Poland’s amazing accession

| April 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
Enlargement celebrations take place in 2004 in Brussels. Poland hasn’t looked back after its accession.

Enlargement celebrations take place in 2004 in Brussels. Poland hasn’t looked back after its accession.

The past 25 years of regained independence after the fall of communism were the most successful in the last 400 years of Poland’s history. To a large extent, that’s thanks to entering into the EU.
This is why 2014 will be a special year for my country. It is an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of a series of events that have had an enormous impact in shaping contemporary Poland, and the whole of Europe. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the successful end of the long fight with communism, which first began in Poland in 1980 with the creation of the Solidarity movement, and consequently spread to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Polish accession to NATO, the alliance that strongly enhanced a sense of security in our part of the world.
This year, we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of Poland’s accession into the EU, together with nine other countries. This was the single largest enlargement in the history of the EU in terms of the number of people and the number of countries that joined at the same time. Though EU officials frequently referred to this enlargement as “an historical opportunity” and a “moral imperative” that reflected the desire of the EU to admit these countries as members, many people were afraid of welcoming states that were clearly less developed than their Western European counterparts, as a result of 45 years of communism and Soviet domination.
Time has proved that these concerns were totally wrong.
Diplomat_4-20-2014_0047It is the enlargement that has created growth and wealth all over Europe. Exports from the original 15 member states to the EU-10 countries — those that joined in 2004 — has almost doubled in the last 10 years. It’s even more striking if you break it down by country. Britain’s exports to the 10 countries that joined after 2004 rose from $3.3 billion in 1993 to $15 billion in 2012; France’s, from $4 billion to $24 billion; Germany’s, from $22.5 billion to $143 billion.
Prior to 2004, due to its size, Poland was often mentioned as one of the biggest question marks and a potential threat to the stability of the EU’s economy. On the contrary, it turned out that Poland quickly became an important EU player and leader in many fields. Our GDP reached $790 billion (from about $228 billion in 1990), international trade amounted to almost $400 billion (from $30.5 billion in 1990) and public debt in relation to GDP was reduced to 49 percent (from 92 percent in 1990). The percentage of young Poles who are studying reached 50 percent. According to an OECD study, Polish students are among the best in terms of reasoning skills in science, reading and interpretation, as well as mathematical skills (respectively 9th, 10th and 14th place in the world). Finally, we took 8th place in the ranking of non-English-speaking countries whose citizens have the best knowledge of the English language.
Our economy is currently a powerhouse that is developing at a rapid pace. We have joined the club of states listed as “very high” on the Human Development Index. This contrasts to where we began in 1989 — below the USSR. Right now, we are the 21st largest world economy and we’re still growing. In recent years, Poland’s GDP, despite the turbulence in the global and European markets, has grown steadily. For the last 20 years — as the only country in the Western world — we have recorded uninterrupted economic growth, an average of 4.31 percent over the past nine years (in comparison to 1 percent for all of the EU).
That is why we are looking to the future of our continent with optimism. We challenge the notion of Europe’s (or the West’s) decline. We are convinced that Europe’s powerful weight in the global economy will remain stable. Despite the recent crisis — which was not generated in Europe — the EU proved to be strong enough to overcome even the most complex challenges.
To make sense of the state of the EU, let us remind ourselves of the facts within the big picture. EU countries generate roughly a quarter of the world’s GDP. That is more than the U.S.; it’s more than the combined GDP of China, Japan and the 10 ASEAN countries. Europe is the world’s largest aid donor. More than half the money spent on helping poor countries comes from the EU and its member countries. The EU is the world’s largest exporter and the second-largest importer. We Europeans are investing in jobs and growth in many parts of the world, including Canada. Just in the past four years, the Polish companies KGHM, Kulczyk Holding and PKN Orlen invested more than $3.3 billion in Canada.
Within Europe, Poland is increasingly influential in political terms as well. Today, we are not the source of problems, but a source of European solutions. We now have the capacity, and the will, to contribute and take responsibility for the future of Europe. We are a model of a successful transformation from dictatorship to democracy. We progressed from an economic basketcase to an increasingly prosperous market economy. We train judges from Tunisia, staff from NGOs in Egypt and we support pro-democratic changes in our Eastern neighbourhood. I was rarely so proud in my life than when I had a chance to be one of the trainers in a civil society/democratic institutions workshop in Myanmar (Burma), another country that started on a path to democratic changes. To our surprise, one of the students was Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Burmese opposition and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
We offer solutions for further development of the EU and stabilizing its neighbourhood. The Eastern  Partnership, with its focus on Eastern European prosperity, the European Endowment for Democracy and the Common Security and Defence Policy are just a few examples of that co-operation. During the Polish presidency at the Council of the EU, we also played an important role in presenting initiatives to fight economic crises. It was Poland that led EU efforts to solve the crisis in Ukraine peacefully and democratically. The bloodshed on the streets of Kiev has been stopped by an  agreement negotiated by the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, and his counterparts from Germany and France.
A recent World Bank report professed that Poland has started a “new golden age” of its history. That might be a bit of  an exaggeration, but our success is indisputable. This, however, did not happen all by itself. We owe it to tens of millions of hard-working, innovative and determined Poles and to good policies of different governments in the last 25 years. Governments from the left and the right undertook many crucial steps to lay foundations for today’s success, from privatization to pension reform to being one of the first nations on Earth to introduce a public debt anchor within our constitution (60 percent of GDP).
European Union support was also a key element, primarily due to significant financial resources supporting the development of our country. We are grateful to all those who supported our struggle to change the country and join the West, including our allies as well as Polish diaspora all over the world. We will always remember that Canada was the first country to ratify our accession to NATO in early 1998.
Today, the European Union is not only the world’s largest economy but also the largest region of peace, democracy and human rights. No wonder people to the East and South of our borders are taking Europe as an inspiration and Poland as an example. Just a few weeks ago, Vitali Klitschko, leader of the pro-democratic and pro-European movement in Ukraine, told hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Kiev: “Look, we can be like Poland one day, too.”
We like to say — only half-jokingly — that Poland’s place on the map of Europe has recently changed dramatically. Until 1989, we were located in the mysterious and frozen Eastern Europe. Then, after getting rid of communism, we became part of Central Europe. Since the outbreak of the global crisis in 2008, with our financial discipline and strong growth, we have moved again: to hard-headed, efficient Northern Europe, becoming a vibrant and significant state.
So this year, when millions of Poles at home and across the globe will celebrate 25 years since the defeat of communism and the resurrection of an independent Polish state, it is also a chance for us in Canada to highlight my country’s achievements. Poland is back on the world stage — democratic, prosperous and vibrant again.

Marcin Rafał Bosacki is Poland’s ambassador to Canada.

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Marcin Rafał Bosacki is Poland’s ambassador to Canada.

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