Europe scores a victory: Polish elections and European integration

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The official poll results speak clear: with 39.2 % of the votes and 207 seats in the 460 seat Sejm (lower house of the Polish Parliament), liberal conservative Civic Platform (PO) of incumbent PM Donald Tusk is a clear winner of last Sunday’s (9 October) general elections. Second with 29.9 % came the national conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) of former PM Jaroslav Kaczynski. Since pro-European credentials of Mr Tusk are well known, this is a timely moment to consider the significance of this result for Europe as a whole. Will the government’s re-election bring any changes to its positive policies to the Union and its integration? And why the euroscepticism of PiS and its European counterparts has to fail in the long duration?

Old-New Coalition and its pro-Europeanism

PM Donald TuskCivic Platform is likely to form a coalition government with its current partner, centrist Polish People’s Party (PSL), which came out fourth in the polls (8.9 %), placing itself behind Palikot’s Movement (10 %). This would give the coalition a slight majority of 235 votes in Sejm and allow smooth continuation of their present policies including those of the Polish Presidency of . Mr Tusk may face quite stringent coalition demands from PSL’s leader and Minister of the Economy Waldemar Pawlak, whose party represents agrarian interests of the country. Polish media suggest that there will be probably only minor disputes over domestic policy issues and coalition talks will mostly involve haggling about the division of ministerial positions. Europe will be off agenda as PM Tusk and Mr Pawlak share the same supportive attitude towards European integration and on several occasions stated that they stand for ‘a strong Europe [that is] economically and socially integrated’. In a speech to the European Economic and Social Committee’s plenary in July, Mr Pawlak thus argued that Europe can only profit from further integration and economy of scale and gave further backing to a tighter integration of industrial policy. This well complements Mr Tusk’s own reputation as an advocate of the community method in EU affairs, who does tend to miss an opportunity to denounce ‘a new wave of euroscepticism’ in the Union.

The Kaczynski brothers and problems with euroscepticism

With some hindsight, the domination of the Polish political scene by pro-European Civic Platform  is a fascinating turn of events from the time when Poland was still led by the eurosceptic Kaczynski brothers. (The late Lech Kaczynski was the President of Poland from 2005 until his death in 2010, while his identical twin Jaroslaw Kaczynski served as PM from July 2006 to November 2007.) Many commentators, several of Polish origin, argued back then that the Kaczynskis only reflect the country’s ‘deep-seated nationalism’ and ‘suspicions of old enemies like Germany and Russia’. The Law and Justice party, which is still presided by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, perhaps supports Polish membership in the EU, but only on the grounds that it serves Poland’s national interests. It hardly needs to be repeated that if every country approached the Union expecting that it will fulfil its national demands, there would be little reason for trying to build a Union of common interests in the first place.

In this regard it is even less surprising that PiS has always been staunchly Atlanticist, sharing this stance with other European nationalist and republican parties (e.g. Front National, Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom, Czech Civic Democrats, the British Conservatives). The United States and Transatlantic partnership are in these parties’ line of thought regarded as some sort of ‘saving grace’ that will assure European defence without having to resort to the ‘inconvenience’ of sharing sovereignty with Europe. Surely, even if the US were not troubled by the need to implement its own defence budget cuts, just like any other nation state they are primarily interested in their own defence and strategic interests, and the concern over their allies’ security including Poland’s is only of the second-order importance. Similarly, if the eurosceptic Atlanticists prefer to secure defence in a military alliance rather than under the auspices of a European federation, it is unclear why to prefer NATO to a defence pact with their culturally and geopolitically closer European neighbours. Be it under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, OSCE or by supporting some other kind of European defence cooperation. It becomes clear that nationalists like the Kaczynskis pursue only an idealised, national spectre of sovereignty, rather than its true content, which lies in the fact that a given polity possesses a tangible and not just legal control over the full range of its domestic affairs: in finance, culture just as in defence.

In a world where US military expenditure in 2010 was $698 billion and China’s $114 billion, even countries with a long warfare tradition such as Poland cannot gather enough of funding to counter the newest, high-tech security challenges. (For comparison, Poland’s military expenditure in 2010 were $10.8 billion, whereas collectively, the EU-27 spent $270.6 billion in 2009, which is only about 39 % of the US’s expenditure.) It is often striking that the same political parties who idolise national sovereignty favour increasingly greater liberalisation of transborder movements of commerce and finance – in other words, they stand for economic globalisation, which in turn functions as the principal bearer of global consumerist ‘culture’. Since financial markets with its rating agencies and speculators do not respect any legally defined national boundaries, the rhetoric of national sovereignty serves only to disguise the real division of powers, which has waned from the control of national politicians long time ago. If the restoration of impenetrable national borders remains an unfeasible dream of politicians like Mr Kaczynski, it is possible to imagine that globalisation might be made to take a different form that would be more favourable to the specificities of various national cultures and that would curb down the power of global capital so as to give back to the people political control over their economies and societies. The EU can be an agent of such reassertion of popular sovereignty, but arguably, so far it has been rather the foremost European  ambassador of neoliberalism and global financial interests.

Sparkling new debate in Central and Eastern Europe?

PM Tusk and his old-new government coalition perhaps do not offer such alternative to the EU’s current ‘globalist’ form. Yet, they rightly perceive that in the long term, European integration is the only possible remedy for social and economic problems that Europe currently undergoes. Civic Platform’s second success might well sparkle debates on the issues of integration and national sovereignty in other Central and Eastern European countries. It is to be hoped that these discussions will be lead in a creative form, giving space to different models the integrated Europe might take. Most importantly, they cannot forget to highlight that for those who oppose the destruction of national identities that proceeds under the steady march of globalisation, a European union is a part of the solution, and not necessarily a problem.

In addition to being a writer and founder of The European Strategist, during daytime I am an EU and government affairs expert (also know by a more infamous word "lobbyist") in the automotive industry in Brussels. I see myself as an adventurer in life or on a racing bike, holding a philosophy book in one hand, and always fighting for something with the other one. What I'm enchanted by? By life as a miracle and endless series of contradictions.

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