President Trump’s visit to Poland this week is a timely reminder of the tight transatlantic bond tying our country, and our region, to the United States. It sends a strong message that we share not only the same norms and values but also a special interest in European security and stability.
In the sweltering summer heat of July of 1989, one month after Poland held its first partially free elections in over half a century, U.S. President George H.W. Bush came to Gdansk and told a crowd of over quarter of a million people that “it is Poland’s time of possibilities, its time of responsibilities (…) its time of destiny.”
At the time, our country – and our neighbours – were desperately pursuing political pluralism and were struggling to bounce back from the brink of economic calamity. Today, they are fully-fledged members of the European Union and NATO.
Donald Trump’s decision to meet in Warsaw with the leaders of the Three Seas Initiative, a regional forum consisting of 12 Central European, Baltic and Western Balkan countries, is an indicator that the new U.S. administration recognizes our region’s enormous potential.
The area covered by the Three Seas Initiative covers one-third of the European Union and is home to 112 million people. It is an attractive place to invest in due to impressive economic growth, relatively low unemployment as well as the reassuring sense of security provided by our presence in European and transatlantic structures.
The primary aim of the Three Seas Initiative is to build a single European market by tightening transport and energy links – especially on the North-South axis – in the region between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea. In turn, these economic interests will help make the region more competitive and will make it more attractive to external investors, including those in the United States.
We already have multi-billion-dollar economic cooperation and extensive US investments in Poland, but there is still scope for expanding Polish-American co-operation. These economic interests could help anchor the United States even more firmly in Central Europe, where Poland occupies a special geopolitical position.
As a country that has historically been subjected time and again to acts of aggression by powerful neighbours, Poland takes its security obligations very seriously. We are one of only four NATO countries that meet the target of spending at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. Last month, Poland was elected to the UN Security Council for the sixth time and will start its two-year term in January 2018.
The election of Poland to one of the most important UN bodies is testimony to our country’s role in preserving peace and security and it points to the trust that the international community has bestowed on us – 190 states voted for our country.
In the UNSC, Poland will not just fight for its own interests. It will, when possible, also be the voice of all of Central and Eastern Europe, many of whom share our concerns about Russia’s aggressive posturing and would welcome greater U.S. political engagement in our region. That is why a key issue on the Polish agenda will be the situation in Ukraine and, more broadly, protecting the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity. We believe that international law should have the absolute primacy in international relations.
President Trump’s visit will be a powerful impetus to strengthen our joint efforts in service of the international community.
In a situation in which we consciously describe Polish-American political and security cooperation as having strategic importance, we want this adjective to carry more weight also with regard to the economic relations between Warsaw and Washington.
The economic ties between Poland and the US are already based on very solid foundations. Our trade turnover is growing steadily, amounting to USD 10.4 billion in 2016. The dynamics of bilateral investments are maintained at a relatively high level. The enormous potential of this area of our dialogue remains largely untapped. This applies not only to trade and investment but also to energy and innovation.
During the forthcoming visit, the Polish side will seek the further influx of US investments into Poland, especially to innovative industries (according to the NBP data, at the end of 2015 the value of direct US investments in Poland amounted to USD 5.4 billion).
At the same time we are working to increase Polish investments in the USA. At present there are around 70 companies with Polish capital on the other side of the Atlantic, and the value of Polish direct investment in the US – contributing to the creation of new jobs in the United States – amounted to USD 713.6 million at the end of 2015. In order to strengthen the economic dimension of our relations we propose to host a special US-Poland Business Summit next year.
Both the Polish and American sides share converging views on the region’s energy security architecture. On June 8th, Swinoujscie received the first LNG ship from the U.S. As a result, Poland became the first recipient (among Central Eastern European countries) of American gas. Our country has all the conditions to become a hub – and therefore a pivotal centre – for the transportation of American raw materials to the Central Eastern European gas market.
LNG supplies from the US would strengthen the region’s energy security by reducing dependence on the dominant supplier and they would benefit the US economy. We also count on further US activity to counteract any initiative that undermines European solidarity in the field of security and diversification of energy supplies.
During the visit, we will also focus on issues pertaining to Polish-American innovation dialogue. We are looking for opportunities to further develop cooperation in the area of innovation and new technologies.
One of the instruments in this task could be the revitalization of the already existing Polish-American Innovation Fund. We have specific co-operation proposals for American partners, which include participating in venture capital operations run by the National Centre for Research and Development.
The sine qua non condition for further development of economic cooperation is, on the one hand, the appropriate political climate. But on the other hand it also requires the strengthening of interpersonal bonds and the creation of a favourable environment for investment and business activity of companies from Poland and USA.
We are counting on the current U.S. administration to show its determination to include Poland in the US visa waiver program. Americans have come to Poland without visas for more than 20 years, and Poles, in turn, are absolutely not a threat to US security.
From the point of view of the interests of Polish-American business circles, a definitive solution to double taxation is also of great importance. The Polish-American Convention on the Avoidance of Double Taxation was ratified by Poland in 2013. We hope that the new US administration will provide impetus to speed up work on the ratification of the Convention in Congress. Implementing youth exchange programs would also play an important role in strengthening our relationship.
When he speaks at Krasinski Square in Warsaw, the site of some of the most fierce fighting during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, President Trump will find a country that is, much like his own, doggedly determined but also pragmatic and resourceful. With this in mind, Poland is willing to work with anyone, even the most difficult of partners, if it helps root out terrorism and find a peaceful solution to the on-going armed conflicts worldwide.
Like our American partners, we are also mindful of the inherent imperfections of the international system we function in. That is why we will seek, during our membership of the UNSC and beyond, to make the work of the UN more transparent and effective.
It is our aim to consolidate the values on which the EU is built, and to systematically adapt NATO so that it is in line with current challenges.
We see unity and solidarity as the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic Treaty. The visit of the US President to Warsaw is of fundamental importance to the cohesion of the transatlantic area, especially at this particular time when we face not only conventional conflicts, but also hybrid conflicts, cyber-attacks, terrorist acts and are dealing with mass migration.
One possible answer to the challenges facing the European Union today and the whole transatlantic area is the idea of strengthening regional co-operation, which, where possible and justified, can be realized in co-operation with the United States.
This co-operation would lead to better communication between different EU areas, coupling infrastructure, increasing prosperity and improving security, including energy independence. It should, however, be implemented with due regard for the sensitivity and interests of all parties in the Union. President Trump’s visit to Warsaw symbolizes the efforts that Poland, in its alliance with the United States, brings to a united Europe and the entire transatlantic community.
When President George H.W. Bush visited Poland, and later Hungary, in the summer of 1989, he witnessed a region that was on the cusp of democratic change. On his first visit to Poland, President Trump will be able to see that the democracies of Central Europe have now blossomed into confident and reliable partners – with a lot to offer.
WITOLD WASZCZYKOWSKI, Polish Foreign Minister