Poland in the EU: 2nd-class European leader

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The experience of the Polish EU presidency in 2011 shows how the Lisbon Treaty has made the Council presidencies politically irrelevant and how the economic crisis has pushed countries outside of the eurozone into political insignificance, writes Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski.

Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski is a research fellow and head of programme at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels. The following was originally published here.

"?The Polish officials executed the presidency effectively with full commitment and thorough preparation, although they were doing it for the first time. And still, they have fallen short with any political weight. There was no added value in their leverage over the European Council.

Their leverage over the Euro group was non-existent. Initiative to participate in the Euro group meeting was denied. And towards the end of the term, Union was politically cut: UK vs. Everybody Else turned soon after into Eurozone Minus vs. Non-eurozone Members of the Fiscal Compact.

The Czech Republic and the UK are already on the margins. At best, Poles were soldiers in the war on the crisis in the eurozone (i.e., work they performed on the Six-Pack on the economic governance), but they were not among the generals who met on 21 July or 26 October during the eurozone summits.

The official priorities for the Polish Council Presidency had three headlines: economy, security and openness. Life, however, has strongly redefined the priority list. The most important dossier during these six months turned out to be the Six Pack. Its successful adoption in early fall was an important step in the EU’s fight with the crisis.

Among other key decisions taken (or not) were: status of European patents, the debate on the Schengen rules and the Schengen enlargement to Romania and Bulgaria (lack of), the beginning of the debate on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework, the adoption of the annual 2012 budget, and the end of UN climate negotiations in Durban in December.

Also the decision on the inclusion of Kaliningrad in the visa-free regime, the end of trade negotiations with Ukraine and start of free trade talks with Georgia and Moldova were significant. Signature of the Croat accession treaty was one of the most visible events. The other was Foreign Minister Sikorski's speech in Berlin in November when he urged Germany to act to save the euro.

This speech has lifted the position of Poland among German political elite. The speech was a culmination of the Poles’ aspirations to voice their uncompromising pro-Europeanness coupled with emerging economy and political activity.

The Poles passed the “maturity test” of the presidency. There were no major problems. The position of the country has increased in Europe. The biggest problem, however, was that the Presidency turned irrelevant in the most important of struggles: how not to be marginalised in today’s Europe?

The answer seems simple: enter the eurozone. However, as one decision maker put it, now entrance to the eurozone is toxic. Since the only real way out of marginalisation is a not available, Poland’s strategy in the years to come will be to try to square the circle."

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