Adieu, Pologne? Poland’s Position in the EU

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Poland ruled by the Law and Justice (PiS) party is perceived as one of the disintegrating elements of the European community. As such, it constitutes a threat for the future of Europe.

The parliamentary election was the most significant event of the Polish politics of the year 2019 – not only for Poles. The governments and citizens of all western European countries watched its results carefully.

For many, these were to serve as a turning point, in a way, as they would show whether Poland is yet to become the next Hungary, or maybe the years 2015-2019 were a mere mistake and that liberal democracy may quickly be restored after removing an authoritarian political party from power.

Not hiding well enough the hope for a change in power in Poland, the EU partners and institutions were significantly engaged in the Polish matters – which is rather atypical given the upheld democratic standards.

The European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union were strongly focused on putting a stop or delaying the actions of the Polish government aimed at departing from the norms of a state governed by the rule of law.

The point was to create such conditions for a quick restoration of a healthy system so as to keep Polish citizens aware that change which occurred in the Polish politics in 2019 would allow Poland to return to its position in the European debate it used to hold in the years 2007-2015. A position of a European power that can influence the direction of the European politics, both in terms of geopolitics (the relations between Europe and Vladimir Putin’s Russia), finances (solving the debt crisis), and, in the future, maybe also energy.

After the Election

With electing the PiS government for the second time in a row, the hope for ending the crisis in the country ended. The political reality hates a void and any further delay of the ongoing processes from their further development in a hope that Poland shall return to the center of the political debate on the future of Europe seems futile.

Poles, this time fully aware of the objectives of the PiS party in terms of the systemic changes, gave the party a political mandate for the next four years anyway.

For Western Europe, this is a signal that the Polish society has not internalized the values and norms of liberal democracy. Which means that in a long-term perspective Poland, just like Hungary, and likely also Romania and Bulgaria – possibly the Czech Republic and Slovakia too – will not be desirable partners for the project of European integration.

The election results in Poland (together with the forthcoming Brexit) are yet another signal that encourages taking concrete steps by the supporters of building a closely integrated European Union based on over a dozen of Western European states.

European Perspective

From the point of view of the western part of the continent it’s rational politics. Opinion leaders realize that the populist and authoritarian virus is not a phenomenon reserved solely to Central Europe, and its early and strong development in the region stems from the fact that the pillars of regional, relatively young democracies, are still too weak.

The elites in France, Germany, the Netherlands, or Denmark are perfectly aware of the populist threat in their own backyards. They know that the events in Poland and Hungary are a part of a global crisis of liberal democracy and capitalism.

They do believe, however, that they are capable of isolating themselves from the immediate danger from the east and save the future of the European project by means of separating the countries that are the most infected and creating a de facto new Union amongst themselves.

Especially, since the far-right populism in western Europe has a rather different face than the one we all know. In a cultural and axiological sense, that kind of populism is a product of liberal, individualist civilization, even if it is also no stranger to chauvinism and xenophobia.

The populism in eastern Europe borrows a lot in terms of philosophy from other countries, while also talking about the moral corruption of the West, believes in subjecting an individual to tradition and social rules, whereas traditionally goes to an orthodox church.

In theory, nobody can be expelled from the EU, and formally each member will remain in it. This does not mean, however, that by means of a deeper integration of some EU members it’s impossible to create a political and institutional framework for a new EU, thus allowing its old version to drift away and lose its importance altogether.

The steps towards such a solution should be taken already in 2020. The need for introducing them has already been emphasized by the president of France – the leader of one of the strongest EU countries, which is far less interested in the future of the Central European states.

France Has a Different Idea

The fact that Emmanuel Macron has welcomed the possibility of starting a dialogue with Russia is a natural consequence of discarding the vision of further European integration of all EU members.

Since in Hungary, and soon likely also in Poland, the situation is headed towards introducing an authoritarian system similar to that in Russia, then why should Paris have Warsaw’s back in traditional geopolitical conflicts? Why would it, since France could gain so much more, both economically and financially, by developing an investment and trade partnership with Moscow?

Why punish Mr Putin for the Russian aggression in Ukraine, while even Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor that should care about supporting its interests in the EU the most, abandoned the idea of a close partnership with this state and instead prefers to quarrel over history and events from 70 years ago?

Are, therefore, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands to try to convince the Polish government to quit being petty in order to reach the strategic goal of getting Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence?

Abandoning a pro-Polish perspective towards Russia is even easier politically in light of the fact that Poland is currently (together with other Baltic states that are in a rather precarious position due to the sheer size and influence of the Russian minority) are the only country in Central Europe that fears Russia instead of doing business with it.

Keeping the Polish elites, which are historically wary of over-confident Russia, feel comfortable is not enough to convince the western Europe to maintain a rather cool relations with Kremlin for, let’s say, another decade.

After all, Poland is a partner that calls on these states to make sacrifices in terms of their economy and foregoing the opportunities that the Russian market gives, and instead offers taking a passive approach and cultivating désintéressément towards developing the power of the European project, threatens with blocking these plans, uses offensive rhetoric towards other EU countries, keeps demonstrating its loyalty towards the U.S president who is perceived as a serious threat to Europe and supports Brexit, and seems to be copying the Russian model in its internal politics…

What’s Next for Poland (and Russia)?

Poland ruled by the Law and Justice (PiS) party is perceived as one of the disintegrating elements of the European community. As such, it constitutes a threat for the future of Europe. Another threat is posed, of course, by Russia – with its propaganda, interfering in political and electoral processes of many states. Donald Trump’s administration is the third danger – with its ideological background and Steve Bannon’s ideas.

Emmanuel Macron and other politicians like him view this combination of dangerous factors as a direct threat to their own political careers, as nowadays, all western European leaders have to struggle with their national versions of Le Pen, Wilders, Hofer, Salvini, AfD, or VOX.

The idea President Macron harbors assumes pushing Poland and other corrupted eastern Balkan states out, waiting out Donald Trump’s presidency (and making preparations in case the next U.S. president was to share similar views), and in the meantime inviting Mr Putin to doing business. The core of the EU (a new EU?) would thus serve as a means to achieve this goal.

This core shall be built around an extremely useful tool – the eurozone (making the introduction of euro a pre-condition for inviting member states to join the core of the EU, which allows for eliminating all unwelcome states except for Slovakia; Denmark and Sweden could be invited to join on “special terms”) and developing a common security policy (the European army) on their own terms, with Washington having no say in its shape and form.

Moreover, pursuing joint economic interests would create a chance to force Mocsow to abandon its current media agenda, using bots, etc. so as not to be hang up on dividing the EU and financing far-right opposition and separatist movements in western Europe.

For Russia, reinstating its sphere of influence in Central Europe (with the exception of the Baltic states) and gradual reduction of the Kremlin’s belief that the far right is capable of taking over the power in one of the larger western countries and that it’s able to maintain a stable government at the same time really changing this country’s political course, would help self-pacify Moscow’s ambitions and establish a new modus vivendi between the West and East.

According to this scenario, the future of Poland looks rather grim. Only a relatively quick reaction of the PiS government to the geopolitical situation and a changing course of the European politics would be the solution to the identified threats.

In 2020, the only thing that could shake the Polish government’s beliefs would be the defeat of Donald Trump in the presidential election.

If the White House was to be taken over by Joe Biden, Elisabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg, this would have a serious impact on the international strategy of Law and Justice.

It would have to face either a sudden drop of interest of the U.S. in what’s happening in Central Europe; adopting once again a stricter stance towards the Polish “reforms” of the judiciary after the year 2015; or a return to supporting the idea of further European integration – which, for the most part, would be in line with Emmanuel Macron’s agenda.

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by Olga Łabendowicz