Poland and Europe
A foreign affair?
Mar 22nd 2007 | WARSAW
From The Economist print edition
The Polish government realises it needs a foreign policy, but doesn't yet have one
A FLURRY of interest in the outside world might not seem odd in one of the European Union's bigger members. But when it comes from Poland's president and prime minister, the twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, it is a pleasant surprise. The prime minister, Jaroslaw, visited the Netherlands and Denmark last week. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, visited Poland, meeting the prime minister, speaking at Warsaw University and spending a day at President Lech's house on the Baltic coast.
This almost counts as a love-in. Polish foreign policy has been introverted, incompetent and marked by hostility to Germany since the Kaczynskis came to power in late 2005. Ms Merkel showed the value she places on improving German-Polish relations by bringing her husband, who rarely accompanies her abroad. Her main aim was to persuade the Poles to drop their resistance to this weekend's Berlin declaration celebrating the EU's 50th birthday, and to be more open to reviving the EU constitution. Poland had held out for a mention of God and the Christian tradition, but it has given up—though it will still be awkward on the constitution.
Ms Merkel seems to have persuaded the Poles that she is a sympathetic friend, not a revanchist and bullying neighbour. Her experience under totalitarian rule in communist East Germany helps. But she has also showed sensitivity to Polish concerns. The anti-ballistic missiles that America wants to base in Poland did not spoil her talks and her seaside stroll. The Polish president also avoided the knee-jerk issues of German atrocities against Poland. He made no mention of plans by a group of Germans deported from Poland after the war to open a museum. Nor did he whinge on about the planned pipeline that will pump Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
Closer ties with Germany are welcome, but not enough. The Polish government's foreign-policy woes stem largely from prejudice and ignorance. Not only are the Kaczynskis untravelled and monoglot; they distrust cosmopolitans. They have sacked or intimidated any advisers or colleagues who showed too much knowledge of, or interest in, the abroad. One result is more clashes with the EU, some unnecessary, others badly managed.
The Kaczynskis are sceptical about the euro, and so of the reforms needed to join it. Their method of communication has annoyed the EU: the economics commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, recently complained that the Polish government simply didn't inform him of its economic policy. One reason is that finance ministers change with alarming frequency (the incumbent is the fourth in 18 months). The foreign minister is a close Kaczynski chum, who sees her job as relaying his views bluntly, not building diplomatic alliances.
Poland's image is worsened by the antics of the League of Polish Families, a minority coalition partner. One of its leading lights is campaigning against the teaching of evolution in schools. The party wants to ban abortion in Europe. This week the European Court of Human Rights awarded a Polish woman damages of €25,000 ($33,250) for being refused an abortion that could have saved her eyesight. The party leader, Roman Giertych, who is education minister and deputy prime minister, wants to restrict what he terms the “promotion” of homosexuality in Polish schools. To secular liberals in the rest of Europe, all this makes Poland seem a bastion of medieval barbarism.
Other issues are more substantive. The Poles are being taken to the European Court for building a motorway through a conservation area. Their insistence on sticking to the voting system agreed in the Nice treaty in 2001, rather than the new one in the draft EU constitution, grates in Brussels—and Berlin. But Poland's leaders seem to have realised that a country wishing to have any influence needs a functioning foreign policy. All they must do now is formulate one.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Poland and Europe