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All eyes on Warsaw as Poland assumes EU presidency

Poland has taken over the rotating six-month EU presidency from Hungary. The nation is eager to make a good impression on the political stage as a reliable partner who can expertly manage despite a crisis.

The EU symbol

Poland takes the EU helm at a turbulent time

Poland has taken over at the helm of the European Union with a call for greater solidarity among member states at a critical time.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told journalists on Friday that his country would take responsibility in helping the European Union out of its sovereign debt crisis.

"We have taken the presidency at a difficult time. The debt crisis in the eurozone is continuing, and Greece is a prime example," said Tusk, adding that his country would only join the euro under conditions of strict fiscal discipline.

The premier also added that more had to be done to address skepticism and self interest about the EU, with greater emphasis placed on cooperation between nations.

"A lot of the foundations in Europe as a community are being criticized today," said Tusk. "It is important that, despite all, what wins is the spirit for mutual assistance that is going to make Europe turn around."

A life float above a Greek flag and euro

Tusk highlighted the Greek debt crisis as a major challenge

EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as representatives of Hungary’s outgoing presidency, were to join Tusk and other Polish officials later in the day to mark Poland’s takeover of the role.

Taking a leading role

During its EU presidency, Poland wants to campaign for common European values and strengthen solidarity within the bloc. Warsaw has also announced its intention to combat national self-interests in favor of more community-oriented thinking.

The Polish presidency plans to accelerate the treaty on Croatia's EU membership as well as seek an increasingly close relationship to its neighbor Ukraine. Also on the agenda is the notion of a European Fund for Democracy to support clubs, unions, NGOs and civil society in the EU.

Appeal to its own citizens

Donald Tusk

Tusk wants to put Poland's best face forward

But Warsaw isn't just trying to win over Europe: the government has also appealed to its own people - especially to the opposition - to consider the half-year presidency as a unique opportunity for the country. The administration has warned its critics that fierce attacks and accusations will only harm the reputation and prestige of the country on the international stage.

However, the appeal for cooperation has received little attention from the opposition, because in the fall - right in the middle of the presidential term - Poland is to elect a new parliament. Tusk's political opponents have already made themselves known, with little regard for the special situation. The opposition has gone so far as to predict an international disgrace for the government.

Despite the circumstances, the government has tried to keep its nerve and impress upon its citizens the importance of the EU presidency.

"If we do not use this EU presidency positively, the next generation will not forgive us," Tusk said in advance of his meeting with journalists.

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski took it one step further: "At this time, errors are much more visible than usual and may have far greater consequences."

Poland's logo for the EU presidency

Poland will host the EU presidency until December 31

Use the opportunity

On Thursday, just one day before the handover of the EU presidency, several thousand members of the historic trade union Solidarnosc took to the Warsaw streets to demonstrate against rising prices, high unemployment and cuts to social services.

But the protests haven't undermined the general satisfaction regarding the development of the country. In street surveys, many Poles speak with pride about the impending leadership role of Poland in the EU, which, much like their government, they see as a chance for their country.

Author: Rosalia Romaniec / smh
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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