Piotr Maciej Kaczyński, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, said Poland did not care much about the two presidencies that will follow – Denmark and Cyprus – and was only interested in its own six-month stint that ends on 31 December.
The Danes, who succeed Poland in the rotating EU presidency, developed an interest for European affairs only after a recent election, so they have not been involved in setting up common goals, Kaczyński told a Brussels audience yesterday (20 December).
The researcher was even less apologetic over Cyprus, the divided island country that joined the EU in 2004 and which will hold its first EU presidency in the second half of 2012.
"The Cypriots are paralysed because the challenges are enormous for their tiny public administration, and because of the political giant looming over their head – Turkey,"Kaczyński said.
Turkey warned of freezing ties with the EU presidency if Cyprus assumed the post in July 2012 without a solution to the island's divisions. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay was quoted that Ankara would even consider freezing its relations with the EU, despite his country's relentless efforts to join the European club.
Kaczyński said that the Cypriots had been "unwilling" to cooperate with the Poles and Danes.
'Nobody interested' in cooperating
"Nobody in fact was interested. They had those 14 preparatory meetings or so – nice – and produced an 18-months programme, but it's not their programme, it's the Commission's," he said.
The CEPS researcher spoke on the occasion of the publication of his study "Polish Council Presidency 2011 – Ambitions and Limitations" by the Swedish Institute for European policy Studies (Sieps).
Speaking about the preparations of Poland for its presidency, he said Warsaw had basically refused to take advice from Hungary, which held the presidency beforehand. "Hungarians were saying: Now we have this knowledge, we would like to share it with the incoming [Polish] presidency. And some Hungarian diplomats were disappointed that the Poles were not eager to take up those experiences. But Poles were taking lessons from somebody else".
He said that Poland had worked very closely with Germany and the Council secretariat while preparing its turn.
Hungary itself came under attack during its six-month EU stint in the first half of 2011 for the handling of domestic affairs, including a controversial media law that critics said restricted press freedom.
Good soldiers, not generals
The Poles had been "good soldiers in the army fighting the crisis, but not generals," Kaczyński said. As Poland is not a member of the eurozone, it was prevented from attendingEurogroup meetings. At one meeting in July Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski was allowed to take part as representing the country holding the presidency, but afterwards members of the Eurogroup objected to the practice, he said.
"Poland saw that not all doors in the EU are open," Kaczyński said, warning that the same was expected with Denmark, which opted out of the single currency after voters rejected the euro in a 2000 referendum, and Cyprus, which is not a member of the Schengen border-free area. Denmark's Schengen relationship is also of a particular kind, as it is conducted on an intergovernmental basis.
Only one agenda item in six months
Poland never had an impact on the European Council agenda, with one exception, Kaczyński said. Namely it was able to convince European Council President Herman VanRompuy to put Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to Schengen on the agenda of an EU Council meeting in September. But the attempt failed as Finland and the Netherlands vetoed Schengen enlargement.
And when it comes to international prestige, the EU presidency didn't provide much prominence to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Kaczyński said.
"The biggest platform for Tusk to shine was the Eastern partnership summit," held in September in Warsaw. But the summit was only a partial success, as it was marred by tensions with Belarus.
On the positive side, the main objective of Poland during the presidency was to improve its position in the EU and this goal has been reached, Kaczyński stressed.
"You cannot do a spectacular job in Europe. If you think you can, you are doomed to fail," he said.