Monday

18th Feb 2019

Poland to trade UK welfare for Nato bases

  • Previous Polish governments have called for permanent bases which host between 3,000 and 5,000 troops each (Photo: Giuseppe Milo)

Poland has said it’s willing to trade British welfare rights for UK support for Nato bases, as the country edges closer to pariah status in the EU over domestic reforms.

The Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, put forward the UK bargain in an interview with the Reuters news agency in Warsaw on Sunday (3 January).

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Asked if there’s anything Britain could do to soften Polish opposition to its idea of freezing EU migrant benefits - a British demand ahead of its In/Out referendum - Waszczykowski said: “Of course. Britain could offer something to Poland in terms of international security.”

“We still consider ourselves a second-class Nato member state, because in central Europe ... there aren't, aside from a token presence, any significant allied forces or defence installations, which gives the Russians an excuse to play in this region.”

He said the Polish government, elected in October, is to increase welfare at home to offset potential UK restrictions.

But he added: “It would be very difficult for us to accept any discrimination [against Polish workers] … unless Britain helped us really effectively with regard to the Polish defence ambitions at the summit in Warsaw.”

Poland is to host a meeting of Nato leaders in its capital city in July.

Nato is already creating new “command and control” facilities in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania as part of a rapid reaction force to deter Russian aggression. It’s also posting extra troops to the region on a temporary or “rotational” basis.

But previous Polish governments have called for permanent bases which host between 3,000 and 5,000 troops each, on the model of Cold War-era US bases in Western Germany.

But Russia says it would violate a 1997 treaty on Nato’s presence in the former Iron Curtain region.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin, on 31 December, also signed a new National Security Strategy which names the US and Nato as “threats” because they’re “moving military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders.”

EU rifts

Poland’s UK bargain augurs a rift in eastern Europe.

It had previously joined the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia - the so-called Visegrad club - in opposing “discriminatory” welfare restrictions.

But Waszczykowski’s government has bigger fish to fry in the EU pan.

Speaking to the FAZ daily in Germany also on Sunday, the German EU commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, said Poland should face special scrutiny, leading to potential suspension of its EU Council voting rights.

“Many reasons exist for us to activate the ‘rule of law mechanism' and for us to place Warsaw under monitoring,” he said.

He singled out a new media law, adopted by Polish MPs last week, which would let the treasury minister fire directors of state TV and radio broadcasters, extending political control over editorial policy.

“A director cannot be dismissed without cause. It would be arbitrary,” Oettinger said.

January showdown

The media law comes after Poland, also in December, adopted reforms to its Constitutional Tribunal which allow the government to install loyalist judges and which make it harder for the court to vet new laws.

The European Commission has, in letters to Warsaw, criticised the media and constitutional changes. It plans to hold a debate on the situation at its first New Year meeting on 13 January.

Oettinger’s threat refers to article 7 in the EU treaty, which says Council voting rights can be frozen if there’s a “serious and persistent breach” of common values and rule of law.

The threat was previously invoked when a far-right party joined a coalition government in Austria 15 years ago.

Left-leaning and liberal MEPs have also called for an article 7 procedure against Hungary, due to judicial and media curbs by the government of PM Viktor Orban.

EU commission criticism upsets Warsaw

The Polish foreign ministry has summoned the European Commission’s top official in Warsaw to clarify criticism of its new media law.

Hungary open to UK deal if it avoids discrimination

Hungary could support to the UK's proposals to curb in-work benefits, as long as they do not discriminate against Hungarian workers, prime minister Viktor Orban stressed as he hosted David Cameron in Budapest.

British ministers can campaign for EU exit

Prime minister David Cameron said eurosceptic cabinet members will be freed from collective responsibility, and that he would not resign if defeated at the EU referendum.

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