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Poland’s EU presidency – for Poland or for Europe?

Submitted by on 14 Apr 2011 – 14:28

Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group on Poland

Poland takes over the presidency of the EU for the second half of 2011 – its first presidency since joining the EU. It will also be, it has been argued, the first real post-Lisbon Presidency: other countries’ tenures since Lisbon have for various reasons (including a change of government and having no government!), not yet shaped the very different form that a post Lisbon presidency will take. It falls to Poland to move that new shape forward.  How well placed is it do that? The priorities that Poland has set out already for its presidency: the internal market, the Eastern partnership, energy security and external EU energy policy, a common foreign and security policy, the EU’s financial perspectives, and intellectual property show ambition in the development of areas certainly needing a post Lisbon boost, but seem to some a rather over-lengthy list. Perhaps, it is suggested, there should be concentration on a shorter list, which I believe, following more recent indications from Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, is what will happen in practice.

A problem that Tusk faces with the Polish presidency is precisely the tension between the presidency as Poland’s first, and the need to act as a guide for EU development as a whole. There are of course, elections in Poland during the period, just as there have been in other countries during their presidency: the danger in Poland’s case is that expectations of the benefit for Poland from the presidency may be stoked by the upcoming campaign in a way that blows the priorities off course: I, for one, do not consider this to be more than something to keep in mind: it is unlikely that the Government will change hands, as political support stands at present, and this may add strength to what has already been positively noticed as the county’s early and clear preparations for the presidency. The imminent election could, however, strengthen Tusk’s clear rejection of David Cameron’s recent proposals to cut the EU budget. Feeling in Poland about this is strong, the country still being relatively poor by some EU standards, and being the biggest beneficiary of the current seven year budget. There has been already some frostiness between the Poles and the British Government in recent months following the UK initiative.

It is clear that a ’priority of priorities’ will be the ’Eastern partnership’ – maintaining an opening to the East from the EU, and countering the increasingly gloomy perspectives being shed on the progress of further EU membership expansion.  Efforts to place closer EU relations will almost certainly be aimed at more than signing an accession treaty with Croatia: and indeed will include starting to move the plates in the Western Balkans, and even to keep some momentum with what are seen from other perspectives as less than ’EU ready’ states such as Belarus and  Ukraine. Tusk himself observed recently that the picture now might have been very different had it been said to Poland after martial law was introduced thirty years ago ‘it’s not worth giving them anything, it’s not worth investing in them because they have already lost’.

The energy priority may well play both to Poland’s internal constituency as well as to overall EU requirements. Poland remains heavily dependent on coal for its power, and substantially Russian gas for heat. Both will need to change; and the recent ’discovery’ that the country is, in fact sitting on huge reserves of shale gas may start to shape Poland as a different kind of energy participant in the EU. Clearer and more stable EU energy plans will assist Poland internally and across Europe as a whole.

Poland’s EU presidency overall, well prepared and targeted as it is, looks set to be successful. Right now with the challenges facing the EU, it needs to be.