Arriving in London at the end of August, was like ‘returning home’ for the new Ambassador of Poland, His Excellency Witold Sobków, as he was here in 1993 as deputy head of mission. He has returned with his wife, Iwona, and their two children. Excited by the opportunities ahead, the Ambassador says ‘London gives you a global perspective, which is why the city is so fascinating. There is a standard of diplomatic expertise here that does not exist elsewhere.’
Despite 12 years passing, ‘London hasn’t changed too much, although everything is far more globalised now.’ But he is aware that there is plenty of work to do: ‘I must get to know all the new people, institutions and think tanks before I can really feel at home’
After graduating from Warsaw University in 1979, working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not an option because it required co-operating with the regime. ‘I wanted a free profession, so I taught at Warsaw University, preparing my own programme of teaching and examinations.’ After the ‘Solidarity Revolution’ in 1989 marking the end of the People’s Republic of Poland and the beginning of real democracy, in 1991 the Ambassador began his diplomatic career in the European Department. His first posting was as Deputy Head of Mission in London, and then as the Ambassador to Ireland from 2002-06, eventually becoming Poland’s Permanent Representative to the UN in 2010.
‘The UN is a very special place; we did not just deal with foreign affairs, defence and security, but also with the environment, sustainable development, transport and health,’ he recalls. ‘In Europe, we focus on our work in the EU, but at the UN, there are 193 members, and you realise that although influential, the EU only consists of 27 member states. The UN was multilateral diplomacy at its best. We tried to help the world.’
As Ambassador in the UK, his primary goal is to secure an EU budget ‘that will be advantageous to Poland and other countries of Central Europe.’ He is acutely aware of the importance of funds for the infrastructure and development of Poland, but also keen to emphasise the benefits for the UK: ‘with investment, with EU funds, there will be more opportunities for British companies in Poland, creating jobs for British people.’
Also on the agenda is a Banking Union. ‘To observe The City and its reactions is crucial, because it is the financial centre of Europe.’ On the economic side of things, he will be promoting Polish trade and investment in the UK, and encouraging British investment in Poland. ‘Of course, we’ll also be analysing the economic situation here, and will draw appropriate conclusions.’
Ambassador Sobków must also look after the Polish community in the UK. As well as the traditional Polish community who remained after World War II, ‘because of the free movement of people within the EU,’ he explains, ‘today there is a new generation of successful Poles living and working in the UK. We are very grateful to the British government for opening the labour market on 1 May 2004.’
Ambassador Sobków is undoubtedly proud of his country’s successes. In terms of development, Poland has moved from being a beneficiary to a donor of foreign aid. He recalls how the Westminster Foundation for Democracy helped Poland in the past. ‘Now we are helping a number of countries through the Eastern Partnership.’ Initiated by Poland in cooperation with Sweden, the forum ‘prepares these Eastern European countries for their eventual membership of the EU.’
‘Furthermore,’ he continues, ‘after 1989, we had three foreign policy aims all of which we managed to achieve: membership of NATO (1999); membership of the EU (2004) and friendly relations with our neighbours (Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.)’ He continues: ‘The focus now is on shaping the institutions we are members of. As part of the big six EU countries, (Poland, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain,) the Visegrád Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) or with the Nordic countries and the three Baltic countries, Poland is integral to their future development.’ With such an intimate knowledge and experience of his country’s development, Ambassador Sobków is the ideal man to pursue Poland’s goals in London.