Poland's leader swaps iron fist for velvet glove

25th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

25 November 2007, Warsaw (dpa) - Warsaw, in the chill of late November, is no place to be wearing an iron gauntlet. Perhaps that is one reason why Poland's new prime minister handled his first foreign-policy statement with velvet gloves on Friday. "We hope to have even more intensive cooperation with the EU and all its members ... I guarantee that those relations will be satisfactory to the whole EU and our partners," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the newly-convened parliament. Over the last two years, P

25 November 2007

Warsaw (dpa) - Warsaw, in the chill of late November, is no place to be wearing an iron gauntlet. Perhaps that is one reason why Poland's new prime minister handled his first foreign-policy statement with velvet gloves on Friday.

"We hope to have even more intensive cooperation with the EU and all its members ... I guarantee that those relations will be satisfactory to the whole EU and our partners," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the newly-convened parliament.

Over the last two years, Poland's foreign policy has lurched from one crisis to the next, as the mercurial twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski - prime minister and president respectively - clashed with the EU, Germany and Russia in rows of increasing bitterness.

The twins vetoed the start of strategic talks between the EU and Russia, threatened to torpedo the EU's Reform Treaty, and blocked a proposal for an EU day against the death penalty, in a display of iron-fisted strength which left diplomats gasping.

"This is the first time I can remember that someone has made opposition to the EU a matter of general policy," one source in the Council of EU member states told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

But on October 21, two years ahead of schedule, elections in Poland saw the resounding defeat of the twins' Law and Justice (PiS) party and the triumph of Tusk's pro-business Civic Platform (PO).

And even before Tusk presented his government's programme to members of parliament on Friday, his officials were keen to proclaim their new philosophy of dialogue and cooperation.

"I hope that Poland will be the first state to ratify the (Reform) Treaty. This would be a strong signal that Poland is returning to the heart of Europe," Parliamentary Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski told a group of journalists flown in from Brussels as part of the charm offensive.

"In diplomacy, style makes a huge difference - whether you talk to people or not makes a huge difference to what you can achieve. We hope to renew the dialogue with all our neighbours on all levels," Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski - usually known as Radek - added.

Their tone, so different from that used by the Kaczynskis, is likely to be welcomed with delight in many European capitals.

But EU politicians expecting a humble and submissive Poland to return to the table are liable to be in for a shock.

Tusk may prefer the velvet glove to the iron fist, but he gave no sign on Friday of intending to wash his hands of tough decisions.

In his first presentation to the Sejm (Poland's parliament), he pledged to pull Poland's 900 troops out of Iraq by the end of 2008, saying that "our commitment to our ally, the United States, has been lived up to and exceeded."

And he added: "Poland will be an advocate for stronger ties and cooperation with the US, but at the same time we will try and convince the US of the need to strengthen Poland's defences."

Poland sees the US as its most important ally, and Tusk pledged to keep the current Polish force of 1,300 men in Afghanistan in acknowledgement of that fact.

But his willingness to stand up to his key ally is a sign that while his diplomatic stance should be less aggressive than that of the Kaczynskis, it is unlikely to be any less assertive.

In the Sejm, Tusk spoke of the need for the EU to maintain direct financial support to farmers, develop a common foreign policy and strengthen its engagement in Ukraine - all issues which have already provoked rows between various EU member states.

He also pledged to continue consultations over US plans to site elements of a missile-defence system in Poland - a stance which is hardly likely to win him friends in Russia, which opposes the plan.

And he said he would strive to "make sure that the cost and risk of NATO missions are spread equally among members" - a comment which is likely to irk those NATO members, including Germany, who are already under fire for their perceived reluctance to commit men and equipment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Europe's diplomats are likely to take heart from the fact that he stressed his desire to solve difficult questions through dialogue.

But if Friday's performance is anything to go by, Tusk may have set aside the iron fist of the Kaczynskis: he gives no impression of being ready to drop his guard.

DPA

Subject: German news

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