Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

Poland shrugs off EU 'troublemaker' image

With the Polish veto still hanging in the air after last Friday's EU-Russia summit misfire, the EU continues to invent ways to break the deadlock while Polish politicians are deflecting criticism they are becoming the biggest "troublemakers" in the EU.

This week Brussels offered Poland a written guarantee Warsaw could suspend EU talks on an EU-Russia "Permanent Partnership Council" on energy if Russia misbehaved on trade in future, but Warsaw declined sticking to its request for a guarantee it can suspend the much grander EU-Russia "Strategic Partnership Treaty" talks instead.

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  • Warsaw: says the veto row will make the EU stronger (Photo: European Commission)

With delicate negotiations still ongoing, the big EU member states such as the UK, Germany and France have not attacked Poland openly on the veto.

Privately however, diplomats say the EU should do more for Poland on trade but that Poland should not hold the EU-Russia treaty hostage over vegetables and meat.

In the background, Russia's threat to slap food export bans on the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria has bolstered the Polish argument that the old EU15 must show "solidarity" with the new EU10+2 states or risk seeing Russia bully other EU countries as it has done Poland.

But at the same time, Poland's veto comes as the latest in a line of annoying moves for Paris and Berlin if not London - the previous bad boy in the class - while the Kaczynski twins' awkward handling of internal issues such as gay rights and free press has also raised eyebrows in Brussels.

In the past 12 months Poland's cry of "solidarity" has erupted over labour market access, the services directive, a German-Russian gas pipeline and the Schengen zone. Its budget deficit is breaking EU rules. Its plan to hold a referendum on eurozone entry is unpopular and in January it alone vetoed VAT reforms.

Solidarity or death

Polish ex-diplomat Pawel Swieboda - who now runs a think-tank in Warsaw - told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza earlier this week the Russia veto "will see the EU opinion of Poland as a classic troublemaker get stronger" seeing its "political capital" reduced in upcoming EU discussions on the constitution and enlargement.

"It hasn't helped [to get EU support on the Russian ban] that since summer Poland has not had its own EU ambassador. It's a big difference reading out instructions from Warsaw at EU ambassadors' meetings and having somebody who really takes care of [Polish] interests in the EU capital," he added.

But the opinions of Mr Swieboda - who ran the Polish foreign ministry's EU department until August - seemed to carry little weight with Polish parliament speaker and ruling Law and Justice party vice-chairman Marek Jurek when interviewed by EUobserver in Brussels this week.

"I agree that a much better method is that of consultation and compromise," Mr Jurek stated, but went on to blame the European Commission for the breakdown, saying "this situation could have been avoided if the commission had intervened against Russia earlier in a more energetic way."

'Verbalism' not enough

Mr Jurek - a confidante of the Kaczynski brothers - also blamed the Finnish EU presidency for giving Poland flimsy political promises on the Russia trade ban instead of written guarantees on treaty vetoes, saying "One should not confuse solidarity with verbalism."

"We expect there will be no differentiation in the EU of countries new and old and in particular that there won't be appeasement of a politics of the decomposition of the EU by external partners," he commented on the long-term political impact of the Polish veto row.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is still trying and failing to get Russia to agree to hold three-way Brussels-Warsaw-Moscow talks on meat and German diplomats are reportedly talking to Russia on dropping the embargo before the EU summit on 14 December or by 1 January at the latest.

"It is necessary first of all to lift the embargo and this would then open the way to [EU-Russia treaty] negotiations," Mr Jurek said, showing no signs that Warsaw is planning to budge before Moscow even if it gets what it wants from its EU colleagues in Brussels.

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