Poland's New Face

During a visit to Jerusalem on the eve of her appointment to the European Commission, Danuta Hubner Hubner, in the course of a long conversation, discussed several common predictions made by commentators and diplomats in both Israel and Europe.

Danuta Hubner asked me to keep my fingers crossed for her. Not that she really needed it. The 55-year-old Hubner, professional, energetic and admired, had for the past decade been nurturing the process of bringing her country, Poland, into the European Union. In June 2003, she was appointed Poland's minister for European affairs, and in December, the periodical European Voice named her "European of the Year," preferring her to Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair. That Poland's government decided last week to make her its first representative on the European Commission came as no surprise to anyone.

After May 1 - when the EU's enlargement goes into effect - Hubner will embody the "face of Poland in Europe." During a visit to Jerusalem on the eve of her appointment to the commission, Hubner, in the course of a long conversation, discussed several common predictions made by commentators and diplomats in both Israel and Europe.

* The first prediction: "Following the enlargement, the EU will become more sympathetic toward Israel." When Poland's deputy foreign minister, Adam Rotfeld, visited Israel recently, it seemed as if the captains of "old," western Europe were speaking through his lips. He attacked Israel for boycotting Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom he termed "a strong and legitimate leader," criticized the separation fence as a "bad decision," denounced Israel's "harmful settlement policy" and revealed his enthusiasm for the Geneva Accord. Hubner declined to comment on these "internal Israeli affairs." She chose her words carefully, but stressed that Poland is very interested in Israel for three main reasons: Poland's historical and moral debt to its Jews, its desire to attract Israeli investors to Poland, and Israel's close relations with the global master of the house in Washington.

In contrast to the impression created by Rotfeld, Hubner believes the enlargement will create "a different and diverse Europe" from which Israel will benefit. Poland will strive to leave its mark on the EU's foreign and security policy in general and its Middle East policy in particular. It will work to create "a unified and balanced European voice" and to maximize Israel's political and economic gains from Wider Europe (a framework designed to institutionalize the EU's ties with the countries to the continent's south and east, which will become its new neighbors following the enlargement).

* The second prediction: "The Arab world will suffer from the enlargement." The underlying assumption is that eastern European countries want to shake off their communist heritage, which includes their traditional pro-Arab policies. Since they have no colonialist past, they also have no moral debt to the Arab world, and they consider this world much less important than does western Europe. Hubner, who in the past held a senior position with the United Nations, elegantly neutralized this land mine. She said that the modern world is characterized by "a contagion effect": Every regional development influences every other region in the world. Thus, to turn one's back on any one region is an unaffordable luxury.

* The third prediction: "Poland will function as the spearhead of America's `divide and conquer' policy in Europe." U.S. President George Bush terms Poland "our best friend in Europe today." New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who recently visited Poland, described it as an "antidote for European anti-Americanism" and as "the most pro-American country in the world - including the U.S." And there are those who believe that Poland will introduce a Trojan-American horse into the EU that will torpedo the plans of the Paris-Berlin axis.

Hubner put these predictions into proportion: The Poles owe a special debt of gratitude to the U.S. for having absorbed millions of emigrants, for having supported the Solidarity movement and for its role in bringing down the Berlin Wall and in bringing Poland into NATO in 1999. Nevertheless, she stressed, "we are Europeans, and now we are returning to the heart of our continent, from which we have been absented against our will for more than 50 years."

The fact that in 2003, Poland preferred 48 American F-16 fighter jets to European planes? According to Hubner, that was due solely to economic considerations. Warsaw's support for the American war in Iraq? The explanation lies in Poland's loathing for dictators. The division of Europe into "old" and "new"? She does not accept that distinction. Blind obedience to American policy? No such thing. A Trojan horse? Under no circumstances.

Hubner acknowledged that her strong support for NATO stems from the fact that there is currently no alternative to the North Atlantic alliance. She believes that cooperation between Europe and the U.S. is necessary "for the sake of international peace and stability," but also believes in a multipolar world and supports the development of a strong EU based on increased competitive ability, a clear political identity and a strong security policy.

Israel will be gaining a new friend on the commission, but it seems that Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder can also start smiling.