In the years ahead we must continue down this path. I was pleased to recognise the contours of the Lisbon agenda in the policy proposals of the present Polish government. It is in everyone’s interest if Poland can pursue an active pro-development policy that can bring the country up to the average level of prosperity of the EU in the years ahead.” U leest de volledige rede van de minister-president hier onder.
In his great novel Pozatek/The Beginning, Andrzej Szczypiorski writes about the turbulent history of Poland, a country caught between two worlds. ‘Here and nowhere else, the pensive, sensitive eyes of Asia gazed into the rational eyes of Europe. The books of Erasmus of Rotterdam were brought here on frisky horses from the Asian steppe. Jewish carts scattered their Voltairian seed here. Hegel journeyed to Saint Petersburg in a Prussian coach and made the return trip in a Russian troika. In this street the Tatar knelt with his face towards Mecca, the Jew read the Torah, the German Luther, and the Pole celebrated Candlemas.’
The story of The beginning is set in wartime Warsaw, a city gripped by terror and despair. Today I am in a Warsaw filled with conviction and dreams of the future. Collegium Civitas is in the centre of Europe. This young university has international aspirations. This institution and its students are embracing the twenty-first century with open arms. I am happy to be here today, at a university with ties to the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam, in a sister city of The Hague.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to talk to you about Europe – in particular three themes. To begin with, I will say a few words about the values that unite us in Europe. Then I will discuss Poland’s role in Europe. Finally, I will talk about the European economy and about what Poland and the Netherlands mean to each other in economic terms.
Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 made the Union stronger. The European project is unique in world history. Never before have so many countries joined together peacefully and of their own free will, to the benefit of them all. The European Union does not impose its values on others through force. Rather, it tempts them into accepting these values voluntarily.
European cooperation brings Europeans more prosperity, more jobs, more freedom, more security, more legal certainty and more opportunities.
European integration is a success story. Within a few decades of joining the EU, poor countries like Ireland and Spain developed into economic powerhouses. The same future could lie ahead for Poland. On a once divided continent, we now have a framework in which countries can work together constructively.
It is sometimes easy to forget how different these countries are. From Finland to Italy, Poland to France, Europe is a continent of great diversity. There is also considerable variety within European countries. That’s why we Europeans are thinking carefully about what unites us.
The European Union is a community of values – fundamental values that bind us. Values like respect for human rights and human dignity, tolerance, equality, freedom and solidarity. Freedom of expression is just such a core value, as is freedom of religion. Acknowledging and accepting religious difference is a prerequisite for a free, peaceful society. We all deserve respect for the things that matter most to us – our faith, our beliefs, our identity.
Yesterday I was in Gdansk. A city that has cherished the value of freedom for centuries. While there, I visited a Mennonite cemetery. A tangible reminder of the age-old bonds between Poland and the Netherlands. And of the Dutch people who took advantage of the freedom and tolerance afforded to them by Gdansk. In the sixteenth century many Dutch Mennonites who fled religious persecution in their homeland found a safe haven there, to practise their religion in peace.
Tolerance of difference and dissent is a great good. For a society’s strength lies in its diversity and openness. In its acceptance of change and in mutual respect. I shall do all I can to help forge links and build bridges between individuals, peoples and cultures. That is the only way to make progress.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would now like to focus on Poland’s role in Europe. As the quote from The beginning made clear, Poland has often played a crucial role on the European continent. The events that unfolded at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in August 1980 are a striking example of this. Those two momentous weeks under the leadership of Lech Walesa changed the face of Europe. To quote Pope John Paul the Second, ‘It was in this city that Solidarity was born. This was a turning point in the history of our Nation, as in the history of Europe. Solidarity opened the gates of freedom in the countries oppressed by the totalitarian system, tore down the Berlin Wall and helped to unite a Europe divided into two blocs since the Second World War.’
Since 1980 Poland has undergone a true transformation. The transition from Communism to democracy, economic progress, NATO membership, and of course its accession to the EU in 2004. Poland has resumed its place within Europe. And that is as it should be. Indeed you could say Poland is Europe.
Recent polls by the European Commission reveal that EU membership enjoys broad popular support in Poland. Seventy-one per cent of the Polish public is enthusiastic. So it should come as no surprise that the present Polish government has openly chosen to pursue an intensive and productive partnership with the EU. Poland can benefit from a harmonious and strong EU. And the EU can benefit from a vigorous Poland that participates actively in the European family.
Indeed, the sentiments expressed in Prime Minister Tusk’s inaugural address could have been my own: ‘We want to pursue Polish interests inside the EU, but we also want to present a Polish vision of increased growth for the whole EU. We believe that deeper cooperation within the EU and its enlargement are in the interest of the entire community, including Poland.’
Last year the European heads of government signed the Treaty of Lisbon. An important step towards a stronger and more effective Europe. A Europe that is closer to its citizens. A Europe that makes progress. Now we must see to it that the treaty is ratified. I sincerely hope that Poland will opt for quick ratification. In various ways Poland has made clear its willingness to assume the responsibilities that fall to any major European country. By fighting for the security and freedom of others in Afghanistan, Poland has shown that it does not avoid its responsibilities. In the past, things were no different.
In the Second War World, too, Polish soldiers fought for the freedom of others. The people of the Netherlands have always been deeply grateful for the contribution that those young Poles made to the liberation of our country. The Polish First Armoured Division of General Stanislaw Maczek fought against the German occupying forces in southern Netherlands. On 29 October 1944 they liberated the city of Breda. Since then, the battle cry ‘Za wasza i nasza wolnosc‘ (For our freedom and yours) has been a well-known phrase in that part of my country.
With his First Independent Parachutists Brigade, Major- General Stanislaw Sosabowski took part in Operation Market Garden. It was an especially difficult operation. In recognition of their exceptional acts of bravery, determination and devotion to duty, the entire First Independent Polish Parachutists Brigade was awarded the highest military decoration in the Netherlands: the Military Order of William. Each year we remember the sacrifice made by them and so many others. The Netherlands will never forget Poland’s solidarity at that most difficult time in my country’s history.
I spoke earlier of the values that bind us in Europe. Yet the European Union is more than a community of values. It is also an economic union that enables its members to face the challenges of the twenty-first century and seize the opportunities created by a globalising world. To conclude, I would now like to say more on that subject.
As you may know, the European heads of government committed themselves in 2000 to an ambitious European strategy for economic growth and employment – the Lisbon Strategy. To be a major player in today’s world you have to set the bar high. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Emerging markets like India and China will not wait for stragglers.
Fortunately, there’s a lot happening in the member states, much more than is often thought. Governments are cutting back the administrative burden, making it easier to start a business, reforming their taxes to stimulate employment and offering financial incentives to make working longer more attractive.
And these programmes are working, according to the eighth Lisbon scorecard released by the Centre for European Reform. In the past two years, six-and-a-half million jobs have been created. Unemployment is at its lowest level in twenty-five years, and productivity is growing faster here than in the United States.
In the years ahead we must continue down this path. I was pleased to recognise the contours of the Lisbon agenda in the policy proposals of the present Polish government. It is in everyone’s interest if Poland can pursue an active pro-development policy that can bring the country up to the average level of prosperity of the EU in the years ahead.
The accession of Poland – and the other new members – has given the European economy a dynamism that the old group never could have achieved. A high growth potential, new market opportunities. And more chances to capitalise on the comparative advantages of the various member states. Dutch businesses are investing in Poland on a large scale. In fact the Netherlands is the single largest foreign investor in your country. It was only natural that Dutch businesspeople were enthusiastic about coming along on this visit. And the feeling is obviously mutual: the Netherlands is the second most important investment destination for Polish businesses. Trade in both directions is increasing rapidly.
For several major Dutch corporations, investing in Poland is part of a larger strategy to improve their competitiveness and thus safeguard jobs in the Netherlands. Take the Damen shipyard in Gdansk. Hulls built there are taken to the Netherlands, where they are finished. By working together, shipyards in Poland and the Netherlands have a bright future. But there are also mutual advantages on the labour market. In the Netherlands, Poles have the reputation of working very hard and delivering quality workmanship. They are stepping in to fill jobs in sectors where there are personnel shortages. The money, experience and knowledge they bring back to Poland are contributing to this country’s future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have spoken to you about shared values, about economic progress and about the past and future of Europe. The success of the EU is in large part due to the efforts of several visionary founding fathers. One of them, the Frenchman Robert Schuman, said on 8 May 1950, ‘A united Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.’
Incorporating the European ideal of freedom, democracy and solidarity into our daily lives takes a lot of hard work. The Poles are certainly no stranger to hard work. I am convinced that this ideal is within reach, if Poland can transform itself into a major actor on the European stage.
You have a crucial part to play in this process. You are the new generation of leaders. You will be the ones to shape the future of your country. I challenge you to reach for the best in yourselves. Now, during your time at Collegium Civitas, and later on, in your careers. In your own interest. In the interest of Poland and in the interest of Europe.
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