Trans-Europe Express: Pre-war Europe blues

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 cynicism was undeniable. Just as the Commission announced it was taking the second step in an infringement procedure against Poland over the reform of its justice system, legal experts associated with the PiS government announced that the country could still demand reparations from Germany for its occupation during World War Two.

The issue, of course, had been settled long before. But, as though he were making a threat, Poland’s Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, stated that ‘further analysis’ was needed before any claims could be made. Nevertheless, “They should take place to inform the German side about the enormity of destruction it has caused,” he warned.

The threat should have been expected. Stock appeals to history are common to Poland’s retro Law and Justice Party. It’s a predictably nationalist party of grievance, mining the numerous injustices suffered by the Polish people during the 20th century to legitimate its rollback of the country’s post-communist democracy.

The problem is that the PiS tend to pick its battles smartly. Not, insofar as they are winnable. Rather, because they are so hard to argue with. Few analysts would deny, for example, that if it weren’t for the legacy of the Nazis, many of the problems between the EU and its Central European member states would be as pronounced as they are today.

At least insofar as the European Union, and its most influential member state, Germany, have come to stand for liberal democracy. Without a doubt, an incensed Berlin-Brussels axis will prevail, and right-wing Poles will have more to add to their arsenal of bitterness about their powerlessness.

But losing is still winning, according to the PiS formula.

The issue, unfortunately, is much larger than that. And neither the Germans, nor Poles, will go there. Not because they don’t understand it, but because the issue is less amenable to the clickbait that the Polish call for reparations is. But Warsaw’s WWII nostalgia is still an opening, and shouldn’t be ignored, either.

Ideologically speaking, the Second World War remains the single most important historical reference point for Central Europe. Particularly in Poland, and Hungary, both run by governments yearning for a type of local politics that predates communism and democracy.

Tellingly, the most recognisable manifestation of that politics is fascism.

Though the Polish government will not go out of its way to promote Nazi collaborators like the Hungarians do, it espouses a similarly anti-democratic nationalism that’s functionally indistinguishable.

Demanding that the Germans cough up more cash to pay for their crimes is Warsaw’s own way of sanitising itself, of saying to the West that it is actually not responsible for the politics that it professes.

It’s a clever move, as it asks outsiders to pity Poland, and allow it special dispensation for its bad politics.

But, even more significantly, it points to the fact that newer member states drifting towards the dark side, like Poland, like Hungary, never came to terms with their past, and don’t know how to communicate it to the West otherwise.

 

The Inside Track

Creeping Westernisation. Belgrade’s annual Pride Week began on Monday and will end with a march on Sunday. Pride parades were held over the past few years with strong security measures and, in the meantime, Serbia elected a gay prime minister.

Locals only. The Czech Republic has not relocated a single refugee for more than a year and remains in breach of its legal obligations. And the Czech position remains the same despite the Court of Justice ruling supporting the Commission’s migrant relocation policy.

Central Europe is so 1939. Pro-European EU members Bulgaria and Romania were overwhelmed with attention in Commission President’s Jean-Claude Juncker State of the Union speech on Wednesday. In contrast, Poland, l‘enfant terrible of the EU, was not mentioned a single time.

It’s in the Water. European Union funding has been well spent on improving drinking water quality by Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors. But a funding gap could undermine progress made so far.

And they pick on headscarves. Freedom to live by the values of religious faith is protected in the EU treaties under Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. But it remains a legal grey area across the EU.

Brexit is good. Chubb, America’s biggest insurer, announced it will move it’s European operations to France after the UK leaves the EU. This is good news for Paris, who’d only been able to capture British bank HSBC so far.

Warning to Waitrose: Frozen pizza fans beware. The European Commission has called on the UK to guarantee the protection of food products labelled with the EU’s geographical indications after Brexit.

Communist healthcare. Athens’ decision to claim the European Medicine Agency’s relocation from London sends a message that medicine is “not just a commodity but a social good”, Greece’s Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georgios Katrougalos, told EURACTIV.com.

More about Italians and food. Italy is seeking to reintroduce a requirement to specify the production site on the labels of transformed food products, in fresh defiance of Brussels’ food rules after unilaterally mandating country of origin on pasta and rice labels last August.

Caught on tape. “The CDU has only one programme: Angela Merkel,” Martin Schulz told EURACTIV media partner Ouest-France. “It is meaningless, with no plan, no idea for the future. Germany can do better.”

Pierogi power. Poland’s on-going large-scale investment in three new coal-fired power plants may be the country’s last fossil fuel venture, its energy minister said last week, indicating a possible energy shift in the EU’s largest eastern member amid revived plans to embrace nuclear power.