Nowak in Hurriyet Daily News: “the attitude of Poland’s EU Council presidency toward Turkey will be cautious”

The executive director of the Center for International Relations Bartek Nowak in his interview to Hurriyet Daily News stated that he believes that while Poland genuinely supports Turkey’s membership bid, “the reality on the ground”is a little different. “Poland knows that Turkey is a divisive issue in the European Union and so its attitude to this question during its term presidency will be an extremely cautious one,” he told in his office in Warsaw.

Hurriyet Daily News, October 7th 2010
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski reiterated his country’s support of Turkey’s bid for full membership in the European Union during his visit to Ankara on Wednesday, where he held talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu.
This is very much in line with the fact that Poland is not known to be a country resisting Turkey’s membership bid in any way. The same support expressed by Sikorski is tangible in Warsaw, whether one talks to government officials, members of Parliament or experts from the various think-tanks concentrating on international issues.
The common feeling is that as a country that benefited greatly from EU membership, it would be selfish for Poland not to support the bids of other candidate countries in order that they enjoy the same benefits. Poland also emerges as a country that is not against enlargement of the EU in principle, although it recognizes that the present problems of Europe make this a touchy subject for some member states.
There appears nevertheless to be a genuine belief among the officials we talked to in Warsaw during a four day study tour that the EU will somehow not be complete without Turkey as a member, if it wants to play a major role in the future in the common foreign and defense policy fields.
Officials from the Ministry of Economy also indicate that that there are sound economic reasons why Turkey should join the EU, citing the vast market and investment potential it represents, not to mention the increasingly important role it is expected to play as a secure transit country in terms of Europe’s future energy needs.
Clearly aware of this support, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu expressed his hope that Turkish-EU relations will gain momentum when Poland takes over the union’s rotating term presidency in the second half of 2011.
“We have high expectations from Poland and have full confidence,” he told a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart in Ankara. For his part Foreign Minister Sikorski indicated that his country would try and ensure that another chapter in the accession negotiations with Turkey would be opened under the Polish presidency.
Government officials and members of various think tanks in Warsaw, however, also suggested during our discussions with them, that Ankara should not be overoptimistic and expect too much from the Polish presidency, given the present political environment in Europe.
Bartek Nowak, the executive director of the Center for International Relations, believes that while Poland genuinely supports Turkey’s membership bid, “the reality on the ground,” as he put it, is a little different. “Poland knows that Turkey is a divisive issue in the European Union and so its attitude to this question during its term presidency will be an extremely cautious one,” he told us in his office in Warsaw.
In fact, judging by what Nowak and various government officials – who because of their positions were talking off the record – were saying, it is clear that Turkey will not be a priority issue for the Polish presidency of the EU.
Instead Warsaw will be concentrating its energies and pushing hard for the “Eastern Partnership” initiative, which aims to establish closer political, economic, and social ties, through association agreements, between the EU and members of the former Soviet Union, including Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
“That is why I would not raise expectations too much, as Turkey for the Polish presidency,” Nowak said, adding however that it goes without saying that if the EU one day wants to have a true foreign policy with international clout, then Turkey – whose international role is growing – has to be fully on board.
Nowak also believes that the EU is vitally important in terms of “reforming the Turkish state” as it was in the case of the Polish state, and indicates that were Turkey to turn its back on Europe such would be an historic failure.
Our contacts in Warsaw also provided us with an insight into why Poland is among those who are closely following the current debate about whether “Turkey is changing axis and turning to the East.”
To start off with, “the East,” as far as Poland is concerned, is not “the Middle East” or “the Islamic East.” It represents the geography of the former Soviet Union, and “Turkey’s turning East” for Polish officials means closer ties between Ankara and Moscow.
It was made amply clear in our discussions here that the former occupier is never far from the thoughts of Poles, and that growing ties between Turkey and Russia are not considered to be a positive development for Poland in particular, and Europe in general.
There is also a feeling that closer ties between Ankara and Moscow may weaken Ankara’s future commitment to NATO, which it is believed would be to the detriment of Europe, given the key role Turkey plays within the alliance. The bottom line is that Poland remains very keen on Europe’s “Atlantic link” and in particular its NATO membership, which it clearly values very highly.
All of this is obviously motivated by historical fears and memories of the Communist era, which in turn clearly makes Poland one of the keenest members of the EU, with up to 80 percent of the public supporting the country’s membership, at a time when doubts about the effectiveness of the union are spreading in other EU member states.
This, is also why Warsaw intends to push hard for the “Eastern Partnership” project during its term presidency, because it considers the partnership to be of vital strategic importance. It is believed here that anchoring the members of the former Soviet Union in Europe will provide not only security, but also major economic advantages for Poland.
All of this does not mean that Turkey is not important for Polish planners. On the contrary, they realize how vital this country is for Europe. But looking at the mood in today’s Europe, and weighing this against its own vital needs, Poland is clearly going to tread cautiously with Turkey’s membership bid.
Therefore it would indeed be wise of Turkish planners, as we were told here in Warsaw, not to expect too much from the Polish EU term presidency next year.