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European policy of Donald Tusk’s government – two years’ balance of actions

Published on March 28, 2011 by: in: Politics

European policy is currently one of the least controversial issues, which our government is dealing with. Contrary to discussions around gambling, budget deficit or decreasing of OFE (Open Pensions Found) payments, European issues do not cause such enormous emotions. The society seems to accept in majority the main assumptions of the Tusk’s government’s international actions. The foreign policy of the government (the European policy is hardly ever extracted from the foreign policy) is rated as good or satisfactory by over 70% of the society (according to the surveys from October carried out by CBOS – Centre for Public Opinion Research). Lack of heated debate does not mean however that decisions made within the foreign policy in the European context will not bring specific results in the future. This is why it is worth looking closely at the efficiency of the Polish government in this area and make an attempt at assessing their actions. Below we present a subjective catalogue of positive and negative aspects of European policy of the Prime Minister Tusk, his ministers and whole government administration.

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What is a plus?

Clear improvement of reputation and significance of Poland on the European stage

Current image of our country may seem slightly exaggerated as it remains in a stark contrast with the situation which occurred in the years 2005-2007. Poland then let have the label of the European ‘brake’ pinned to its back – a ‘brake’ that cannot skillfully call for its interests using the methods accepted in the European Union but continuously threatens with the veto. Nowadays this not very honorable role of the European scapegoat was taken over by other countries (for example the Czech Republic). It happened despite the fact that it was president Kaczyński who delayed finalizing the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty for so long. This issue has not aroused such strong emotions in Europe for some time now. Let’s also notice that objections against some Union’s solutions discussed lately on the European forum were not expressed by the Polish side less rarely than during the last cadencies of our parliament. Suffice to remind the negotiations concerning Union’s policy on the energy and climate or framework of the support for the poorer countries limiting the emission of CO2. All this was done however with much more negotiation skills. Results, both for the issues in question themselves and for the position and image of Poland, were much better.

Including Polish interests in implementing a new policy on the energy and climate in the European Union

We managed to convince the Union to such a system of implementing limits in the emission of CO2 which will not cause a radical decrease in the competitiveness of Polish industry, based to a big extent on burning materials emitting significant amounts of this gas. Current government actively supports the idea that the extent of support in limiting emission of greenhouse gases for the poorer countries by given EU countries should not be determined solely on the grounds of the amount of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere, but also the level of GDP.

Eastern Partnership

It has been developing so far much more dynamically than for example the European Neighbourhood Policy, which was presented in 2003 and which has not reached the assumed goals yet.  By proposing the Eastern Partnership, Poland underlined within the European Union that in its global policy the special attention has to be paid to its Eastern neighbours. It is also a crucial fact that the Partnership is the first serious ‘positive’ initiative of the Polish government within the EU. This way we prove that our activity is not limited only to threat of blocking and vetoing but we also intend to come forward with our own proposals. To make Partnership successful, it is necessary to work on a bigger involvement of other countries in this project. It will not be any good if it remains a solely Polish initiative. The involvement of the partners from the Western Europe would be especially valuable. Even more now, as Sweden, which first supported the initiative of the Partnership, retreated from the active support in order to keep a neutrality throughout its presidency in the European Union. Especially bigger involvement of Germany is desired.

Polish preparations for the presidency in the European Union in 2011

Apart from being a political challenge, it is undoubtedly an enormous logistic and essential venture. Preparations for the Polish presidency should be carried out in three dimensions: first one concerns political directions of our presidency. It comes down to defining our priorities, the most important issues, to which Poland will want to draw attention in the second half of 2011. These priorities were already defined by the government at the beginning of this year, they include: budget of the EU for the years 2014-20, the Eastern Partnership, energy security and the Strategy for the Baltic Sea. At a current stage it is necessary to determine further details of these priorities, include a wider circle of the experts and non-governmental organizations into a debate on these issues.

Secondly, we have to take care of educating staff and workers of the administration, who will be responsible for preparations and course of the presidency. Contrary to popular belief it is not an easy task at all. The number of specialists is limited and a big part of them work already in the Union’s institutions. This is why training of the current workers of the civil service has to be taken care well in advance.

Third, the presidency is a serious logistic venture. A series of planned meetings require suitable conference infrastructure, hotels and transport. Such a suitable base has to be reserved a few months in advance, complicated tender procedures have to be also taken into account. It means that specific actions are needed already this year. According to the UKIE preparations for the presidency started already some time ago. Priorities and state of preparations have been discussed by the government, the recruitment of needed staff is carried out, trainings and logistic actions are taken care of. It seems that from the point of view of administration and logistics we are not left behind. Some things have been started more in advance than it happened in a few other countries which led the presidency. Obviously it is too early to judge the effects of these undertakings. Vast majority of them will bring results during the presidency or in a moment’s advance. We should wait with final comments until then. It is also worth pointing out that even the more thorough preparations of the administration and logistics may not prevent the presidency from a failure if there are political obstacles. There are two main threats. First, there are parliamentary elections scheduled for the time of the presidency of Poland. Political campaign may to a big extent make it difficult to focus on the presidency. It would be worth considering rescheduling the elections for the earlier date, for example in spring 2011. This would of course need the parliament to dissolve itself, meaning the agreement of the biggest political parties would be necessary. It remains unknown also how the potential change of the Polish government would influence the presidency. Would it cause shifts in responsible offices? How could a new Prime Minister and ministers understand and get involved in the relevant issues so quickly? The second threat concerns implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The division between the authorities of the country responsible for the presidency and the leader of the European Council (so-called President of the EU) were not defined in any detail. Probably roles of these subjects will be shaped in practice. This is why it is difficult to predict today what competences the Polish government will have exactly.

Slight progress in the relations with Russia

Polish-Russian relations in a close future will not be good because both countries have at least a few opposite strategic geopolitical and economic aims. Relations with Russia may be at most correct. It does not mean however the need for pursuit of confrontation, even more because Russians are extremely vulnerable when it comes to a prestige. Poland, which has much weaker political potential than Russia, cannot gain much by using force. Of course we should not give up our stand on the issues which are crucial for us. Each of them however can be taken care of either with calm or using the heaviest weapons. Currently those responsible for our foreign policy gave up this second method, making a few symbolic gestures (for example presence of the Prime Minister Putin during celebrations of the anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War). It is also important for realization of the aims of our Eastern policy within the EU. Poland has ambitions of being a driving force in shaping whole Union’s policy in this aspect. But there is no chance for this if we are considered to be harshly anti-Russian. If our role in the Eastern policy is supposed to be more significant, we have to learn how to play a role of a mediator and arbiter.

What was not so good?

Underrepresentation in the administrative positions on various levels in the Union

Electing Jerzy Buzek for the President of the European Parliament or giving our Commissioner responsible issues to deal with are of course important. However, everyday work and decisions are shaped on lower levels, for example in the departments. And here the situation looks slightly worse. It was not until recently when a Pole (Jan Truszczyński) achieved a position of the general director in the European Commission. These people have to obviously represent the best interests of the whole Community, not their own country, but a sufficient number of Poles working in the Union’s institutions is necessary if our point of view on the process of European integration is supposed to be taken into consideration.

Lack of actions aiming at equalizing the opportunities of Polish social organizations operating in the European range

At the first glance the issue may seem to be insignificant. But it has to be remembered that in the EU groups including citizens which act skillfully can influence to a big extent decisions of the politicians. Polish non-governmental sector does not have a sufficient institutional support from our government, which means that it has to deal continuously with very down-to-earth problems. As a consequence Poles are assessed very weakly in the international nets of the NGOs, they do not influence their aims and mission in a way which would proportionally reflect the potential of our country. Majority of Polish organizations find it difficult to cover travelling expenses of their workers going for the international meetings. Without this it is difficult to talk about at least an attempt to gain any influence on the course of action. I think that upcoming presidency is a good occasion to try to change this state of affairs. It is worth taking a look at for example Slovenia, where the presidency became a good reason for working out the rules of beneficial cooperation between the third sector involved in the European affairs and the public administration.

Shaping the European Union’s relations with Ukraine and Georgia

In Poland unconditional support for the European aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia is considered to be almost a dogma in the foreign affairs. Last events should convince us to change our way of thinking. Published reports clearly show that Georgians are partially responsible for the outbreak of the conflict in Ossetia. President Saakaszliwi’s methods cannot be described as fully democratic either. In Ukraine in turn there is a complete political and economic chaos, dissidents do not try to show with any of their actions that they care for reforms which would move their country closer towards the European Union. It is worth considering also if the membership of these states in NATO should be supported. Can anyone really imagine that other members of NATO would send their troops for example to defend Georgia attacked by Russia? Such a situation would only undermine credibility of the Alliance and show that it cannot realize its basic aims. Strengthening cooperation between Ukraine, Georgia or Belarus and the European Union is unquestionably one of the most crucial aims of the Polish foreign policy, but support for these countries cannot be unconditional.

Development aid

Current government has problems, compared with other partners from the EU, with realizing commitments concerning involvement in the development aid for the poor countries. According to the agreements taken on by Poland for the foreign support in 2008 we should devote 0,12% of our GDP, in 2010 it should come up to 0,17%. Last year, however, it was only 0,06%, actions and plans for the next year do not indicate that this value would significantly increase. It is worth looking at our commitments concerning this issue in the context of the planned presidency. We surely should expect that avoiding any, even the smallest aid for the developing countries and failing to fulfill commitments accepted earlier, will be clearly pointed out. What is more, there is a very slow progress in the work on the bill concerning development aid, which would make it possible to spend available funds in a more efficient way.

Energy security

As it is known when it comes to resources we are hugely dependent on Russia, which is not a very safe partner. Construction of gas pipeline omitting Poland under the Baltic Sea accelerated (by the way it is a pity that at any time nobody in Poland dared to seriously consider our involvement in this project), but preparations for making the gas port in Świnoujście available as well as better connection with the partners from the Western Europe and the Baltic states go very slowly. Issues concerning energy security in last decades started to be treated more seriously and responsibly in the European Union. Unfortunately Poland did not manage to benefit from it appropriately.

There are new serious challenges in the European context that the government administration has to face. Among them there are surely finishing the preparations for the presidency, attempts at working on the Union’s budget for the years 2014-2020 and defining the position of Poland within the European Union after implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. Final assessment of the European policy of Donald Tusk will depend heavily on how his government will deal with these challenges.

Translation: Martyna Bojarska

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About Rafal Dymek

Political scientist. He works in the Polish Schuman’s Foundation where he is responsible for realization of the programs concerning the European integration, civic education and sharing Polish experiences from the times of the political transformation. His interests include trekking and mountain hiking.

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