10 years worth celebrating

Tomorrow 1 May I will be in the Łazienki park celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the EU enlargement 2004. Congratulations Poland – this is an Anniversary really well worth celebrating! This country has made the most out of these 10 years of membership, benefitting for sure but also contributing immensely to the vitality of the European Union.

We have all gained from the EU enlargement ten years ago. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt has in his comments to the Anniversary especially highlighted the economic success of Poland since 2004: GDP per capita (PPP) has grown from around 49 percent of the EU average 2004 to 66 percent 2012 (according to Eurostat). But the benefits are there on all sides. Research shows, in contrast to different populistic claims, that labour immigration from the new member states has been beneficial for the receiving countries – like Sweden – as well.

In my previous capacity as Regional Director for Europe at our development agency Sida I worked for many years with technical assistance to EU- integration in this region. In Poland for sure but also in the Baltic States and eventually also in the Balkans. That contributed to my excitement ten years ago. And again to my excitement last year when Croatia joined, signalling that EU enlargement continues.

I remember very well where I was and what I was doing that night 2004. On a duty trip to Tanzania actually. A lot of my attention though was focused on Central Europe. History was in the making and I was eager to share the significance of the moment with my colleagues, even since we were very far away from Warsaw that particular evening.

Seven years later I had arrived to Warsaw as new Swedish Ambassador just in time for the inauguration of what became a very succesful Polish EU Presidency.

Now it is just impossible to envisage an EU without Poland.

EU needs Poland, the Polish commitment to EU integration – and not least the Polish experiences in transforming former communist countries into well functioning, democratic market economies. Ukraine is a case in point.

The Polish initiative to create the European Endowment of Democracy, now up and running, is a good illustration to what has been done and can be done in this respect.

25 years ago Poland and Ukraine were more or less on the same economic level. Now I believe the Polish GDP per capita is around three times bigger.

The people that demonstrated on Majdan with EU flags in their hands simply wanted a similar development in their own country. We can hope and pray that they eventually will succeed – and we must do our utmost to support them. Polish efforts in this respect are crucial. Both on the political and on the practical level. I know e.g. that Poland now is deeply engaged in exchange of know-how in the area of decentralization  (an area where, by the way, Sweden and Poland closely cooperated in the 90′s).

There is so much to learn from what we have experienced these years before and after 2004.

One crucial message should be: We must continue supporting all countries in the EU neighborhood that aspire to approach the Union. EU enlargement must continue. Like in the Balkans.

The wars can’t be undone – but we can prevent more wars in the Balkans in the same way that wars have been prevented in the rest of Europe. Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are alreade candidate countries like Turkey. Albania may soon become one. And also Bosnia and Kosovo are engaged in processes leading them closer to EU.

EU is, thus, not primarily a project of economic character but a project of democracy – and peace. It has been repeated many times in general messages but the practical meaning of this for our modern history came very close to me when I visited Srebrenica, also ten years ago. Or when I visited Bosnia just after the war had ended seventeen years ago.

I am happy to know that the Europan Institute for Peace, one more significant initiative in this spirit, soon is about to be launched – adding to the instruments through which Europe can contribute in this core area of Euroopean cooperation.

Tomorrow I will celebrate 10 years of Polish membership of the EU. For the sake of Poland – but more and broader. Because it has meant and will continue to mean so much for all of us Europeans and for Europe as a whole.


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