Gordon Brown's Polish streak
Let Warsaw reach out to Westminster
HERE are two big puzzles for Europe: how to deal with a Britain run, as it probably soon will be, by Gordon Brown (see picture below right); and how to deal with Poland run, as it is now, by the Kaczynski twins—Lech (see picture below left) as president and Jaroslaw as prime minister. There are striking similarities. Both the putative British leader and the current Polish ones are brooding, mistrustful figures, prone to obsessions, and with notable blind spots about Europe.
Mr Brown’s distaste for meetings with his European Union counterparts is famous. Asked once by his officials, “Would you like to meet the new German finance minister?” he replied with plangent honesty, “No”.
He rarely turns up to EU conclaves, preferring to send a deputy. On occasions when he has steeled himself to go—for example, when Britain was president of the EU—he would read a prepared statement larded with pungent criticism of other countries and then sit fidgeting until the earliest possible moment when he could decently depart.
That sounds pretty much like the Kaczynskis’ approach to foreign affairs: identify the areas of disagreement, make a strong speech, and hurry home. Both they and Mr Brown dislike the fudge and mudge of multilateral negotiation, with its cynical exchange of favours and endless horse-trading. They detest professional diplomats.
The Kaczynskis, like Mr Brown, prefer a tight circle of close advisers. They have a weakness for micro-management, but are willing to delegate in matters that don’t interest them. Naturally shy, they are much nicer in private than in public.
The differences are in the areas of interest. The Kaczynskis are economic illiterates; Mr Brown thinks of little else (though they share a dislike for the euro). The Kaczynskis are minutely interested in security, intelligence and the criminal justice system. Mr Brown has little time for soldiers, spooks or lawyers. Nobody knows what he thinks about Russia.
So far Mr Brown’s foibles have not especially damaged Britain’s standing in Europe. But the Kaczynskis have damaged Poland’s. The wholesale sackings of experienced but supposedly compromised senior officials, a series of cancelled meetings, unnecessary snubs and rows initiated by the Kaczynskis have all had regrettable effects.
A meeting of the EU’s “big six” countries was called off at less than 24 hours notice and with the Italian and Spanish officials already in Warsaw. When a German newspaper insulted him, President Lech Kaczynski regarded it as a matter of state, and sulked when no German official phoned to commiserate.
From being a diplomatic power-house under the rule of sleazy but effective ex-communists, Poland has come close to being seen as a joke, and a bad one at that.
That’s unfair. The Kaczynskis’ basic interests in foreign policy are sound: they distrust Russia, they are disappointed with Germany, and they see America as the ultimate basis for Poland’s security. They believe that energy supplies are not a matter of commerce alone, but of national defence.
The problem has been turning principles into policies and actions. Little has been done, and poorly even then. At the end of 2005 Germany suggested that Poland should join in a planned Russian-German gas pipeline under the Baltic sea. The response was immediate: Poland wanted not a cubic metre more of Russian gas, thank you very much.
That was a bold move, but, in retrospect, a bad mistake. As a partner in the pipeline Poland could have gained (and even leaked) information about the project’s financial arrangements: historically, wherever Russian oil and gas has gone, slush funds have tended to follow. It could have asked for a share of the construction contracts.
The Kaczynskis do seem to realise now that they have some catching up to do. They could do worse than try striking up a friendship with Mr Brown. They could fill him in about Russia; he could explain to them how to run a finance ministry. And all three would have someone else to talk to at those uncongenial European summits.