SPIEGEL Interview with Donald Tusk: Polish PM Calls for Unified European Crisis Strategy
In a SPIEGEL interview, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, 51, discusses the US missile defense shield, Eastern Europe's precarious situation in the global economic crisis and the concern in Warsaw over a German monument to those expelled from Poland after World War II.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, you met with Angela Merkel in Hamburg on Friday. What did you discuss regarding Erika Steinbach, the controversial head of the Federation of German Expellees?
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (front) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I am not stirring up emotions."
SPIEGEL: So the German side will soon decide who will serve on the board of directors of the Flight, Expulsion and Reconciliation Foundation without tarnishing relations between Warsaw and Berlin. You have said that it would not be acceptable if Steinbach were appointed to this body. Does that mean she won't be a member?
Tusk: The Steinbach matter is a German dilemma, not a German-Polish one -- our government really has other problems to deal with. We Poles are all of one opinion concerning the mentality and attitude that Ms. Steinbach represents. The Germans are solely responsible for the way that they commemorate their victims in World War II -- and Poland has clearly said that. But there appear to be various points of view in your country.
SPIEGEL: In Poland, Steinbach's image has been twisted into a caricature. Your representative Bartoszewski calls her a "blond beast." He said giving Ms. Steinbach a seat on the board was akin to "the Vatican appointing a Holocaust denier like Richard Williamson to manage relations with Israel."
SPIEGEL: How would your government react if Steinbach were to become a member of the foundation's board?
Tusk: I hope that no one in Berlin will jeopardize the very good relations that now exist between Germany and Poland. We Poles are very sensitive when it comes to defending the truth about World War II. We are obsessive about it -- and will always remain so.
SPIEGEL: Your predecessor in the office of prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, hardly passed up an opportunity to imply that the Germans were forgetting history and addicted to power, and this seemed to strike a nerve among many Poles. How can this latent resentment be overcome?
Tusk: The last year and a half has shown that we have been able to considerably improve the relationship between Germany and Poland. I am not stirring up emotions -- quite the contrary, in Poland, I am viewed as someone who guarantees good relations with Berlin. Our attitude toward the Germans is positive.
SPIEGEL: There are also other conflicts. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for example, rejects the American plan to install a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe and has conveyed this position to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Tusk: Poland will ensure that its interests are taken into consideration within the European Union and NATO. We need good relations with our western neighbors when it comes to questions of national security.
SPIEGEL: What does that mean in terms of the missile defense issue?
Polish magazine Wprost published a cover illustration depicting Erika Steinbach as a Nazi in 2003.
SPIEGEL: And if the project is abandoned, will the Poles again say that the major powers have cut a deal over their heads?
Tusk: If the stationing of the missile defense system is postponed, it will be an American decision. But then the remaining passages of the agreement -- i.e., the option of establishing other defense components in Poland -- should be immediately implemented. For us, it is important that we obtain American Patriot missiles.
SPIEGEL: Will Poland continue to strive for a special relationship with Washington?
Tusk: We are interested in pursuing close military cooperation with the US.
SPIEGEL: Your orientation toward the US has always been a signal to Russia. But Moscow has shown in the Georgian war and in the gas conflict with Ukraine that it intends to maintain its spheres of interest. Does this approach disturb you?
Tusk: We should work together with Russia; the entire EU should do that. But we should harbor no illusions concerning Russia's intentions.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Tusk: We were the first to call for the EU to take a firm stance toward Russia in the Georgian crisis. And we have also resolutely stood by our opinion in the gas conflict. We have also worked to bring the EU to negotiate with Russia on energy security. The relationship between Warsaw and Moscow is currently significantly better than it has been over the past few years. Vladimir Putin will visit us in late spring. This is the result of my policy without prejudices, without illusions.
SPIEGEL: The global economic crisis has also hit Eastern Europe. Your government has not rolled out any bailout packages worth billions. What are you relying on?
Tusk: The main reason for the global crisis is that people have been living on credit. So the way out cannot be that countries go even deeper into debt. In Poland we are also considering methods of state intervention. But I see no purpose in prolonging the credit madness for another two years. Some European politicians live in the belief that this could allow them to maintain prosperity for another few months.
SPIEGEL: And what is the Polish approach?
Tusk: We lived in a permanent crisis under communism for decades. We have overcome this by working very hard for 20 years. And we deeply believe that prosperity comes from work, fair competition, respecting private property, perseverance and solidarity. That is why we would like to emerge from this crisis as a country that remains true to democratic capitalism.
SPIEGEL: Where are the greatest risks for Poland?
Tusk: We are in a relatively comfortable position. Poland does not need international financial assistance. We are dealing almost exclusively with problems that come from abroad: exchange rate fluctuations and the associated credit problems, declining exports. Compared to what is happening internationally, Polish banks are in a really good position.
SPIEGEL: Can the crisis speed up Poland's entry into the euro zone?
Tusk: The government is doing everything to achieve this. We intend to fulfill the stability criteria. We are in good shape in terms of debt and inflation. When it comes to growth, Poland ranks among the top two or three EU countries. I am cautiously optimistic. All we have to do is convince the partners and reach a consensus on the euro in Poland itself.
SPIEGEL: Will the European Union's smaller member states become the real losers in the crisis?
Tusk: We see the biggest threat in a crumbling solidarity within the EU, in the growth of national egotism and protectionism. We have pointed out that we could be running a major risk by turning our backs on the global economy.
SPIEGEL: Namely, when large countries such as Germany and France seek refuge in protectionism?
Tusk: The greatest threat lies in an effective splitting of Europe. We sometimes hear -- even from Germany -- statements that call for aid for the euro zone countries. However, this essentially means allowing Europe to fall into two parts: one that has the euro, and the other that operates with national currencies. We can only emerge from the crisis if we abide by the laws of the EU. But we will exacerbate the crisis if we give preference to individual countries. There can only be one strategy for all Europeans.
Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Jan Puhl. Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.
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