8th May 2021

Spectre of populism hangs over Europe, Polish minister says

The real threat to the EU is the rising tide of populism in key member states rather than the Franco-British clash between deeper political integration and a free trade Europe, according to Polish foreign minister Adam Rotfeld.

"I would say that the spectre that is hanging over Europe [today] is the spectre of populism", the minister told EUobserver on Wednesday (22 June), comparing the trend to the rise of communism in Europe in the 19th century.

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He explained that the growth of anti-establishment feeling in countries such as France, Germany and Poland is the largest destabilising factor in Europe's new security environment, which has moved on from the risk of military aggression.

"The main threats are within us, within the countries and not between us", Mr Rotfeld stated.

The minister warned it would be a mistake to lay the blame on right-wing politicians such as Austria's Jorg Haider or the French National Front chief Jean-Marie Le Pen. The main problem is the behaviour of the political elite.

"Populism rests on the well-established parties, they are more and more populist", Mr Rotfeld indicated. "In order to win in new directions they use obviously populistic phraseology".

Rhetoric distorts reality

He noted that the tendency to associate the French and Dutch no votes on the EU Constitution with hostility to enlargement is an example of governments failing to articulate a sophisticated vision of Europe.

"The political class in Europe at the moment is without class", Mr Rotfeld said.

The incoming British presidency also came in for stick, with the minister pointing out that UK prime minister Tony Blair's call to overhaul the common agricultural policy lacks detail.

"It seems to me that it is a simplification that one should give more money to Lisbon and less to agriculture", he indicated, noting that the Lisbon Agenda is mostly funded from member states' budgets.

"I'm not sure whether I know how they intend to restructure the budget, whether the policy is about money, or it is about something else", the minister said.

Mr Rotfeld also criticised the recent use of strong language over the failure of last week's summit, recommending "more moderate and neutral words" instead.

Crisis could be new beginning

The Polish diplomat also sounded a note of optimism however - saying that while Europe is standing on the cusp of change and uncertainty, the moment should be seized as "a kind of new beginning" with the EU itself being "the best instrument" to turn the populist tide.

The foreign minister indicated that Poland is in a good position to play a mediating role on the new European stage, due to strong economic growth and a combination of interests that put it between the liberalist and integrationist camps.

"From the Polish point of view, the common foreign and security policy is at least as important as the common market. For us, the European structure is an element of Polish security and Polish safety", he stated.

Coming out of Wednesday's Iraq summit in Brussels, which saw the US, UK and France lay aside their differences on the war, Mr Rotfeld remarked that Warsaw is no longer seen as Washington's "trojan horse" due to its own support for the invasion.

He said his foreign policy is not based on coalitions with the US or the UK against France and Germany but on building a consensus that profits everybody.

"Our intention is to try to find something in common and it seems to me that this is the only responsible way to develop a reasonable policy for such countries as Poland", the minister concluded.

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