Adam Balcer, Andrzej Krawczyk and Kazimierz Wóycicki


The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs 4/2009

*Fragments of the book Pionek czy rozgrywający? Nowa polska geopolityka [ Playmaker or Pawn? New Polish Geopolitics] in preparation for print.

The notion of Europe extending only along the East-West axis continues to dominate Polish thinking. Poles are slowly becoming aware, however, that the historical breakthrough of 1989 makes it possible—and even mandatory—to think of many new dimensions of Europe undergoing unification.

Poland’s space for negotiating or voicing initiatives is considerably wider than the deeply rooted historical patterns would seem to indicate. Poland needs to understand that in addition to the East-West dimension there is a new, North-South, dimension, comprising the regions of the Baltic Sea (relations with the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, Strategy for the Baltic Sea), Central Europe (the Visegrád Group, Regional Partnership and the Strategy for the Danube Region, which is to be launched in 2011), the Balkans, the Black Sea (Black Sea Synergy, Eastern Partnership,[1] Romania) and Turkey. This axis should be just as important as the eastern direction, and in case of a crisis in eastern policy, it could become an alternative thereto. It is important that Poland learn to “play several tunes at once,” to notice the numerous connections that exists between the above mentioned regions (including Eastern Europe), and cease looking exclusively to the east.

The southern direction will assume priority importance for the European Union in the 21st century.Energy problems, demographic issues as well as the weight of the EU dimension mean thatPolish foreign policy will also have to acquire a southern perspective. The continued orientation toward the east may lead to provincialism despite the weight of the problems to be addressed. For this reason, the eastern direction is only interesting and important from the European point of view when it veers to the south—toward the Black Sea. It would be advantageous for Poland to become aware of the community of interests that it shares with the new EU members which lie on the North-South axis and which share the sad economic and social heritage of communism. This community translates into specific EU problems, similar economic ties with countries of the West and a similar position on certain important foreign policy issues (such as EU enlargement). As the largest country on that axis, Poland should make use of these common elements in order to build a coalition within the EU on behalf of specific political solutions—all the while avoiding regional power ambitions and a patronizing approach. This axis should be treated as one of the pillars of strong Polish position in the EU. The second one should become Poland’s active engagement in “the European Primer League” composed of most powerful member states (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK). These pillars are mutually interdependent. Strong Poland’s position in the Premier League depends inter alia on our capacity to build coalitions on the North-South axis which will be much easier task in case of Poland’s significant role in the European main stream.     

In the context of the “New Europe”, Poland’s great successes include:

– a joint declaration of the ministers for European affairs of the Visegrád countries, Bulgaria and Romania, adopted during a meeting in Warsaw, in support of the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy (September 2008);

– a joint position of the coalition of new EU member states (former communist countries) on the energy and climate package adopted during a meeting in Gdańsk in December 2008, prior to the European Union summit;

– a joint position of the same countries on EU policy with regard to the economic crisis adopted in March 2009 during a mini-summit in Brussels prior to the European Union summit;

a joint declaration of the same countries and Austria, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia with regard to the diversification of the gas market in the region adopted in February 2010   

– fairly frequent meetings between Visegrád Group leaders or ministers with representatives of the Baltic states and, separately, of Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria;

– a strong representation of leaders from Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the Balkans (in contrast to Western Europe) during the unprecedented commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, funeral of the President Lech Kaczynski and earlier, on a somewhat lesser scale, during commemorations of the June 1989 elections in Poland.

It would be worthwhile to safeguard that these mini-summits and meetings take on a permanent character. Poland should also use the North-South axis to build support for EU membership of Ukraine and Moldova and, later on, the countries of the Caucasus.

The building of a policy around this new axis requires from Poland a determined increase of political, social and economic activity in the countries situated along this axis. It will also be necessary to formulate a new historical policy in the foreign affairs dimension and to reinterpret certain motifs of our collective historical memory or to emphasize other less-valued or forgotten ones. The point is to demonstrate Poland’s presence in the region, to neutralize historically contentious issues that exist between countries of this area and Poland and to build a sense of community. A historical policy is nothing new. It is only one important element, but it should never be the most important one in foreign policy, because of the danger that this policy would become dominated by historical issues. For example, cooperation between Scandinavian countries is based on common historical experience (the Vikings, Lutheranism, many centuries of inter-state ties, political unions, etc.). The Visegrád Group refers to cooperation that existed between Central European countries in the 14th century (the royal Congress of Visegrád in 1335). Austria uses the Habsburg heritage to explain its involvement in Central Europe and the Balkans. Turkey is developing relations with the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East on the basis of the Ottoman tradition. France uses history to explain its unique political ties with the Maghreb region. In the case of the eastern vector, Poland makes reference to the Jagiellonian tradition, to the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the federal idea, etc.

Poland’s strong points in the “opening up” of its foreign policy on the North-South axis might include its developed relations with Central Europe and the Baltic region (the Scandinavian and Baltic countries). Although much remains to be accomplished, Poland’s position is stronger in the Central European and Baltic dimension than in any other.

The Baltic Region


If we consider diversifying Polish foreign policy by resting it also the North-South axis, matters related to the Baltic Sea area deserve more intensive involvement. Since 1989, European political thinking has been shifting: The East-Wet axis is gradually replaced by the North-South axis. This change cannot but have an impact on Polish geopolitics. It is all the more significant from the Polish point of view if we bear in mind that the Baltic, on which Poland lies, is the north of Europe. The question of Eastern Partnership has shown that it is in this region that Poland can seek partners for its initiatives directed eastwards. Yet that Baltic Sea has a much broader dimension for Poland’s interests, and intensified relations with countries of the region (Scandinavian and Baltic countries) should be a priority on account of the economic and energy factors, the possibility of European-wide cooperation, and the problem of the Kaliningrad District—a Russian exclave within the European Union.

Although Poland is definitely not a country living off the sea, the Baltic remains very important.[2] The Cold War divided not only the continent but the Baltic Sea as well. After 1989, Poland discovered how important its northern neighbors beyond the sea were. Cooperation between countries lying on the Baltic opens for Polish foreign policy new opportunities that are only just beginning to be seen.

Just as the residents of Western Europe are beginning to discover Central and Eastern Europe, the Poles can similarly be described as gradually discovering Northern Europe. Poland’s opening up to the Baltic should be reinforced through the cultural and historical dimension. While reflecting on the cultural factor it should be noted that a lot remains to be done in order to revive Poland’s cultural and historical ties with the region.

The northern dimension does not seem to be sufficiently appreciated in Poland. Poland should capitalize on the considerable potential of coastal voivodeships, which are among its most developed regions. The extension of strictly Baltic infrastructure—such as Rail Baltica or Via Baltica—will no doubt contribute to their further development and to the strengthening of the North-South axis in Polish geopolitics, including the Baltic vector within it.

From an economic viewpoint, the Baltic Sea is a region that is considerably more important for Poland than Eastern Europe. As is the case with Central Europe—although to a lesser degree—Poland is very important for certain economies (Lithuania,[3] the Kaliningrad District and Latvia). At the same time, it stands out from the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, which are very strongly linked with one another. It would be worthwhile for Poland to deepen its economic integration with this region by, for instance, expanding the presently insignificant Polish investments in Latvia and Estonia,[4] or continuing to attract Scandinavian capital. Increased Polish trade with these countries is no doubt possible as well.

These measures should constitute the basis for a further deepening of political relations between Poland and the Baltic and Scandinavian countries on the grounds of a community of interests on such fundamental questions as sensitivity to Russia’s policies or support for EU enlargement (with due consideration for a certain degree of skepticism in Denmark). A similar attitude of the Baltic states toward Russia means that the synchronization of Poland’s policy with the above states is an easier task than building such a community with all the countries of the Visegrád Group. Over the past few years, Poland’s bilateral political relations with Finland and Sweden have intensified. On Poland’s initiative, leaders of the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) have begun to meet regularly with Visegrád Group leaders, but a lot remains to be done. Poland continues to maintain more intensive contacts with Central European countries than with the Baltic states, with the exception of Lithuania.[5]

Relations with Sweden are especially important for Poland. Both countries’ joint initiative, the Eastern Partnership, and Stockholm’s skeptical view of the Nord Stream gas pipeline built by Russia and Germany at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, have shown just how many interests the two countries have in common. In spite of certain differences, Finland’s picture of Russia is also closer to Poland’s than to France’s, while Norway shares Poland’s strong trans-Atlantic instincts.

Poland should also be more active in regional organizations and initiatives (Council of the Baltic Sea States, Union of the Baltic Cities) and as part of the Euroregion Baltic. For countries located on the Baltic, Poland’s active participation in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea—a Swedish initiative to be pursued within the framework of the European Union’s Northern Dimension—will be a test of its involvement in the region. The adoption of the strategy along with the action plan took place in December 2009. Poland should also intensify its relations with the Baltic states, also in the social sphere, and it would be worthwhile to increase tourist traffic, which is relatively well developed already between Poland and Lithuania, and also Latvia.[6]

It is important to bear in mind that countries of the Baltic are also very important in terms of the Polish energy strategy. The first attempt to diversify gas supplies taken by Poland in 2001 rested on the concept of building a gas pipeline from Norway through the Danish straits. It ended with the signing of agreements that were not later ratified. At present, diversification is planned through the construction of a gas port in Świnoujście, with the government’s decision in this respect adopted in 2009.

The project of laying the Nord Stream gas pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea to link Russia directly with Germany while by-passing Belarus, Ukraine and Poland is a source of great anxiety in Poland. For Russia, this project is a means to strengthen its position in relations with Kyiv, as well as a means to exert strong pressure on Minsk. Thanks to the pipeline, Russia will reduce its dependence on Ukrainian intermediation in exporting gas to Europe. The aim of the gas pipeline—from Moscow’s viewpoint—is to establish closer ties between Russia and Germany.

In effect, it is not a coincidence that the Nord Stream pipeline has become one of the most important causes of tensions in Poland’s relations with Germany. There is a threat that the pipeline’s construction at the bottom of the sea in the vicinity of Świnoujście will hamper both the construction of the gas port there and the passage of deep sea vessels transporting liquid gas. There is little Poland can do to block this project. Maritime law allows for the construction of a pipeline at the bottom of the sea belonging to one country by third countries and only environmental arguments can be advanced in order to alter its course. For this reason, Poland should concentrate on building the gas port.

The Baltic dimension is also significant for Poland in the context of nuclear and other types of energy. Sweden and Finland are the two most innovative countries in the EU, also in the sphere of new energy sources.[7] In early 2009, Sweden decided to resume work on nuclear energy. It would be worthwhile for Poland to take advantage of Swedish assistance in the construction of its own nuclear plants, which in the long run are meant as the most important component guaranteeing Poland’s energy security. Poland is also holding talks with Lithuania on building a nuclear power plant, with its power as well as construction and energy costs yet to be decided. As a counter-proposal, Russia suggested that Poland and Lithuania use, on convenient terms (low energy costs), the new nuclear power plant it intends to build in the Kaliningrad District. From the perspective of Poland’s long-term energy security, a better solution would be building its own—even if more expensive—nuclear power plants in cooperation with other EU countries.

Another problem giving additional importance to the Baltic dimension is the Kaliningrad District. The support of Scandinavian and Baltic countries will certainly be helpful in order to resolve this problem. The district constitutes a serious challenge to Poland’s “hard” and “soft” security as well as to that of the entire region and the EU as a whole. Poland has very limited possibilities to politically affect the situation in the district, but it should, especially in cooperation with Lithuania and other countries, lay the ground, through the growth of trade and investment, for the gradual and slow empowerment of the Kaliningrad District in its relations with the EU. Chances for intensifying economic cooperation with the district lay in the agreement signed with Russia at the beginning of September 2009 on opening the Vistula Lagoon to sea shipping.[8] Poland should also involve the district’s authorities in regional cooperation, capitalizing on the district’s membership in Euroregions Baltic, Niemen (along with Lithuania) and Lyna-Lawa. An excellent idea was a common letter of the Polish and Russian Ministers of the Foreign Affairs send to the EU in April 2010 asking to apply small border traffic regulations to the whole Kaliningrad oblast. Generally, possible Polish rapprochement with Russia should be use to accelerate cooperation in the Baltic region.       

Southern Vector and South-eastern Alternative: The Western Balkans

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the European Union was most active in the Balkans (missions, enlargement process, financial dimension). The breakup of Yugoslavia was accompanied by the bloodiest armed conflicts on the European continent since World War II. Recognition by the West that the only guarantee of stabilization in that region would be its integration with the EU was by no means groundless. In effect, the accession of the Balkan states is supported by all EU members, in contrast to the accession of Eastern European countries and Turkey.[9] The EU became aware that the persisting broad belt of instability extending from the Kola Peninsula to Albania would constitute an enormous threat. The hasty admission of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU, despite both countries’ numerous shortcomings in adopting the Copenhagen criteria, was a response to that threat. The belt of instability was severed. It broke up into two parts: the Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusian section and the southern section connected with the situation in Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EU’s activeness in the Western Balkans is no doubt greater than in the east and it will continue to mount. Until stabilized, the Balkans will continue competing with Eastern Europe for EU engagement. The dispelling of hopes for a swift admission of Ukraine into the EU and the postponement of this option until at least 2030 create serious problems for Polish foreign policy strategy and require serious reflection. In Polish political thinking and practice, EU enlargement should not boil down to Ukraine’s admission into the EU. In the years 2010–2025, enlargement will focus on the south-eastern direction: Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, and the importance of this factor for Polish interests must not be underestimated. Such a scenario would call into question a significant portion of Poland’s competence concerning eastern matters. For as long as there is talk of Ukrainian membership in the EU, Poland, as a proponent of this project, will have an important role to play. As this prospect becomes more distant, Poland’s competence will be undermined.

For this reason, Poland should not view the southern dimension in a solely instrumental manner—through the prism of its eastern policy. It is worth reiterating that the integration of the Western Balkans will not be an easy process for the EU and it will become the most important test for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Serious problems with the integration of the Western Balkans will undermine the EU’s credibility and its ambition to play the role of a global power. Poland should also look at the Balkans as a bridge between Central Europe and Turkey, as an area of activeness for Russian “advocates” in Europe,[10] and as a transit area for Asian gas and oil to Europe, an area with considerable energy potential.[11] We should also be aware of the fact that EU membership for Western Balkan countries will entail an enlargement of the coalition of new EU member states. Poland should capitalize on the ties between the Balkans and Ukraine and Moldova (Danube Strategy, Black Sea Synergy, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Moldova’s membership in various Balkan organizations, the Central European Initiative) to strengthen the links of those two countries with the EU.

Priority treatment given to the southern direction will be something entirely new for Polish foreign policy and Polish consciousness after 1989. In searching for an anchor point for its activeness in the Balkans, Poland should recall the forgotten history of Polish-Balkan ties. Facetiously, one could observe that since the 1683 relief of Vienna, this direction has never been important for Polish policy and for Polish consciousness in an independent state.

Following the collapse of communism, thinking about southern Europe for a moment stood at the center of Polish fears and worried our strategists. After 1989, the said southern dimension appeared as a threat of isolation for Poland. Italian plans to set up the “pentagonale”—an association of South and Central European states—left Poland in a no man’s land. This gave rise to fears that the Italian plan in the south and the French desire to balance the growing power of Germany by means of a planned European confederation would leave Poland in Russia’s sphere of influence. The breakup of Yugoslavia and the conflict in Bosnia upset the Italian plan totally. As a response to Italy’s moves, Poland took the initiative of creating the Visegrád Group with Czechoslovakia (ultimately the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Hungary and the subsequent establishment with the same countries of the Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA), which Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia joined in the following years. Upon its EU entry in 2004, Poland withdrew from this organization, but CEFTA remained an important Central European contribution to the development of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. In 2003–2007, all countries in the region became its members.

In the 1990s, Poland, which was striving for NATO and EU membership, was most involved in missions in the Balkans and organizations established at Brussels’ initiative and aimed at regional integration of South-Eastern Europe (such as the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, now the Regional Cooperation Council). Although Poland was less active than the Scandinavian countries, for instance, its military and police contingents are now among the largest in Kosovo (police) and Bosnia (army)—something we are often unaware of.[12] A positive aspect of this cooperation was the activeness—on Poland’s initiative—of Eastern European and Baltic countries in the Balkans for the purpose of bringing those countries closer to European structures and building bilateral trust. The most important example here was the creation of the Polish-Ukrainian-Lithuanian battalion in Kosovo and cooperation between Polish and Scandinavian “blue helmets” in Bosnia.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Poland should be more active in its policy toward the Western Balkans. It should be vitally interested in transforming the Balkans into the South-Eastern Europe. A prerequisite for effective Polish policy in the Western Balkans is its enhanced economic presence—strikingly modest at present—in this region.

The Black Sea

The fall of communism and the break-up of the USSR have led to the emergence of a new “field”—the Black Sea region—in the vicinity of the European Union. The first and so far most important attempt, despite its many drawbacks, to institutionalize and define this region was the creation in 1992 on Turkey’s initiative of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Organization. This organization was unable to fulfill the hopes pinned on it given the conflicts between its members and their differing views on basic foreign policy issues (such as NATO membership), but due to the enhanced presence of the EU, NATO and the USA in the Black Sea region at the beginning of the 21st century, the region started to be perceived as a whole in the West. The principal manifestations of these new tendencies were: the American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq (as a region of transit); the admission of Bulgaria and Romania into NATO (in 2004) and the EU (in 2007); the beginning of accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey, a member of NATO for several decades (in 2005); and the emergence of the issue of Georgian and Ukrainian integration with NATO and the EU, and in the case of Moldova with the EU only.

After Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the EU in 2007, the Black Sea region took on new importance for Brussels, but not only as a border area between the EU and its three largest neighbors to the east (Russia, Ukraine and Turkey). The total GDP of those three countries amounts to $3.2 trillion (over 20% of the EU’s), with their population at around 260 million (over 50% of the EU’s). A manifestation of Brussels’ new perception of the region was the adoption by the EU in April 2007 of a regional cooperation initiative known as the Black Sea Synergy, the first to treat the region as one. Poland approached it unfavorably, fearing that the EU’s attention would shift from the east to the south. The Synergy’s point of reference was the Black Sea and not the eastern boundary of the EU, as is the case with the Eastern Partnership initiative. Poland was critical of the concepts behind the Synergy for disregarding areas of interest for Warsaw, such as Belarus, the Kaliningrad District or the Polish-Ukrainian border areas. Poland also feared that the Synergy would be dominated by the EU’s relations with Russia and Turkey, while of strategic significance for Poland was Ukraine’s EU membership. Other Polish reservations embraced an absence of an EU dimension to the Synergy (e.g. liberalization of the visa regime, a free trade agreement, implementation of the aquis communautaire) or of the prospect of institutionalization (a special coordinator, financing). Poland was also skeptical of the idea—assumed by the Synergy—that the BSEC would be the EU’s main partner in the region. In effect, the Eastern Partnership could be defined as a response to the weakness of the Synergy.[13] Poland and Sweden succeeded in persuading the European Commission to recognize the Partnership as an EU project. The Partnership is certainly a better project than the Synergy, although it can also elicit reservations, which can be described as failure to appreciate the Black Sea dimension.

Poland should realize that the Partnership’s principal addressees (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) are on the Black Sea. Only Belarus remains outside the Black Sea area, but its cooperation with the EU will remain much weaker than in the case of the above countries (and also, most probably, Armenia) for political reasons. In effect, Poland should accept the fact that the Black Sea will become the center of gravity of Eastern Partnership and cease to look at the region solely through the Synergy.

As Warsaw looks beyond Ukraine in geopolitical terms, it is particularly important that it sees not only Russia, but first and foremost the Black Sea. Ukraine’s center of gravity is located in the south-eastern part of the country, near the Black Sea or in its immediate vicinity (the Donbas, Dnepropetrovsk-Zaporozhe). This region produces the greatest share of Ukraine’s GDP; it has the highest population density and is the most urbanized. The inclusion of Ukraine and the South Caucasus in the Black Sea perspective also does away with their definition in terms of geopolitical categories of the post-Soviet area.

The Eastern Partnership was initially greeted with skepticism by EU members lying on the Black Sea—Bulgaria and Romania—who feared that the center of gravity of the EU Neighborhood Policy would shift from the Black Sea to the east and north. In the fall of 2008, Poland succeeded in persuading those two countries to support the Visegrád Group declaration describing the Partnership as complementary to the Synergy, with the two projects designed to reinforce one another. The Partnership continues to evoke fears in the two countries, however, so it is time to reflect—given the importance of the Black Sea within the framework of the Partnership—if it was perhaps a mistake to present this initiative with Sweden but without Romania. The Partnership would then have been a Baltic-Central-European-Black-Sea project. Poland should neutralize Bucharest’s fears as, considering the importance of the Black Sea in the Partnership, Romania should become its staunch supporter. After Russia and Turkey, Romania is the most important country of the region. Its position arises from its membership in NATO and the EU, its relatively large economic potential and its good relations with the United States. With Poland it shares a determined support for EU enlargement, a positive attitude toward the United States and a realistic approach to Russia. In effect, Poland should strengthen its economic ties with Romania,[14] at the same time developing political cooperation.[15]

Poland should bear in mind, however, that Bucharest’s present relations with Ukraine are bad; while its relations with Moldova governed by communists used to be very bad, so Romania could be a source of problems, not a factor of stability. For this reason, Poland should work for a rapprochement between Romania and Ukraine.

In Poland, the Synergy is often unofficially treated as a project that is almost dead. A conviction prevails that following the Russian-Georgian conflict cooperation in the region involving Russia is doomed. But such an approach to the Synergy is misguided. Firstly, the Synergy should not be seen exclusively through relations with Russia. For example, the non-governmental dimension of the Synergy (the Black Sea Forum) is developing first of all at Romania’s initiative. The Black Sea Forum coincides in large measure with the Eastern Partnership’s Civil Society Forum. It is worthwhile to expand cooperation between the two initiatives, avoiding unnecessary duplication.[16] Secondly, the West is interested in dialogue with Russia. Thirdly, the BSEC, the main pillar of the Synergy, with all its numerous flaws, is the only organization accepted by all the countries in the region.[17] It is also an important organization for the region’s key players (Russia, Turkey, Greece), an organization in which the world powers are seeking observer status. Its reform, which is strongly supported by Turkey and which would make more effective action possible, could exert a positive impact on the Eastern Partnership. It would also be worthwhile to use the BSEC to include Russia in specific multilateral projects and as a tool for preventing the overlap of Partnership and Synergy projects (Synergy projects with BSEC participation).

  1. Poland should view the Black Sea vector in a broad dimension embracing also the South Caucasus, i.e. a region where it has been particularly active politically in the past few years. In essence, the South Caucasus is strategically important as the crossing point between Northern Eurasia and the Middle East (north-south) and between Europe and Central Asia (east-west). The latter axis could, to a certain degree, become an alternative route for natural gas and oil supplies to Europe, although its role should not be overestimated (just a few percent of the world’s reserves). Rather, its importance in the energy context should be viewed in terms of its large deposits of uranium (nearly 20% global deposits). From a geopolitical point of view, Russia’s dominance in the South Caucasus is the sine qua non for its strong position in Central Asia and its influence in the Middle East. The South Caucasus is also vitally important for Moscow, because it borders directly on its soft underbelly—the North Caucasus. The latter is a part of Russia inhabited by a populous Muslim minority with a birth rate is much higher than among ethnic Russians. Within this population, separatist and radical Islamic tendencies dominate (e.g. in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan). Poland is very active politically in the South Caucasus, but its economic presence there remains marginal; this should change if it intends to play a more influential role in the region in the long run.

The most glaring example of Poland’s skeptical attitude towards the Black Sea dimension is the absence, in the original Polish-Swedish version of the Eastern Partnership project, of an offer addressed to Turkey of cooperation on multilateral projects on a par with a similar offer presented to Russia. In the case of Turkey, its status as a candidate for EU membership was quoted as an explanation for the decision. In this case, however, just the opposite conclusions should have been drawn, and Turkey should have been included in the Eastern Partnership on a par with Russia, with emphasis placed on the EU’s much closer relations with Ankara than with Moscow.


The south-eastern turn in Polish foreign policy should not be explained solely in terms of Ukraine’s integration with the EU and the Black Sea dimension. The aim of Polish foreign policy should also be to find a niche and an area of specialization in the south, which is already very important for the EU’s future. For that reason, Warsaw should realize that this region—and Turkey in particular—could be very important also for Poland in economic, geopolitical, energy and demographic (migration) terms.

Turkey’s economic and political potential is not truly appreciated in Warsaw. Poland’s trade with Turkey is small, if growing,[18] its investments are modest, and diplomatic visits rare.[19] Yet Turkey’s GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) amounted to over $915 billion in 2008, with a drop to about $880 billion expected at the end of 2009 due to the economic crisis.[20] In effect, Turkey is currently the world’s 16th largest economy and the EU’s second largest neighbor after Russia. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers economic experts, Turkey will be growing much faster than either the Western countries or Russia, and around 2050 it will be the world’s 10th or 12th largest economy, ahead of Spain or Italy. It is quite possible that its economy will be only slightly smaller in GDP (PPP) terms than that of France, the United Kingdom or Russia.

Turkey’s geopolitical importance will also increase with the country’s demographic growth and a sharp decline in the population of Russia and, to a lesser degree, Germany. In 2050, the population of Turkey will be about 100 million, whereas Russia’s will drop to some 115 million and Germany’s to 75 million. The proportion of Muslims in the Russian and German populations will also increase visibly.[21] In effect, thanks to Turkey’s historical and cultural ties with Russian and German Muslims, Ankara will gain an important means of influencing the internal situation in both countries. Poland will have to take into account this new alignment of forces in western Eurasia (declining importance of Germany and Russia and Turkey’s growing importance). Even today Turkey is seen as a regional emerging power, and its economic and political influence in various regions, including the South Caucasus and Central Asia, has clearly been on the rise in the last few years.

Turkey’s energy situation is closely tied to its geographical location. It could become an important transit route outside Russian control for “traditional” energy resources (the Nabucco project) and it has a large potential for developing geothermal, hydro, solar and wind energy or in the future completely new kinds of it (e.g. boron).   

In order to continue to grow, Poland will need immigrants. Among them, a large share, if not the majority, will be Muslims. Poland has to formulate a well designed policy and prevent uncontrolled migration. In this context, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at the process of integration of Muslims in Western Europe. A particularly interesting example is that of the Netherlands, which is home to two large Muslim communities, one from Morocco and the other from Turkey—two countries that had been home to the biggest share of Europe’s Islamic diaspora. The integration of the Turks, despite certain problems, is easier than that of the Moroccans. The second criterion should be the social situation in the migrants’ country of origin. It seems that immigrants from Turkey offer the greatest chance for minimizing the inevitable cultural shock. In the case of the Turks, Poland also has a large potential for hammering out an integration policy based on a solid historical base (the Polish Tartars are a unique example of a Muslim community living in a Western country for centuries, Poland’s unique relations with the Ottomans and other Turkic peoples), which, unfortunately, continues to be little known in Poland. If the process of integrating Muslims on the banks of the Vistula succeeds, Poland will be able to play the role of an intermediary in Europe between the Muslim and Western worlds. The Polish heritage of relations with the world of Islam could be our country’s contribution to building a new and increasingly multicultural European identity.

Turkey also plays an important role in the context of the Polish idea of EU enlargement towards the east. Poland’s vision needs to be cohesive. It is difficult to imagine a European Union with Ukraine, the South Caucasus and Cyprus “surrounding” Turkey, which remains outside the EU. The emergence of the EEC/UE and its successive waves of enlargement had a clear geopolitical dimension. A Black Sea enlargement (Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) is likely in the 2020s and 2030s. Ukraine’s membership now seems more distant than Turkey’s, but Turkey’s potential accession could help Ukraine. It would entail a shift of the EU’s center of gravity in a south-easterly direction and would reinforce the EU’s Black Sea dimension. As an EU member, Turkey would be interested in stability in its vicinity, i.e. the integration of Moldova, Ukraine and the South Caucasus with the EU. Turkey’s growing economic, geopolitical and demographic potential means that together the EU and Ankara could overcome, albeit not without problems, Russia’s reluctance to accept mounting European influences in the region.

We should additionally bear in mind the adverse consequences that Poland might experience should Turkey remain outside the EU. The slowdown in the process of Turkey’s integration with the EU and the visible worsening of Turkey’s relations with the United States (invasion of Iraq) are behind the improvement in relations between Ankara and Moscow observed over the past few years. Failure to admit Turkey into the EU is likely to further this process, while a tactical anti-EU pact between Turkey and Russia would seriously call into question Ukraine’s chances for integration with the Union. Outside the EU, Turkey will also be a less predictable partner in the Union’s attempts to diversify its supplies of gas and oil from Central Asia and the Middle East.

In Poland political circles and the public are predominantly in favor of Turkish membership in the EU, but Poland is not an advocate of this membership on a par with, for instance, Sweden or the United Kingdom. This is due to the vital importance of Ukrainian membership for Warsaw, limited awareness of Turkey’s importance in Eurasia, and opposition to Turkish membership in France and, to a lesser degree, in Germany. Arguments are raised that Turkey’s candidature generates strong opposition in Europe, while having no strategic significance for Poland, so there is no point in taking the initiative and clashing over the issue with the EU’s most important members (France and Germany). If, however, we were to examine the approach of the politicians in power in EU countries to Turkey’s accession, it would turn out that its strong opponents embrace only Austria, irrespective of the ruling coalition, and President Nicolas Sarkozy’s France. Summing up, it might be worthwhile to ask if Poland and Sweden should not build a general coalition along the North-South axis to support Turkish accession, as in the post-communist countries and in Sweden (and in large measure also in Finland), the main political forces and the public (with the exception of Slovakia) remain much less critical of Turkish accession than societies in many Western European countries. Additionally, the positive consequences of Turkey’s accession for the alignment of forces in Eurasia should also be borne in mind.

            The EU southern direction is in essence synonymous with relations between the West and the Muslim world. In consequence, our engagement with the East (Russia where share of the Muslim minority in the whole population will significantly increase in the coming decades, Caucasus and Central Asia) and Turkey should be perceived by Poland through this Islamic context.   

* * *


The new geopolitical situation facing Poland after 1989 is to a large extent connected with the process of European integration. This should encourage us to reflect on the dimensions of Poland’s foreign policy, analyzing if the dimensions that are of limited importance today should not perhaps be treated in an innovative manner, as they might determine directions of profound, if not fundamental, significance for Poland.


[1] Of the six countries covered by the Eastern Partnership initiative, five (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) are located in the Black Sea basin, including the largest (Ukraine) and most pro-Western (Moldova and Georgia).

[2] Over 30% of Poland’s trade is conducted by sea.

[3] Lithuania is definitely a Baltic country, not an Eastern European one, because it is a member of NATO and the EU and has very strong economic ties with the Scandinavian countries and the remaining Baltic states.

[4] The absence of such investments is surprising, considering the very advantageous investment conditions (economic freedom, low taxes and labor costs) that have emerged in both countries after 1991.

[5] Through greater involvement in the northern direction, awareness in Poland of the significance of the southern direction could increase. The diplomatic service and armed forces of the Scandinavian countries have for over a decade been playing a very important role in the process of stabilizing the Western Balkans.

[6] In 2008, of the 13 million tourists who visited Poland, almost 700,000 were from Lithuania (3.6 million inhabitants) and 350,000 from Latvia (2.6 million inhabitants).

[7] In September 2008, the Swedish energy concern Vattenfall inaugurated the world’s first power plant using CCS (carbon capture & storage) technology in Schwarze Pumpe (Germany). Vattenfall is interested in pursuing similar projects, on a larger scale, in Poland, but it is waiting for the details of the EU-announced assistance for such projects within the framework of 12 other demonstrative power plants of this type to be built in the EU. The first of these plants in Poland is to be one of the largest foreign investments in Poland (€2.5 billion). Vattenfall is Europe’s fourth largest producer of electrical energy and the largest producer of thermal energy. It owns five power plants in Poland. In November 2008, it purchased nearly 20% of Enea, becoming the largest foreign player on the Polish electrical energy market.

[8] In 2009 there was an outflow of Polish capital from the Kaliningrad District and its scale is difficult to estimate for the time being. Poland should not give up on this market on account of the economic crisis. In this context, the decision taken in September 2008 by the Polish air carrier LOT to close down its Warsaw to Kaliningrad connection and the Polish authorities’ decision to shut down the Polish consulate in Kaliningrad should be viewed negatively.

[9] At the Feira summit in 2000, the EU recognized the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia) as potential members on the condition that they meet the Copenhagen criteria. The position of the Western Balkans is thus much stronger than either Turkey or Ukraine’s.

[10] Given its close cooperation with Russia, Greece is referred to by experts as the Russian Trojan horse in the Balkans. Serbia considers Greek policies to be a model to emulate. Strong pro-Russian feelings are present in Bulgaria, Bosnia (Republika Srpska) and Montenegro.

[11] There are extensive coal deposits (14.7 million tons) in Kosovo. Should Poland specialize in generating new energy from coal, not only for the domestic market but also for exports, it should express an interest in the resources in Kosovo. The southern part of the Balkans could be interesting for Poland on account of solar energy, as it has the greatest amount of sunlight in Europe. In the future, Poland could import energy from this source.

[12] There are presently over 200 Polish soldiers (over 10% of the mission) in Bosnia. In the EULEX administrative and policing mission in Kosovo as part of the international contingent, Polish policemen, functionaries and legal advisors account for about 8%.

[13] Poland chose the right moment to present the Partnership. A year after it had begun functioning, it turned out that the Black Sea Synergy did not result in a visible intensification of relations in the region.

[14] Poland accounted for about 3% of Romanian trade in 2008. By 1 January 2008, Poland had invested nearly €190 million in Romania. In the future, the development of economic cooperation will no doubt be facilitated by the emergence of road infrastructure (Via Carpathia). Poland’s share in Bulgaria’s trade amounted to over 2%.

[15] The Polish government has to overcome the irrational prejudice of most Poles toward Romanians, who are one of the most disliked nations in Poland, given their wrongful association with the Roma (a similar name and a large presence of Roma migrants from Romania in Poland). Although the image of Romanians in Poland is improving, a CBOS poll conducted in December 2008 about the attitude of Poles to other nations indicated that 40% of respondents continued to dislike Romanians (after the Roma, Arabs and Russians), 25% liked them, while the rest were either indifferent or did not answer the question. In polls conducted at the end of 2005, as many as 62% of Poles admitted to having negative sentiments toward Romanians. See CBOS. Stosunek Polaków do innych narodów,

[16] Participants in the Black Sea Forum, established on Romania’s initiative with the support of the USA (the German Marshall Fund) in the fall of 2008, also include non-governmental organizations from Belarus, which participates in Eastern Partnership. The issues addressed by the Black Sea Forum and Eastern Partnership overlap to a considerable extent (human rights, democracy, environmental protection), so the same organizations sometimes participate in both forums. Eastern Partnership’s Civic Society Forum in turn, at its inaugural meeting in November 2009, adopted a list of recommendations, including enhanced cooperation with non-governmental organizations from Turkey and Russia (non-governmental organizations from those countries take part in the Black Sea Forum).

[17] The BSEC often plays the role of an informal channel for contacts between countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with one another (Turkey and Azerbaijan with Armenia, Georgia with Russia).

[18] Trade between Poland and Turkey amounted to $4.3 billion in 2008, with the role of each country in the foreign trade of the other remaining marginal (around 1.2%–1.4%).

[19] For the first time in history the prime minister of Turkey visited Poland on a bilateral basis in May 2009.

[20] According to the OECD, Turkey will register the fastest growth of all OECD members in 2010–2017 (by a yearly average of 6.7%).

[21] The position of Turkey among Russian Muslims is best reflected in the case of Tatarstan, one of the most populous republics of the Russian Federation. Turkey is the largest economic partner of this republic (nearly 14% of its trade), where it buys primarily oil. Turkey’s share in the republic’s construction industry is high, and it also remains significant in Tatarstan’s imports (8% in 2008). In 2009, Turkey signed contracts for large-scale investments, and it tries to maintain cultural ties with the Kazan Tartars. Interestingly, Tatarstan’s second largest trade partner is Poland (nearly 12% of the republic’s trade, and 6% of its imports). It is worthwhile to reflect on the possibilities for Polish-Turkish cooperation on the Tatarstan market.


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