Special Reports / Polish presidency, or how to explain Europe to the Europeans?

Governmental and civil dimensions of the European politics

Józef Pinior · 25 July 2011
Presidency in the European Union as specified in European treatises is a part of all-European and transnational politics. This neologism in the political language clearly emphasizes the uniqueness of the European political system. Its “hybridism” makes the European Union something less than federation but more than a mere coalition of states.

EU is also a community of citizens and although the presidency concerns mainly the authorities of the state running it, one should not forget about civil dimension of this particular function. The political domain in which decisions are made penetrates the democratic sphere linked both to European societies and civil activity itself.

The articles presented this week in “Kultura Liberalna” highlight above all the national and institutional aspect of the European politics. Let’s sum them up: a successful presidency needs to be professional, moderate and European. Edward Lucas writes about a “big challenge for the Polish administration”. It is true that the government in Warsaw – but to some extent the whole administration – have to adjust to coordinating European affairs. Every day thousands of people will be committed to this goal – civil servants, municipal authorities, experts, politicians – and this endeavor will probably significantly remodel Polish politics by binding the national strategy more tightly to the European Union.

Polish presidency from the perspective of Brussels – as Konstanty Gebert points out – is just “yet another administrative duty”, routine operation, to which both European as well as Polish institutions seem to be well-prepared. A real challenge and test for the country running the presidency are unexpected events, international crises, conflicts, especially those which divide particular member states. Basing on my experiences in the European Parliament I can say that Slovenian presidency made a big impression when the country had to face the Kosovan declaration of independence announced despite Serbian fierce opposition. Slovenia was the first post-communist country presiding in the EU and what is more a country that was created after the collapse of Yugoslavia. After all these years EU has not yet developed a uniform position on Kosovo but at that time disputes divided even the particular parties in the European Parliament. I looked with admiration on how Slovenia was leading the EU so that this conflict in such an important matter would not spread to the level of European institutions. After the Lisbon Treaty, with High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy running the presidency should not be exposed to such challenges any longer. Besides, from the perspective of Warsaw European politics may seem an oasis of peace and predictability in the light of the political situation in Poland after the tragedy in Smolensk.

Poland will have to prove its moderation, constant balancing its political ambitions with European reality, and be able to combine great goals of the Union with a realistic view on the financial, economic, and social condition of Europe in the autumn 2011. How difficult this task is going to be was proved by the last summit of eurozone countries to which no representative of the country running the presidency was invited. Polish government behaved as it should, remaining calm in the face of this affront. In his speech in the European Parliament Prime Minister Tusk was right to underline the enthusiasm for Europe and the faith in major foundations of the common politics. Polish presidency should at every turn emphasize the vitality of the European project, work calmly and persistently for such European Union in which deepening the financial integration within the eurozone will not automatically lead to creating a “two-speed Europe”. This is a fundamental issue both for Poland and the EU as a whole.

Łukasz Pawłowski asks whether Poland can “breathe some fresh air into the European project”. Let me get back to my experiences in the European Parliament again, this time to the German presidency in the second half of 2007. In the speeches given by the German Chancellor in the European Parliament one could sense her identification with the political system of the Union.

For Angela Merkel it was natural and gave the impression that she simply felt at ease in the European Parliament in Strasburg or in Brussels. I have to admit that her frequent – as for the head of the presiding country – presence in the European Parliament was inspiring and showed that the presidency does not have come down to bureaucratic correctness. Merkel was a leader who in everyday practice proved that through the European Parliament the presidency can refer to the citizens and societies of the whole EU. Polish presidency should in similar manner surprise everybody with Europeanism. The government, Polish political class and civil service should in the next few months naturally convince Europe about the sense of the European project.

Europeanism does not interfere with wise presentation of the issues crucial from the Polish perspective, nor does it mean one needs to give up particular interests. French presidency in the second half of 2008 is a good example of this. France put a special emphasis on the Mediterranean area and nothing prevents Poland in the time of its presidency from promoting science, culture and entrepreneurship of the Eastern European and Caucasian countries and thus bringing them closer to the Union. The art of politics in this regard lies in naturally linking one’s activity in the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East with this in the Eastern Europe.

Europeanism also means addressing Polish public opinion with the European message for which, paradoxically, electoral campaign in Poland before Parliamentary elections in October may prove useful. Regrettably a few years ago the majority of Polish political class marched towards Europe united by the slogan “Nice or death”¹ which lead to misunderstanding of the idea of the Constitutional Treaty and – embarrassing for a country in which “Solidarity” was born – rejection of all the points of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. These six months of the presidency give us a great opportunity to change this situation. It is worth to bring forth Polish conceptions of Europe developed in the 20th century, forgotten strategy for European integration proposed by General Sikorski’s government in exile during the World War II or political thought developed by the people contributing to the famous Polish journal “Kultura”, edited by Jerzy Giedroyc in France during the time of communism in Poland.

Even the most successful presidency will not solve all the problems facing the European Union. From the perspective of the civil society the main challenge is to overcome the discord between European institutions and democracy which is now limited to the nation state. On the level of the economy the main challenge is global capitalism which brought crisis to the EU and gradually makes the European welfare state disappear. As a result, after the failure of the Constitutional Treaty we observe renationalization of the European politics, rise of a populist tide or on the other hand, strive for deepening the integration within the eurozone which may lead to disintegration of the EU.

The most interesting things in the months to come will take place not so much on the governmental level but rather on the streets of European cities and will be caused by the trade unions and their struggles, the youth movements’ protests, by the confusion around traditional political divides between left and right, by disputes on the cultural identity of the EU and the conflict between populist and liberal Europe which begins to loom on the horizon.

Footnote:

[1] That was the sentence used in 2003 by one of the most popular MPs at that time, Jan Rokita, who in this way displayed his objection to the change of the vote weighting system in the Council of the European Union approved by the Treaty of Nice in 2001.