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Limits of European solidarity: who eats and who is eaten in EU

Angela Merkel and Jaroslaw Kaczynski

The last EU summit was meant to exhibit Europe’s unanimous optimism about its united future. But it ended with neither a joint statement nor a group photo of the leaders. It turned out that they had so different visions of the EU future that they could no longer keep those differences secret from the public. They just needed a pretext for a conflict and they found it – the reelection of Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. Poland was the first to object. Its current ruler, Law and Justice, believes that as the President of the European Council, the leader of the former ruler, Civic Platform, Tusk, broke the principle of supranational governance and interfered in his country’s national affairs. Even more, the Poles called Tusk a traitor when he supported the EU decision to punish Poland for renouncing the principles of supremacy of the law and democracy.

Before the summit, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo sent the EU leaders a letter, where she explained why the Polish government objected to Tusk’s reelection but that letter was ignored. All the EU members voted pro and only Poland voted contra. Szydlo warned that the Poles would veto the summit’s final document. The EU parried by entitling the document “Conclusions by the President of the European Council” – that is, reelected Donald Tusk. The very first sentence of the document says: “The European Council deliberated on the attached document. It was supported by 27 Members of the European Council, but it did not gather consensus, for reasons unrelated to its substance.” It was the second slap in Poland’s face.

Poland snubbed twice in EU summit fiasco, says EUObserver’s headline. “Many in the EU are furious with Poland's Eurosceptic, nationalist-minded government,” says an article by Reuters and concludes, “Poland imports its domestic political feuds to the bloc.” “Poland fails by 27-1 to oust Donald Tusk as President of the European Council,” says The Economist’s The other President Donald article. There you can also find phrases like “Poland is drifting ever further from the European mainstream,” “Mr Tusk found his home country blocking the path, and a Polish political psychodrama imported to Brussels,” “Ms Szydlo sulkily blocked the summit’s conclusions on matters like trade, defense, and instability in the Western Balkan,” and “Mr Tusk is hardly the only target of the paranoid conspiracy theories that have become official doctrine in Poland.”

“Merkel has put Poland down,” says Die Welt. Deutsche Welle is much more insulting: “Poland vs Europe,” “Poland is sinking into even deeper isolation.” Concerning Szydlo’s promise to prevent Tusk’s reelection, “Is she going to go round in circles and sing the Polish anthem?” “Szydlo is the puppet of Kaczynski, while Kaczynski is a stubborn nationalist-minded puppeteer, who has tried to blackmail the European Union.” More about Kaczynski, “It was a political theater,” “Kaczynski is pushing his country into even deeper isolation.” And on top of it all, “A country refusing to sign the final resolution of a summit just because it failed to get what it wanted – the EU has seen lots of idiots throughout its history but this is something new,” “The EU’s patience is not limitless,” “Some people are already suggesting stopping the financing of Poland,” “If Poland continues like this, it will lose the friends who can support it in financial matters. And Germany will be one of them.”

The Poles reacted appropriately. Kaczynski was brief, “What happened is very bad.” His foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish broadcaster TVN24: “We know that now this is a union controlled by Berlin.” The Polish government believes that Tusk was reelected under Germany’s pressure.

Concerning the threats to cut Poland’s subsidies, on the first day of the summit, French President Francois Hollander told Szydlo that Poland was the EU’s biggest beneficiary. Szydlo said that it was blackmail and that that proved that the EU had very bad prospects ahead. "Why don't we respect each other, listen to each other? That's today the largest problem of the EU," she said. She added that the European Council served a narrow set of countries and reminded the EU leaders they too could be steamrolled. "Today it's about Poland, but soon you too can find yourself in this situation," Szydlo said.

Let’s see how Tusk was reelected. On Mar 8, he was re-elected by most of the EU members despite the protests of the Polish authorities. The post of the president of the European Council was instituted in 2009, with the key role of the president being to coordinate the positions of EU members on EU summits. The Poles’ protests will not affect the EU’s decision to reelect Tusk. Nor will they be able to veto the decision. Szydlo’s position is that the EU should not have voted for a politician who is not popular in his native country. But this is true for European commissioners only. It would be better if the sides could come to terms before the summit without making the problem public. The best scenario would be the EU refraining from nominating Tusk, the Poles not insisting on their nominee Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and the sides agreeing on some third candidate. By the way, a few days ago, Saryusz-Wolski was expelled from the European Parliament for his disrespect for Tusk. And that was one more slap in Kaczynski’s face.

Tusk added to this by warning the Poles to be careful of the bridges they are burning.

Kaczynski’s actions are not the actions of an insane person – as some German mass media claim. They reflect the growing split in the Polish society. For example, quite recently, PiS blamed Tusk of having destructed Poland’s shipbuilding industry.

The dispute on Tusk is not over. The Poles may persist in their refusal to recognize him as the President of the European Council and in their wish to see him dismissed. And this will hardly be their fiasco. The European Union is all but willing to see one of its members vetoing a decision by all the others. And this is exactly what the Poles may do.

And this is why Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern is persuading the Poles not to feel hurt. Merkel also grumbled something like it is always important to try to reach a consensus but blockade is not the right way to it. But the Poles are arrogant and obstinate.

So, it will be very hard for any peacemakers them to reconcile them with the European Union. The problem is that Tusk’s reelection was just a pretext for those having much more serious complaints. One of the moot points is Two-speed Europe. And Tusk was just a small stone in the monolith of contradictions concerning who eats and who is eaten in the European Union.

During the summit, Merkel reiterated her support for Two-speed Europe, a doctrine stipulating that the core of the European Union should continue its integration irrespective of the positions of the other member states.

In the meantime, the Visegrad Group – the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia – and the Baltic states are concerned that the European integration may damage their national interests. Szydlo said that Poland would never accept that doctrine as it would lead to Europe’s disintegration. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis were of the same opinion.

The opponents of a two-speed Europe fear that the Tusk incident will strengthen the position of those advocating the dominance of old Europe in the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said "multi-speed Europe is not going to create a new iron curtain."

Concerning migration, Orban said that the goal of the EU’s migration policy should be not “humane and effective” approach to migration but its prevention. The Hungarian prime minister promised that during the Rome summit, Hungary will either refrain from discussing the problem of migration or introduce its reservations in the final declaration. The Hungarian are not going to repeat Szydlo’s mistake and to boycott a resolution without making changes to it.

So, we can say that the last EU summit has revealed the limits of political solidarity in the Union. The Tusk incident has tested Merkel’s ability to drive at a multi-speed with no regard for outsiders. It turned out that Poland and its Central European allies believe that they have completed the reception class and can now become true Europeans. But Germany and its Western European allies think that even though Visegrad has completed the reception class, in the next class it should take the seat of a D-student and should get less food (subsidies) for school breakfast. The Brexit has opened a 10bn EUR annual gap in the EU’s budget and has undermined its unity.

The EU is divided – it was the only thesis that united the summit. This concerns the budget, defense and migration. The Western European are trying to convince the world that Europe is united but, in fact, they are just trying to cover their political apoplexy. The reforms are stalling and more and more people in Europe are becoming skeptical. And even Eurosceptics do not win in the Netherlands, France and Germany, their influence on the general agenda will certainly grow.

Today, people in Europe are displeased with its inability to create jobs and to ensure better economic future for its citizens. But polls say that there will be no new “exits” in the near future even though countries like the Netherlands, France, Italy and Poland are getting more and more skeptical.

The victory of Marine Le Pen in France could change the political dynamics in the European Union, while Emmanuel Macron in France and Martin Schulz in Germany might help to save the EU. In fact, they are the last hope of divided and shaky Europe.

EADaily’s European Bureau

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