Robin Barnett

Ambassador to Poland, Warsaw

22nd May 2012 Warsaw, Poland

Polish-British round table in Krakow

Guest blog by Iain Stewart, Head of Political at the British Embassy Warsaw.

My name is Iain Stewart. I lead the political team within the UK Embassy in Warsaw.

What does that mean? Our main role is to explain and promote UK government thinking on the EU and international agenda to a Polish audience. To do this effectively, it is vital that we understand where Poland is coming from too. This means working closely with our Polish counterparts, particularly in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. But not only government. We also engage with business, the media and research institutes and ‘think-tanks.’ [The point of all of this is to foster a close bilateral relationship with Poland, a country with whom we share history and much common thinking on the big issues of the day.]

I had the opportunity to do this at the Polish British Round Table, held just over a week ago in the classical surroundings of Vila Decius. The Round Table is an annual gathering of intellectuals, commentators and political figures from the UK and Poland. Unusually, it predates the fall of communism in Poland, having first taken place in the early 1980s – a very different political climate.

An unashamedly select affair, it consists of around 20-30 participants, by invitation only – which lends it kudos. The organisers include the Centre of European Studies in Oxford (Prof Timothy Garton Ash is one of the leading participants), demosEuropa (a think-tank based in Warsaw) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (based in London). Participants included Lord Patten, George Eustice MP and Emma Reynolds, Shadow Europe Minister, as well as several EU and foreign policy experts. Polish attendees included two former Foreign Ministers, along with leading economists and political advisers.

What actually happened? Well, there is no doubt that this was largely a talking shop. But a fascinating and useful talking shop nonetheless. It was a chance to exchange views and challenge assumptions around some of the big contemporary issues facing us. Such as: how can Poland and the UK – as two countries outside the Eurozone – work together to overcome the economic crisis? Is German fiscal discipline going too far? Or not far enough? Are we doing enough to drive innovation and create economic growth? (Answer: we all need to do more.) More broadly, what does the crisis mean for the future of Europe? And, looking beyond Europe, what are the opportunities and risks from a rising China?

Europe – and perceptions over the UK’s approach to the EU – generated some sparky exchanges. One UK participant questioned the EU’s effectiveness, arguing that the whole ‘project’ should be radically reformed – otherwise, the argument went, those voices calling for the UK to withdraw from the EU would become louder and stronger. Many Poles – and several Brits – in the room found this hard to take.

It is certainly a view at odds with the UK government’s stance, which remains committed to positive engagement in the EU. But we do not see the EU as beyond criticism. Where we see room for improvement in how or what the EU does, we will not hesitate to push for better results.

Poland largely shares this view, but it struck me that Polish policy makers sound increasingly evangelical about Europe. And whilst I am sure that most ordinary Poles want to see Poland operating at the heart of Europe, shaping its future, many of them also have fundamental questions about the nature and direction of the EU, especially at a time of economic crisis. Just like in the UK, people want to see Europe making a difference to our shared prosperity and security interests.

Beneath the headlines, these are issues on which the UK and Polish governments have much in common. We collaborate closely on EU issues, like how to improve the single market; drive economic growth; agree sensible, business-friendly social and employment legislation; deliver an effective policy towards Ukraine and Belarus; and – perhaps more surprisingly – reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). We also have a flourishing trade relationship, boosted by the 40,000 Polish-run businesses operating in the UK.

So there is a positive story to tell. This annual meeting in Krakow is part of this. It creates a space for a thoughtful, serious debate. The event closed with a lovely dinner in Kazimierz, the historic Jewish district of Krakow. Where, despite (or because of?) the availability of 70% proof Polish vodka, a spirit of mutual respect and understanding prevailed.

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About Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett arrived in Warsaw on 4 July 2011 to take up his
appointment as British Ambassador to Poland. His previous career has
concentrated on Central and Eastern Europe and multi-lateral diplomacy.
This is his third posting to Poland which he remembers from the times of
both martial law and NATO accession. Robin’s third arrival coincides
with Poland’s first ever EU Presidency. The Ambassador presented his
credentials to President Bronislaw Komorowski on 19 September 2011.
Born in 1958, Robin studied Law at Birmingham University and
then joined the FCO in 1980 as Desk Officer for Indonesia and the
Philippines. His first posting to Poland was in 1982-85 as Third and
later Second Secretary. Robin then returned to London for five years to
work as Desk Officer at ECD and Security Policy Department. Between 1990
and 1995 he served as First Secretary at the UK Delegations in Vienna
and New York. In 1996-1998 Robin was back in London as Deputy Head of
the Eastern Adriatic Department at the FCO. Then came his second posting
to Poland, this time as Deputy Head of Mission. He left Warsaw in 2001
to work in the Afghanistan Emergency Unit at the FCO.Between 2002 and
2006 Robin wasDirector of UK Visas and was subsequently appointed Her
Majesty’s Ambassador to Romania. During his four-year mission Robin
witnessed Romania’s accession to the European Union, 17 years after the
fall of Communism. Immediately before his appointment as Her Majesty’s
Ambassador to Poland Robin was Managing Director of the Business Group
in UK Trade and Investment where his main focus included Inward
Investment, the English trade development network and corporate
On his appointment Robin has said “I am truly delighted to be
returning to a country that I know so well and have a deep respect for.
The UK and Poland already have a strong relationship and there are close
ties between our two peoples. My main aims will be to help develop
further our forward looking partnership and to promote British interests
in Poland.”
Robin has a son and a stepson and is a great admirer of Sir Alex
Ferguson. His favourite football team can be no other than Manchester

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