Krzysztof Szczerski announces he will not be a Commissioner in the Ursula von der Leyen Commission. The reason for his resignation is the portfolio. He was offered the agriculture dossier. “In politics one has to be honest. If there is an option to have an agriculture commissioner for Poland, and I have never dealt with agriculture, I think it is honest to withdraw and give the position to someone who is competent”, said Mr Szczerski on Monday, 26 August 2019.
The new candidate for the Agricultural Commissioner is Janusz Wojciechowski, a member of the European Court of Auditors, a long-time MEP (2004-2016). Mr Wojciechowski at one point was a leader of the Polish People’s Party, the agrarian force in Polish politics. He has joined the Law and Justice (PiS) in 2010.
Meanwhile back to Mr Szczerski’s book…
Mr Szczerski analyses in his 2017 book European Utopia the key political trends that have been unfolding in the European Union since the economic crisis in its variety of angles.
For Mr Szczerski the key processes are: first, the increased competition within the EU and globally. This is a competition between states and regions, as well as economic sectors. Second, the hegemony in Europe of certain larger states. And third, the progressing disintegration with the concentration of the policy around the Eurozone (sic!), which Mr Szczerski calls “super-euro”. This includes the early 2010s discussions about the so-called “economic governance” of the Eurozone.
Mr Szczerski argues he is supportive of the “common European good”, which is threatened by those three parallelly advancing processes. “There are symptoms of the birth of the competition-dominating system in the European Union, in which some countries of a reduced political and economic clout remain permanently on a side of a mainstream politics“.
The warning of Mr Szczerski is that domination of the big changes the rules of the intergovernmental play with EU cohesion and EU equality being compromised. “Poland, the PiS Europeanist writes, has every right to keep its currency if it considers that it is beneficial for the country and with keeping the złoty there should be no limitations of the EU membership rights”.
The process of growing domination is related to the re-nationalisation of policies, that is protection of national interests and interests of national actors from competition of other countries, including protection from EU rules, for example, the competition policy rules.
What is progress?
Mr Szczerski loves semantics. He dwells on differentiation between the single and internal market, but when it comes to the EU treaties preamble talk of an economic and social progress, Mr Szczerski adds “whatever that means“.
The EU treaties, according to Mr Szczerski, are a solid ground for developing a social model of a welfare state, not the liberal vision of the Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech. Mr Szczerski sees a conflict here: “rather, it is a vision close to leftist sensitivity which recognizes the welfare state’s social model as part of European identity and heritage, trying to appropriate social sensitivity, whose roots lie in the Christian canon of values and the concept of social order“. Mr Szczerski is back to his identity politics, as presented before twice.
Mr Szczerski proves that in fact, the EU is a leftist project, since it aims to sustain the welfare state, supports redistribution, and praises an open society. He calls the left-wing values “pseudo-values” like the European social model, focus on the citizen, human development, etc. He concludes, those pseudo-values “which serve creation of a utopian European society“.
Europe’s economic integration
Mr Szczerski rightly historically argues there were three components necessary in the development of the European economic unity: internal market, unified external trade policy and a system of regulatory institutions.
The second element, the trade policy, is not that controversial. The problems are elsewhere. Especially in the understanding of a single market. Mr Szczerski: “when two Europeans say ‘market’, it does not mean they think the same thing” and argues differences between the internal, common, single and free market. Internal market implies protectionism and protective barriers against imported goods. Common market follows the logic of removal of obstacles between EU nations. Single market is about a supranational regulation including political strategies and standard-setting norms. Free market is, according to the author, a key term, yet forgotten and marginalised to a sectoral meaning of liberalisation of economic exchange.
All this meander of understandings of a market boils down to two approaches: you create a market by taking down obstacles to trade, or by building up a cohesive market. Mr Szczerski argues, that a diversified European market needs different approaches. There are weaker states and weaker economies in the EU. “Such a ‘free’ market led to bankruptcy of the Gdańsk Shipyard in Poland, because the state was not allowed – in the name of the free market – to intervene or help the periodically weakened corporation“.
The first approach is deregulation, Thatcher-like. The second approach is regulatory. In the multi-levelled governance of the Union, Mr Szczerski concludes that the EU has a tendency to create new institutions (agencies), when “more could be achieved with cooperation of national actors”
The chapter “Power and market” is concluded by a critical statement about the European federalists who, according to the author, fail. They tend to continue to argue for “more Europe”, even if the societies tend to reject the federalist offers. Mr Szczerski offers four pre-conditions, “four elements” of the EU integration process:
- The will of member states to fulfil obligations and to respect the rule of equality of member states in the Union;
- The capacity of the European Commission to prepare concrete coordination proposals according to the regulatory scheme;
- The position of the European Parliament, which tends to politicise the economic governance of the EU;
- The will of the Europeans, who tend to support a closer economic coordination.
And, there should never be “no alternative” solutions. There are always alternatives, writes the ex-Commissioner-candidate.
First of all, the position of an agricultural commissioner was offered to Mr Szczerski, not to Poland. Maybe it was offered precisely in order for Mr Szczerski to withdraw? I hope this issue is further investigated with Ms von der Leyen in the future.
Will it be easy for Mr Wojciechowski? It remains to be seen. No PiS candidate will have it easy in the European Parliament. Apparently Mr Wojciechowski confirmation for the Court of Auditors back in 2016 was not smooth, and the Parliament did not recommend him; except for the final decision was with the Council.
As for the book, I largely agree with Mr Szczerski economic and political analysis, except for the obvious: Mr Szczerski asks for values which are there, or if they once were there and are no longer there, it is not that those values can be reinstalled with an institutional change. If there is an undertone, according to which Poland is not respected today in the EU, it is not because of the Franco-German domination in the Union. Just look to Cyprus for the EU policy on Turkey. Just look to Ireland for the EU policy on Brexit. The Polish government can learn a lot not only from the larger nations of the Union. Actually it can learn a lot also from the smaller and more effective nations out there.
There are reasons why Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia adopted the euro as their currency.
PiS problems in the Union, in the Council and the Parliament, are not coming out of disrespect for Poland. They come from the alienation and disrespect this party and its members have for their European partners. Mr Szczerski writes “progress, whatever that means” dismissively. He argues the EU is left-leaning. But he cannot – or does not want to – see all the elements of the right-wing in the system. Mr Szczerski accuses the EU of exactly the opposite of what the French far-left is accusing it of not being. According to them, the EU is a liberal instrument of globalisation dismantling the French welfare.
So, what is the EU? As Mr Szczerski argues, a left-liberal conspiracy, or as Mr Melanchon? The latter argued earlier this year there is a Macron-Orban axis and a German CDU diktat that should be removed….
Maybe, only maybe the EU is a compromise? An inclusive compromise of those who can identify themselves in the final product. All views contributing are welcome from the start, and – according to the latest figures it takes 20 months on average to legislate in the Union – over the next following year and half a compromise is gradually worked out. Across the political views, across the national and sectoral interests, respecting the European interest as proposed by the Commission.
And as such a compromise you can either identify yourself in it, especially if you are a stateman, or you chose not to do this, and to argue that the entire project is hostile, has been hijacked by the other side.
Maybe the Gdańsk shipyard bankruptcy was a mistake. Maybe the Commission should be more accommodating. I don’t know. But I do know that the Polish government was able to save the Polish air carrier LOT when it had its difficult days, with the support of the European Commission. During the same period the Hungarian air carrier Malev went out of the market. So maybe, just maybe, not all is down to the good and the bad, but also to the skills of national negotiators? Mr Orban government was unable to save the airline. Mr Tusk was able to save the Polish airline. All Italian governments were able to argue in defence of Alitalia.
I love that Mr Szczerski finally acknowledges the Europeans are a force in the European decision making. It is an obvious that those four elements (Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and the Citizens) have to converge for anything like re-writing of EU treaties to happen. But sometimes it is a relief just to have a confirmation that we walk the same planet. At least sometimes.