For the first time in the history of European integration, the word ‘crisis’ appears so frequently in public debate. The number and intensity of problems within the European Union incline us to think of the current situation as a turning point. It is bad news for Poland, a member-state for a decade. Despite numerous disappointments, it should be stressed that membership in this organisation is in sum favourable for Poland.
However, a crisis does not only pose a challenge. Similarly to a crisis in a relationship, a crisis in an organisation may be forged into a significant breakthrough. Therefore, Poland should not only identify problems that derive from the current upheavals in Europe but also perceive them as a chance for tremendous changes that in many cases could be beneficial for our country. To notice that it is a ‘glass half-full’ situation, we need to reflect on two crucial issues: what shape of the EU do we want and how would we like to achieve our goals within this organisation.
Answers to those fundamental questions ought to constitute the core of Poland’s European politics. It should be based on two pillars: 1) European code–a list of principles that the EU should be driven by; 2) a code of Poland’s European politics–a list of principles that should be adopted by Polish institutions responsible for foreign affairs. Having been present in the EU and collecting experiences for a decade, Poland now ought to put forward its initiatives, as well as should have its stand on institutional issues and the future shape of the EU. More focus dedicated to general principles should derive from the fact that well-being of the EU is in our interest. Besides, a process of decision-making in the EU has proven, those states demonstrating a more responsible approach to the whole organisation are more likely to realise their particular interests.
There are propositions of two codes of conduct below: the first one is a set of principles regarding the shape of the EU, whereas the second one is a set of principles regarding the role of Poland within the EU.
Mentioned proposals do not stand for a compound program since the complexity of the EU calls for a more detailed and precise document. Those proposals do not end the discussion. It is instead the opposite – they invite to one. An additional remark regards the reality of proposals. Presented ideas display Europe of our dreams rather than Europe of our abilities. However, offering a list of our wishes does not show a lack of realism, since this article is not a political manifesto to be implemented by the government in the forthcoming months and years, but instead it just indicates the possible direction of a such. Therefore, when thinking about the possible implementation of those proposals, we have to bear in mind that we need less ambitious, down-to-earth European political programme.
European code of conduct: how the EU should look like?
It is a general principle of the EU law, according to which the EU may act only when an individual action of a member state is insufficient to achieve a goal which does not fall within the EU exclusive competence. It means that the EU relies on solving problems which require international cooperation, so they do have transboundary causes and effects; the EU shall not stand in for a country in resolving its internal problems. Therefore, independent creation of our policies is of the utmost importance for each member state. Since the EU political identity is secondary to the national one, the EU must respect identities of the member states and must let them define their raison d’état also out of the context of the Union. Therefore, the process of integration shall end when the interest of one member state is realized at the cost of the other. If such a situation occurs (case when legislation is not beneficial to all of the member states), the wronged country has a right to obtain adequate compensation.
The subsidiary principle is often violated indirectly. A good example is the EU policy on energy and climate. While the Treaties state directly that every member state has a right to determine its energy sources, many regulations either discriminate coal as a source of energy or lower its competitiveness.
To realise the subsidiarity principle, the new treaty should be adopted–the one that restores some of the individual state’s competences in areas where this principle is not being followed. The treaty does not have to restrict competences of the EU entirely, but it may deepen the integration process in chosen areas. First of all, it regards removing the last limitations to the free movement of persons, capital, goods and services, which could be realized via liberalisation of the Services in the Internal Market Directive.
Besides, the subsidiarity principle requires reopening the debate on the sense of the Euro currency, which is not performing its function due to the constructional defects. It also demands the discussion of structural problems within the EU common currency area which have not been fixed by the European Fiscal Compact. For the Eurozone efficiency, it is recommended to confer economic competences upon the EU, what means particularly the ability to transfer funds to the regions of lower competitiveness.
The current political climate is not conducive to conferring further competences upon the EU institutions. States with the lower economic competitiveness that belong to the Eurozone do not have instruments to deal with debt spiral since they cannot devalue the national currency. It is highly probable that significant trade imbalance will occur soon, what may result in the need of transferring the capital into indebted states. Instead of strengthening the EU, the euro may catalyse its disintegration, also due to the Eurozone members’ growing resistance to transfer further tranches. Therefore, controlled dissolution of the Eurozone should be considered–the first to leave the Eurozone ought to be the Germans, who could be followed by states of lower competitiveness.
The euro needs to be replaced by less strict currency cooperation realised by ‘the snake in the tunnel’ mechanism. Naturally, it would generate severe costs, but in the long run, they will be much lower than the price of maintaining a common currency. Accusations of stagnation because of the euro, made by Southern EU member states, are an important context for the Eurozone reform, since they weaken support not only for the Euro but also for the whole EU. Dissolution of the Eurozone would be an attempt to maintain the support for the EU.
It cannot be stated that the eventual collapse of the Eurozone will inevitably lead to the disintegration of the whole EU since the EU and the common single market does not require common currency. Both institutions were created and worked pretty well without the common currency.
The subsidiarity principle shall encompass being respectful towards the state sovereignty, what also means quitting discourse that delegitimises the priority of national identity and the concept of the nation-state.
The EU interest cannot be derived from the political strategies of the most influential countries and the EU institutions, but instead, it should be worked out by all of the member states together. The EU is not a company, in which a partner’s importance is directly proportional to the percentage of shares. It is a community of equal states based not only on the interest but also on the common values that require a different way of distributing formal strength.
The phenomenon of ‘relational accumulation’ is a justification for treating all member states equally. It describes a mechanism in which the greater superiority has a strong country on diverse EU fields, the more significant is its real impact on the EU politics. Therefore, each MS’s vote should not be proportional to the economic significance nor population potential. The system needs to maintain a principle of degressive proportionality, as well as to introduce additional compensatory mechanisms for the weakest (such as the use of a degressive proportionality system in assigning positions in the EU institutions).
Therefore, the system of voting in the European Council based on the dual majority system is not as just as the system based on unanimity. The latter guarantees that MS will agree on specific propositions.
Making the EU more democratic (so making it respect the equality of all member states) should also concern the impact of specific groups of countries on the whole Union. Members of the Eurozone or Schengen Area should not set up pretensions to have a greater influence in the EU. Deeper integration in a specific area should not be awarded a more significant impact on the EU.
In addition, democracy in the EU ought to concern transparency in the decision-making process. Therefore, additional mechanisms limiting informal impact should be implemented, regarding issues such as transparency of the Trilogues, openness of the individual voting in the European Parliament, access to all of the non-confidential documents.
It seems paradoxical that the European Parliament, which supposedly should empower democracy in the EU, actually reinforces the advantages of the strongest states. According to data, MP s of countries that joined the EU after 2004 have a significantly lower impact on the EU legislation than MP s coming from the states of the old Union. However, as far as EP’s significance is concerned, direct elections to the Parliament enforce the EU legitimisation only formally, since they are driven by internal, not European context in each state. Moreover, legitimacy given by the EP is not a condicio sine qua non for the EU to realise the interest of the people from member states. There are member states’ representatives to care for people’s needs (in the Council of the European Union and the European Council), with an unbiased advocate for law enforcement, that is the European Commission.
If we recall previously mentioned postulate to give up discourse undermining the state’s sovereignty, then an idea to abolish the European Parliament seems even more reasonable. The EP is an institution that promotes European identity as a rival of the national one.
Solidarity should be the EU’s leading idea derived from the concept of a community based on the shared values. Therefore, well-developed countries ought to responsibly support countries now reducing an economic backlog. They should do so also because wealthier states have a greater ability to influence decision-making processes within the EU. At the same time, countries in crisis have to face responsibility for their own decisions due to the transboundary consequences of their internal politics, and they cannot make use of other countries’ funds as a source of free support. The EU should go to the aid of a country in trouble only when it undergoes necessary reforms. However, such reforms ought to be in accordance with the state’s developmental needs rather than serve the obligees’ interest. Therefore, those projects should be prepared and then enforced not by a cartel of the most influential states, but by the European Commission.
The UE calls for firm deregulatory measures, such as limiting the number of passed laws, as well as a derogation of those unnecessary.
The European law review should be launched to examine useless regulations. Deregulation ought to concern all of the European politics. Therefore, a mechanism snatching redundant laws needs to be implemented to limit law passing at the very beginning.
Excessive bureaucracy more and more blocks the EU efficiency. Moreover, numerous privileges for politicians and civil servants are shocking. They have to be abolished, since they undermine citizens’ trust for the EU. Therefore, the number of civil servants in the European institutions ought to be reduced. Same applies to the privileges–they should be adequate to servants’ responsibility and competences.
The EU needs to empower the ability of its economy to compete on the international market. Therefore, we need to quit subsidies for the agricultural policy, standing for the biggest part of the EU budget. A compensation for countries which benefited most of this policy should be found, for example in the support for the innovation policies. The EU has to shut down expensive and ineffective aid programs, such as Human Capital (OPHC). The EU ought to support innovations on condition that they have commercial application. Any help should not be non-returnable but instead, rely on advantageous credits.
The exacting standards, especially environmental, limiting the EU economic competitiveness ought to be decreased. As far as carbon dioxide emissions are concerned, the EU must not take any new responsibilities if the biggest emitters globally do not make them first.
The EU should play a more active role in the international environment–not only coming to non-European countries aid and giving support in a crisis but also taking geopolitics into account. It concerns relations with Russia especially, as they should be based on cooperation when it is beneficial and on rivalry when it is needed, particularly when it comes to the conflict over political orientation of the Eastern Bloc countries. Values on which the EU is based–freedom, the rule of law, democracy–should incline the Union to abandon the policy Russia first that prioritises Russia’s needs at the cost of Eastern Europe interest. Support for CEE regional perspective is not only geopolitically advantageous for the EU, but also may be perceived as an expression of the EU founding values.
The EU foreign policy must not be agreed upon by the strongest countries, but rather it should cover the interest of all member states. It should be based on intergovernmental mechanisms and supported technically by the European Commission. The EU external policy should be covered not only by the ordinary diplomacy but also it needs to refer to the sector policies, especially to the foreign energy policy.
The EU should remain open to the countries embedded in European heritage. Therefore, the enlargement procedure ought to encompass Eastern Partnership countries and the Balkans (if they meet the Copenhagen). Eastern Partnership needs to decrease the red tape to serve not only as a technical tool but also to assist development (depending on specific reforms). However, to achieve this goal, countries undergoing this procedure need to have a membership perspective–without this condition, they will not make an effort to integrate.
The EU security depends on the alliance with the US, therefore maintaining transatlantic relations is of the utmost importance. The Union should cooperate and not compete with the NATO. The EU may use its experiences and support the NATO in the security area, hybrid threats or migration crisis.
The EU shall not impose any moral standpoint on a member state nor cover issues calling for firm decisions based on values. Therefore, the EU should not enjoy any competences in ethical issues, such as defining its attitude towards homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia or in vitro method.
The PE’s debates give an impression that the EU is a highly ideologised organisation. The EU ought to consider the fact that there are many ways of constructing relations with different member states. It is unacceptable to officially or informally condemn countries, parties or politicians for actions or believes that are not in accordance with the EU mainstream (e.g. to mention Orban’s stigmatisation). It must be stressed that the EU shall not impose its moral perspective also indirectly, so by creating specific conditions for obtaining grants or by imposing peculiar discourse.
Poland’s European Politics: How should Poland look like in the European Union?
The UE membership is not the essence of Polish raison d’état, it should instead be a tool to realise it. Therefore, Poland must use the EU tools to accomplish its interests as much as possible.
Poland should make use of diverse tools and rely mainly on traditional bilateral diplomacy in the field of international affairs (particularly in the East). Actions in this area shall be based on two pillars: first, the Union agenda concerning the promotion of Polish standpoint on the EU forum, and second, bilateral agenda realising the Polish interest not in opposition to the EU, but parallel to it. Poland needs to carefully examine relations and interest that it has in common with other member states and decide to which agenda they fit in.
Poland ought to take care of the EU well-being, so not only securing its particular interests but also actively participating in debates on the EU institutions and internal structure. Proposing ideas on strengthening the EU efficiency may give Poland a more significant influence on decision-making processes in particular cases.
Poland ought to be the Eastern European leader. This goal could be achieved via supporting the interest of countries of this region: advocating for Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen Area, supporting the EU enlargement to the Balkan states, playing the role of a mediator in conflicts between Eastern bloc countries (e.g. Hungary-Slovakia). Moreover, Poland should support regional cooperation initiative, what can be realised in taking a firm universal stand on Pan-European corridors (including road infrastructure, railways, gas pipeline, power transmission grids), as well as by building exchange programs for the youth and scientists. It is in the regional interest to have a joint stand in the EU issues, politics of memory, the EU politics on Eastern Europe countries (that is Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States). This strategic coherence of our region should not be based on the opposing policy to the EU, but rather become a Polish input to the EU policy.
The current model in which countries maximise their advantages to obtain thanks to the rules in the EU is coming to a dead end. Therefore, Poland should not only be more efficient within regulations in force but also engage more in the rule-making process.
Poland should not choose between two opposite directions of European integration: deepening or loosening. Polish stand on this issue shall be intelligent–conferring competences to the EU or leaving them for a state must be based on an analysis pointing out the pros and cons of both solutions.
To give one example: environmental policy on the EU level should be restricted to the transboundary issues only. The current EU competences in this field are too broad, e.g. regulations on shale gas should be out of the EU debate since possible problems will not have transboundary consequences). Liberalization of the Services in the Internal Market Directive or finalisation of the freedom to provide services would be beneficial to Poland.
Interest forces to choose allies, not the opposite. Being a player in the EU game calls for high flexibility in gaining allies for diverse issues, therefore sticking to one and only ally is an outdated approach. It also concerns defining Poland’s geopolitical position in the context of Russia and Germany. This is why Polish perspective on Germany often relies on choosing one solution: either it is building an anti-German coalition or falling into clientelism. However, the best strategy is to combine competition and cooperation, depending on common interests flexibly. Flexibility requires Poland to become more open to the new regions.
European policy is not an exclusive domain for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Taking this notion into account, Poland should better coordinate the European policy with different domestic sector policies.
A new think-tank should be established. It has to support different ministries in formulating Polish interest in diverse EU sectors (also help in gaining information on other states’ interests) and do it before the ministry’s stand shall be presented on the Council of Ministers.
To diagnose regulations’ consequences for Poland at the very beginning, Regulatory Impact Analysis should concern not only bills but also directives on each stage of the legislative process. Besides, Poland should consult European policy with Polish MP s at the European Parliament on the regular meetings with parties and institutional representatives.
Poland should define precisely in the constitution what are the limits of conferring competences to the EU. The parliamentary opposition should be guaranteed access to all of the documents needed to analyse politics on the EU. The Polish Parliament ought to engage more in safeguarding the principle of subsidiarity.
Poland should not be afraid of getting involved in a conflict with another member state if the Polish interests are in danger, neither avoiding confrontation with an even more significant opponent–the EU mainstream discourse.
Poland defends the even pace of the EU integration. If the two-speed Europe ever happens, Poland should not enter the Eurozone to be in the European mainstream.
When implementing directives, Poland should pursue the principle ‘the EU+0’–new regulations in the Polish legal system shall encompass only the minimum required by the European law. Under no condition, Poland is to introduce additional rules, e.g. some of the regulations on the environmental protection.
Translation from Polish: Katarzyna Nowicka
This publication has been cofinanced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within “Cooperation in Public Diplomacy 2018” programme.
This publication reflects the views of the author and not the official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.