Interview with Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister
“European defence policy needs strong and constant political impetus”
By Jakub Iwaniuk in Warsaw | Friday 04 November 2011
Poland, which currently holds the rotating EU Council Presidency, forms with France and Germany part of the Weimar initiative that is campaigning for a stronger European defence policy.Europolitics
spoke to Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, who finds that Britain’s misgivings over the initiative are not insurmountable and that the idea of enhanced cooperation cannot be dismissed.
How can we convince Britain of the need to strengthen European defence?
I think that it is possible, provided we place the debate at a very practical level. If this initiative is intended to increase the different countries’ military capabilities, then I think that the British position might be quite different. This was a key subject at the informal meeting of defence ministers, in September in Wroclaw, and the discussion took a step in the right direction. We took some of the emotion out of the debate. Practical discussions are always welcome because the European defence policy deficit is felt by all member states.
There is no question of setting up new bureaucratic structures, the major British concern. I think that they understand more and more that this initiative is not meant to collide with NATO’s interests. On the contrary, Poland actively supports both the ‘pooling and sharing’ of European defence and NATO’s ‘smart defence’ initiative. There are no obstacles to keep countries from participating in both programmes.
The question came back up at the meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels. The American secretary of state for defence clearly signalled that within the next decade the US military budget would undergo constant reductions and that Europe has to accept this idea. The economic crisis and the financial situation of the different states require us to accomplish certain things in common. Today’s budget difficulties are giving us a more rational approach. Given the scale of these financial problems, our project is very realistic. Our resources are not unlimited so they have to be concentrated.
So are you going to keep up this political impetus?
In my opinion, Poland, as a solid ally in NATO, should be interested in European defence, considering its location on the edge of the EU and the Atlantic Alliance. We want to place the subject of European defence at the heart of the European debate. This political impetus must be strong and constant, because it is in the interest of Poland and all the EU member states.
If the reluctance continues, is enhanced cooperation foreseeable?
On questions like ‘pooling and sharing’, where certain states carry out actions in common, both the EU and NATO see the need for enhanced cooperation, provided there are concrete results. Whatever the extent of such cooperation, by three, five or even more states, it would clearly be positive. The idea is not to create a closed circle within the EU or NATO. Our initiative is open and there can be a range of configurations.
The Polish Presidency’s priorities include the reinforcement of cooperation between the EU and NATO. What form should this take?
This is a very important question for us. There is a need for clarification of the missions under NATO’s responsibility and those under European responsibility, based on a logic of close coordination and mutual support. At the informal defence meeting we spoke at length of “small missions,” meaning that the EU should be capable of carrying out smaller missions, leaving large-scale operations to NATO. The EU should be able to handle missions involving up to a given number of troops on the ground. In addition to this numeric indicator, there has to be a political indicator. NATO is not looked on kindly worldwide and Europe can be a more acceptable banner for certain operations. The EU and the US do not always have the same priorities, moreover. We have to bear in mind that NATO is only the EU plus a few other countries, so there are no secrets between the two institutions. We are confronted with the same problems and the same responsibilities. The new infrastructure we recommend should take forward this political cooperation.
The Polish Presidency also wishes to strengthen defence cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. In concrete terms, what can we expect from this initiative?
I think that we have to pursue a policy open to the outside, particularly for initiatives like ‘pooling and sharing’. There are numerous prospects, such as common training or cooperation by military industries. First, though, there has to be a strong political commitment. We are engaged in political cooperation with these countries, but we are not yet in a phase where we can move into concrete actions. These states are sovereign and they have to know what they want. I have the impression that they are interested in cooperation, but that certain things need more time, because this is not an easy matter. There is a clear difference in the approach to defence policy between EU countries and those of the former USSR, and this is a difficulty we have to overcome.