The Plennary Session "Unfinished integration and the aspirations of European countries"

The President of Poland and leaders of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili and Macedonia, Gorge Ivanov, talked about the future of European integration during a discussion opening the Forum.

“The European Union should conduct an open door policy,” agreed the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili and the President of the Republic of Macedonia, George Ivanov during the panel opening the 27th Economic Forum in Krynica, entitled “Unfinished integration and the aspirations of European countries”. President Duda severely criticized the idea of a two-speed Europe and emphasized the importance of Poland’s membership in the EU taking into consideration Poland’s history.

However, backstage, forum participants paid more attention to the laureate of the annual “Man of the Year” award than to the presidential panel. It’s been confirmed by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister that the title of the “Man of the Year” has been awarded to Prime Minister Beata Szydło, who beat Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Development and Finance, Mateusz Morawiecki, who had been considered a favorite.

Prime Minister Szydło got 13 votes whilst Deputy Prime Minister Morawiecki only 11. We’ve learnt that professor Adam Strzembosz received third place. On the sidelines of the Forum, a few theories were coined regarding the decision on whom to award.

“It may well be that Morawiecki didn’t win due to a series of recent interviews and building popularity. Perhaps some thought that giving the award to him would be too much,” wonders one of the permanent guests of the Forum in an interview with “Rzeczpospolita”.

A two-speed European Union?

Unofficial news about this year’s decision surfaced around 12:00, close to an hour before the start of the session opening this year’s Forum, which is officially devoted to the topic “Project Europa – what’s the recipe for the next decades?” The subject discussed at the presidential panel related to the main leitmotiv of the event. During the presidential panel, President Duda unequivocally referred to the concept of a two-speed Europe.

“I’m against a two-speed European Union. If Europe is formally divided into better and worse countries, it will lose a lot of its attractiveness for the countries considered to belong to the second category,” stressed the President.

He also reminded the roots of the European Union. “Let us remember that the European Union was created by the people who had survived World War II. They wanted to collaborate, not compete, which could have resulted in another armed conflict. Dividing the EU destroys the European idea because it hits its most vulnerable spot,” said the President.

The context of expanding the European Union was also mentioned. As Duda declared, a two-speed Europe makes EU less attractive also for the countries that would like to join it. “Perhaps a country will have to go through the first and then the second stage of the European Union to get to the right one,” said Duda.

Brexit and refuges in the background

One of the topics touched upon during the presidential debate was Brexit and the refugee crisis. President Duda stated that the EU was surprised by Brexit similarly as by other crises that it has had to deal with in recent years. “The EU was astounded that the citizens of the European Union voted for Brexit in the referendum and it was taken aback by the crisis connected with the huge wave of refugees,” he said. He also confirmed the accuracy of the approach adopted by the Polish government and pushing through solutions that help mitigate the crisis.

“Eventually the crisis was contained by using instruments that Poland had talked about since the very beginning, namely tightening border control, effective border surveillance, providing help to those who had to flee their homes because of the threat of war, and undertaking actions to end armed conflicts. All of this is happening and consequently, we can see that the wave of refugees is getting smaller and it seems the only right way,” said Duda.

The President was also optimistic about the EU’s fate after Brexit. “Today, Brexit is not a serious threat to the EU, to its existence; the European Union can deal with Brexit if it eventually happens,” he stressed.

European aspirations

The presidents of Georgia and Macedonia were unanimous about the European ambitions and aspirations of their respective countries.

“Most citizens of our country wanted to make it to the European Union. During the immigration crisis of 2015, Macedonia didn’t await instructions from Brussels and made its own decision on how to handle the wave of refugees and how to differentiate between refugees and economic migrants. The immigration crisis forces the EU to react and get other countries involved that are still not among its member states,” said the President of Macedonia, George Ivanov.

The President of Georgia shared this point of view. “We do believe in the EU and European values, we have been building our society following these values. From our perspective, building Europe is about building independent states and the whole Union. We have European management not only at a national level but also at the EU level. The trouble is our neighbouring with Russia,” said Giorgi Margvelashvili and stressed that Georgia already had strong support. “We have more supporters than Poland when it was trying to join the European Union. We have allies in the countries that favour the open door policy. I do believe that we will also be able to contribute to the EU with economic and social prospects,” he added.

President Duda supported the European aspirations of Georgia and Macedonia. “It’s good to belong to the European Union and it’s good to become a part of it. Of course, it’s difficult and the development of the political situation is not making this process any easier; the crises within the European Union complicate things, but I want to make one thing clear as the President of Poland: we, the Poles, are in favor of the open-door policy and we think that Poland should be open towards new members of the EU and NATO. This means increasing the human potential of the EU. The EU needs to revise its internal policy, it should become a Union of equal states and free nations,” stressed Duda. At the end, he referred to the European identity of Poland. “I think that we must remain ourselves.”

After a short stay in Krynica President Duda departed to Kazakhstan.

 

Michał Kolanko, Karolina Kowalska/Rzeczpospolita