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Time for Intermarium (the Isthmus)

20.12.2014 | By Marcin Kędzierski

If we do not want to give up at the start and assume the position of a suppliant, we have to believe that the vision of Central European Union is achievable. Because there is no good alternative.

In the face of sudden geopolitical revaluations, we have to re-think Polish foreign policy from the beginning. The Russo-Ukrainian conflict, as well as a growing position of Germany within the European Union, have made the ‘neo-Piast’ policy pursued by Radosław Sikorski between 2008 and 2012 bankrupt . Berlin’s behavior, both in terms of the EU policies (energy, new financial perspective for the years 2014-2020) and in terms of the Kremlin policy during the Ukrainian crisis, remains to be in complete opposition to the Polish national interest, which, however, for the careful observers of the geopolitics is not a surprise at all. As a result, there is no other real way than the return to so called ‘neo-Jagiellonian’ idea.

Four faces of neo-Jagiellonism

Throughout the history the above idea was present in two main forms. Associated with Józef Piłsudski and Jerzy Giedroyć concept of ULB (Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus) and the one associated with Sikorski and the London exiles concept of ABC [Adriatic, Baltic, Czarne (Black) sea, the Isthmus]. However, in practice there were no less than four models of the Jagiellonian policy, because both ULB and ABC contained two varieties: negative and positive. The negative versions only assumed a cooperation between the independent states, whereas the positive – an attempt of creating more or less tight federation, even within other integrational structures (such as European Union). In-depth analysis of the incorporation of the neo-Jagiellonian idea into specific strategies of the Polish foreign policy in the 20th century, developed especially on in the emigration cirles after 1945, can be found in the XXXI brochure by Paweł Rojek published in the ‘Pressje’ quarterly.

When I ask myself which model of the neo-Jagiellonian idea, especially in the light of the events in the east, is the most adequate, the answer is the ABC concept, based on the close cooperation between the Baltic states, Visegrad group, Romania and to a lesser extend Bulgaria, and the countries of Western Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia). In a short term the cooperation might be hard, but in a further perspective its outcomes will be positive (quasi-federation).

Move forward

Of course there is million reasons causing that the regional co-operation for many years did not get along, and still does not, proof of which are the discrepancies about the policy towards the Ukrainian conflict, but not only. In the mutual relations we have to face historical prejudices, lack of strategic vision of the foreign policy among all the countries who joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, as well as lack of both, political will and institutions that could enhance the cooperation, even without interest from the current decision makers. A crucial problem is the lack of contacts between the political and social elites of the region’s nations, which directly translates into the lack of  awareness of the importance of cooperation to achieve a common good. Today the leaders of Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary or Romania do not know each other and do not speak the common language, the communal awareness of their fate is much lesser that before the 1989.

It cannot be overseen that we are not the only ones to accept responsibility for the current state of affairs. Integration of our region is not in the interest of regional powers, Germany and Russia, because historically Central and Eastern Europe is their area of expansion, either military or economic. Also civilizational or cultural influence is not meaningless – Berlin nor Moscow are trying to hide their aspiration in this context, of which is proved by the activity of German political foundations in the Central Europe in the 1990s, as well as the current, so called, Putin’s doctrine.

Therefore, is building of a strong political block in the Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) just a utopia today? No. Furthermore, for Poland, during the changing geopolitical situation it is not even a matter of will or possibility, but a historical necessity. Of course, it must be admitted that the chances of success are very low, yet they exist. I have no delusions that in a short period of time it will be possible to eliminate the causes of differences among the countries of the region – it is a task for years. Therefore the only real idea for a true integration is an escape forward, which on numerous occasions worked for the EU. Today we do not need seminars about the common identity. Today we need institutional measures.

Ten neo-Jagiellonian steps

What would that move forward involve? It would appear that its contents should be focused on significant but achievable objectives. Therefore in the short term perspective, one must launch the program consisting of ten actions.

Firstly, in the ministries of foreign affairs of all CEE countries, departments responsible for regional partnership should be established. This de facto will institutionally force the co-operation even in the absence of political will from the politicians and diplomats.

Secondly, under the Polish Presidency of the Visegrad Group (2016) its area should be extended to with Romania. At the same time further institutionalisation of the Group will be necessary in order to  ensure continued cooperation even though the political turmoil.

Thirdly, under the Polish leadership of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (2015), in cooperation with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as other central European partnership (Visegrad, Romania) new regional security policy should be developed. It should assume inclusion of Germany, which today undergoes a temporary trauma in relations with Russia, although Germany is declaring that without Russia there will not be  a permanent system of security in Europe, yet for the first time in years they are experiencing suspension in their Eastern policy, which as a region we cannot miss out. It should be done quickly, as this indisposition will probably not last very long. Actually, we have over a dozen months, because in 2015, Germans are planning to publish a new white paper on their policy of defence and security.

Fourthly, we should perform an institutionalization of the format of regional meetings dedicated to the security issues, systematically hold by the leaders of the region’s states.

Fifthly, it seems necessary to launch a common, regular economic diplomacy on the model of currently existing (but only temporarily) so called Visegrad House. In practice it means a necessity to establish a joint, so called, RepOffice around the whole world.

Sixthly, as soon as possible we have to build a road and railroad infrastructure linking the countries of our region. Today it is one of the main barriers for the progress (in practice some countries are cut off from each other). For that purpose, it is essential to develop a close cooperation within the “Trans-European Transport Network” (TEN-T). We should take advantage of the fact that the EU Commissioner is a Slovene Violeta Bulc who should take it as a priority to establish a transport connection within the ABC system.

Seventhly, we should also promptly build the energy infrastructure, including gas interconnectors or the so called energy bridge, inter alia within the “Trans-European Energy Network”. We should take advantage of the fact that Slovak, Maroš Šefčovič is the vice president of the European Commission for Energy Union. (noteworthily, current energetic security is a key element in the Slovakian economic development.)

Eighthly, we should appoint a Central European Technological Institute whose goal would be to animate, integrate and finance activities of the region’s countries research institutions, especially those engaged in the research in the field of energy. In the minimalistic version, priority should be placed on the investments in the technologies used to extract the shale gas or provide clean coal burning, but a really optimal step would be the launch of Central European research program devoted to acquire energy from the fusion power. Whoever develops such technology first, will ensure his own energetic security and global competitive advantage.

Ninthly, It would be worth considering establishing of a new University of Central Europe (as an option for the Central European University, established in Budapest by George Soros), which would educate political elites of Central and Eastern Europe in the spirit of the ABC idea. For this purpose, financial resources of the International Visegrad Fund must be appropriately allocated, yet it already has the ability to support similar projects but on a smaller scale.

And finally, last but not least, we should introduce courses on the history, culture and identity of the Central Europe into all educational programs across the region. Otherwise, establishment of the social foundations that will develop into the real Central European elites will be impossible. This demand along with the previous one, links to the European experiences with the Erasmus program, which allowed for the creation of new European elite – the one that cannot imagine living outside the EU.

Surprise Europe

In a long term perspective, it is also worth considering undertakings that from the current point of view resemble political fiction. Above all, we should seriously consider the possibility of bringing to life a new institutional unit  operating within the European Union, kind of the “Central European Union” that could be one of the creators of the collective policy, one that is almost at the same level as the main players, such as Germany or France (economic and population potential of such organization would be comparable.)

Above that, we also have to consider creating a transnational global brand supported by the Central European governments and aimed to define the strength of the region. In the age of geo-economics real geopolitical subjectivity depends strictly on having a leader in a certain industry. Nokia, Samsung and many other global leaders, which today determine the competitive position of the countries such as Finland or South Korea. These brands were developed thanks to the national support. Independently, Poland has no resources to create such brand, therefore cooperation with other countries of the region will be necessary. As regards the research on fusion power, it seems logical to establish a global leader in new power technologies.

To sum up, proposed escape forward should make use of the element of surprise. No one in Europe expects that the countries of our region, well at the bottom in the innovation rankings and having problems with the climate and energy package, will be able to collaboratively begin a technological revolution and build it around that their competitiveness.

Without a good alternative

I am aware, that the above demands can appear to be utopian, given the current disputes about the range of sanctions that the EU should impose on Russia. However, building Poland’s position on in the Weimar Triangle or the exclusive alliance with the USA is a true utopia. Huge asymmetry of potentials allows Poland to be only a vassal in those systems of alliances. If we do not want to give up at the start and assume the position of a suppliant, we have to believe that the vision of Central European Union is achievable. There is no good alternative. Yet there is one very important condition: we cannot act as a regional hegemon but a partner, primus inter pares. Otherwise we will lose our regional friends right from the start.

picture: http://www.nowakonfederacja.pl/

About Author

Marcin Kędzierski

Research assistant in the Department of European Studies at the Cracow University of Economics, Head of the Jagiellonian Club. Professional experience in European and Foreign Policy as well as Public Administration (internships at the European Parliament, EU Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Embassy in Germany).