Trans-Europe Express: Polish democracy

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

The first news reports didn’t reveal much. The two governments had agreed to ‘mend fences’, and engage in closer cooperation. But otherwise, their details sounded a little too press release, leaving the impression that the German chancellor’s visit to Warsaw on Tuesday hadn’t gone too well, and that spin control was in effect

The suspicion was confirmed the day after Angela Merkel’s visit, when the power behind Poland’s right-wing government, PiS party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski, told Polish media that a ‘two-speed Europe’ would lead to the “breakdown, and in fact the liquidation, of the European Union in its current sense”.

The reference was obviously pointed. In Malta last week, Merkel said that European leaders may commit to a union of “different speeds” when they spell out the future of the EU at a summit in Rome in March. Kaczynski clearly isn’t down with the German agenda, and made it clear that discussions on the topic, in Warsaw, had not gone well.

Merkel’s visit to Warsaw had obviously failed. The Polish government had yet to be fully persuaded to abandon its insistence on returning powers to national capitals within the Union, and, in terms of domestic politics, cease its attacks on its own democratic institutions, in particular, its free press, and the rule of law.

Here’s the rub: If the Germans can’t lean on the Poles, no one can.  Does Berlin even have such a right? No, but with obvious qualifications. As a sovereign state, Warsaw’s decisions about its political direction, and whether it wants to remain a democracy, are its own. Berlin has no say, and neither does Brussels. To a point, that is.

Germany is the qualified exception. The two country’s political histories closely overlap, and continue to influence each other in ways that transcend their borders. Not just through their common membership in the EU and NATO, but in their near-century long struggles with authoritarianism, imposed by both fascism and communism.

This, by itself, is the basis for a far more profound and ongoing dialogue, than political circumstances might suggest, and one that, perhaps exerts too much influence, at specific times. Indeed there is a sense that Poland must always reject ‘too much’ outside influence, if only as a historical reflex. The response is understandable, even if it defies reason.

Not everything foreign is negative, though, and there are certain facets of German leadership Poland could still learn from. Berlin may be a hegemon with the EU, and exercise too much power. But, in matters concerning the eastern member states, it is a more mature democratic, constitutional state, with a healthy economy, that is equally rooted in the region.

When looking at the Polish government’s reluctance to adhere to German diktats, it’s impossible not to take such factors into account, particularly as Warsaw drifts further to the right. However, it’s equally beholden to both Berlin, and Brussels, to understand that Poland’s horizons are what they are, and that it will take a lot more work to free Polish politics from its history.


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Russia and Belarus remained allies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but their relationship has soured lately. In an all-too-familiar rejoinder, Minsk is accusing Moscow of reinstating border controls. EURACTIV Germany reports.

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European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to improve conditions for migrants stuck in detention centres in strife-torn Libya. According to Matthew Tempest, the ministers made a point of condemning the abuse of migrants.

Six of Germany’s 16 regions have suspended deportations of failed asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Recently declared a “safe” country by the federal government, the message being sent to Berlin is loud and clear.

Compared to 2015, the number of refugees who tried to enter the European Union last year decreased significantly. Thank the Hungarians, and the Turks. EURACTIV Czech Republic partner Aktualne reports.

Despite a wave of similar grassroots anti-government protests around the world, the roots of the uprising in Romania lie in the political and economic failures of the country’s post-communist transition, writes Bogdan Enache.

The mass demonstrations that have swept Romania since 29 January are the start of a revolution, the likes of which has not been seen since the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Octavian Milewski told EURACTIV Poland.

Spain’s prime minister told Donald Trump that he would be the ideal point of contact for Washington in Europe and Latin America, as well as for providing a bridge between the US and North Africa, and the Middle East. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, both chose Lyon to officially launch their presidential campaigns at the weekend (4 February). Europe emerged as the central issue in the campaign, says EURACTIV France.

Buoyed by a bump in the polls, ex-European Parliament President Martin Schulz will run against Angela Merkel in the autumn. Do Germans think his increase in popularity is for real? EURACTIV partner Der Tagesspiegel weighs up his chances.

Bulgarians will vote on 26 March in snap general elections. Georgi Gotev unpacks the poll through the eyes of a party leader who is hoping to pass the 4% threshold and win seats in the 240-member National Assembly.

Views are the author’s.

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