Will the Polish Presidency invigorate the EU?

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

Poland's optimism and Europhilia will be a boon to the EU in this time of crisis. But calendar constraints may limit Warsaw's achievements during its six-month presidency of the bloc, which is going through its most difficult period since its inception after the Second World War, writes Arsim Mulaku of the Kosovo Public Policy Centre.

Arsim Mulaku is a senior fellow at the Kosovo Public Policy Centre in Pristina, Kosovo.

His research specialises in Europeanisation and political developments in the Balkans.

"It has only been two weeks since Poland assumed its first Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), which was handed over from Hungary, another country that joined the EU during its 'massive' enlargement in 2004.

The six-month long EU Council presidency means prestige for EU member states, since any state can only assume the presidency once every thirteen-and-a-half years due to the principle of rotation. For Poland, almost four years of preparations were necessary to prepare for the helm. Consequently, this prestige comes with responsibility.  

Poles may feel proud and enthusiastic. And perhaps they should. Statistics from the Eurobarometer indicate that they actually are one of the most enthusiastic countries towards the EU. Their readiness to engage in challenges unsurmounted at EU level was shown through the symbolism of strawberries.

However, this has not improved the general state of affairs of the EU, which could presently be described as struggling. However, the rigidity of the presidency's rotation merely makes it impossible for the Poles to be different this time. The EU is going through perhaps its most difficult period since it came into being a half-century ago. Instead of deepening integration, more often populist and nationalist voices are heard, which lead towards the undoing of unprecedented historical achievements.

In fact, the EU is facing numerous serious issues, starting with the repercussions of the Arab Spring and including the 'loss', in some cases 'regaining', of sovereignty in some of its member states. The challenges lie in at least two major domains: the economic and the political. First, the challenge is in accelerating economic growth and solving financial and budgetary crises. Second, the challenge is connected to deepening 'Community' in political meaning. Addressing such fundamental issues certainly requires clear vision, leadership and unwavering determination.

In a recent reflection, the former German foreign minister and vice-chancellor of Germany from 1998-2005, Joschka Fischer, shared the conviction that 'the European financial crisis is really a political crisis, because EU leaders are unable to decide on the necessary measures'. In his view, the way to get out of crisis 'requires more Europe and more integration, not less'. It certainly requires a presidency which has the capacity to act forcefully vis-à-vis challenges.

In the case of Poland, such features can perhaps be realised. Poland, among others, as a member of the 'Weimar Triangle' is a powerful state and an important actor among EU member states, in geographic, demographic, political, economical and military aspects. The inaugural address of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk before MEPs in the European Parliament was both promising and invigorating.

At a time when calls for opposing more and less Europe are more often heard, it seems that Tusk has a clear vision for the EU. In his speech, he concisely underlined that the exit strategy for the EU is in 'more Europe and more integration', by strengthening institutions based on common history and values. On the other hand, the presidency programme intends to put the EU on a more dynamic development path through concentration on three key strategic priorities: 'European Integration as a Source of Growth', 'Secure Europe' and 'Europe Benefiting from Growth'.

Following the ominous words from the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, whoever takes over the presidency can never be more prepared than is required, reminding Poles to 'be prepared, because something may happen'.

To implement its programme together with its strategic priorities, based on the statistics presented by the Polish Presidency, it can be foreseen that in the course of its presidency, thirty thousand delegates will visit Poland. The entire budget to cover the whole of the presidency's activities has been earmarked at €110 million. Nevertheless, the dark side of realising the presidency's objectives remains in the approach and creativity with which Poles will address the challenges ahead.

However, the realisation of the Polish Presidency's programme should also be viewed in the light of some additional circumstances. The second half of the presidency is famous for its large 'evacuation' and 'refilling' of the EU elite in Brussels. Most of them start 'disappearing' during July, to come back again only in early September. The same happens around mid-December. Moreover, national elections scheduled for October will be an additional burden, and will most not pass unnoticed.

Thus, these calendar constraints should be taken into account while assessing eventual Polish (non-)achievements, despite initial indicated enthusiasm. Since time must pass before evaluation of the Polish achievements is possible, the so-called 'Gretchenfrage' remains to be resolved: Will the Polish Presidency succeed in bringing new impetus while 'deepening' the process of EU integration so to invigorate the EU?"

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