304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Poland has a chance to count in Europe again. He kind of missed the ones he received previously. What will he do now?
At the end of January, when energy prices exploded across Europe, Poland was overrun by billboards feeding Polish taxpayers the familiar narrative – Brussels is to blame. The campaign also received reinforcements from the state-owned utility companies, which also came up with the following message – about 60% of the increase in energy prices was the result of the European Union’s green policies. A gross exaggeration. In any case, the campaign was quietly buried after Russia invaded Ukraine, an event that once again sent energy prices soaring. Well, this time the country’s bigwigs have found a scarier scapegoat to blame, and their new refrain has become “putinflation.”
For years, Poland had something to share with the European institutions. The European Commission criticizes it for violating democratic norms, Poland being pointed at for undermining the independence of the judicial system by the political class, for discriminating against those with a different sexual orientation or for the actions of intimidation of the press and violation of its freedom. Recently he put another black ball in the law, declaring abortion illegal (with a few exceptions).
All these criticisms have angered the nationalist-conservative government led by PiS (Law and Justice Party), in power since 2015. Warsaw has likened Brussels politicians to former Soviet leaders and believes that some European laws have no reason to be imposed. In response, Brussels blocked a series of subsidies allocated to Poles.
All this was valid before the war. With the invasion starting on February 24, a “metaphorical peace” settled inside the European Union. Everyone is behaving nicely. In June, the European Commission announced that it will soon unlock 35 billion euros, part of the European economic recovery package after the pandemic totaling 750 billion euros, from which other member countries have already started to consume.
That the EU has promised to unlock the sum regardless of Poland’s efforts to fix its judicial system actually reflects Poland’s new status – if until recently it was the European Union’s black sheep, it is now its star. Poland has become a hub for arms transit to Ukraine and refuge for millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war (and many will likely settle in Poland).
Poland’s warnings that Vladimir Putin’s Russia poses an existential threat to Europe have long been dismissed as background noise. Now the harbingers are calling. All the while, Poland was building facilities to import liquefied natural gas, while Germany was cutting its gross domestic product (GDP) defense allocations and building a gas pipeline with Russia, exposing itself directly to the antics of the Russian president.
The improvement of relations between the EU and Poland explains the current unity of the European bloc. It’s just not something lasting.
One reason is that Poland remains far from the countries that really rule Europe – France and Germany (“Old Europe”). Europe must somehow ensure its own security, is the conclusion of the Franco-German tandem in the context of the war in Ukraine.
Poland, however, believes that the only guarantor of Europe’s security is NATO (ie the USA). Both President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki harshly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic attempts (by phone) to mediate with Vladimir Putin. It becomes clear that Warsaw cannot maintain cordial relations with the Elysée leader with such messages.
A second reason – Brussels might get bored of Poland. The conciliatory approach of the Eurocrats of late was partly aimed at isolating Hungary, which for years formed an illiberal axis with Poland. Relations between the two cooled further after Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, proved too close to Russia for Poland’s liking. But even in isolation, Orbán is causing trouble – after Poland dropped its objections to the agreement on imposing a global minimum corporate tax rate, Hungary used its own veto.
For a real rapprochement between Brussels and Warsaw, the ideal would be for the government in Warsaw to change, with much of the opposition being solidly pro-European. But the context of the war in Ukraine politically strengthened the position of PiS before the elections next fall.
Jarosław Kaczyn´ski, the PiS leader, is also the country’s de facto leader and will continue to be, and that will limit Poland’s influence in the European Union. The Ministry of Justice still has the final say in appointing or dismissing judges. The government uses this lever as a political club, only it does so at a huge political and economic price for Poland’s reputation in the European Union space, notes an article dedicated by Carnegie Europe to Poland’s new role in the context of the war. Poland’s interest is to have access to money. Therefore, it would be normal to repair its internal slippages. If it succeeds, it would be a major step for Warsaw, and its real influence in the European bloc will increase massively.
So far, however, Poland has failed to live up to the ambitions others have had for it. At one time, enlightened minds of Europe hoped that the Franco-German axis would be replaced by the Franco-German-Polish triad, in which Poland would represent the interests of the eastern flank of the European bloc, comments The Economist. It didn’t happen before PiS either. That’s because he preferred local alliances – see the Visegrád group, with Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, in which, yes, he plays the leading role, but which as a group matters little when it comes to the general direction of the European Union.
Previous pro-European governments have given Poland a harder say in the bloc’s affairs, notes Paweł Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations. But the fact that he remained on the periphery of the club – he did not join the Eurozone, for example – amputated his influence.
A wiser government could use the country’s new prominence to turn it into a pan-European influence player. Poland has played its cards well lately, but if we look at the history of PiS, they know how to choose their battles, not their partners.
In May, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, reiterated that Europe must change if it wants to be prepared for the future full of dangers.
PRAGMATISM. The Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, proposed to amend the EU treaties so as to allow Europe a wider expansion (Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and the states of the Western Balkans), by adopting a “pragmatic and ideal federalism”. CHANGES. Revising the treaties to improve decision-making mechanisms (abandoning the unanimity principle in favor of the qualified majority) would no longer allow rebel governments to undermine vital policies for Europe.
This article appeared in issue 144 of . magazine.