Lech Walesa

‘There’s No Alternative to Europe’

lech walesa
Polish 1983 Nobel peace laureate Lech Walesa speaks during the XV World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Barcelona, Spain.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Former Polish President Lech Walesa believes that the Europe Union needs to come together with a new consensus, in order to solve the bloc’s most pressing problems.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Walesa proposes a mini-constitution for Europe consisting of 10 non-religious commandments.
    • This constitution could serve as a basis for common laws.
    • Mr. Walesa believes that the solution to the refugee crisis lies in addressing the issues that cause people to flee so that they can eventually return home.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Lech Walesa doesn’t think much of formalities.  He started off his interview by walking into the conference room, sitting down and saying: “First question!” He was wearing the red-and-white pin of his Solidarity union on his lapel.

As head of the Solidarity trade union, founded in 1980, Mr. Walesa, an electrician by trade, played a key role in Poland’s peaceful transition away from communism. Solidarity won the first open elections in the country in June 1989.

He had been awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1983. In 1990 Mr. Walesa, now 72, was elected to a five-year-term as president of Poland.

Last month the conservative Law and Justice party won the Polish elections. It was the first time since the return of democracy that one party had won a majority in the lower house of parliament.

On Saturday, the incoming European affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, said Poland would not be able to accept refugees under an E.U. relocation scheme after the Paris attacks.

Mr. Walesa spoke to Handelsblatt while in Barcelona to attend a meeting of Nobel laureates. He discussed the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the refugee crisis and how Europe can come together to ensure better cooperation in the future.


Handelsblatt: Mr. Walesa, what needs to happen after the attacks in Paris?

Lech Walesa: We need more global structures than we have today. Terrorism is an issue that cannot be resolved by individual countries. We need to take a joint approach against anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic cleansing and terrorism.

What exactly does that mean for Europe?

In the past, Europe had Christianity as a sort of shared ideology. Then there was communism in the East and the market economy in the West. How we feel about these individual ideologies isn’t important, but somehow they did provide some cohesion. Now it no longer exists.

So what is there left for politicians to do?

My proposal is a sort of small European constitution with 10 non-religious commandments. The current European Union project lacks consensus. Everyone can come up with new ideas, and various demons come to light under these circumstances. Even as we talk about European integration, there are countries that suddenly decide to split up – like Catalonia, which wants independence from Spain. How can we achieve European integration if countries are already breaking up within their own structures?

But an E.U. constitution means even more power for Brussels. This is already too much for some countries.

There is no alternative to Europe. Modern technologies no longer observe national borders, and we need joint responses to global problems like terrorism and protecting the environment. A European constitution, which everyone accepts and which all countries and all citizens agree to observe, would facilitate everything else. It would serve as the basis for shared laws, our economic order and democracy. But we will not make any progress without this basis.

lech walesa_2_ap
Source: AP


Where do you see the problem at the moment?

Right now, countries don’t trust each other enough. There is so much mistrust that countries are sending new inspectors to Brussels to ensure that they are not being cheated by other nations. But we will soon discover that we are not being cheated, and that things are not as bad as we think, and then bureaucracy will also decrease.

The refugee crisis is one of those issues that no country can resolve on its own. What needs to happen?

If we decide to open the borders in Europe, it’s clear that there will be strong migration. And if we open borders worldwide in 20 or 30 years, there will be even more migration. We need to prepare the world for these challenges.

What should be done in the short term?

We must help the migrants. The best way to do this is to solve the problems in their native countries. If we succeed, these people can eventually return home. Then there will be a substantial need for reconstruction there, which will create more jobs than we have here in Europe.

But there is a war in Syria, and it isn’t quite that easy to solve this problem.

Almost everyone is involved in this war, in one way or another, which is why we have to help bring it to an end. We need to get rid of dictators, and the world should declare: “We want peace.” Our army will go from house to house and collect weapons. Of course, this requires a major military mission.

And it could take years. Wouldn’t it be better to integrate the refugees?

It’s true that people who emigrate to countries like the United States integrate themselves into society with relative ease. But if they emigrate in large numbers, because of wars, they don’t become integrated quite as easily. Before long, they want mosques, churches and schools. This is a great challenge, which is why it’s better to send them home again as soon as the situation has improved in their countries.

How do you feel about the election results in Poland, which have taken the country to the right?

Democracies around the world are in crisis, and strange things are happening. Just think of the United States, with its strange presidential candidates. Democracy has to be improved in three ways, or else things will spin out of control.

And what are they?

The first is to allow officials everywhere to serve only one term in office – in government, in associations and in unions, that is, in all elected positions. It isn’t exactly democratic for a lawmaker to remain in office for 20 years. People should see that democracy is truly tangible. The second is to lower the thresholds to enter parliament, such as the current 5-percent threshold in Poland. Then citizens’ groups can also be elected.

That would lead to splinter groups.

At the same time, we would also need laws that force them to come together into larger alliances. The third element is a requirement that all political groups disclose their finances and allow them to be audited.

Video: Lech Wales discusses communist rule in Poland and Pope John Paul II.


Sandra Louven is the Spain, Portugal and North Africa correspondent for Handelsblatt and is based in Madrid. To contact the author: louven@handelsblatt.com

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