Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

Unkonventionelle Lösungen für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft

Some in the EU are increasingly eager to leave Poland behind.

Posted by hkarner - 29. April 2017

Date: 27-04-2017
Source: The Economist
Subject: Europhiles happy about France should worry about Poland

In Europe’s illiberal east, populist nationalism is alive and well

IT IS crucial to keep Siemiatycze pretty, says Piotr Siniakowicz, the mayor, himself resplendent in bright-blue suit and silk pocket-square. The border with Belarus is a hop and a skip away, so this small town in eastern Poland may mark visitors’ first encounter with the European Union. Siemiatycze brims with well-maintained nursery schools and a gleaming sports centre, thanks to EU funds lavished on the region since Poland joined in 2004. Remittances from thousands of émigrés in Belgium have poured into handsome houses, and businesses depend on those who return for holidays: Siemiatycze, beams Mr Siniakowicz, boasts 50 hair salons. Not bad for a town of 15,000.

Yet despite all this, the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party took 38% of the vote here in 2015. A similar score nationwide won it a majority in parliament. Since then, PiS has set about dismantling Poland’s institutional checks and balances, alarming Polish liberals and startling the rest of the EU.

So amid Europe’s relief at Emmanuel Macron’s win in the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23rd, spare a thought for places like Siemiatycze. The unashamedly pro-European Mr Macron will almost certainly defeat Marine Le Pen in their May 7th run-off. But though the threat of populist nationalism may be receding in France, further east it is a daily reality.

East is east
The EU’s most pressing clash with illiberalism among its members is not in Poland but in Hungary, whose prime minister, Viktor Orban, has been testing the club’s tolerance for years. This week the European Commission took his government to task for a law that could shut down the Central European University, a prestigious institute founded in Budapest in 1991 by George Soros, an investor and philanthropist. Hungary’s grim treatment of asylum-seekers, a clear violation of EU law, is also in Brussels’s sights.

Mr Orban, at least, engages with Europe; this week he sparred with the European Parliament over the higher-education law. But his Polish counterpart, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, broods in Warsaw, rarely meeting other leaders. Mr Kaczynski holds no public office, but as head of PiS he micromanages the government. In March he directed the prime minister, Beata Szydlo, to block the reappointment of his nemesis Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister until 2014, as president of the European Council. It was a humiliating failure: all 27 other leaders, including Mr Orban, backed Mr Tusk.

The episode was of a piece with Poland’s growing diplomatic drift. Some in Brussels want to strip Poland of its EU voting rights (the so-called nuclear option). That may never happen, but this week governments agreed for the first time to discuss Poland’s trespasses. The Poles have alienated Germany and France; an alliance of interests with Britain has been rendered moot by Brexit. Even the Czech Republic and Slovakia would rather hug Germany close than join Messrs Kaczynski and Orban, their supposed allies in the “Visegrad” group, on the naughty step.

There are halting signs that the government is reining in its diplomatic excesses, perhaps because Mr Tusk’s Civic Platform party has begun troubling PiS in polls. But the domestic agenda is more aggressive than ever. Mr Kaczynski wants to subordinate judges to parliament, weaken local government, “repolonise” local media owned by German investors, reinvent the school system and possibly purge the diplomatic service. State agencies have lost expertise as senior civil servants are canned. Public media outlets, never a paragon of objectivity, have been reduced to propaganda organs. PiS’s supporters say its critics employ double standards: Mr Tusk was no angel, and other countries have politicians appoint judges, too. But Poland is tumbling down independent global indices of political and press freedom.

This presents a test for the EU’s claim to be more than a glorified free-trade club. Optimists say they can ride it out until voters turf PiS from office at the next election, in late 2019. But Mr Kaczynski’s assaults on Poland’s institutions will take years for any successor to fix. Nor will there be an immediate end to the culture wars stoked by PiS, which have seen opposition politicians denounced as traitors and religious fanatics picket a liberal newspaper to exorcise it of demonic influence. A recent paper for the Batory Foundation, a Polish think-tank, argues that Poles’ strong support for EU membership may disguise a deep well of potential scepticism about its direction. Poland’s government follows God, says Elzbieta, a retiree strolling on Siemiatycze’s central square. So why is the EU fighting it?

One casualty of the scrap may be those juicy European subsidies. During Ms Szydlo’s attempt to unseat Mr Tusk, François Hollande, France’s outgoing president, snapped that Poland might have the principles, but the EU held the structural funds. You often hear such threats in Brussels and Berlin these days, notably over the refusal of Hungary and Poland to accept refugees. Talks on the EU’s next budget begin next year. As Mr Siniakowicz notes, “The worsening of relations with the EU is bad for people here.”

But punishment can take quieter forms. A win by Mr Macron will strengthen the EU’s resolve, and may revive the Franco-German co-operation that has often powered it. Fresh energy might be devoted to further integration of the euro zone (which includes neither Hungary or Poland), and spread to areas such as defence and asylum. Already Brussels is siding with France in imposing rules that reduce eastern Europeans’ wage advantages when they work in the west.

All this threatens to harden the divide between “core” and “peripheral” Europe, and turn Poland’s isolation into an ever-greater handicap. Germany, and Angela Merkel in particular, will be reluctant to abandon the Poles. But Mr Macron will have less patience, and the escapades of the illiberal easterners could push others to his side of the debate. Poland will not leave the EU.
But some in the EU are increasingly eager to leave Poland behind.

Advertisements

Kommentar verfassen

Bitte logge dich mit einer dieser Methoden ein, um deinen Kommentar zu veröffentlichen:

WordPress.com-Logo

Du kommentierst mit Deinem WordPress.com-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Twitter-Bild

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Facebook-Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Google+ Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Google+-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s