Willing to play a leading role in Europe

The issue of the Lis­bon Treaty on polit­i­cal lead­er­ship is of high salience in Poland. The gov­ern­ment has an ambi­tion of play­ing an impor­tant and some­times even lead­ing role in the enlarged EU, com­men­su­rate with its size and grow­ing poten­tial. The Treaty pos­es cer­tain ques­tions con­cern­ing the future of the insti­tu­tion­al tri­an­gle that no one is ready to respond to at this very moment. Par­tic­u­lar atten­tion is giv­en to the fol­low­ing ques­tions: does the Lis­bon Treaty real­ly strength­en the com­mu­ni­ty method, what will the rela­tions between the Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion and the Pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil look like, and what would be in prac­tice the char­ac­ter of the new Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS). Most experts agree that a lot will depend on imple­men­ta­tion; there­fore, the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment is still con­sid­er­ing all the options and no ready posi­tion has been pub­lished yet. Accord­ing to infor­mal inter­views, Pol­ish politi­cians are wor­ried that the new pres­i­den­cy for­mat will deprive Poland of a chance of influ­enc­ing the EU agen­da. The new­com­ers, as demon­strat­ed some time ago by the Czechs, would be very keen on exer­cis­ing a full pres­i­den­cy, which, in their under­stand­ing, would allow them to pro­mote their inter­ests more effec­tive­ly. The atti­tude towards polit­i­cal lead­er­ship is depen­dent on the atti­tude towards inte­gra­tion as such. Where­as the Law and Jus­tice Par­ty (Pra­wo i Spraw­iedli­wość – PiS) would gen­er­al­ly like the EU to be as inter­gov­ern­men­tal as pos­si­ble and is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly afraid that an enlarged EU would be dom­i­nat­ed by the Ger­mans and the French, the gov­ern­ing Civic Plat­form (Plat­for­ma Oby­wa­tel­s­ka – PO) is much keen­er on strength­en­ing the supra­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions and much less con­cerned with the claim that the new treaty would strength­en the biggest mem­ber states.

Poland’s per­cep­tion of the new EU lead­ers, the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, Her­man Van Rompuy, and the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, Cather­ine Ash­ton, was not pos­i­tive. These nom­i­na­tions were seen by the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment as a vic­to­ry for Ger­many and France and as a defeat for Poland, which had want­ed a more trans­par­ent selec­tion process. It is worth notic­ing that this crit­i­cal view was pre­sent­ed to the pub­lic in a rather equi­li­brat­ed way with a focus on future expec­ta­tions linked to the func­tions of the new EU lead­ers, whose roles – accord­ing to the Lis­bon Treaty – could rein­force the com­mon EU voice in the world. The press was far more crit­i­cal, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of per­sons who were nom­i­nat­ed to these emi­nent posi­tions. Con­ser­v­a­tive dai­ly Rzecz­pospoli­ta mocked the choice in an edi­to­r­i­al enti­tled “Mr. Noth­ing to Say and Baroness No Expe­ri­ence” by say­ing: “The nom­i­na­tions mean noth­ing good for Europe. Europe’s Pres­i­dent is a man who will have noth­ing to say on the inter­na­tion­al stage, while the for­eign min­is­ter is a woman who has no expe­ri­ence in diplo­ma­cy.”11Rzecz­pospoli­ta, 29 Novem­ber 2009.

An inten­sive exchange of views pub­lished on the non-gov­ern­men­tal polit­i­cal blog por­tal showed a deeply neg­a­tive pic­ture pre­sent­ed by inter­net inter­locu­tors. In a sum­ma­ry of a debate on Pres­i­dent Van Rompuy we could read: “Pres­i­dent Van Rompuy? Not in Poland. We are sure every EU cit­i­zen who is read­ing about this appoint­ment is ask­ing the ques­tion: Is this real­ly our new Pres­i­dent? In Poland, the answer is “No”. Here he will be for­mal­ly known not as Pres­i­dent Van Rompuy but rather as a “chair­man”.22Avail­able at: http://www.Blogs.wsj.com (last access: 28 July 2010). The first Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, Her­man Van Rompuy, made his first short work­ing vis­it to War­saw when he met Prime Min­is­ter Don­ald Tusk. The politi­cians dis­cussed issues con­nect­ed with the sum­mit of the Euro­pean Coun­cil sched­uled for 11 Feb­ru­ary 2010 as well as the EU’s new eco­nom­ic strat­e­gy until 2020. Among oth­er issues dis­cussed dur­ing this meet­ing were cli­mate change and prepa­ra­tions for Poland to take over the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy of the EU in the sec­ond half of 2011. This vis­it was bare­ly com­ment­ed by the media and did not raise sub­stan­tial inter­est in soci­ety.

Cather­ine Ash­ton, much crit­i­cised as chief of the EU’s for­eign pol­i­cy, made her first vis­it to War­saw on 31 May 2010. Ash­ton stopped in War­saw on her way to a two-day EU-Rus­sia sum­mit in Ros­tov-on-Don, south­ern Rus­sia. She met with Poland’s For­eign Min­is­ter, Radek Siko­rs­ki, act­ing Pres­i­dent Bro­nis­law Komorows­ki and Defence Min­is­ter Bog­dan Klich. Dur­ing the short press con­fer­ence, Min­is­ter Siko­rs­ki said: “We had talks on the East­ern Part­ner­ship, as we had some pro­pos­als for Baroness Ash­ton, and we also dis­cussed pri­or­i­ties for Poland’s six-month Pres­i­den­cy of the EU next year: ener­gy secu­ri­ty and strength­en­ing Euro­pean defence pol­i­cy”. Siko­rs­ki and Ash­ton also dis­cussed pos­si­ble Pol­ish can­di­dates for a deputy head of EU diplo­ma­cy, which could include Euro­pean Min­is­ter Mikołaj Dowgielewicz or Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Jacek Saryusz-Wol­s­ki, the EEAS, and EU-Rus­sia rela­tions. This vis­it did not attract the deep­er inter­est of the Pol­ish press nor of Pol­ish pub­lic opin­ion. This is most prob­a­bly due to the government’s very mod­est and rather super­fi­cial infor­ma­tion on the con­tent and on the impor­tance of these issues for Poland. After the UK’s Dai­ly Tele­graph report­ed that “Baroness Aston – whose selec­tion as EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of For­eign Pol­i­cy last year made many in Brus­sels scratch their heads in dis­be­lief – such was her inex­pe­ri­ence at this lev­el – will leave her post this year, forced out after heavy crit­i­cism”, Pol­ish Radio organ­ised a pub­lic debate, in which Karel Lan­noo from the Cen­tre for Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies (CEPS) in Brus­sels par­tic­i­pat­ed. This debate con­clud­ed that the news should only to be expect­ed, as Ash­ton had repeat­ed­ly shown an inabil­i­ty to present a com­mon voice for the Euro­pean Union to the world. The most com­mon exam­ple was the earth­quake in Haiti, after which EU aid was not coor­di­nat­ed.

Since the entry into force of the Lis­bon Treaty at the begin­ning of the year, Euro­pean insti­tu­tions have been adjust­ing to the new frame­work and tak­ing steps to make nec­es­sary changes. One of the new ele­ments to have been intro­duced by the treaty is the estab­lish­ment of the EEAS, which is under the con­trol of the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cather­ine Ash­ton. Ash­ton sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al for the EEAS on 25 March 2010, and, since then, Brus­sels has been full of dis­cus­sion on the proposal’s prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions. In Poland, this pro­pos­al was not sub­mit­ted to deep­er pub­lic debate, prob­a­bly for two rea­sons: it was pub­lished just before East­er, which is a four day cel­e­bra­tion in Poland, and, more impor­tant­ly, since 10 April 2010, the crash of a Pol­ish air­craft and death of 96 vic­tims, includ­ing the Pol­ish Pres­i­dent and his wife, sev­er­al min­is­ters, mem­bers of Pol­ish par­lia­ment, heads of impor­tant pub­lic insti­tu­tions (includ­ing the Head of the Pol­ish Nation­al Bank), monop­o­lised Pol­ish polit­i­cal life for sev­er­al weeks. The need for the accel­er­a­tion of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and heavy floods focused politi­cians, press and pub­lic opin­ion on inter­nal issues. How­ev­er, one could notice a sci­en­tif­ic debate on EEAS issues. With­in this debate there were sug­ges­tions that the EEAS should con­tribute to the pro­gram­ming and man­age­ment of exter­nal coop­er­a­tion pro­grammes that fall under devel­op­ment pol­i­cy. Experts assert that the pro­pos­al actu­al­ly breach­es the Lis­bon Treaty on legal grounds and goes against the inter­ests of both the EU and the world’s poor­est peo­ple. Some lawyers say that the role of the EEAS is restrict­ed to the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy (CFSP), which is just a part of the EU’s exter­nal action. This does not extend to devel­op­ment pol­i­cy, which is the “sole com­pe­tence” of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, as defined by the treaties.

As con­cerns the Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI), it drew the atten­tion of a great num­ber of NGOs, espe­cial­ly those deal­ing with envi­ron­men­tal issues, human­i­tar­i­an aid, health and women’s sup­port. Sev­er­al organ­i­sa­tions and cit­i­zens took part in the inter­net debate on its shape and poten­tial facil­i­ties. Poland took 5th place in a rank­ing of num­ber of reac­tions addressed to this site count­ed by nation­al­i­ty of inter­locu­tors. In the first half of this year, there were two vis­i­ble areas of cit­i­zens’ action. The first, stim­u­lat­ed and sup­port­ed by the church and con­ser­v­a­tive par­ties, con­cerned the cit­i­zens’ right to be free of work on Sun­days. It includes a civic ini­tia­tive to intro­duce a new law impos­ing the clo­sure of all shops (and espe­cial­ly of all super­mar­kets), in order to pro­vide fam­i­lies space for more diver­si­fied ways of spend­ing time. This pro­pos­al divid­ed Pol­ish pub­lic opin­ion and raised a par­al­lel civic action against this law. The sec­ond, most recent action took aim at the reg­is­tra­tion of soft drugs. Dur­ing the last week­end of May 2010, there were sev­er­al events and a major demon­stra­tion in War­saw (with par­tic­i­pa­tion of approx­i­mate­ly 6,000 young peo­ple) sup­port­ing this ini­tia­tive. Again, this action raised a large reac­tion against this pro­pos­al (82 per­cent of Poles, accord­ing to pub­lic opin­ion polls).


  • 1Rzecz­pospoli­ta, 29 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 2Avail­able at: http://www.Blogs.wsj.com (last access: 28 July 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.