Poland’s integration into the European Union is a rare example of political consensus. The first attempts at establishing mutual cooperation date back to the time when the Soviet Union’s domination of Central and Eastern Europe—shaky as it was—still had an institutional dimension in the form of the Warsaw Pact and COMECON. Poland’s formal request to initiate negotiations on an EU Association Agreement was lodged by Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government on 25 May 1990. Negotiations proper were conducted the following year by the government led by Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, and in the period to 2004, subsequent cabinets implemented the so-called Europe Agreement, signed on 16 December 1991, at the instruction of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski. Between December 1997 (when the European Council held a summit in Luxembourg) and 2003, negotiations were conducted by successive governments on the terms of Poland’s accession to the European Union.
All that was possible because the Polish national interests were defined—and tied with the European integration process—at a sufficiently early stage. Since the very beginning, Warsaw’s relations with the Union had three parts: political, economic and civilizational. The strategic goal was to anchor Poland in the Euro-Atlantic area, which involved both a symbolic overcoming of Cold War divisions into Western and Eastern Europe and institutional integration, that is, adopting the legal framework, procedures and know-how that helped us build a self-determining democratic state governed by the rule of law and a mature market economy. Poland’s 12 years of EU membership have seen a narrowing of the development gap (with per capita GDP at 49% of the EU average in 2004 currently at 69% ) and an increase in Poland’s political weight.
The recognition that Poland’s participation in European integration serves the Polish raison d’être comes as a necessary introduction to reflections about the model for the Union that would respond to the new challenges of a changing economic system and changing international realities of the 2010s, and that would also take into account our vital interests.
Despite calls for an institutional revolution, in accordance with either the historical model of a “Europe of nations” or the federal super-state project, it is consolidation and a return to the values underlying post-war integration, namely unity, solidarity, subsidiarity and openness, that have assumed crucial importance.
A United Europe
A key challenge for the European Union today is the risk of institutional disintegration, whether in the political, economic or constitutional dimension. Because of such factors as the financial crisis, Brexit, and problems with border security and integrity, demands for a two-speed Europe have met with approval from some West European elites.
This is reflected in intensified efforts to build a piecemeal Europe, oriented to the common currency, the euro. While calls for a separate budget (or “fiscal capability”) for the Economic and Monetary Union and a separate euro committee at the European Parliament may remain in the sphere of intentions, the building of parallel intergovernmental structures—the fiscal compact, the banking union—has increasingly been the case. It is true that these two creations are open to non-EMU entrants, but the underlying logic of multi-speed integration may well leave us with two categories of EU membership: full participation in the currency union, banking union, and, in the future, probably also a fiscal and political union, and participation confined to the single market, perhaps with the freedom of movement shorn off. Given Brexit, that would mean confining Central and Eastern Europe to a drift towards the semi-periphery. Such a scenario would be unfavourable not just for Poland but also for the EU, which would turn into a rump organisation of West Europe’s stagnating economies.
Poland must call for European unity and must defend arrangements serving the indivisibility of the Union. Maintaining the open character of the eurozone and strengthening Community solidarity should form the focal point of departure for discussions about future reforms. It is in the interests of all Member States to keep the European Commission’s role as guardian of the treaties, enforcing the observance of EU law, and representing shared interests rather than as a political player in relations with individual Member States. Not all decisions of the European Commission have been favourable to Warsaw, including its institutional passivity over the North Stream pipeline construction and attempts to restrict the competitiveness of Polish cargo carriers via minimum-pay regulations in France and Germany. The dependence of the Commission on the leading capitals in the Union has been a problem and the response should be the Commission’s increased accountability to a democratically elected institution, the European Parliament.
A Mutually Supportive Europe
Proponents of European unity should take into consideration the natural differences among the Member States in terms of wealth and geopolitical position. Solidarity, having provided a pillar of integration since the inception of the European Economic Community, brings benefits to all, whether in the economic or political dimension. Rejecting the perception of European politics as a zero-sum game in favour of finding Community added-value is in the interests of Poland, a country which badly needs such solidarity.
Steps being taken to curtail the already small EU budget (equalling just 1% of total GDP) are worrying. When new special-purpose funds are formed, they may not be at the expense of long-term development programmes, such as Horizon 2000, or cohesion funds. Resources channelled to narrow the differences in development not only serve to deepen the economic integration of underdeveloped areas—thus lessening internal pressure on migration within the Union—but also, as demonstrated by various research, they generate tangible benefits for industry in the EU-15. With the increased purchasing power of its companies and consumers, Poland’s economy can more closely integrate with its major trading partners in the EU and fill the development gaps. Keeping these arguments in mind, Poland should again announce that it is in favour of the EU’s post-2020 financial perspective being as generous as possible, with adequate resources earmarked for cohesion and agriculture.
Geopolitical solidarity inevitably involves serious reflection about common defence policy. The Lisbon Treaty, with its clauses on mutual defence (Art. 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union) and solidarity (Art. 222 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), has opened the door to authentic action for Euro-Atlantic security. Fleshing out the Common Defence and Security Policy is an increasingly urgent need given the disintegration of the political order in the EU’s southern neighbourhood and the Russian aggression in the east. Harmonising the Member States’ diverse interests is a tall order indeed. Passivity and neglect have a tangible price, measured not just in euros but in human lives, too. Many problems with which the Union is currently grappling, as mass migration or terrorism, can only be resolved if the EU becomes more active internationally.
An Open Europe
As pointed out by theoreticians of European integration, the EU’s international role largely reflects the attractiveness of its integration model. This allure is the result of its relative openness. It is in Poland’s vital interest to keep things this way.
Perhaps the most powerful example of the positive effects of the EU’s enlargement is the emergence of a democratic, free-market space in Central and Eastern Europe. The Copenhagen criteria provided a stimulus for rapid transformation—intertwined with the accession process—that otherwise, without an external catalyst, could have dragged on for years. The prospect of membership now plays a similar role in the process of the Western Balkans’ reconciliation and stabilisation.
It is highly desirable that this openness towards Central Europe and countries in the North Caucasus be maintained. With no likelihood of EU enlargement in the immediate future, Poland should back any measures seeking the full implementation of the Association and free trade agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The openness of the European market, implementation of EU standards and offers of financial assistance add up to the EU’s strongest instrument against Russian pressure on the Eastern Partnership countries. At the same time, Poland should have its own idea of reform of European Neighbourhood Policy, which, after a promising start, has lost momentum and has recorded a scoresheet that for the past few years, whether in the east or the south, leaves much to be desired.
The Union’s openness also should be viewed as opposition to narrow protectionism. The commitment to trade liberalisation, especially via bilateral agreements, for example, with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP), has both a political and economic dimension. Negotiations conducted at the EU level offer a chance for Poland to enter a new market on preferential terms. In turn, more intensive trade in the Euro-Atlantic area may help with cooperation in other fields, for example, with the consolidation of the North Atlantic Alliance.
A Europe of Values
Unity, solidarity, openness and subsidiarity are values that dovetail not only with the Polish raison d’être but also with the ethical and Christian foundations of European integration. Founding the Polish vision of the European Union upon these universal values will add to the attractiveness of specific projects proposed by Warsaw.
Above all, we should remember the key importance of the European Union for Poland’s emancipation after a time of subjugation and its return to the European arena. The 2004 accession crowned more than 15 years of negotiation and adjustment. Citizens in many countries tend to perceive the integration projects as reduced to the free movement of people and access to European funding. But the European Union is primarily a project seeking peace in Europe after the carnage of two world wars. Poland needs a Europe that is united, mutually supportive and open, a Europe that lives in peace and will survive in peace. This is the overriding theme that guided me in these reflections.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is a Polish MEP and was the first Minister for European Affairs in post-PRL Poland as well as the negotiator for both Poland’s Association Agreement with and membership of the EU. He was also the former vice president of the European Parliament and former chairman of the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee.