Instead of trying to teach Poland lessons on democracy, the EU should instead recognise the country’s economic strength, and its courage to oppose Russia’s aggression, writes Roger Hodgkiss.
Roger Hodgkiss is Member of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce
Which European country has posted three-and-a-half percent economic growth in 2015, outstripping Germany, the UK and France?
Which country has the OECD predicted will grow at that same pace this year and next, outpacing all the G7 economies?
And which European country has held vigorous democratic elections last year putting into place a stable government dedicated to preserving the security of Europe?
It might seem hard to believe, given the vote we may expect from the European Parliament later today, but that country is Poland.
Sitting where I do as a member of the Board of the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce, I can see the tremendous opportunity presented by the country not only to contribute to European economic growth, but also to ensure security for our continent. Some critics have challenged Poland’s right for sovereign self-determination. That’s something which we may find puzzling at a time when Europe as an idea is struggling to maintain confidence across an increasing number of sceptical member states. In Poland, as the OECD reported last month, “growth is robust and unemployment has declined”. Poland is also at the forefront of efforts to oppose Russian aggression. The EU should take the opportunity to recognise this, and to work in partnership to achieve prosperity and security.
Europe should focus on the priorities of the Juncker Commission – namely growth and job creation – while at the same time nurturing the entirely legitimate national ambitions of member state governments to respond in the way they see fit to address the democratic demands of their electorate. The member states and the EU share a determination to achieve balanced, inclusive economic growth that brings employment to dislocated communities and enhances Europe’s influence in a global economy.
So what does this mean in practice?
Firstly, political institutions within each member state must be enabled to evolve to reflect the national character and aspirations of that state, rather than conforming to a one size fits all approach to growing economies. Poland, as the OECD has observed, faces a unique demographic challenge from an ageing population, so it must seek different ways of responding to the social and economic challenges this presents.
Secondly, across the EU, we need to see a much more dynamic and external facing trading environment, so that member states are able to engage with their neighbours in the Single Market and beyond, in order to broaden the commercial sphere of influence of all member state economies. The Financial Times wrote a few weeks ago that Poland must “stay attractive to foreign investors” to sustain growth, and the European Union has an essential role to play in this by negotiating further market access for its industries.
Finally, the European institutions should temper their zeal for censuring member states, and by extension their economies. They can instead focus more expressly on fostering conditions within which each European nation can articulate its own identity within a common European context. Poland has a particular, painful history which informs its society and political debate, and the European institutions should recognise this essential truth.
Poland has done much to shake the legacy of Communist rule, and must continue to do so. Its people demand the incorruptibility of state institutions and that the growth reaches every part of the country. In this endeavour, Poland will hope to have the support the EU, as it pursues a better life and a brighter future for its people.