David Wallace

First Secretary, Head of Policy Delivery, British Embassy Warsaw

Guest blogger for Robin Barnett

Part of FCDO Outreach

5th August 2015 Dublin, Ireland

Strengthening Europe Through Reform

What does Russian aggression in Ukraine have to do with EU reform? Well, for one both were topics of conversation during Minister for Europe David Lidington’s visit to Poland last week (to see the full interview in Polish click here ). But there is something deeper binding the two.

Living and working in Warsaw I have come to have a new perspective on Europe – when I look to both Poland’s West and East.

Coming from Britain I was raised to see Europe as a continent that had finally found peace. During my childhood the cold war ended and World War 2 was in the distant past. The UK and other western nations enjoyed a peace dividend, no longer facing the threat of a superpower nuclear war. The EU and NATO were two of the organisations that most helped Europe win these rewards.

But posted to Warsaw I now see another perspective too. Poland had a very different experience to the UK. During the war Poland was occupied, its capital city destroyed, millions of Poles murdered, and Polish Jews virtually wiped out in the Holocaust. And the end of war did not bring peace to Poland – at least not the positive peace that allows individuals and families to live free and fulfilling lives. While the EU and NATO was helping Western Europe become prosperous and safe, brave Poles were fighting against oppression, beacons to the world. Lech Walesa and John Paul II were perhaps the most high profile opponents of Communism in Poland, but they were not alone. But resistance provoked a backlash, with martial law being imposed in 1981 (shortly after my first birthday) with Walesa sent to prison, and the Solidarity movement pushed underground.

So the end of the cold war – the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Soviet union, yes, but also the Polish Round Table that led to Walesa’s election as president – let Western Europe breathe a sigh of relief. However, for Poland it was a more fundamental change, as its creative and enterprising forces were unleashed, and it raced to join first NATO and then the EU.

From one perspective this was a natural reunion of Europe after decades of division.

But from another perspective the EU and NATO were safe havens for countries suddenly freed from Soviet domination.

And that is why today I see EU reform, the future of NATO, and the war in Ukraine as so intertwined. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine, are a reminder to countries like Poland of the oppression of the past. It is right that the West is taking action to condemn Russia’s illegal acts and help Ukraine. Poland and the UK are working together on this, as Minister Lidington wrote recently with Deputy Minister Pawlik (in Polish (paywall) and in English). Poland and the UK are also standing together on the NATO response, hosting two summits in Wales and Warsaw, and both committing to spending 2% of GDP on defence. They are working to make sure NATO is strong, steadfast and ever-ready, which my colleague, Gareth Chappell, set out in a blog here two weeks ago.

But EU reform matters too. The EU has been a source of stability and peace for its members – and a beacon for aspirant members. The UK is proposing reforms that are about the EU’s effectiveness as a whole. We want a dynamic, competitive, outward focused Europe, delivering prosperity and security for the benefit of every country in the EU, with Britain playing a leading role. Europe should have the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc.

These matters were all discussed in Warsaw last week during the visit of UK Minister for Europe David Lidington. The UK and Poland are passionate about making the EU work better for everyone, and about ensuring there is a strong Western response to the crisis in Ukraine. These should not be considered as separate issues; the linkages are clear, in Warsaw, London, and in the rest of Europe.

About Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated…

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated on Central and Eastern Europe and multi-lateral diplomacy.

Robin began his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1980 as Desk Officer for Indonesia and the Philippines. In addition to Ireland, he has been posted to Vienna, New York and Bucharest, where he was Ambassador. He has also served as Director of UK Visas and Managing Director of the Business Group in UK Trade and Investment

Robin studied Law at Birmingham University. He has a son and a stepson and is a great admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson and a supporter of Manchester United.