Polish mess, German loosening, continental turmoil

12.07.2017 | By Marcin Kędzierski

Too many cooks spoil the broth – that phrase describes personal and competence chaos the best, which is ruling Polish foreign policy today. Uncertainty also plays a great role in Germany, where Angela Merkel switched over political realism to the German inclination to instruct “immature partners”. The whole European Union loses on both issues.

Almost everything was said about “war for Tusk” . Parties of conflict entrenched oneself, and we will witness further stationary warfare. There is no point in analyzing who in national politics will benefit more (or actually who will lose more) on the Brussels row. As a country we suffered a painful defeat – no matter whether we identify ourselves with the government or on the contrary. It is rather worth looking at three broader contexts, in which we should interpret recent events and reflect on the future.

Does the pilot fly with us?

First of all, the entire political campaign around Tusk’s candidature proved once again that Poland has neither a coherent European political strategy nor a single center that would create such policy. We do not know who wrote a “game of European Council throne” scenario.

We also do not know who is responsible for Polish standpoint toward the strategic proposal of a “reset” made by Germany. Is it Jarosław Kaczyński? Witold Waszczykowski or Konrad Szymański? Ryszard Legutko and Zdzisław Krasnodębski? Or maybe Ryszard Czarnecki? Did finally the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland played any part in this process?

More broadly, we do not know what Poland wants from the EU at all. Do we want to be the main playwright, who is using the integration crisis to convince other states about need for a deep reform of the Community? Or, as Radosław Sikorski suggested in the last interview, do we want to be the actor of the second or even the third plan? It is unknown. But it is not something new – despite the buzzing voices of representatives of the today political opposition, the PO-PSL government was also guided by the strategy of survival, passive adaptation or chaos, although it was not so clearly expressed in the internal and international forum. A quite probable thought is the most alarming that particular elements of the recalled negotiating script – both towards Germany, as well as the EU – were not elaborate strategy, but the accidental coincidence, incomprehension of intention of our partners, misunderstanding among (overly) numerous creators of the Polish foreign policy and finally of inflexibility of our diplomacy.

German bull in the European shop

The second context is a question about status and perspectives of “reset” in relations with Germany. In essence, it is the question about the expectations of our western partner. On the one hand, Berlin does not want French-Italian idea of transfer union. German voter would not accept such a solution, especially in the election year. On the other hand, the rejection of the transfer union may be deadly for euro zone with Germany as the biggest beneficiary of that zone.

It seems therefore, that the warming between Berlin and Warszawa was made to find such an ally, who would support maintaining the cohesion of the Community. And at the same time weakening the French-Italian demands. Such perception of Poland is only meaningful if we analyze the long-term interest of our country in case of the worst scenario, that is the break-up of the EU. It is obvious that structural fund will end at the moment of EU disintegration and then finding a close relation with Germany may be crucial. The problem is that taking such strategy today by the Polish government would be a political suicide – ultimately we are one of main beneficiaries of EU funds and we have to be in favor of some form of union transfer. Unfortunately for Germany, it seems that the PiS (Law and Justice) government does not intend to commit such suicide and no one can see the offer, which could compensate probable damages.

The complexity of German situation is reinforced by the fact that Berlin policy has always been torn between realistic pragmatism and Kantian idealism. On the one hand, such actions result from it as the attempt to democratize Russia, which is not limited to the business deal and on the other hand, the “aesthetic” aversion of the German elites to alliances with states which are not following “liberal” standards. This way one should be read congratulatory letter sent by German chancellor to Donald Trump. In this interpretation can be also interpreted chancellor Merkel’s announcement about the election of Donald Tusk, which was made on Thursday morning and expressed a few hours before the meeting with Prime Minister Beata Szydło. From the perspective of political realism, such actions are harmful. They are unnecessarily insulting or even humiliating an important ally (of course maintaining proportion between the US and Poland), what as a matter of fact was also noticed by German commentators. In their view, the lack of sensitivity toward polish viewpoint could end up with even greater destabilization of Community what government in Berlin so insistently is trying to avoid.

Paradoxically, Germans, in attempt to save the Union, behave like a bull in a china shop and take action to bring about Union breakup in practice. It is necessary to interpret more and more distinct saying about “two-speed Europe” or number of other initiatives that have been recently synthesized in our report which was made by proffesor Tomasz Grzegorz Grosse. It is impossible to eat a cake and to have one.

That all make the strategic partnership with Germany beneficial to both sides in the longer perspective, especially in the face of the disintegration of the EU and emerging of new order in Europe – we wrote about this recently with Tomasz Krawczyk – it requires from both sides real, diplomatic virtuosity and mutual understanding. The German loosening, the Polish chaos and the double-sided unfitness for instance symbolic concession monitored on last days are its denial.

Welcome to the world of chaos

The problem – and here is important the third context that we should consider – is that loosening and chaos are becoming an immanent feature of contemporary international relations. Still two months ago, the US-Russian reset and the confrontation on Washington-Beijing line seemed inevitable. Today, the reset is doubtful and President Trump sends Chinese conciliatory signals. It has also consequences for Poland – in the reset situation American security guarantees to our region significantly became weaker, which forced us to a more active policy towards the US. Because of that in January, President Andrzej Duda invited Donald Trump to the Summit of the 3 Seas Initiative Joint Declaration in Wrocław. Today, this act seems less rational, because it significantly reduces the possibility of opening up our region to stronger cooperation with China.

A similar problem concerns Europe. The whole strategy for the future of the EU depends on the results of this year’s elections in France and Germany. In autumn it still seemed that for sure the presidential chair in Paris will be taken by Alain Juppé, who declared his readiness for radical reforms and renewal of the French-German tandem. This candidacy has been absent for long and the Marine Le Pen’s rival will be Francois Fillon. At the beginning of February, when the German chancellor visited Warsaw, Fillon seemed “sure”, and Angela Merkel sought in Warsaw the already discussed counterbalance to the French vision of EU reform. No one expected then that the so-called Penelope Gate would be had such huge striking power – month later there is no certainty, whether Fillon generally speaking will proceed to the second round. And the election can win leader of the National Front, who has already announced the possibility of heralding referendum on further French membership in the Community. So it is hard to be surprised that chancellor Merkel is trying to save the situation and support the pro-European forces in France and by the way she permitted to symbolically humbly herself by accepting the invitation to meet the so-called Formidable 4 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain) that is (except Germany) – the leaders of the transfer union vision. This meeting was organized by President Francois Hollande in Versailles, a place clearly associated with the Germans defeat. What important, he did it despite the fact that from chancellor Merkel will largely depend chances of any pro-European candidate in the French presidency election fight.

It is therefore possible to risk the thesis that states for various reasons, including mainly the so-called personal factor, begin to behave not quite rationally often against their national interest. And this makes it extremely difficult in constructing foreign policy – lack of knowledge of the future movements of the opponent makes us exclusively dependent on political intuition.

Is it for Pole easy to be wise after the event?

What follows from all this? In face of challenges of finding suitable modus operandi by Germany as well as increasing European and global turmoil, Polish diplomacy must learn new principles – flexibility, ability to make surprising (but prepared…) moves, multivariant and being prepared for the various course of events. It is known that many situations will be from Poland almost independent.

However, the point is to fill the sails as long as it appears and before it disappears. However, this requires a very close coordination of foreign policy, including European policy, which in the face of changes in the EU turning back to the domain of traditionally defined foreign policy. Reasonable, but unfortunately very unrealistic solution would probably be entrusting the whole activity or the MFA or the Presidential Chancellery and minimizing the non-institutional elements of the strategic puzzle. In spite of the voices of numerous critics, both these centers have a realistic assessment of Poland’s potential today – both in the European and international dimension.

If we draw conclusions from the Thursday painful lesson the feeling of failure will become much more bearable. Especially in European and global hurricane it will be much easier to forget about it.


This text was created thanks to support of International Visegrad Found.

Photo: public domain, FLICKR of European Council