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Interview with Damian Irzyk: EU-Chinese Cooperation and the Delicate Balance Between Politics and Economics

Author:Damian IrzykArticle source:英文站点Input time:2017-03-10Page View:181次


Interview with Damian Irzyk: EU-Chinese Cooperation and the Delicate Balance Between Politics and EconomicsDamian Irzyk is the First Counsellor and Head of Political Section at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Beijing. Mr. Irzyk previously worked as the the First Secretary, Counsellor and head of the Economic Section at the Polish Embassy in Indonesia before taking his current post in Beijing.  He is a graduate of Poznan Academy of Economics and the National School of Public Administration. Mr. Irzyk visited Wuhan University and spoke at an academic salon held by the Research Center for Economic Diplomacy.

Wuhan University Research Center for Economic Diplomacy (WHUCED): Yesterday you expressed support for further European integration. Right now it seems there has been some push back against further political integration. Could you clarify what kind of integration Poland would be in favor of?

Damian Irzyk (DI):  What I actually said yesterday was that there’s a necessity for the European Union to return to its roots when it comes to the four basic principles, which is the free flow of goods, people, capital and labor. So, that would be the crucial part, because so far we see some kind of fatigue of societies in Europe when it comes to further political integration, so that’s a problem. We saw it during the Brexit referendum, driven by a growing discontent with what the integration process actually led to. It must be discussed again, and as Poland sees it, it is more discussions on the basic pillars of the EU and a return to the roots of the EU.

WHUCED: Ever since the introduction of the single currency system and the austerity measures that came during the European economic crisis some year ago, Germany’s influence in the EU has continuously increased. With Britain seemingly preparing to walk out the door, it seems like that influence is only going to keep growing. Is this a worrying trend? Not just because it’s Germany, but because of the idea that any one country would have a disproportionate influence on EU policy.

DI: The EU is 28 member states now, and the conditions of the UK’s walk-out  remain to be negotiated. Germany, as you clearly noted, will grow even bigger once the UK has left. But, there will still be 26 members in the bloc, and the EU has always been based on the consensus of more than one state. We still see that building coalitions between member states is a basic rule for formulating the EU’s policies. Poland is a very close neighbor to Germany, and we just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the German-Polish Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation. It proved that in the last 25 years of cooperation, both economies across the Odra River became inextricably linked by innumerable threads of business cooperation. At close to 100 billion EUR, Germany accounts for more than a quarter of Poland’s international commerce, whereas Poland is already Germany’s 7th largest trading partner with a turnover about twice as that with Russia and nearly equivalent to that with Italy. So, it’s not a big problem, but, as I said, the EU is not a single country initiative, and it’s based on consensus among all of its members. With different issues we have different coalitions on where it should go.

WHUCED: Considering the troubling history that Germany and Poland share, are there any lessons that China and Japan can draw from the way the two countries have created lasting, peaceful relations?

DI: That’s a very difficult question and complex issue. You cannot take a very simple parallel of both cases. The truth is that both nations, both China and Poland, suffered a lot during the second world war.. Millions of Polish citizens were brutally killed or died as result of hunger, disease or medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps. Despite negative experiences stored in collective memory of both societies, in spite of the official political line presented by states authorities, some extraordinary Poles and Germans took difficult path towards agreement. They made German-Polish reconciliation real fact, which soon became an example for other conflicted nations. Then, once Poland became an independent country, Germany was our strongest advocate during our reintegration with the West, not only because of the outcome of the world war Ⅱ, but also because they saw the clear benefit of having a stable and friendly nation on their eastern border. The whole process showed that reconciliation is possible, even though it is quite difficult and requires willingness from both sides.

WHUCED: How does Poland view sub-regional or regional cooperation like the Visegrád Group and theAdriatic-Baltic-Black Seas cooperation, and what is its relationship with Poland and the entire EU project?

DI: It is important to distinguish these two concepts, as Visegrád Group is a longstanding initiative that has been in place for 25 years bringing Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary together. Poland has taken over the one-year rotating presidency of this group from July 2016 to July 2017.. We are seeking to increase the effectiveness of cooperation  as we see it as a very important platform on shaping our views and policies towards the EU agenda, . As I said before, the EU works as a consensus building bloc, and those four countries have a lot in common, and we have an ever-growing coordination among these four partners on various issues, including agricultural policy, cohesion policy, infrastructure, and energy. There are a lot of similarities that these countries share, and as a bloc of four they definitely have a stronger voice.

WHUCED: Security also?

DI: Security as well, that’s also one of the issues that’s discussed.  Besides V4 countries one has to mention the whole group of central European countries in the southern end of the region, like Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, those new member states of the EU that also have a lot of similarities in between. We are one of the best proofs that the EU has worked very well for us, so it comes as no surprise that we support the further integration of the Western Balkan countries into the EU structures. These five countries are in the accession process, which is going faster or slower, but still they are adjusting to the EU policies which is helping them in transforming their countries into much more well-off and politically stronger.

WHUCED: How would you comment on the 16+1 process, and what role do you think Poland can play? I am very interested in understanding the level of ambition of Poland in the 16+1 process, because you have 16 member countries, but we still need someone in the driver’s seat. So, is Poland one of the countries in the driver’s seat?

DI: Definitely, if you take the size of Poland’s economy in the group, we have no other choice than to be one of the leaders of the region. There is no doubt that. We see 16+1 as a great opportunity for the region to catch in their relations with China. Initially, the 16+1 cooperation was mostly about the economy and expanding the people-to-people relations, but we also see a growing importance of the security factor in China’s influence towards mitigating Russia’s ambitions in this region. We see the economic links with China as a stabilizing force in the region, so that’s definitely an important issue for us, and we hope that it will bring fruitful results.

WHUCED: In other words, it seems that security plays a role in the 16+1 process, after the Ukrainian crisis, but as far I understand, the China side prefers that the 16+1 process is an economic process.

DI: Yes, that’s natural, but it’s also natural that economic cooperation needs stability, and this is of utmost importance. So, we see that Chinese engagement in the region,  even comparing to other Asian countries like South Korea or Japan, is so far not that big. From our point of view, another player with its economic interests in the region would clearly be beneficial for the security and stability of the region.

WHUCED: How do you think the 16+1 process can benefit Chinese-EU cooperation?

DI: When China started its opening up process in the end of the 70s, we saw a lot of exchanges between China and West Germany , France and UK. Volkswagen factory joint venture in China was established in the early 80s. These are now important EU member countries that have more than 30 years of economic relations with China on a growing scale. Poland, together with central European partners, got onto this train only recently, about 5-6 years ago. Previously, we were focused on integrating with the West, engaging with the EU and NATO, and now we see it is high time to engage with China. This was a missing piece of the puzzle out of the overall EU-China relations. So, 16+1 would clearly be contributing to the overall EU-China relations in a positive way, and it’s simply making up something that was missed in the past.

WHUCED: Many Chinese, and also Western, scholars believe that in the 16+1 process, China always dominates, China always takes the lead, but my research tells me that China doesn’t necessarily take the lead. Actually, many Central Eastern European country’s leaders visit Beijing and suggest Beijing strengthen cooperation between China and Central Eastern European countries. So, in terms of the role of all the stakeholders in this 16+1 process, who do you think should be in the driver’s seat? There is always this perception that China leads, China dominates, is it true?

DI: The thing is that this is a learning process, and both sides, are making up time that was lost in the previous decades. It’s true that China comes up with initiatives, is very active in that, and it’s also true that it meets a lot of openness on the other side There is a lot of openness towards dialogue and listening to each other’s needs and listening about the opportunities that are created for both sides. Even though Poland and other countries of the region recognized People’s Republic of China right after it was proclaimed in 1949, there is still a lot of untapped potential in these relations and not so much knowledge of each other. China is active, these countries are also active in seeking another engine of growth outside of Europe, so it’s natural that the frequency of exchanges is unprecedented and it’s intensity is growing. But it’s not easy to quickly make up these lost decades, so it takes time.

WHUCED: In terms of China-Polish relationships, also in relationships of China and other European countries, there is kind of perception that basically we are economically fighting a war with each other, and also politically, because of differences in our ideologies, systems and political institutions. Do you think politically, when it comes to human rights, Dalai Lama, these will be problems to the overall economic relationships?


DI: I don’t think it’s an issue. China is changing, Poland is changing, and this has not been an issue for a few years now. I don’t think there would be any significant changes.


WHUCED: For example, the president of Slovakia, just met with Dalai Lama, but the prime minister had different opinions. What kind of attitude we should adopt then it comes to political difficulties while economically we need each other? How should we manage this disequilibrium between politics and economics?


DI: I don’t want to go into details of Slovakian internal politics.There is a wide consensus in Poland not only within the ruling party, but also within the opposition, regarding One-China policy. We are aware how sensitive and important it is to China., All political forces in Poland want to develop relations with China, we need more Chinese companies in Poland, in Europe and more Polish companies in China. So, I don’t think there is any kind of political threat, especially in Poland.


WHUCED: In your speech about Polish foreign policy yesterday, you gave a wonderful Polish view on global order and a few premises of your foreign policy. Could you please share with us the Polish view of the world, is it still a Westphalian system, or it is already entering into a new era, like EU as a post-sovereign project? You also mentioned a lot of geopolitical tensions between Europe and Russia, so how do you view the global order? And also, you mentioned that the Polish values are very much inherited from the Roman law, Christian ethnics, rationalism, and common good, what do you think is the starting point of Polish foreign policy?


DI: Poland has always been part of western civilization, and we were and are strongly attached to the western structures of both economy and security. The European Union integration process, NATO as a guarantee of security since the very beginning, 1989, when we regained our freedom and drafted clear goals for our foreign policy. We take an effort to keep both NATO and EU as strong as possible, and our attachment towards these structures, we see as our fundamental interest. What I said yesterday is that the constant change in the world gives us new threats and challenges, and this is also a time for NATO to enhance its deterrence function, its capacity to collectively (in solidarity) repel an external aggression. It is our hope today, as in the past, NATO would be able to strategically adapt to the changing security environment and geopolitical situation. In 2014, the Ukraine crisis showed clearly that NATO is still relevant as a defending alliance for its members. We put a lot of efforts in enhancing the capabilities of NATO on its eastern flank, which has so far not been equally treated as other areas. We see it as a very important part, especially for Baltic states and Poland since we share a border with Russia.


WHUCED: What if Trump really withdraw from NATO?


DI: It still remains to be seen, because Trump administration is not there yet. We don’t know exactly who will be shaping its policy. These are very complex issues that you can’t just explain on the campaign trail. I assume that once the president-elect completes his team of advisors and decision makers we could say more about that, but for now, there doesn’t seem to be any threat, especially taken into consideration the traditional republican approach towards defense and Russia.


WHUCED: Have you started to think about the fallback?


DI: I’m sure there is a lot going on in Europe now, and there seems to be ever closer cooperation between EU and NATO. So, it seems that EU is aware that there will be more burden on Europe itself to prepare itself. Poland is one of the few countries that actually spends at least 2% of its GDP on defense. There is a growing pressure on other countries to follow suit.

WHUCED: Increasing the budget for defense? 

DI: This is what Trump previously said during his campaign, that US cannot pay the whole deal, there is also requirements for other members. But in this case, Poland is quite safe, because we spent it for years.

WHUCED: But other NATO member states haven’t reached that level.

DI: They haven’t reached that level, yet, but we hope it will happen.



——Interview by Ethan Robertson, Assistant Researcher for WHUCED, 7 December, 2016

(The views expressed above are the interviewee own's and does not necessarily represent the views of WHUCED. To reproduce this article please specify the source.)

[editor: Yangmin Lai]

[graphics designer: Siyu Fan]

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