22 Jan. 1998


by NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana

Distinguished Members of the Polish Business Club, Ladies and Gentleman,

It is a great honour to receive this distinguished award. I understand that the Polish Business Club Oscar is awarded to people who have played an important role in furthering Poland's efforts of European integration. I am especially touched by your generosity and the confidence that you have placed in me.

The record of the Polish people in adapting to new times has been remarkable. Witness Poland's position in the European political arena today, the success of Poland's far-reaching political and economic reforms and your forward-looking approach to enhancing security in Europe. Without any doubt, none of this would have been possible without your strong determination to overcome the past and create a better future.

Organizations like yours attest to these changes. Since its founding in 1990, the Polish Business Club has played a key role in the development of business and entrepreneurship in Poland. Equally important, you have helped re-establish business ties between Polish companies and the large Polish community living abroad.

Your success is reflected in Poland's impressive economic performance over the last years. In the early 1990's, Poland was one of the initiators of bold economic reforms. And while these reforms have, at times, been painful, they have paid off. Today - with an average annual growth rate of over 6 percent - Poland is well ahead of many other economies in the region.

Economic reforms are only one facet of Poland's return to the European mainstream. The opening of your economy has gone hand in hand with your forward-looking foreign policy.

Besides reaching out to Western institutions, you have also reached out to your neighbours to enhance security and stability. Perhaps more so than at any time in this century, Poland today enjoys cooperative and stable relations with all of her neighbours. You have concluded bilateral treaties with Germany and Lithuania. You are an active player in the Baltic region, fostering regional cooperation and expanding commercial ties between Northern and Central Europe. And you have recognised the importance of solid relations with Russia.

These guiding principles of cooperation and transparency are at the heart of the new NATO. And more: cooperation has become the key strategic instrument for shaping security in the Euro-Atlantic area. It has allowed NATO to transform itself from a security-enhancing to a security-promoting institution in a relatively short period of time. The Alliance's numerous outreach activities and new initiatives attest to this transformation.

Poland has placed rapid integration into NATO and the EU at the top of her foreign policy priorities. Today, your country is on the verge of becoming a full member of NATO, with EU membership likely to follow in a few years time.

When we took the historic decision to invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to begin Accession talks with NATO last summer, it was because these three countries are best prepared to meet the obligations and responsibilities of Alliance membership.

It is in our interest to strengthen the Alliance by bringing in states that can enhance the security of existing Alliance members and help establish greater stability in the region. It is in our interest to see democratic and economic reforms continue to succeed in Poland and across the whole of Europe. And it is in our interest to promote good neighbourly relations, and closer cooperation among all countries.

In today's security environment, NATO enlargement is about expanding a community of nations that share common values and beliefs. A larger NATO, with more democratic countries committed to enhancing peace and stability, will make the Alliance stronger and more secure.

NATO has underscored that the process of enlargement will continue and that we will review this process again in 1999. Without any doubt, Poland's recent achievements already serve as an incentive for other Central and Eastern European democracies that have expressed a desire to join the Alliance. Encouraged by the example of your success, they are maintaining the course of economic and political reform.

Only a month ago, NATO Foreign Ministers signed the Accession Protocols for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the words of your Foreign Minister, it was a unique event in the history of your country, bringing Poland closer to being permanently anchored in Western security structures.

The signing of the Accession Protocols has paved the way for ratification of enlargement by the Parliaments of the sixteen NATO states. Much work remains to be done before you become a full member of the Alliance. Our goal is to welcome you in 1999. But together, we will make productive use of the time between now and then to continue to modernize your armed forces, to make them interoperable with their NATO counterparts, and to associate your country ever more closely with NATO's political and military bodies.

In the months ahead, we must also raise the level of our public diplomacy. The Polish people's support for NATO membership remains overwhelming, but misconceptions about the Alliance and its new roles still linger, in NATO member states and Partner countries alike. Discussion about the future of European security is not only for politicians. It is for the people themselves. My thanks go out to the Polish business community. You have been one of the strongest supporters of Poland's entry into the Alliance.

You are the first to know that security in today's world depends not only on defence and military considerations but also on economic strength and stability. Poland's membership of NATO will allow your country to realize its full potential, in a Europe that is free and without dividing lines. Once again, thank you for the privilege of being here with you today and having received this distinguished award. Together, in an enlarged Alliance, we shall start the new century in hope and confidence.

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