Poland moves to reset ties with Europe
The country’s PM looks to mollify Brussels following cabinet reshuffle and goodwill trip
Poland’s government has moved to mend ties with the EU, as a new survey shows public support for remaining in the bloc at a record high.
The country’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in an increasingly tense stand-off with Brussels over changes to the constitution, which the EU views as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and a crackdown on press freedom.
Last month, the European Commission took the unprecedented step of recommending the EU trigger Article 7.1 against Poland, warning that authoritarian changes to the country’s judiciary were breaching the values of the Union and infringing on the rule of law.
Now Poland’s Prime Minsiter Mateusz Morawiecki, who was appointed in December tasked with improving Poland’s deteriorating position in the EU, has sought to reset relations with the bloc.
On Tuesday, he conducted a rather more thorough reshuffle than Theresa May’s, sacking his foreign secretary, defence secretary, infrastructure secretary, environment minister and health minister in a reshuffle “aimed at pleasing the EU”, says the Daily Express.
Other analysts saw it as an attempt to improve his party’s image externally and in Poland “as it faces up to the spat with the EU and looks ahead to local elections this year”, Reuters reports.
Whatever the reason, it appears the EU is taking the olive branch seriously. Ahead of a meeting with Morawiecki in Brussels, European commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struck a conciliatory tone. “I am in no mood to issue wild threats,” he said. “I would like us to have a reasonable conversation.”
In response, Morawiecki said: “I generally believe that with added effort to explain our intentions we will be able to clarify misunderstandings. I believe dialogue will lead to de-escalation.”
The timing may not be coincidental. The EU is about to embark on negotiations for a seven-year budget which will decide which member states get what out of the bloc’s coffers. Poland is currently the biggest net recipient.
Around 60% of public investment in Poland is funded by the EU “but as concerns rise about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, a growing number of voices have said EU funds should be tied to meeting democratic standards”, says The Guardian.
However, Poland’s former liberal prime minister Donald Tusk, now EU President, has warned that “for PiS the benefit of being in the EU boils down to the balance of payments”.
“As long as we're not a net contributor, the game is worth the candle for them,” he said. “So I can easily imagine a situation where if one day Poland finds itself among the contributors, the Polish government will decide that it's time to ask Poles if they still want Poland in the EU and then will work hard so that they come to the conclusion that it's necessary to say goodbye to membership.”
If a referendum on EU membership seems a long way off, the chance of Poland actually leaving the bloc is remoter still.
A new survey by polling firm CBOS suggests 92% of the Polish population want to remain in the EU, the highest level since the country joined in 2004.