President Andrzej Duda's address at the plenary session
Honourable Madam President, Honourable Presidents,
It is with great joy that I bid you welcome to Poland to the Hel Peninsula, in the Residence of the President of the Republic of Poland. Unusually, not in Warsaw, but also in a completely unique winter weather conditions, which are exceedingly rare here. As I was told, the last time a similar meteorological phenomenon appeared here, in terms of snow and frost, was ten years ago. So it is a great rarity, but I hope, above all, that you will have a pleasant time here.
Dear Friends, Madam President, Presidents, in these challenging times I am glad to see you here. Most important of all, I am glad to see you in good health. I hope that we will soon be able to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and be back on the path of normal development.
I would like to acknowledge the fact that despite objectively difficult circumstances and conditions due to the pandemic, we have managed to meet and to jointly initiate celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Visegrad Group. It is a great honour for me to be hosting this meeting. All the more so as it occurs during Poland's sixth Presidency of the Group.
The script of the last several months has been largely written by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not been an easy time for us. Many of our compatriots have struggled with the disease. Unfortunately, many of them have lost this battle. Christmas, that we have recently celebrated, the time which is usually associated with joy, hope and family warmth, was a trying time. So was the previous Easter in 2020.
I firmly believe that through the roll-out of national vaccination programmes, we will soon bring relief to our societies and ease the strain on our healthcare systems. I do hope that in consequence we will soon be able to transition to normality—to a life similar to the one we led before the invisible enemy struck.
We are celebrating 30 years of Visegrad cooperation this year. If we look at the last three decades which have passed since the fall of communism in our countries—the fall initiated by the Polish 'Solidarity' movement—we can see that they not only feature great economic and political success but also a break-through progress in terms of human and social development. We can safely say that not often such a profound transformation can be observed anywhere in the world, proceeding in such a short time.
Starting from the meeting of the Presidents of Poland, and Czechoslovakia the Prime Minister of Hungary almost thirty years ago, on 15 February 1991, at Visegrad Castle in Hungary, our states and nations have undergone a fundamental, generational change in the historical, political, economic, and social sense. We have belonged, as we still do, to a common cultural and ideological circle and a circle of shared memory, including the memory of dramatic events of the 20th century and the evil of two totalitarian regimes.
At this juncture, the cooperation initiated in 1991 aimed at creating a platform for political dialogue, in order to coordinate our countries' efforts to become members of the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union. We have achieved this goal taking part in the integration processes of Europe and the Western world.
We have also proved our utility in the broader European and Transatlantic context. The Group is an important, if not the most important catalyst for regional cooperation all across Central Europe, but also a significant contributor to cooperation within the EU and NATO fold. On many occasions have we demonstrated that, as Visegrad countries, we can cooperate effectively, with the view of promoting our countries and the region as a whole.
We consistently express our support for the idea of European unity and solidarity, and we advocate a Europe of equal states and free nations. The Visegrad Group can also serve as an attractive model for both the countries from Eastern Partnership and Western Balkans alike. In this context, it is gratifying that, for several years now, the Group has been systematically enhancing its support and cooperation with the two regions, including through the International Visegrad Fund.
It is also worth noting that our Visegrad cooperation has produced its tangible effects on other levels of regional cooperation.
The first one is cooperation in the Bucharest Nine format, which consists of NATO countries located along its Eastern flank. We have created this grouping in reaction to Russia's aggressive policy, in the face of which we could not remain passive; nonetheless we were stressing our commitment to close and strong transatlantic cooperation. Given these circumstances, it is even more gratifying our efforts bore the fruit of increased military presence on the Alliance’s Eastern border, as decided at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw. In this context, we welcome declarations coming from US administration under President Joe Biden about further strengthening of Transatlantic ties and reviving relations within NATO. Close, strategic cooperation with the US plays a key role in Europe's security.
The second regional organization that connects us today is the Three Seas Initiative, launched in 2015. Its main objective is to improve transport, energy, and new technology infrastructure in our region, along the North-South axis, thus boosting development in our countries and improving the cohesion of the European Union.
I am pleased that in this setting, we have managed to create real instruments to implement our policy. One of these is the Three Seas Investment Fund, to which 9 out of the 12 countries of the Initiative have acceded by now. Cooperation is flourishing, we are organising further Three Seas summits, and the first priority infrastructure and energy projects have already been selected. This will help to secure greater involvement of private sector investors.
We also take note of the fact that the Three Seas Initiative is viewed by many partners from Asia, the United States and Europe, as stable and promising from the investment angle.
Our undoubted success is that the formats of cooperation and the tools we have created garner support of EU institutions: the European Commission, but also of our strategic partners: the United States and Germany. This shows that when we act together on the basis of regional solidarity and common goals, we can significantly impact the European and transatlantic consensus.
Excellencies, Dear Friends,
In a matter of few days, the heads of government of our countries will meet in Krakow, Poland, to celebrate the anniversary of Visegrad cooperation, joined by representatives of the European Union institutions. They will also discuss the most important elements of the current EU agenda—cooperation in fighting COVID-19 pandemic, climate issues, migration or relations with the Eastern Partnership countries and Russia. We share many views on these and many other issues, and we have a potential to build a coalition of common interests so that the voice of Central Europe can resonate more powerfully in discussions on the EU forum.
Just as a new decade of the 21st century is opening before us, we also embark on a new decade of our Visegrad cooperation. Due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and its socio-economic repercussions, the time ahead holds some measure of uncertainty and instability, but equally of opportunity and hope. It is the time for us, as political leaders, to take even greater responsibility for the decisions we make on behalf of our peoples.
When the pandemic is over—and it will certainly be over—we will be confronted with a new challenge: to secure human and economic recovery for our countries, for our region and, ultimately, for our world. We should spare no effort to make it a world based on equitable rules of coexistence of free, independent states and equal nations; a world committed to sustainable development; and providing a safe and healthy future for all.