A few days ago, together with a group of 787 other politicians, Member and former Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense (SEDE) Minister Anna Fotyga condemned the unilateral introduction of national security regulations in Hong Kong. In the interview with The Warsaw Institute Review, she talks about the expected further interference of Chinese authorities in Hong Kong and her activities in Poland and abroad.
An interview with Anna Fotyga, MEP by Izabela Wojtyczka
Your international activities are very impressive and visible on almost every continent. Could you please tell us something about these actions reaching from Africa to the Arctic?
The European Parliament is indeed a place concentrated on many global issues. Unfortunately, when it comes to matters of security, one of the areas of my work, we are confronted with an accumulation of problems. For some time now, an expression arc of instability has been commonly used to describe the area stretching from the Sahel to Afghanistan. After 2014, a similar arc has been formed, this time covering the territory from the Arctic to the Black Sea – where the main vulnerability factor can be identified much more easily. That is why we remain engaged. I have visited the frontline in Donbas three times, chairing the first EU mission to the contact line. Shortly before the blockade of the Azov Sea I led a mission to Mariupol, which has contributed to a determined response of the institutions of the European Union. Every few months I visit Georgia, trying to engage representatives of various political groups through different formats. They often come to the Caucasus for the first time and have the opportunity to watch the ‘borderization’ process. Such actions translate into tangible effects. Our reports or joint resolutions are expressive – they force corrections of certain policies and changes in their financing. One of the examples is the renowned resolution on the tenth anniversary of the August 2008 War in Georgia. Of course, I am in constant contact with civil society in Belarus.
Speaking of territories located far away from Poland, yet important for my country, I was also an author of a comprehensive report on Afghanistan and the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development (CAPD). As the ECR foreign affairs coordinator, I have been involved in a comprehensive range of issues, also during the ongoing term. Frankly speaking, I find negotiations of common positions very rewarding. We are currently working on the text of a resolution regarding the reduction of Hong Kong’s autonomy, recommendations on the future of the Eastern Partnership, and relations with the Western Balkan countries. During this term of office, I was appointed standing rapporteur of the European Parliament for the Arctic, an area facing important processes.
Naturally, we address many problems with a comprehensive approach, which is why I have been active in domains related to freedom of navigation and maritime safety, for example concerning the blockade of the Azov Sea, threats in the Strait of Hormuz, and anti-piracy activities in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
For several years now, I have been following the Chinese expansion in South China and East China Seas and initiating the European Parliament’s activities on this matter. In Brussels, this topic allows me to raise the issue of Russian blockades of the Vistula Lagoon. Clearly, there are more such horizontal challenges, such as terrorism, proliferation, or CBRN. On top of that, there are issues of human rights violations, so my attention is also focused on such countries as Nicaragua, Myanmar, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Could you please tell us more about your activities in Africa?
As Chair of the Security and Defense Subcommittee (SEDE) in my previous term of office in the European Parliament, I tried to exhibit the dangers both in our eastern neighborhood, in the Middle and the Far East, and Africa. Therefore, our missions were directed not only to Ukraine or Georgia but also to countries in Africa. We had the opportunity to assess the security situation and the performance of EUCAP missions in Mali, Niger, CAR, and the eastern DRC. We support G5 Sahel, evaluate the functioning of aid instruments, and are about to complete our report on EU-African security cooperation. I am also the rapporteur of recommendations for the EU-Africa strategy. We would like to adopt them this autumn before the EU-African Union Summit . We devote much attention to the fight against terrorism, radicalization, smuggling of cultural goods, and the pillage of natural resources.
When visiting Africa, I always do my best to meet the Polish communities; I also talk to the missionaries who probably have the best perspective on the situation. In Uganda, I had the opportunity to thank the local community for taking care of the cemetery where Polish World War II refugees are buried. A tangible acknowledgment from the Republic of Poland for the warm welcome of Polish refugees was the construction of the health center named after Sybiraks (Polish people resettled to Siberia), in Kojja, Uganda.
The Africa Summit organized on my initiative in the European Parliament by European Conservatives and Reformists is widely appreciated. There are many such activities: we talk how to improve FDI, strengthen trade, fight organized crime, strengthen interreligious dialogue, institutions, and the electoral processes. This is what I do as a member of The Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group (DEG). I also cooperate with the European Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, and International Democratic Union.
Let’s talk about Poland. You are currently also involved in popularizing Polish culture through the use of advertising potential of concerts and exhibitions. Would you tell us more about this kind of activity and Polish cultural diplomacy in building Poland’s so-called soft power?
Poland is a country with a fascinating history, and in every corner of the Earth, we all can discover wonderful Polish traces. A few weeks ago, during an epidemiological conference organized in Taiwan, I recalled the contribution of an outstanding Polish epidemiologist of Jewish origin, Ludwik Rajchman, who supported Taiwan very actively. In Pakistan, in turn, we remember Władysław Turowicz, a pilot who was the father of Pakistan Air Force. While visiting Baku at a difficult time in Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU, in addition to the usual appreciation of the contribution of Polish architects and engineers to the development of the country’s capital, I asked for the opportunity to lay flowers on the grave of General Maciej Sulkiewicz, First Chief of Staff of the Azerbaijani army, killed by the Bolsheviks. I was very moved when, assisted by the highest Azerbaijani commanders and the Azerbaijani fleet, I could throw a white-red bouquet on the Bay of Baku’s surface, in a place where the Bolsheviks probably sank the body of our common hero. It seems that although a hundred years have passed since his death, it was the first time that the outstanding Polish Tartar was honored in this way. The monument to General Maciej Sulkiewicz was later also unveiled in Warsaw.
I promote Polish history in Brussels in various ways – by organizing exhibitions, film screenings, and conferences followed by two English-language volumes. These books reach diplomats and officials who come to visit my office – many of whom have family ties or professional relations with Poland . I even had to prepare a big reprint of the book “Return of the Executed Army.” Still in the European Parliament many people recall that I managed to organize a concert of the rock band “Forteca” during the conference devoted to the Cursed Soldiers in the hall where the committees typically meet. On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence, alongside the Polish-American conference on history, with the participation of, among others, a hero of the Solidarity movement Andrzej Gwiazda, I organized an exhibition of contemporary Polish art, accompanied by a concert of classical music and delicious Polish wine. The last big event in the EP before the pandemic had a similar format, and the title “I Thee Wed …” referred to the hundredth anniversary of Poland’s ‘Marriage to the Sea’ (when Poland regained its access to the Baltic). Also in this case, records with Polish classical music and post-war catalogs with excellent Polish maritime art have reached all MEPs, as well as many diplomats and officials. Such events subsequently help in our daily work. This was the case, for example, in September last year, when the European Parliament in an important resolution strongly supported Poland against Russian attempts to revise the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
Let’s talk about the recent event of The Warsaw Institute Review “Hong Kong – the People’s Revolution Against the Party,” where we had the pleasure to host you as an expert. A few days ago, with a group of 787 other MEPs, you condemned the “unilateral enactment of national security legislation in Hong Kong.” What do you think will be the next stage of interference by the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong?
The current restrictions are being introduced with a view to the upcoming Hong Kong Legislative Council elections in September. This will be a crucial moment. The CPC is equipping its own forces with tools to suppress protests and take control of the election process. Beijing already has experience in dismantling autonomy. We talk too rarely about the fate of Tibet or the situation of the Uighurs. I remember the pressures related to the visit of the Dalai Lama to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. I still recall the meeting with the daughter of Ilham Tohti, a Uighur scientist and journalist sentenced to life in prison by the Chinese authorities. Beijing managed to suppress Tibet some time ago and is systematically reaching for new targets. We must support democratic Taiwan, ensure that international law is respected, and not let the prospect of short-term economic gains cover our declared values. We cannot allow the falsely positive image of communist China to dominate in the media and public space.
What defense mechanisms are most effective?
We are having this interview one day before the vote on the resolution concerning Hong Kong that I am also preparing and negotiating. We have managed to gather a number of demands in an expressive document. First of all, we need to review our strategy towards an assertive China. We, therefore, call on the EU to raise human rights issues at the planned EU-China Summit. We insist that human rights should be a critical element in the negotiations on the EU-China bilateral investment agreement while warning that the EP may block the approval of the Comprehensive Investment Agreement or future trade agreements with China should Beijing continue this policy. The international community must work closely together to put pressure on Beijing to ensure that its actions are consistent with the country’s international obligations. We call for the appointment of a UN Special Envoy or Special Rapporteur on the situation in Hong Kong, the establishment of an International Contact Group on Hong Kong, and coordination with international partners, mainly the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia or Japan. As a further step, the Council should adopt targeted sanctions and asset freezing against Chinese officials responsible for developing and implementing policies which violate human rights and freedoms. The EU, Member States, and in a broader sense, a democratic West, should carefully examine how to avoid economic – in particular technological – dependence on China, especially when deciding on the development of the 5G network. We cannot accept the imposition of self-censorship. Despite pressure from Beijing, we should, among other things, pay a big tribute to the courage of the Chinese people who gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989 to demand the elimination of corruption, the introduction of political reforms, and civil liberties. For a long time now, I have pointed out that the relevant services should examine the activities of the Confucius Institutes. We can also learn a lot from Taiwan, a country that is exposed to daily attacks and pressure from China.
At the end of March, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg set up a small group of experts to develop recommendations to strengthen the unity of the Alliance. You are the only representative of Central and Eastern Europe in this group. What are your objectives and plans for this project?
The reflection process has an internal character, which is why I will refrain from answering this question. At least until December, which is when we are to present the results of our work. All I can say is that we are conducting extensive consultations and that the NATO, with its 30 members, one billion inhabitants, and half of the world’s GDP, remains the strongest political-military Alliance in world history.
How do you perceive the current international situation? What are the biggest problems the world is facing – or will face – these days?
This is a difficult question to answer because the range of challenges is extensive. Yet, I am glad that most of them are spoken about in an increasingly open way I don’t know if the breach of international law – namely the annexation of Crimea – might be fixed in the nearest future. We should still exert more pressure on the Kremlin and increase costs of illegal occupation. It is clear that Russia wants to lead to a new “concert of powers.” However, history clearly shows that a lack of decisive reaction to such moves leads to the collapse of the international order. And while I am glad that the Western world remains united in not recognizing the occupation of Crimea, I observe the willingness of some countries to re-establish their relationship with Russia.
War cannot be overlooked.
Undemocratic governments want to use this moment to strengthen their positions by promoting their style of governing and undermining the Western model of democracy. We must pay more attention to Africa, where Russia and China have long been expanding. Their aim is not only the economy but also winning African votes in the UN or other international organizations.
In this way, China has gained enormous influence not only in the recently criticized WHO, but also in Interpol, FAO, ITU or ICAO. As we know, this does not translate into the quality of work and independence of these organizations. This is one of the reasons why the United States decides to withdraw from China-controlled and inefficient international institutions. Both trends are unfavorable to us, and we must reverse them. We must make a greater commitment in Africa, the demographic boom of which must be complemented by an appropriate rate of economic development.
I also observe many unfavorable trends in our eastern neighborhood. They must be continuously followed and responded to. Many processes are taking place within the EU itself, and in discussions on its future, there are plans to deepen integration further. We regularly point out that the slogan “more EU” is not the solution to all problems. Federalism may work well in Germany, but this must not mean automatic acceptance of this model at the European level. We must also reinvent the relationship with the United Kingdom. London will not be a member of the EU, but its impact on the security of the continent cannot be overestimated, and we count on greater involvement of Westminster in other international forums.
There has been a lot of talk in recent months about a change of powers in the geopolitical game. In this context, it is mainly about China’s growing role in the world and the Chinese-American competition. There are also many voices about Russia’s aspirations to rebuild its power in the world. What strategy for the “new times” should Poland adopt?
I remember President Obama’s pivot to Asia, the consequences of which were probably most acute in our region. However, I still have the impression that it is the United States that thinks more strategically than Europe, as the latter has been using the American security umbrella for over 70 years. However, the situation in our neighborhood calls for a wake-up call from this blissful slumber. It sometimes requires a strong push. We also need to build social resilience to threats instead of limiting our activity to the fight against disinformation. The EU’s non-treaty interference in Poland’s issues also encourages Russia to choose our country as a target for attacks in an information war. For many years I have advocated in the European Parliament for closer cooperation with like-minded partners: The United States, Canada, Australia or Japan. The strategic relationship must also be reflected in the economy, trade, and mutual investment. I am glad that in the previous term of the European Parliament, we managed to sign the groundbreaking, modern agreements such as the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). I have supported these initiatives from the beginning. Poland has excellent relations with these countries and is gradually deepening them to the strategic level. I think that we have a common perception of threats that the Free World will have to face. As a politician dealing with security, I always consider even the gloomiest scenarios. But I know it well that Poland and Europe have gone through many painful periods in their long history, always coming out stronger, I believe it will be so this time, too.
Thank you very much for your time and our very fruitful cooperation!