WBJ: Why did you decide to join PSL and run in the European parliamentary elections?
Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski: I am a supporter and not a member of PSL. I took this decision after witnessing almost four years of total incompetence from the current government. Also, because many Polish citizens do not realize how many issues affecting them are decided in Brussels. If we are to protect our interests effectively, we need to rely on people with knowledge and experience, which is sadly lacking among Law and Justice (PiS) party members. At the moment, our rulers do not have the required savvy and do not understand – or they ignore – how the EU works. This puts Poland at a disadvantage. At the same time, the pseudo-reform of the Polish judiciary is in reality an attack on the separation of powers principle that is enshrined in the constitutions of all democratic countries, and it is something that is not acceptable to other EU countries.
Over the last four years the government has done everything possible to create conflict between Poland and the key states in the EU, in particular with Germany and France, and it intends to continue this policy. We need to take care of Poland’s interests in the EU Parliament, but in accordance with European values. In order to achieve this, we need to be skilled in negotiations, understand the merits of the subjects up for debate, and know foreign languages to be able to communicate with our partners without the need of translators. That is why I accepted the offer of Władyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, the leader of PSL, to run as his party’s candidate on the list of the European Coalition.
What is the biggest strength of PSL in the European parliamentary elections?
For me, PSL is a party that invokes the Polish People’s Party of Stanisław Mikołajczyk that existed between 1945 and 1948. At the time it was the only democratic party in the Polish parliament, but it was destroyed by the communists and Mikołajczyk had to flee abroad to save his life. My father, Władysław Bartoszewski, joined Mikołajczyk’s PSL and always considered this to be an important period of his life and we talked about it a lot. During World War II my father was a prisoner at Auschwitz, joined the underground home army, co-organized the efforts to help Jews on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile and participated in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
Later he wrote many books about Poles, Germans and Jewish people. After 1990 he became an ambassador and Polish Foreign Minister (twice). I will always remember the theme that guided him in his decisions: “warto być przyzwoitym” which may be loosely translated as “it pays to be decent.” PSL has a long and at times tragic history and now is a moderately conservative Christian party. It tries to bring together various parts of Polish society and, being a very pro-European party, it wants to see Poland being strong and just.
European agricultural regions have changed, and we hope that in Poland the economic differences between the cities and the countryside will keep diminishing.
PSL is not a trade union of farm workers, but it does care a lot about the people who live and work in the countryside. We notice and remember how PiS has attacked PSL over the years. PiS is not interested in rural regions, apart from during election time. It has never had any policies that have helped farmers, nor any eminent politicians that understand the aspirations and ambitions of people living in the countryside. During this election campaign PiS has falsely presented itself as a champion of farmers and is trying to denigrate our activities and achievements. PSL, however, remains important for the Polish voters who care about the countryside and want to preserve good relations with the EU.
What are the main items on the agenda to be discussed by MEPs from the European Coalition once elected?
There will be the issues of the EU budget for 2021-2027, funds for Poland and our agricultural regions, innovation and technology, climate change, immigration, free trade, education, diminishing the economic disparity between EU countries and the basic problem of our common security.
If elected, I would like to participate in discussions about security and energy issues, including the change towards green energy and energy security, as I have been involved in this field while working in the private sector in many countries. Our activity should help to end the isolation of Poland in Brussels due to the current government’s abuse of European standards.
What external policy issues do you think will be a priority?
There will be heated debates about the role of the EU in the ever-changing world, the relationship with China, Russia, Asia, the Middle East and the UK after Brexit, should it finally happen.
It is very difficult to strengthen the EU’s foreign policy, but the EU will remain a significant player on the world stage. On the other hand, any attempt to create a federal Europe is “wishful thinking” and is going to fail. Foreign policy should be more coordinated, but it is very difficult to achieve as the member states conduct their own policies, and consensus in this sphere is often elusive.
Some nationalist, populist and anti-European parties have managed to gain popularity in many European countries. Many of them will see some representation in the European Parliament. How will that affect its future work?
PSL and Civic Platform (PO) belong to the biggest center faction in the European Parliament, the EPP, a coalition of liberal conservatives and Christian democrats. In this parliament it cooperated with the second largest group, the Social Democrats, and it is likely that this state of affairs will continue, as both parties care about democratic values and the future development of the EU. We will never approve of any nationalistic or populist groups, be it extreme left, or extreme right-wing parties taking money from Russia and wishing to dismember the EU from within. These parties may be able to form some groups in the new European Parliament, but they will not dominate it.
The elections to the European Parliament are very important and all European voters should realize this. There is a lot at stake. The EU has always had various problems with change, the need to reform and expand, but historically it has always managed to reach a compromise acceptable to all members and I believe it will do so again this time.