Source: Republic of Poland in English
President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda for the Financial Times:
Fifteen years ago, Poland and nine other countries, most of them in central Europe, became members of the EU. That expansion came five years after we joined Nato. With those developments, the bloc finally broke through the cold war era division, aptly dubbed the Iron Curtain by Winston Churchill, that had created artificial boundaries on the continent.
The postwar division of Europe into the western and eastern parts was a separation imposed by force, in violation of all of the nations’ and states’ rights to liberty and self-determination. The lucky ones in the west began their path of European integration in the 1950s. Those of us under Soviet oppression did not have that chance. Our accession to the EU was a return to the natural state of affairs. Europe has always been our home, our natural habitat.
Poland has largely benefited from our EU membership. So have our partners in western Europe. We embraced free markets and invited foreign investors, setting up an extremely favorable business environment. Obviously Poland has become wealthier thanks to EU investment. However, German car manufacturers, French banks, Spanish clothes makers, Italian food exporters have also increased their profits, thanks to the opportunities and privileges they enjoy in Poland.
We must sustain these positive trends and take full advantage of Central Europe’s potential amid new challenges, including the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
That is why Poland and Croatia pushed for the Three Seas Initiative – a regional forum of twelve EU countries located between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas. We are seeking to integrate central Europe along a north-south axis and contribute to Europe’s cohesion and development.
Our region can boost national economies through investments in infrastructure whiile also harmonising our transportation and energy grids, which remain underdeveloped compared to western Europe. We have already built political consensus around the Via Carpathia highway, which will connect the Lithuanian port in Klaipėda to its Greek counterpart in Thessaloniki, and a plan to build a pipeline to connect liquefied natural gas sea terminals in the Polish town of Świnoujście on the Baltic with the Croatian island of Krk in the Adriatic.
The combined gross domestic product of Three Seas Iniative countries is €1.7tn and it is expected to grow 2.4 per cent annually up to 2030. Poland itself has seen its GDP rise by more than 800 per cent since 1989 – the most in Europe. In 2017 and 2018, we averaged 5 per cent growth.
The Three Seas Initiative, with its focus on cross-border infrastructural, energetic and digital development, has a potential to spark a new wave of investment and solidify this trend. Thus it is our major contribution to the European project.We are also thinking big when it comes to providing Europe with the security it needs to flourish peacefully. We are part of a group of nine countries on Nato’s eastern flank, known as the Bucharest 9, that began coordinating our defense policies on the road to the alliance’s 2016 summit in Warsaw. We have been meeting in this format ever since.
These two projects have received across-the-board political consent from the participating countries. This is evidence of three phenomena: first we are witnessing a rise of a new generation of European policy makers who remember the pre-1989 division of our continent, but are not tainted by it; second, that we have entered a new chapter in our common European history, where the political elites of Central European countries are vigorously pro-European and pro-transatlantic; and we have proven that when we meet as a group we can come up with serious ideas we wish to implement. Since 2015, we have been quite successful in this regard.
Fifteen years ago, the European continent began a true reversal to its natural state of affairs.
This process is not yet concluded. Parts of our continent – in the western Balkans and Eastern Europe – are still knocking on our doors. Having entered the EU in 2004, Poland has not closed the door behind us. My wish is that every European nation will one day, sooner or later, have the same opportunity as we did in the 2003 referendum – to democratically say “yes” to Europe.