Apr 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Polish leader says U.S. must show democracy's resilience

European Commission member Radosław Sikorski is seen while speaking.
Radosław Sikorski. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Donald Trump's tumultuous presidency and the Jan. 6 Capitol assault are signals that people are “less enamored” by democracy, a former Polish foreign minister who has the ear of the White House and Congress tells Axios.

Why it matters: Radosław Sikorski, currently a member of the European Parliament, said it’s critical that democratic countries like the U.S. now showcase their resilience to the world.

  • “You had a heart attack," Sikorski said, "and it’s a signal you need to change your lifestyle.”
  • The solution is to make the political system more representative, especially in the Senate.

What they're saying: “We can only stand up to populists and to authoritarians around the world when our own house is more or less in order,” Sikorski told Axios, speaking about the United States and the European Union.

Sikorski is no political bystander.

  • Besides heading foreign affairs for a central European nation that was the scene of some of World War II's most gruesome battles and atrocities, he's currently chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the U.S.
  • Sikorski visited the White House and Capitol Hill during a trip to the U.S. this week.
  • He offered his opinion on those issues in private meetings with senior members of the White House and U.S. senators.

During an interview, Sikorski recommended considering governance like it's a business.

  • Part of why communism collapsed, he said, is because democracy outperformed.
  • "We need to show the world, including our democratic allies, that democracies can retain this ability to remake themselves ... and that they can provide a rising standard of living for the population."
  • One facet of this for the US. is signaling its rivalry with China loudly, and sending a message to allies like Turkey, Poland and Hungary.
  • "Either you're with us — including your rule of law and politics inside your own country — or you will be easy pickings for the other side," he said.

On Putin, Sikorski encouraged President Biden to continue to be tough on the Russian president while he dispatches more troops to the Ukrainian border.

  • It would be premature to enact sanctions now, Sikorski said, but Biden "started well with clarity and truth" and should make clear exactly what the United States would do if Russia increases its encroachment.
  • Among those options are supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, imposing an embargo on the import of oil and gas and sanctioning oligarchs.
  • "All of that put together, I think, would inconvenience President Putin a bit," Sikorski said.
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