Will Poland’s gentleman status vis-à-vis Ukraine help its standing in the EU? | Poland
MOscou’s invasion of Ukraine was a pivotal moment for Poland: proof that it had always been right about Russia, and the start of a huge national humanitarian effort. For his government, it is also an opportunity to score some points in Brussels.
Poland has “never had such an excellent mark, anywhere in the world,” its prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said last week. He is “in the right position in international politics”, he said, and no longer behind an “unjust wall of isolation”. US President Joe Biden is due to visit the country on Friday.
Mired in a seven-year stalemate with the EU over democratic backsliding and the rule of law, the government in Warsaw – whose populist brand of national-conservatism has also strained relations with Washington – is now hoping that the fallout from the Vladimir Putin’s war will finally force the bloc to cut him some slack.
In particular, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose popularity is on the rise again after slipping for 18 months, wants Brussels to release 36bn euros (£30bn) of recovery funds in Pandemic cases stalled due to concerns over whether Warsaw can guarantee it will spend EU money properly due to its politicized court system.
But while Poland’s government is clearly looking to capitalize on the country’s newfound gentlemanly status – and may well curry short-term favor – Warsaw’s longer-term conflict with the EU is unlikely to go away, analysts say.
“The PiS can say, ‘Look, there’s a real dictator over there, fighting a real war – that’s all that matters and that’s what we should all be focusing on right now,'” he said. said Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University. of Sussex.
“But at some point there will be a negotiated peace, or war will sink into attrition and fade from the spotlight. More normal patterns will resume. And the underlying causes of the conflict between Poland and the EU over the rule of law does not disappear.
Scarred by centuries of Russian aggression and occupation culminating in nearly half a century of communist dictatorship, Poland has long warned the EU of the threat from Moscow, especially since the invasion of Crimea by Putin in 2014.
The PiS-led nationalist government’s constant rowing with Brussels, its culture war attacks on LGBTQ+ people and abortion rights, and its bridge-building with anti-EU and pro-Putin figures such as the Italian Matteo Salvini and French Marine Le Pen may have slightly blurred the image.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was nonetheless a “we told you so” historic moment for Poland, said Ben Stanley, a political scientist at SWPS University in Warsaw. This meant that Warsaw could try to position itself as “the capital that warned it was coming” for years.
While Putin’s aggression has shifted the EU’s center of gravity eastward, the crisis “creates an opportunity for Poland to claim regional leadership status”, Stanley said. “He is determined to show that he is taking the lead in persuading a reluctant West to take tougher action; reinforce resolve in a very public way.
Morawiecki’s visit to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the invasion was seen by many as instrumental in Germany’s U-turn on arms supplies, defense spending and financial sanctions. The visit of Morawiecki and PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński this month to beleaguered Kyiv “on behalf of the EU”, alongside the Czech and Slovenian prime ministers, underscored the strategy.
Poland has also been tougher than any other EU member state on sanctions by calling for a total embargo on all trade with Russia. He also proposed a NATO peacekeeping force in Ukraine and stepped up to become the main transit point for Western shipments of arms, ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine.
The country’s huge humanitarian effort – although widely recognized as being due more to the extraordinary generosity and mobilization of civil society than to the central government – to host more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees is also presented by some politicians. as grounds for EU leniency.
A recent poll for Oko.press showed that 66% of Poles want the government to accept EU rule of law rules and end its dispute with Brussels – including nearly one in three PiS voters. But 56% also said the funds should now be released unconditionally, reinforcing a potential PiS narrative that Poland should get the money unconditionally because it has taken in so many refugees.
“There is a strategy to emotionally blackmail the EU into taking a softer line,” Stanley said. “An attempt to reshape the narrative, to say, ‘We’re trying to deal with real issues; you’re just getting in our way with all that rule of law stuff.
Szczerbiak said the PiS had long pursued a two-track strategy towards the EU of accepting inevitable conflict over rule of law and culture war issues, while at the same time insisting that Poland was a “positive and constructive member of the EU” on the subjects. it really matters.
“In a sense, the war actually reinforced that discourse,” he said. “It means Warsaw can say, ‘OK, there are a lot of things we don’t agree on. But on the really important things, look how good Europeans we are. This means that there is now enormous pressure from both sides to defuse.
Some in Brussels believe that Poland, which has estimated the cost of hosting refugees from Ukraine at 2.2 billion euros this year alone, could ask for special compensation, perhaps similar to the agreement that the reached with Turkey after the 2015 refugee crisis.
But EU officials also say the Polish government now has a greater opportunity to close longstanding disputes with Brussels over the rule of law that have led to daily fines of 1 million euros and freezing of the country’s pandemic recovery fund.
Warsaw’s plan for the fund could be approved within weeks, EU officials say, if Poland goes ahead with a pledge to abolish the Supreme Court’s disciplinary tribunal, a system of political scrutiny that violates EU law.
Danuta Hübner, an MEP from the center-right opposition Civic Platform party and former European commissioner, said she was proud of Polish civil society’s effort on behalf of refugees, but accused the government of being “completely absent “.
She said Poland needed the stimulus funds “as soon as possible” but still had a long way to go to unlock them. Abuse of the rule of law was “ongoing”, she said, adding that the commission would only have to approve the plan if Poland’s Supreme Court was properly reformed.
Robert Biedroń, a centre-left opposition MEP, said it would be outrageous if the commission defied “the mainstream and the will of the citizens of the county”, as well as the European Parliament, by not respecting the conditions release of funds.
He said he would ‘fight very hard’ to get EU funds earmarked for refugee aid, but warned against releasing other EU funds without ensuring that Warsaw reverses recent changes to the judiciary that undermine judicial independence. “The rule of law cannot be another casualty of this war,” he said. “How would we explain the difference between us and Putin if we don’t respect the rule of law?
Ultimately, said Andrzej Bobińnski and Wojciech Szacki of think tank Polityka Insight, the war could be “a cathartic moment” for Poland’s political class – but it was still “too early to say whether this means a turnaround in the political class.” Poland towards liberalism”. Where is”.
Some PiS politicians may want peace with Brussels, they argued, others insist the war shows precisely how “the West got it wrong, how it needs Poland and how Poland has now the upper hand on security, humanitarian and European issues”.
PiS would certainly not hesitate to exploit any EU reluctance to pay, Stanley said – particularly once the huge future cost of housing, education and employment for 2 million refugees becomes a political reality.