Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Member of the European Parliament : “The Visegrad Group demonstrates to Western Europe that an other way is possible”.
In November 2018, as the Visegrád Post covered the 100th anniversary of the recovery of Poland’s independence, Olivier Bault met with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, MEP and former politician of the now Liberal PO.
MEP since 2004, Mr Jacek Saryusz-Wolski was a major figure of the PO, and one the main negotiators of Poland’s joining of the European Union since the 90’s. He later left the PO as it became more and more Liberal, and got closer to the PiS. He was Beata Szydło’s candidate for the presidency of the European Council, facing an other Pole, Donald Tusk.
An interview made possible thanks to our partners of Do Rzeczy. The interview has been conducted in French, and can be seen here, with Polish subtitles. Translation by the Visegrád Post.
Olivier Bault: Mr Saryusz-Wolski good morning and thank you for kindly speaking to us. You are one of the leading architects of Poland’s entry into the European Union. In the early 1990s, you started to prepare for integration. In the government of Jerzy Buzek, you were secretary to the European integration committee with the rank of minister, and since 2004, so since the very beginning, you have been a member of the European Parliament of which you have been the vice-president.
You also have been vice-president of the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP). After that we spoke a lot about you when you were the candidate of the government of Beata Szydlo for the presidency of the European Council in place of Donald Tusk. This is when you left the EPP and the Civic Platform (PO).
Today you come from Brussels to celebrate with your compatriots the centenary of Poland’s independence, or rather of the recovered independence of Poland. I know that you are quite critical about the recent developments in the EU, its pressure on the Polish government and the attitude of your former colleagues in the Civic Platform. Do you regret making a big contribution to Poland’s entry into the EU?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: Not at all. I think that the European construction as it was invented by the fathers of Europe like Robert Schuman or Alcide De Gasperi, was one of the best ideas that Europe has had for a millennium. The problem is that the liberal left, the Socialists and the Communists who, in the fifties, were speaking out against European integration and saying that it was an American and bourgeois invention, have now taken power.
They have led European integration in a direction that is not the right one. Indeed, the EU is in the areas of competence of the member countries, and at the same time it is weak on crucial things like immigration.
And at the same time it has become very political, I am talking about the European Commission which is very ideological and gives birth to what I call an internal cold war. There is a hunting for Hungarians, hunting for Poles, Italians, and why not tomorrow for others.
There are also political movements within the different countries that are on a red list in Brussels. We could also talk about France, we can agree or not, love it or not, but there is kind of a censorship of political movements at European level, so it is a build-up that has lost its objectivity and neutrality which is no longer the guardian of treaties or an arbiter, but which has become partisan and destroys Europe as conceived by the founding fathers.
Olivier Bault: Speaking about it, what happened? Until recently you were a member of the Civic Platform (PO), which is member of the EPP, so it is the liberal right that is close to the left you are talking about in the European Parliament, how did you go “on the dark side of the force,” on the side of the populists?
Jacek Saryuzs-Wolski: When I joined the Civic Platform, it was a different party than it is today. It was the party of Jan Rokita, Maciej Plażyński and others, with a very strong conservative Christian Democrat aspect, and all these right-wing conservatives were eliminated by the Liberals of Mr. Tusk and his colleagues.
At a certain moment, even the posts-Communists were invited in there. So it was a Center-Right party at its birth, which today has become a Center-Left party, a ruling party that has caused enormous damage to Poland, but what has really been unacceptable for me, was to attack Poland from the outside and use the instruments, the institutions of the European Union against our own country.
There are people and political forces in the EPP with whom I sympathize, such as the party of Viktor Orbán for example, the right wing of the EPP that is what it should be. But it has been dominated, strongly influenced by people who should be with Macron, the Liberals, Verhofstadt, but not the Christian Democrats.
It started at the EPP, I remember very well because I was there when the documents were negotiated, when at a certain point the term “Christian-Democrat” was dropped in our documents. So they’ve changed, not me.
Olivier Bault: So when French President Macron talks about giving Europe a boost, you seem to think that it is rather Viktor Orbán who can give Europe this boost.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: First, I think President Macron is a populist who accuses others of being populist. Firstly because he is protectionist, we see it with the case of posted workers where he fights against the freedom of movement of people.
On immigration, I think it’s not a policy, it’s chaos. On fiscal discipline, he attacks Italy when he is not in the best position to do so.
It’s Liberal Populism, and his European ambitions are misplaced. If he thinks he will be supported by the Germans, he is wrong.
Second, for example, about the European army today, when France does not invest as it should in its army, there is a contradiction, and at the same time I am sure that it is excluded for him, I am sure, to pass the French nuclear force to the EU.
All this is rather a confusion of different wishes, to be at the same time Populist and Progressive, to be on the side of those who want to protect themselves economically, of the commercial war.
Olivier Bault: What do you think of his recent statement in which he spoke about creating a European army, – but to protect Europe against Russia on the one hand, so I think that as a Pole you have to find that quite reasonable, – but also against the United States?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: This is the famous call to sovereign Europe.
Olivier Bault: Yes but how ?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: Today, without the United States we are not able to defend ourselves against the real adversaries.
To put Russia and the United States on an equal terms in a symmetrical way is crazy, given History, the World War I of which we are celebrating the centenary, and the Second World War.
So geopolitically I do not agree with this symmetrical approach, including this extremely strong reservation against Iranian sanctions. Iran is a very harsh, not to say authoritarian and terrorizing system, and Europe is wrong to defend Iran against the United States.
Olivier Bault: To return to a slightly more ideological aspect, since you explained that a certain left has kind of kidnapped the EU, do you think, a hundred years after the struggle to recover the independence of Poland, which has seen the Poles stop the Bolsheviks who wanted to extend their revolution to Europe, that Poland could be a leader, or at least contribute to a counter-revolution to stop this left that dominates everywhere in Europe?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: We should avoid this kind of arrogance like Macron’s saying that we want to be a leader, that we have the right recipe for Europe.
I think in fact that the Polish economics and social model, with growth, very low unemployment, social solidarity, is a good answer and an alternative to the rather confused model of Western Europe. Formally, Poland does not claim to say “follow us, we alone have a recipe for Europe”, but I think that Central Europe, the Visegrad group, is a group of countries that in fact demonstrates Western Europe that another way exists.
Contrary to what is often said in the Progressive Liberal circles of Western Europe, we are very anxious to preserve and defend Europe, its borders, its achievements and its solidarity, unlike those who would dissolve Europe from the point of view of identity, to deprive it of its Christian, Roman, Greek roots, and to forget history, to forget our national identities.
Without the nations of Europe, there will be no European Union as we want it.
Olivier Bault: To return to more specifically Polish but also European-related questions, we spoke about this Polish opposition demanding an intervention from Brussels, which you already did not approve when you were member of the same party. It’s a bit of a reminder of the process that led to the loss of Poland’s independence in the late eighteenth century, isn’t it?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: No, we do not make such a comparison, we want, according to my point of view, and this is also the line of the Polish government, to follow the rules of the game and the laws of the EU, but we do not accept to follow some rules invented outside the Treaties by the institutions, because the procedure of the rule of law of the European Commission is outside the Treaties, the practices of Verhofstadt are outside the Treaties, and there is a temptation of the European Court of Justice to leave the Treaty framework.
The judicial system is not within the competence of the EU.
Olivier Bault: Then what can be done against the recent decision of the Vice-President of the Court of Justice, who forced the Polish government to suspend the reform of the law on Justice, therefore bringing some chaos into the judicial institutions as retired judges come back? It is outside the Treaties, so is Poland still independent today, a hundred years after 1918?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: This is called judicial activism, the temptation to create a legal fact outside the letter of the law. As I just said, we have to follow the European legal system, but we can not allow the EU to enter areas that have not been transferred by the sovereign Member States on the basis of the Treaties. The judiciary is not on the list of EU competences, so trying to intervene in this area is anti-constitutional. I hope that the European Court of Justice will not continue on this road that is destructive for the EU itself.
To get back to your question about independence, we perceive the EU as conceived by the founding fathers as the guarantor, or at least a positive factor in safeguarding Polish independence. Our point of view is not that of the British, the zero-sum game, the more of Europe and the least of Poland, no.
We are ready to go until the line we agreed on, but not beyond that, and we want to have full participation in decision-making. We were against the establishment of a concert of great powers, after the change of the Treaty of Nice and the change of the voting system.
There is a Franco-Germanic Europe, or only Germanic, or other constellations, but in any case the countries of Central Europe are treated as countries of second category. There are many examples of these double standards against us.
Olivier Bault: Finally, I would like to ask you a question about this famous Independence March, which has been very much discussed through Europe and in the European Parliament, and which will take place on Sunday, November 11 as every year, perhaps in a different form this time. Last year we heard Mr Verhofstadt talk about 60,000 Fascists and neo-Nazis, what do you think about him as a Pole and a Member of the European Parliament?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: It was scandalous that Mr. Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberals, spoke of 60,000 Fascists. There were a few dozen people seeming to match with Mr Verhofstadt’s description, but it was a mass patriotic march and I think it will be the same this year.
As for me, I want to participate in the march organized under the patronage of the Polish President. I think it is a patriotic act that will emphasize the importance of this independence regained a hundred years ago.
We must also say to the French that a hundred years ago France was on our side and we are grateful to them, and we would like France today and tomorrow to be on our side again.