Poland wants to change the European Union’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy, Witold Waszczykowski, the new Foreign Minister has told the Polish Parliament in a recent foreign policy debate. Waszczykowski underscored that Eastern policy remained a priority for Poland but added his country wanted to „create a new instrument for the European Union capable of positively influencing the Eastern neighbourhood policy”. Poland, he said, wanted the Eastern Neighbourhood to cease to be a „source of unrest and become a stable region based on strong foundations”.

Waszczykowski said on January 29 that „working with our regional partners we shall take into account all the positive aspects of the EaP and add new elements. I have already started talks on this subject with our partners in Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Romania,” he added.

The Polish Minister gave no details of what changes he had in mind but in the debate which followed his speech he called the EaP, which according to him had originally been envisioned as the creation of a buffer zone between Russia and the EU, had been „a catastrophe”.

The impromptu remarks were sparked by a question from Robert Tyszkiewicz, a member of parliament from the opposition Civic Platform. The Polish MP asked the Minister what he had meant when he said in 2014 that the Partnership had originally been a „German idea which no longer had a raison d’être”.

Waszczykowski explained that the EaP had, according to him, its origins in the project then called „Eastern Neighbourhood Policy Plus” dating back to 2006/2007. ENP Plus had been „a German idea […] to create a buffer zone between Russia and Poland and the EU and pull a couple of countries away from Russia but give them no chance of had joining the EU” he said. When, according to the minister, the Maidan protesters in 2014 called for EU membership for Ukraine they put an end to this plan. New thinking was now needed he implied. However, Waszczykowski did not mention that Poland now supported an EU membership perspective for Ukraine.

In reaction to the remarks, Łukasz Wenerski, the analyst of the Institute of Public Affairs (Warsaw), commented that Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski seems to prefer more bilateral approach towards Eastern Partnership countries, in line with the recent developments in the European Neighbourhood Policy.

However, Mr Wenerski notes that the Eastern Partnership initiative does not seem to be assessed highly by the current MFA. In his opinion, most criticism of the EaP is less connected with the actual evaluation of this instrument but rather has its origins in a prosaic fact that the EaP was initiated by the previous government. Unfortunately, internal political disagreements between the current ruling party, Law and Justice, and the Civic Platform, which was in charge of the country for the last eight year, has its reflection in every political aspect, including international affairs.

Łukasz Wenerski gave a positive evaluation to the fact that Minister Waszczykowski expressed interest in supporting Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in their difficult road to the future membership in the European Union, and is ready to look for other partners among EU countries to back his activities. On the other hand, Mr Wenerski considers that the readiness of Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs to develop relations with the regimes from Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia has to raise disappointment among independent civil society activists from those countries, and that the big task will stand ahead of them – to ensure that the voice of CSOs is heard by Polish officials.

Grzegorz Gromadzki of Stefan Batory Foundation from Warsaw expressed his doubts about the ability of Poland to influence significantly EU policy towards Eastern neighbours in the near future. According to Mr Gromadzki, the previous government used its relatively prominent position in the EU to advocate – with some success –a  more open policy towards EaP countries while the new authorities in Warsaw with their eurosceptic attitude have much less leverage in the EU. Therefore, their voice concerning the EU relations with Eastern Partnership countries will be much less audible in many Member State capitals and in Brussels.

Speech of Witold Waszczykowski on priorities of Polish Diplomacy