Polish-Italian Strategic Dialogue
18 OCT 2019
Natolin European Centre

Polish-Italian Strategic Dialogue on the 100th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations

What differences and similarities exist in the strategic thinking and planning between Poland and Italy? That was the question of the “Polish-Italian Strategic Dialogue”, a conference organised by PISM, Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), and the Italian embassy and held on 17 October in the Natolin European Centre.

As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the conference began with a summary of Polish-Italian strategic relations in the 20th century. The speakers were Prof. Marco Patricelli (D’Annunzio University in Pescara), the author of a biography of Col. Witold Pilecki, Ambassador Krzystof Strzałka, the former Polish General Consul in Milan and an expert on Italian issues, and PISM Director Dr. Sławomir Dębski.

Panels were dedicated to discussion about Polish and Italian positions on the future of European integration, common economic policy, and EU global relations. The Italian speakers on the panels were Gen. Vincenzo Camporini, the former chief of the General Staff of the Italian Army, Dr. Fabrizio Botti, an analyst with IAI and SanPaolo Intesa Bank, and Stefano Stefanini, who served as Italy’s ambassador to NATO. The Polish speakers were PISM analysts Dr. Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka and Dr. Melchior Szczepanik, and Dr. Adam Czerniak from Polityka Insight.

What does the EU’s future look like? According to Gen. Camporini, it should be in the form of a European federation with its own army. In his opinion, the EU’s problem is the lack of its own “hard power” ensuring Europe’s security. Dr Borońska-Hryniewiecka emphasised that in many Member States, a crisis of trust towards the EU exists. If deeper integration is the goal, she noted, it will be necessary to build up citizens’ identification with the European community. The establishment of European education in primary and nursery schools and European social benefits could help achieve this goal, she added.

The Polish and Italian experts differed in their attitude towards austerity policy in the EU. Dr Botti postulated liberalisation of European fiscal policy, which, in his opinion, has been too restrictive through the application of austerity policy, leading to weakening of economic growth and stronger Eurosceptic sentiments among the citizenry. Dr. Czerniak emphasised that reductions in both budget deficits and public debt are necessary to avoid powerful economic crises. Both analysts accentuated the need for further eurozone integration and maintaining the role of common agriculture and cohesion policies in the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework. Dr. Czerniak also declared that the adoption of the common currency would bring political benefits to Poland.

The biggest discrepancy between the Polish and Italian points of view appeared on the issue of EU-Russia relations. Ambassador Stefanini advocated the resumption of dialogue with Russia to preclude it from forming an alliance with China. In his opinion, Russia is not a threat to the EU and its strength will decrease in the long term. Dr. Szczepanik, however, noted Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict between the country and Ukraine as evidence that Russia poses a threat to the international rules-based order, especially perceived by Poland and the Baltic States because of their historical experience with Russia. Both experts agreed that a condition for dialogue should be some gesture to show Russia’s intent to end its aggressive foreign policy. Both speakers also declared their support for the maintenance of strong transatlantic ties and expressed their anxiety about the confrontational attitude of the current U.S. president towards the EU.