Poland’s Vision of EU Future: a Non-Federalist Consensus?

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

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The subject of the ongoing conference on the future of Europe is the reform of the European Union. The debate is covering both institutional changes and modifications to individual policies. The course of the conference to date, however, is not of interest on the continent, being also unnoticed by the public in Poland. All of this does not change the fact that the almost eighteen-year Poland’s membership is becoming an increasingly serious challenge for the EU, not only in respect of problems with the rule of law and liberal democracy, but also due to the attitude of the whole Polish political class to a possible EU reform.

Piotr Tosiek is Head of Department of Law and Institutions of the European Union at the University of Warsaw.

The analysis of the programmes of Polish parties shows that the European issues are limited there to the general assurance on the need to build Poland’s strong position in Europe or to emphasizing the role of EU funds. Observation of the statements of party representatives leads to the conclusion that their knowledge of EU mechanisms is limited or used for domestic purposes only.

The ruling party, that is the Law and Justice (with smaller coalition partners), supports the Union reduced to an organization that means little more than the customs union. Among the main slogans created by the intellectuals of the current government (Zdzisław Krasnodębski, Ryszard Legutko, Krzysztof Szczerski – some of them being MEPs) the concepts of “decentralized regional communities” and “intergovernmental democracy” come to the fore. The first idea is about the creation of strong subgroups of states within the EU, including the so-called Three Seas region led by Poland, and the second – about the introduction of veto rights for individual states at all levels of EU decision-making coupled with the marginalization of the European Parliament.

The energy transformation, with its operationalized programmes such as “Fit for 55” in particular, is perceived as a major threat to Poland’s economic growth. The main cultural threat is the “triumph of leftist ideology” with the rights of those belonging to all types of minorities.

Although the supporters of the governmental vision emphasize its convergence with the ideas of the “fathers of Europe” (recalling de Gasperi or Schuman), its essence is of an anti-EU nature, both politically and axiologically. This radical concept is challenged by the majority of the opposition parties with a major role played by the Civic Platform led by Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council and still the president of the EPP. However, the opposition is also sceptical of the EU federalisation, opting rather for the traditional community method, the slow reforms and the possible maintenance of the status quo.

Issues such as the European list in elections to the European Parliament, the Spitzenkandidaten formula or the application of the qualified majority in the CFSP, are present in an academic discourse only. Events such as the speech of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, at the German DGAP in 2011, in which he appeared to be supporting some federalist solutions, should be treated as incidents with no political weight and no further consequences.

Moreover, individual opposition representatives supporting the federalisation of the Union (Róża Thun, a MEP, being an example) remain on the margins of politics. At the same time, the supporters of EU membership definitely dominate in Polish population, often reaching the ninety percent threshold. Still, the vast majority perceives the Union mainly as a source of financial transfers or as an organization facilitating the free movement of persons.

There are, of course, fundamental differences between the government and most of the opposition parties. The first is the approach to the rule of law and understanding of democracy. This is where the Polish cultural dispute is most clearly revealed, in which, on the one hand, one can find the supporters of belonging to today’s Western world, and on the other hand, there are people emphasizing the cultural diversity of Poland convinced of being the guardians of “true Western culture”, which is typical of peripheral states. This fundamental difference, which is the axiological axis of the political dispute in Poland, does not, however, constitute an obstacle to the conclusion that there is an important element common to almost all Polish politicians: it is a more or less mild reluctance to Union’s federalisation.

Paradoxically, another such element is the declared opposition to differentiated integration – but while government politicians want to force other member states to limit integration trends, the opposition wants to remain in the mainstream, trying to gently influence the relatively slow federalization. This Polish specificity must be taken into account during the debate on the future of Europe, regardless of the likely failure of the conference on this matter.

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