tel Aviv and Washington. Apparently, the Americans smelled an opening on how to challenge the European unity. In May 2018, Gazeta Wyborcza reports, the minister of foreign affairs received an offer to host a conference in Warsaw about peace and security in the Middle East. Warsaw was already taken into consideration to host the Trump-Kim summit last year. Clearly, Poland under PiS is welcomed in Washington, DC, as a relative ally among allies, that is. North Korea summit took place in Singapore, now the Iran summit is taking place in Warsaw.
Back in December I have heard from multiple Poland’s MFA sources that Poland “plays to be the closest to the Americans among the Europeans without breaking the EU unity”. Iran was to be – and now is – the showcase which illustrates this new situation.
Poland tries to position itself as a bridge between the Europeans and the Americans on the Middle East problems. It is great to attempt it, but the problems are obvious. Iran reacted with fury: the Polish charge d’affaires was called in, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs called the event “hostile” and some unknown counter-measures have been announced. For now, the festival of Polish movies in Tehran has been cancelled. Better not to plan a trip to Iran if you are a Polish national.
The Polish diplomats play their cards… diplomatically. So closely and so privately, that the news about the Iran event came not from the host, but from the American State Secretary Mike Pompeo. As if it was the Americans, who initiated it. Oh, they are the initiators. Poles are the hosts, not the players between the Americans and the Iranians, but at best between the Americans and the Europeans. As for the Iranians the players are the UN Security Council permanent members (US, Russia, China, France and UK) as well as Germany and the EU.
I am pleased to announce that the U.S. and #Poland will jointly host the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw on Feb. 13-14. It will be a forum for countries to address a range of critical issues toward a more peaceful Middle East. pic.twitter.com/IS8oPP4Aqs
The event is scheduled now for 13-14 February 2019. Some 70 delegations have been invited, but not the Iranian delegation. The question is this: Poles probably have enough credit with the Americans and the Europeans for the US-EU potential rapprochement on Iran, but will that be at the expense of the Polish relations in the Middle East?
The same day another news came: a Huawei employee in Warsaw and a French telecom Orange employee (a Polish national) in Warsaw were arrested on the charges of espionage. The details of the case are well covered here. What came afterwards, was interesting. The Chinese foreign office just calmly called for the investigation to be conducted “justly”. The Chinese newspaper Global Times was more outspoken: “If Poland wants to destroy its relations with China, it will lose much more, because China has trade advantage over the country” (Zhao Junjie, Chinese expert) and “is there anything worth stealing by Huawei in Poland?” (Hu Xijin, the newspaper editor).
Huawei has nearly 50% of the Polish telecommunications infrastructure market and after the bombshell arrest last week, officials are debating how to defuse potential security threats without crippling their own network https://t.co/mVUVwkecGI
The last question is a clear flexing of muscles. “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”, asked Stalin once, and this is the same argument. To put it bluntly: sometimes it is not about the argument of power, sometimes it is about the power of an argument. In situations like this one behind any European state there is the rest of the Union. It is the European Commission who considers steps against the United States because the US has not lifted its visa regime for some of the EU citizens. Unity is a value Europeans respect highly. There might be talk of disunity and populism, but every six months the European Council renews the Russian embargo despite individual voices contrary by some European governments. There was no major European disunity since the Iraq war; the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians were unable to break the Europeans. Minus the Brexit, that is, whoever did this deserves a credit. What can Warsaw do? For starters the Polish intelligence agency recommended to all the government officials not to use Chinese technology. Huawei faces a real threat of being banned from the Polish IT market. As small as it may be, it is a part of a larger European and trans-Atlantic cake. It may be that a Polish cough can turn into a mortal blow to the Chinese giant. Just speculating.
Western media covered the arrest and perceive the action as an element in a larger proxy war between China and the West about the technological espionage. Recently Canadian nationals were detained in China as a follow up to the espionage arrests in Canada. Huawei is probably among the most technologically advanced company in the world when it comes to the implementation of 5G. Extending their standards in Europe and the US could mean a technological edge for the Chinese company over the American companies in the future. True or not, a local Polish analyst took an interesting turn. Krzysztof Bogacki wrote an op-ed in the IT magazine “Chip” with the following quote:
“when we say ‘spying Chinese’ we should also remember about the ‘spying Americans'”.
As the American ambassador in Warsaw has a major impact on the Polish government, for the better of the companies like Uber and Discovery Communications.
There is one more angle here: for about 6 years now there is a format of cooperation between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe called “16+1”. There was some controversy about it in Western Europe; suddenly a major donor appeared in a region it was previously absent. Instead of sharing experiences of how to deal with the new Chinese presence, the approach was that the Chinese presence constituted a threat and competition to Western European businesses and model. The approach was wrong on two accounts: first, the Chinese investments are welcome anywhere, if they are genuine, and they can be genuine if the local governance system is not corrupt or prone to corruption. And second, Central Europe – the one that is in the EU, at least – is a part of the EU and there is no particular reason to see Central Europe as an area of “competition” for influence of the Chinese and the Western Europeans. This war is artificial; Central Europeans’ exposure towards the Chinese investments and political relationship is just new.
The arrest of the Chinese spies is a proof of strength of the Polish state, that is not prone to political corruption from the Chinese. Not to say there is none; clearly there are attempts. Yet the state works as well as Canada to spot the problem and deal with it.
Why it matters? Contrary to the popular belief, the Polish state is more advanced and more nuanced that many partners give it credit for. The Polish civil society has shown that it is capable of forcing a quasi-totalitarian government to talk and make compromises. The Polish state is able to oppose to unwanted practices of a foreign power, as long as it is not an ally. And the Polish state is willing to engage in a delicate game of international diplomacy.
This “new Poland” is not what many may recognise. Yes, it has its problems and limitations. But it has its aspirations, too. Its current strengths would not be possible without the European integration: the economic growth and the security comfort allowed for maximising not only economic power, but also a diplomatic one.
Somehow today the outlook for the rest of the day is positive.
In my next blog entry this afternoon I shall follow the Brexit vote in London from the Warsaw perspective.