Poland loses interest in EU

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When the Council of the EU votes on energy transformation, environmental protection or transport, the PiS government is usually in the minority.

The Eternal Question

Since joining of the EU, Poland is facing the question of its own position in the Union. The question is linked to its size: Poland is the smallest among the so-called “big states”, being demographically e.g. 54% smaller than Germany. At the same time, it is almost four times more populous than the group of numerous EU countries with a population of around 10 million. For example, Poland’s population is larger than the other nine countries that joined the EU fifteen years earlier. The economic potential undermines Poland’s stronger position by the fact that the Polish economy measured at constant prices is comparable in size to the economies of less populated countries of Western (Belgium) or Northern Europe (Sweden).

However, the status of Poland is determined not only by statistics. Over the past several years, Poles – its officials, as well as leading politicians – have learned to use their own advantages and play disadvantages effectively to pursue national interests. “At the dawn of accession, the Spaniards taught us that one should not be ashamed of being poor,” is one of the many lessons of Polish diplomacy testifying to the strategy for Poland’s presence in the EU.

This strategy was based on a delicate balance. Being the smallest of the big and the largest of the small, the Polish EU strategy included incorporating the Central and Eastern European perspective in its own political relations with large partners such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Hence, French President Sarkozy spoke in the middle of 2000s about the need to create a G-6, a group of six major EU countries. Today certain European politicians have similar ideas, including the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who talks about the weaknesses of the Franco-German leadership in Europe and the need to include Italy, Spain and Poland in it.

This delicate balance was an effective approach. One of the leading European think tanks ECFR, placed Poland as the fourth, equal to Italy, among the most influential EU country. A richer Poland has negotiated more funds for its own cohesion policy for the years 2014–20 from a smaller EU budget than in the previous budgeting period. Over the past fifteen years, Poland has not only made up for economic development (from 47 per cent of the EU average GDP per capita in 2004 to 71 per cent in 2018), but also gained many political advantages. Successful negotiations led to a new political opening towards Eastern Europe (Eastern Partnership), and two Poles took key positions in the EU: Jerzy Buzek presided over the European Parliament (2009–11), and Donald Tusk was the European Council president (2014–19) .

The 2015 Change

This strategy was abandoned by the government elected in 2015. The curent Polish government treats the Union as a purely external issue, of foreign policy, so it does not understand the involvement of EU institutions in the issues of legal system reforms in Poland. Since the dismantling of independent judicial institutions, as well as the civil service or independent journalism in public media, Poland’s position in the EU has deteriorated rapidly. In the national debate, the PiS government accuses the opposition of turning the European partners hostile, and that the European institutions are acting in bad faith and want to harm “good” reform for ideological reasons.

Meanwhile, there are objective reasons for launching the infringement procedures. The government under the direction of Mateusz Morawiecki is trying to promote its own version of “Europe of Nations”. These arguments boil down to undermining the independence of the EU institutions from the national governments. The Prime Minister said in the European Parliament that “respecting […] national identities is the foundation for trust in the Union. … every country in the Union has the right to shape its legal system in accordance with its traditions.”

There are many examples of progressing marginalization.

First, votes in the EU Council. The data collected by VoteWatch.eu shows that the Polish government is increasingly losing votes in the Council. By the end of the PO-PSL (EPP) coalition’s government, the rate of losing votes was at 3.1 per cent, placing Poland at comparable levels of Austria and Germany. From PiS’s rise to power in November 2015 to the end of 2018, this ratio increased to 6.6 per cent, and Poland fell to the second to last place. Only the Brexit’s UK achieves worse indicators.

This should be read as the growing incompetence of PiS politicians to substantively resolve controversial issues. Sometimes voting is used in a populist narrative in the country – with the directive on copyright in the digital single market, the Polish government voted against knowing that it is in a minority. The ruling party used a populist argument in the campaign to the European Parliament and to the Polish Sejm: “that’s why we opposed the EU regulations regarding […] censorship on the Internet (ACTA 2).”

Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the PiS government was in a minority in 19 votes, which are most often related to the topics of energy transformation, environmental protection, and transport. Those files concern legislation which was processed mostly in the ENVI (5) and TRAN (4) committees of the European Parliament, while in the Council the most problematic files were addressed by the General Affairs Council (8 files).

Second, the issue of differentiation of levels of integration. Poland has always been against structural divisions between member states, and deeper integration meant deepening of Poland’s involvement in European structures. However, since 2015 Poland has not participated in any new enhanced cooperation. No attempt was made to join the new ones (European Public Prosecutor’s Office, recognition of divorce and separation documents). During this period, Poland also did not join any of the previously initiated forms of enhanced cooperation.

In 2017, the government joined the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which brings together all EU countries except for Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom. In 2019, as part of defence cooperation, Poland participated in 10 projects, while France in 31, Italy in 25, Germany in 16, and Spain in 24. This shows Poland’s position among countries of medium potential – Czechia participates in 9, Hungary in 10, and Slovakia in 6 PESCO projects (out of 47 possible). Moreover, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania have been leading at least one of the projects since 2018. The first project with Poland as a leader was accepted only in November 2019 (The Military Medical Training Center).

Et alors?

The European elections have also accelerated the marginalization of PiS politicians in the European Parliament. The PiS MEPs are with the ECR. This it the sixth largest political group. Before the elections, the ECR was the third force in Parliament. A sanitary cordon against the PiS candidates was applied during the election of the leaders of the new European Parliament: the PiS candidates for the chairmanship of the employment committee (EMPL) and for the vice president of the Parliament failed in voting.

Today’s Poland is at one of the last places in the EU in terms of commitment to European integration and is not particularly interested in deepening the EU in new areas. Thus – standing still – Poland is moving away from other European countries.

The weakening of Poland’s position is not insignificant. The Polish success is the success of the most important European integration process of the 21st century: the unification of Eastern and Western Europe. The Polish failures are a symbol of the failure for the entire region.

This blog post is a translation and adaptation of the Gazeta Wyborcza article of 28-29 December 2019 as well as the a chapter of the book “Priorities of the New European Commission and the Polish Interests” published last month (Warsaw 2019).

What kind of Geopolitical Commission?

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At one point this summer Ursula von der Leyen said her Commission will be “geopolitical”, as opposed to the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker.

There was no meaning to the adjective back then. There is little meaning to it today. Still, the adjective is growing on the Commission.

First foreign trip of the new President: Ethiopia. To mark the European strategic interest in the continent. But as the EU fights it’s own war on global relevance between US and China, it needs to chose its battles carefully. Africa will be an interesting field to watch.

The challenges are many for the Commission and the whole of Europe. The most important is unity. Brexit et al. do not help. Donald Tusk, the ex-EUCO boss and new head of the EPP says that the fight to preserve or protect the EU’s unity was a constant battle over the past five years. Little changed.

Provided unity is preserved, the outside world is as scary as promising. The same story, but changing. Terrorist threats, trade wars, migration flows, climate crisis, populist leaders and all the other challenges out there are met with business opportunities as new technologies come to the market, new greening of the economy constitutes a major push for innovation in Europe and new trade agreements open new markets.

Will fears dominate hopes? First days tell little of the future, but for the ball to be moved to the external field EU and its Commission needs to play bold and safe at the same time. Not to be reactive but proactive. To look for opportunities where others don’t.

EU is not and won’t be a security power. It’s magic is located elsewhere. Preservation of and expansion of the multilateral system is what EU wants. The not-so-secret weapon of the Union is the strength of its single market. Expansion and deepening into the digital single market will be matched with re-calibrating it on the sustainability tracks.

The more-secret-but-not-totally-unknown EU magic is its regulatory power. It may have lost the 5G battle to the Chinese and the Americans but the other two are nowhere close to the regulatory might of the EU.

Yes, the EU is the soft power. In the times of nationalism and populism and climate change it has been doing surprisingly well, despite the fall backs along the way.

At the end of the day what may determine our future is our free will and determination. I do not know if the Commission has it. But I hope the basic fact that 202 million people voted for this thing back in May means something.

2 Commissioners missing

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Today there were hearings in the European Parliament. Extra hearings following the rejection of the initial candidates for Commissioners from Romania, Hungary and France.

The replacement candidates who did well are the two: Adina-Ioana Vălean of Romania, who is scheduled to be the Commissioner for transport, and Thierry Breton of France, who will be responsible for the internal market. All provided the von der Leyen Commission gets a green light from the European Parliament.

The Breton’s acceptance is a turn-around of the Social-Democrats. Clearly the new President’s magic worked out well with the left-wingers. Yesterday President von der Leyen announced re-branding some of the portfolios in her College:

  • protecting our European Way of Life is changed to promoting our European Way of Life
  • the jobs portfolio will include social rights
  • fisheries to be added to the environment and the oceans

Well played, Ms Ursula.

Still, there is a problem with the Hungarian candidate. Olivér Várhelyi is invited back to communicate with the foreign affairs committee (AFET). By Monday we shall know if there is another meeting necessary. First, Mr Várhelyi is asked to provide written answers.

Apparently, as Politico reports, Mr Várhelyi problems was to convince his interlocutors that he will be independent from the national governments. In particular, one was worrisome: Budapest.

The last missing puzzle is the British Commissioner. The British PermRep, or Ambassador to the EU, has sent a letter last night (13 November) saying that London will not send a Commissioner before the elections in the UK. The vote is scheduled for 12 December.

Can the Commission be voted without the British Commissioner? That’s the question without an answer for the moment. Clearly the lawyers at the Berlaymont have something to work on in the upcoming days.

For the von der Leyen Commission to take office, the entire College needs to be approved by the Parliament. This vote is now tentatively scheduled for the last week of November.

4 Commissioners missing

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For the new European Commission to take office – initially scheduled for 1 November – we are still missing four confirmations and a final confirmation vote in the European Parliament.

Three Commissioners-candidates were rejected earlier by the European Parliament. The French Sylvie Goulard was denied after her hearing. The Romanian Rovana Plumb and the Hungarian László Trócsányi were stopped even before the hearing begun; they were found to have a conflict of interest.

The three capitals were requested to send new candidates. The Romanian candidate was “in limbo” due to a difficult political situation in Bucharest. Finally a new PM Ludovic Orban nominated Adina-Ioana Vălean after consulting Ursula von der Leyen.

The Hungarians downgraded their candidate from a high-profile Trócsányi to the civil servant level, Olivér Várhelyi. Both Várhelyi and Vălean should be acceptable during the next line of hearings in the Parliament.

The French new nominee might prove more problematic to swallow. Thierry Breton is a former businessman; the issue is always delicate with the Parliament’s left wing groups.

Worse for von der Leyen, the delicate gender balance of the initial college (13-14) is now shifting to 12-15; even a female British commissioner would not improve the situation much (13-15).

Boris Johnson was asked by Ursula to propose a British nominee as soon as possible. Will he comply? Clearly there should be a British Commissioner in a European Commission if the rule of one Commissioner per member state was to be respected. As long as Brexit has not happened there is room for a British Commissioner in the Commission, Juncker or von der Leyen.

Do we need a British Commissioner?

But there is no new Commission without a final OK from the European Parliament to the entire college. The timetable is that next week there should be the missing hearings, and should everything go smoothly, the Commission vote could be scheduled still in November.

Ursula von der Leyen hopes for her College to begin on 1 December.

The Hearings Are Coming Up

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The second to last element in the process of establishing the new European leadership is about to take place. The show will begin as each of the individual Commissioners-nominees will face the European Parliament committee or committees. In the committees public hearings are scheduled.

Here is the itinerary of the upcoming shows:

30 September: Commissioners Sefcovic, Hogan and Gabriel as a starter. Do not expect any major fireworks, all Commissioners are returning to the College, so they should know what to expect and how to swim through the murky waters of EP hearings peacefully.

1 October: the day to watch. There are 6 scheduled hearings of first timers: Schmit, Urpilainen, Wojciechowski, Johansson, Trocsanyi and Kyriakides. These people are so new that the EU services are unsure if the Cypriot Commissioner-nominee is Ms Kyriakidou or Ms Kyriakides. Even her Wikipedia page is unsure. One of the first issues to be addressed.

The hearings to watch are that of Mr Wojciechowski (14:30, AGRI committee) and of Mr Trocsanyi (18:30, AFET committee). Both have a potential to be explosive, as both nominees come from countries against which the Article 7 procedure has been initiated. On top of that there is a pending OLAF case against Mr Wojciechowski and Mr Trocsanyi is a former Justice minister in the Orban government, making him directly linked with the Hungarian rule of law situation.

2 October: Another set of first timers, including Reynders, Plumb, Dalli, Goulard, Ferreira and Lenarcic. Of them the most controversial could be hearings of Ms Goulard due to her recent financial misbehaviour. Also Ms Plumb is a candidate for some serious grilling due to her past in Romania. Mr Reynders is under a police investigation, which is not a particularly happy start for someone who should be dealing with the rule of law. The leadership of S&D has already voiced their concerns on the matter.

3 October: a combination of a returning Commissioner (Hahn) and first timers: Gentiloni, Simson, Sinkevicius, Schinas and Suica. On this day expect fireworks during the Gentiloni hearing (an Italian responsible for Italian debt management… conflict of interest?), the Sinkevicius hearing might be entertaining, as Mr Sinkevicius is to be the first European Commissioner born in 1990s. A millennial in the College. Let’s see what it truly means.

A conflict is already playing out about the Schinas portfolio. Clearly it will culminate during the hearing. “The European Way of Life” and migration portfolio prove to be highly controversial for many in the European Parliament, especially the S&D. On the other hand EPP defends the structure of the portfolio as it is.

7 October: two hearings of two vice-presidents: Ms Jourova and Mr Borrell. All could go well, depending on how Ms Jourova answers the questions related to rule of law of the government which has nominated her in the first place (Czechia). Still, she is a returning and experienced Commissioner. As for Mr Borrell the only issue of concern is his age (72) and the job of the High Representative is a job of three people. Can he manage? The former EP President is also known for his undiplomatic language.

8 October: the heavy weights, or – executive vice-presidents: Mr Timmermans, Ms Vestager and Mr Dombrovskis. S&D has some issues with the “executive status” of Mr Dombrovskis. The ECR has issues with Mr Timmermans. The Parliament might be questioning Ms Vestager on the potential review of the competition policy.

The link to the full schedule is here.

And then we will know if Ms von der Layen needs to make some corrections in the College composition.

The last element is the final approval of the entire College. Then the political part is over and only ceremonial elements remain: to swear in the Commissioners and to formally take the positions on 1 November, or soon after.

There might be also a last minute injection of one more Commissioner: if Brexit is delayed again the UK government has a right to nominate a Commissioner (to be heard and given responsibilities by the President, accordingly).

Ursula’s College: the critical approach

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Ursula von der Leyen is proud. Her College is gender almost-balanced. There are 27 members, 14 men and 13 women. There were never as many ladies in the European Commission college.

Yet, is this truly her College? Yes, she asked for female candidates. She also asked for two candidates to chose from. In the past presidents Barroso and Juncker were able to change individual candidates in order to increase “the female quota”. This time round there was no need to increase the number of ladies – hence this time round there was no questions about replacement.

But why there was no question “where is the second candidate” from Ms von der Leyen to the governments, including the one in Paris? Only Bucharest sent two candidates to chose from.

Instead there were some secret negotiations between Madame La Presidente with the national leaders about the portfolios and the names. At the end of the day we got this:

New European Commission’s official graph

On the basis of this graph we can work out what Ms von der Leyen has been talking with the national leaders about: how to accommodate their desires.

This is the main problem of the incoming college: will it truly be interested in pursuing the European interest – otherwise known as “mission impossible”? Or will the job be to manage the desires of the member states?

In the graph there are 27 names. The President and three Executive Vice-Presidents look like a true political leadership between the new, yet a national heavyweight of von der Leyen, and politically experienced, competent and embattled Timmermans and Vestager. The fourth is a secret-weapon-come-handy: a former Latvian PM who proved to be an effective Commissioner. One lobbyist opinion of him I have heard this month: “He gets things done”.

Still, the liberal Vestager and the social-democrat Timmermans are said not to be in the seventh heaven as apparently there were expectations there would be three people in the leadership representing three main parties of this “ruling coalition” between the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe. Instead Mr Dombrovskis “represents” the EPP and the President is somehow above the party petty politics.

Mr Dombrovskis represents also the Central and Eastern Europeans. This is a regional perspective on the College, which nominally should not be. The treaties are silent about a geographical balance in the College as long as there are as many members of the College as there are member states.

This Council-like perspective (geographical, “Central and Eastern European”) is worrisome. The Commission should be, as the treaties say, “completely independent”, which means that “the members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity”.

NO INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT

COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE

Mr Dombrovskis, however, is not a problem. He is a proven solid Commissioner who is able to think independently and be effective. Much could be expected of him.

The real worry is elsewhere. Is this a Ursula von der Leyen Commission or a member states Commission? Is this a patchwork of national interests-Commission, a mini-European Council, or is there a chance to turn this group of accidental people into a collective, European team?

Jean-Claude Juncker talked his Commission was “political”, meaning his. The President is responsible for activities of all the Commissioners, for their views, for what they say and how they perform. This is why the President has the power to fire a Commissioner. Ursula von der Layen says hers is the “geopolitical Commission”. For now, the adjective needs filling in with a meaning.

At the same time I hear among the Commission services people that all is “in the mission letter”. Yes, there are the mission letters that the President has addressed to all the Commissioners.

Yet somehow many people do not rest assured. Hopefully “not yet”, but worrisomely it seems the next College might migrate away from the Union interest into some sort of a coalition of national interests. This would be very worrisome.

This is an accusation that Eurosceptics like the Polish government’s Law and Justice (PiS) politicians have had against the Commission for years: that it represents the interests of a few, largest and most relevant nations.

On the other hand, in the past the services people were also kept out of the loop at this time in the process. The process is political and the Commission needs to go through a delicate process of being chosen. Once the confirmation is there, life should be normal, again.

Below the Executives: the Others

Below the Executives there are the 23 “other Commissioners”. Some of them will be very relevant, among them Phil Hogan responsible for trade, Paolo Gentiloni responsible for economy, and Kadri Simson for energy. There is also the VP/High Representative Josep Borrell, as well as the Sylvie Goulard’s portfolio internal market and a few others.

Still, the distance between the Executives and the Others seems relevant for the years to come. By the same token, Señor Borrell aside, all other VPs are rather equivalent to a “minister without a dossier” status, as they shall not have Commission services directly under their command. Unless their theme becomes relevant and uncontested, they risk marginalisation. Take VP Jourova, whose task includes one of the hottest potatoes in town, the rule of law. Yet there is also the Commissioner-to-be Reynders (Justice) and the legacy of another College member, Frans Timmermans.

This makes a lot of people of the opposition and judges in Poland worried that the rule of law, instead of gaining momentum, risks actually to be relegated from the list of political priorities. I do not share the worries, instead I do expect new synergies. Those sceptical should remember that it was not Mr Timmermans who led a ride against the PiS government (this is how he is portrayed by the ruling party in Warsaw), but it was a Commission-led process in which Mr Timmermans found a political role. As long as the rule of law issues do not go away, they shall continue to be addressed. And should the Commission fail in the task, the Parliament is there to remind the College about its role.

The Parliament Hearings

The hearings will begin on 30 September. There are two issues at hand right now. First is the empty discussion about the title of a portfolio for Mr Schinas, “Protecting Our European Way of Life”. I view the discussion empty because however relevant it may sound for the left-wing politicians, shouldn’t more relevant be what the Commissioner-to-be plans are for how he wants to protect the European way of life? What his approach to migration will actually be?

And the job title should be a secondary, not a primary issue for the criticism.

The second is looking for a new “victim” the European Parliament can reject. In 2004, 2009 and 2014 there were victims of excessive self-belief and ignorance. This time there might be a political game involved, too. The strongest candidate to be a victim ahead of the hearings is Mr Trócsányi (to be heard on 1 October, 18:30), a Hungarian candidate for the portfolio of Neighbourhood and Enlargement. His main vulnerability on paper is that he was Mr Viktor Orban’s justice minister, overseeing all the judicial reforms undermining the rule of law in the country.

Left-leaning commentators and politicians already ask if Mr Trócsányi shares the EU values and how he envisages to promote the EU value of rule of law in EU neighbourhood and in Eastern Europe.

Hungary is in the procedure of Article 7 of the Union Treaties accused of violation of Union values.

Another potential “victim” of the hearings might be the Romanian candidate Rovana Plumb. There is a corruption scandal allegations against her going back to 2017.

Financial problems are also with the French and Belgian candidates. Yet, the podium of the “weakest links” belongs to the Polish candidate Janusz Wojciechowski.

Mr Wojciechowski’s weakest points are two: first, he is a PiS candidate. All PiS candidates seem to lose in a political vote this Parliament: Ms Szydło, former PM, failed twice to be elected chairwoman of the EMPL (employment) parliamentary committee, and Mr Krasnodębski, a former EP VP, lost his seat to an unattached countercandidate.

The other weakness of Mr Wojciechowski are his financial problems, which are examined by the anti-money-laundering agency OLAF. To have an OLAF case pending – and the news broke earlier this month – is rather disqualifying in its own right. For now the official Commission response? “Innocent before proven guilty”. PiS members applaud.

Still he has some chances. First of all, Mr Wojciechowski was not in the PiS government (like the Hungarian candidate). Instead he has hid himself in the Court of Auditors as a member of the Court. Even though he lost an opinion vote in the Parliament, the Council confirmed him to the position. In the Court he worked also on agricultural issues. And the portfolio is a perfect match for the Warsaw government: agriculture is relevant in Poland politically, and the issue no. 1 is to equalize the payments between Eastern and Western EU farmers. A Polish agricultural Commissioner could have an ambitious and realistic goal. A surprising, win-win in sight?

Another window for Mr Wojciechowski is the committee. AGRI is not as party political as some other committees and it is presided over by a German EPP politician. The EPP is known not to share the “cordon sanitaire” against the Law and Justice politicians.

We shall know more after his performance in the committee on 1 October 14:30.

But if the European Parliament truly wants to have something to say politically this season, there should be blood this October.

Szczerski withdraws & his book, ‘Power & Market’ (5)

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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.

Janusz Wojciechowski in the Parliament in Brussels (2016)

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:

  1. The will of member states to fulfil obligations and to respect the rule of equality of member states in the Union;
  2. The capacity of the European Commission to prepare concrete coordination proposals according to the regulatory scheme;
  3. The position of the European Parliament, which tends to politicise the economic governance of the EU;
  4. 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.

Et alors?

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.

Will the next Polish EU Commissioner be female?

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Last time we wrote about who can be the Polish Commissioner in the next European Commission there were 6 names on the agenda. Four of them are still in play (Szymański, Fotyga, Bielan and Kwieciński), but there are three new names that come out after the European elections.

All depends on the set-up of the next European Commission, it’s structure and organisation. The Polish governing party, Law and Justice, is looking more into the dossier and does not try to impose a specific person, which is a smart strategy.

Still, depending on the portfolio different people are mentioned. Next to Adam Bielan, newly returning MEP, Anna Fotyga, a re-elected MEP, Konrad Szymański, the Europe Minister, and Jerzy Kwieciński, the Economy Minister there are three new names. Two heavyweights, Beata Szydło and Joachim Brudziński, come from the inner circles of power within the Law and Justice.

Beata Szydło

Ms Szydło, now a first time MEP, is a former prime minister. Since elections she has been tipped for all the important positions: vice-president of the European Parliament (July), President of Poland in 2020 or 2025, and the European Commissioner. The main reason for this resurgence of popularity is Ms Szydło electoral performance: over 500.000 votes.

Beata Szydło addresses the
European Parliament in 2016

At the same time, Ms Szydło is remembered for anti-European behaviour when she took office. The problems with the rule of law in Poland begun with her government. She has had the EU flags removed from her office and official meetings. When she addressed the European Parliament she lied about refugees in Poland confusing the Ukrainian immigrants with refugees. It will be interesting to see how the newly-elected MEP will try to put the difficult past behind her. Effectively, she is the face for almost everything Poland has been criticized in the EU for the last four years.

Her chance of being accepted as a Commissioner during the EP hearing: limited. Even Law and Justice recognises the challenge. Not wanting a confrontation, it may well be that someone else is nominated EU Commissioner.

Joachim Brudziński

The next heavyweight is Joachim Brudziński, a former interior minister turned MEP. For Mr Brudziński to become a Commissioner it would take a skilful negotiations. He is a close affiliate of the PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, with whom he spends holidays. In 2017, for example, the gentlemen went hiking:

Brudziński, second from left, Kaczyński in the middle. Source: https://twitter.com/jbrudzinski

Truly, Mr Brudziński is probably the closest to the Chairman from all of the mentioned potential Commissioners. The political affiliations is his forte. His potential portfolio could be in the security area, which is not exactly the objective of the Polish government (economy, energy).

Still, Ms Szydło’s and Mr Brudziński’s foreign languages are not strong qualifications. Foreign language skills is not a must in the EP; in the College, however, it is.

Jadwiga Emilewicz

If Law and Justice would like to avoid controversy, Ms Emilewicz could be a good option. Minister Gowin openly talks about this lady in a specific arrangement. He also points out to her weakness: she is not a member of the Law and Justice.

Who is Jadwiga Emilewicz? Ms Emilewicz is a 44 year old minister of entrepreneurship with the Agreement (Porozumienie), a junior coalition partner of Law and Justice. She could take an energy or environmental portfolio, says Mr Gowin in the Polsat News interview.

Jarosław Gowin, who is a leader of Porozumienie and a deputy PM, says that Ms Emilewicz would fit because of her expertise in the topic (energy transition) and that she is a woman. In the next European Commission the gender balance will be an important argument.

Who’s decision is it?

There is a Polish consensus on the appointment of the next Polish Commissioner. The Law and Justice ruling party’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński will call the shots. The negotiations over the dossier will be led by the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the Europe Minister Konrad Szymański. With whom will they negotiate?

This is unclear as there is no one frontrunner for the position of the Commission President. Earlier this week the Visegrad-4 failed to support one candidate in the European Council.

However, in the preparatory work, the European Parliament’s hearings are frequently downplayed. That may prove wrong, depending whom Mr Kaczyński sends to the Commission.