17th Aug 2022

Polish twins accused of bad taste in Brussels

The Kaczynski government sees its EU summit performance as a big success. But Poland's messy negotiating tactics and use of World War II references has left a bad taste in the mouth of some of its partners in Brussels.

"The results are very encouraging for Poland," a smiling president Lech Kaczynski said in the EU capital on Saturday morning (23 June). "Poland's position has been radically strengthened," his twin brother and prime minister, Jaroslaw, told Polish daily Dziennik on Sunday.

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After 36 hours of talks, Poland ditched its "square root" EU voting model but got to keep the pro-Polish "Nice" voting system until 2017. It also grabbed the headlines - annoying Merkel, courted by Blair and Sarkozy - in a show of its big league status in Europe.

Support has come in from unexpected quarters: Spanish opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy, said Poland defended Spain's interests on voting. The Polish liberal and socialist opposition called it a "measured success," which raised the profile of new EU states in general.

Meanwhile, the twins brushed off criticism of their negotiating style. Before making any decisions, Lech would telephone his more hard-necked twin, Jaroslaw, in Warsaw. When it came down to the wire, Mr Blair and Mr Sarkozy had to call the Polish capital on the phone.

Instead of using briefings in Brussels, Poland issued its summit veto threats via Jaroslaw's speeches on Polish TV. Poland's negotiating team also suffered an ugly row between foreign minister Anna Fotyga and her own sherpas on how hard to fight for the square root.

"There was one quick call to president Sarkozy and a half-minute call to prime minister Blair," Lech said, responding to press questions on why he had come to the summit, if it is his brother who calls the shots. "I on average phone my brother six or seven times a day [anyway]," the president added.

Reopening old wounds

The most controversial Polish tactic was its attempt to leverage German World War II guilt. When Jaroslaw talked ahead of the summit about using EU voting to repay Poland for the millions of Poles killed by Germany in the 1940s, it seemed like just another populist faux pas.

But Lech brought up the idea again at the EU leaders' dinner in Brussels, in a move that may have contributed to chancellor Merkel's threat to call an intergovernmental conference without Polish approval. In post-summit interviews, the twins kept the same line.

"There are no reasons to censor the past," Lech said, regretting that he himself was too young to have fought the Germans. "I'm sorry, but today we still have to remind people who was the executioner and who was the victim," Jaroslaw said in his interview.

Commenting on the rhetoric, Polish liberal MEP and historian Bronislaw Geremek told PAP that "the EU was based on the idea of putting an end to the war era...[the Polish government] tried to open wounds that have not yet fully healed."

The German press was less kind. The biggest selling paper, Bild, called the twins "poisoned dwarves" and referred to their "sickening double game." Weekly Die Welt am Sonntag predicted a "new period of icy relations" between the two EU states.

The 'jerks' in the class

The criticism did not come from Poland's old adversary only. Italy's Romano Prodi in an interview with La Repubblica said he was "bitter" over Poland and Britain's naked euroscepticism. The paper's editorial was titled "The Victory of the Bad Twin."

Even the mild-mannered Nordic countries voiced disapproval. At the summit one Scandinavian diplomat called Poland the "jerks" in the EU class. Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter spoke of "bad taste" and predicted Poland's "increasing political isolation."

"God help us," one EU official said on the prospects of Warsaw running the EU presidency in 2011. "The new set in Warsaw just doesn't know how Brussels works, how to behave here. If they had the presidency now, they'd be drinking the ink from the inkwells," another EU official joked.

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