THE WARSAW INSTITUTE REVIEW
Attitudes of Polish Political Parties towards European Integration
The aim of this text is to analyze agendas of the major political parties in Poland before the upcoming elections to the European Parliament (in 2019).
The political status of the Polish debate on European integration is growing. This is reflected, for example, in the results of the last local government elections in 2018, it which the European issues mattered more than the local situation, especially to voters in large cities. The role of the EU has been gradually growing since Poland’s accession in 2004 and became of even greater importance in the period of European crises.
However, these are not the most fundamental reasons for the growing role of Europe in the contemporary Polish political scene. What is crucial here is rather the deepening polarization between the conservative Law and Justice (PiS), the party in power, and factions of liberal opposition, the main aim of which is to negate the entire agenda of PiS and to remove it from power. Therefore, European issues have become one of the biggest areas of the dispute between the government and the opposition, especially Civic Platform (PO).
The analysis focused on the points of view of individual parties concerning the future of Europe, their preferred political model, and potential institutional changes to be introduced. It further described attitudes regarding Poland’s membership in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), responses to the migration crisis, and views on the internal market. Moreover, it examined opinions on increasing cooperation in defense program (CSDP) and a vision of the future of EU foreign policy (CFSP). Finally, the study covered Brexit and its implications for Poland’s relations with the UK.
The first part of the study will focus on a synthetic presentation of the European doctrine from a historical perspective. Then the views of the government (and its political environment) will be presented, followed by the views of the opposition. The objective is to diagnose which ideas of the opposition converge with the ideas of the government, and thus can be additionally strengthened on the international arena. Another research question is which issues arouse controversy and go beyond the consensus of political forces in relation to European politics. In Poland, all major political forces support EU membership. Yet, the increasing polarization of the two hostile camps is making the consensus on European issues increasingly shallow, while, at the same time, some right-wing groups are tightening their stance on European integration.
It is not easy to identify the Polish doctrine in European politics due to the relatively short participation in integration processes, but also because of the differences of the main political forces towards the EU (i.e., Eurosceptics versus pro-Europeans) highlighted in the literature.
However, it is feasible to try to outline a common theme and continue to take part in European politics. All Polish governments after 2004 stressed the slogan „A Strong Poland in a Strong Europe” which reflected their focus towards the achievement of national interests and supported the development of integration. They all refrained from building federations in the EU and criticized the tendency to divide it into a „two-speed Europe” (between the countries in the eurozone and the rest of the EU). In around 2012, as it seems, the doctrine of EMU membership had emerged. Entry into the eurozone was to be contingent upon overcoming the euro crisis, reforming the monetary union and the strengthening of the Polish economy so as not to repeat the fate of the countries of the south of EMU. During the migration crisis, the politicians of the biggest parties insisted on protecting the EU’s external borders. They expressed distance or even opposition to permanent mechanisms of the relocation of refugees or immigrants. The Polish doctrine is consistently in favor of extending the four freedoms in the internal market and opposes protectionist tendencies in this area. Successive Polish governments supported the development of the EU’s foreign and defense policy, but on the assumption that this would not constitute competition or a threat to NATO and transatlantic relations. EU foreign policy postulated the development of cooperation with eastern EU countries, support for the membership of Ukraine and Balkan countries in the EU and force Russia to respect international law and respect the sovereignty of other states. At the same time, Poland kept the best possible relations between the EU and the USA. The Polish authorities also maintained friendly relations with the United Kingdom, and, as a result, we can expect the continuation of this policy even after Brexit, including the best possible relations between the EU and the UK after the country’s exit from the European Union.
Views of the government
Law and Justice took over in Poland in November 2015. In accordance with the Polish doctrine of European policy, it rejected the development of integration towards the federal direction. According to this party’s official position, the EU should remain a community of sovereign and equal nations. One of its key priorities is to oppose the growing power of the largest member states in the integration processes. It is worth recalling here the basic principle of the former Prime Minister Beata Szydło about the future of Europe: „Equal with the equal and free with the free”. At the same time, PiS stressed that democracy in Europe is present primarily in nation-states, which is why it is so important to respect the subjectivity of all governments, the voice of national parliaments in decisions taken at the EU level. The party intended to increase the participation of these parliaments in the future EU regime. It also opposed the division into a „two-speed Europe”, although it approves of participating in the shaping of cooperation in Central Europe, including the deepening of cooperation within the Visegrad Group and the Three Seas Initiative. The aim is to balance the dominance of the French–German tandem in the EU and the predominance of Western European interests over the perspective of Central Europe. Members of PiS are against further centralization of powers in the EU, and thus would like to slow down the integration progress. They believe that the competences of EU institutions should not be extended without amending the treaties. „The European Commission is not a super-government, and the EP a super-parliament, and any ‘competence not conferred on the Union by the treaties should belong to the Member States”. At the same time, Law and Justice observed with concern the increase in disciplinary supervision over the member states by EU institutions and the enforcement of EU law. PiS did not expedite the process of joining the eurozone. The government maintained a „pragmatic distance towards the euro”. It supported the necessary reforms in EMU and did not accept divisions in the internal market and in the union itself (the „two-speed Europe”). In particular, it did not agree to set up separate political institutions for the euro area, such as a parliament, government or minister of finance, and finally to establish a separate budget for EMU. The government disagreed with the forced relocation of refugees, and it proposed to strengthen the EU’s external borders and to intensify humanitarian and development policy activities beyond the EU’s borders. Under the doctrine of European policy, Law and Justice demanded respect and development of the four freedoms of the Treaty of Rome (1957) in the internal market and opposed any protectionist measures, including those resulting from the amendment of the directive on the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services, which restricted the free movement of workers in the internal market. The government did not agree with the introduction of new European taxes or tax harmonization in the internal market. It opposed the introduction of majority voting on these matters in the EU, considering that taxes are a sovereign competence of national authorities, especially democratic parliaments. The government was critical of the EU’s increasingly ambitious climate policy, which involved the elimination of coal-based energy. The party approved of progress made in the EU’s defense policy, although it stressed that it must not compete, duplicate or pose a threat to NATO and transatlantic relations. PiS advocated equal opportunities of access to the European Defense Fund for all member states, i.e., no preference should be given to the largest corporations or research centers in Western Europe to use this fund. The EU’s foreign policy accepted the enlargement of the EU to include the Balkan countries, as well as the inclusion of Ukraine in the EU structures. They supported further development of the Eastern Partnership and transatlantic relations. They also demanded that all EU member states show solidarity towards Russia, especially in dealing with its aggressive policy towards the west. Regarding Brexit, they proposed to establish allied relations between the EU and the UK, both on the economic level and in defense policy. Many views of the Law and Justice party, especially those concerning the EU’s foreign and defense policy, seem in line with the European doctrine of Polish diplomacy.
Views of the opposition
The largest opposition party, Civic Platform, has for years been supporting the further development of European integration. For instance, it has supported the strengthening of the Commission as a body designed to contribute to protecting the interests of the smaller member states. Radosław Sikorski, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, supported reducing the number of Commissioners and merging the position of President of the European Council and President of the European Commission. He directed some of his speeches towards a federation, for example, regarding the support for a pan-European list of candidates for EP elections. According to Sikorski, a number of competences should become the domain of member states, especially regarding „national identity, religion, lifestyle, public morality, and tax rates”. This refers to the conservative approach to political matters represented by PiS. In turn, in 2018, the head of PO objected to linking payments from European funds to the issue of respect for the rule of law, which was in line with the position of the government of the Law and Justice party. Even at the beginning of the crisis in EMU, the former government formed by PO was in favor of adopting the euro as soon as possible. However, under the pressures caused by the growing problems in the monetary union, it took the position that entry into the eurozone must be conditioned by the end of the crisis, the reform of EMU and appropriate preparation of the Polish economy for membership in the monetary union. At the same time, it tried to ensure that Poland took part in all initiatives taken by the monetary union countries, such as the Fiscal Pact or the Banking Union, which was referred to as „keeping one’s foot in the door” tactics. During the Law and Justice party’s term of office, Civic Platform continued its earlier political ideology, while supporting the introduction of further reforms in EMU. In 2018, the head of PO pointed out that Poland should prepare for the adoption of the common currency, and at the same time Poles should be persuaded to take part in this project. In this way, this party softened its approach to EMU, recognizing that the crisis had been resolved and that preparations for membership of the monetary union should be reopened. It was a change of stance largely referring to the domestic political polarization, which increasingly translated into emphasizing pro-European content in the opposition’s agenda. In 2015, the Civic Platform government supported the EU regulation on forced relocation of refugees in the EU. Because of public opinion and unsuccessful elections, the government tightened its position on the matter, considering that the division of refugees must be voluntary, and that the EU policy must emphasize the control of the EU’s external borders. At the same time, the head of PO promised not to accept illegal migrants if it took power. As a result, the position of this party has come close to the policy of the ruling party. According to the Polish doctrine in European politics, the largest opposition party declared its willingness to increase the four freedoms in the internal market. It also referred to the initiative of its own government (2007–2015) in the field of energy cooperation, especially the joint European purchases of oil and gas from external producers. Also, with regard to the EU’s foreign and defense policies, the previous agenda was continued, i.e., it advocated the development of integration of these policies, while maintaining good transatlantic relations and maintaining European cohesion in the face of Russia’s aggressive policy. Further development of the EU’s eastern policy was called for, and in the area of CSDP, the emphasis was placed on combating terrorism. In all these matters, the opposition strengthened the position of the Law and Justice government. However, at the end of 2018 new accents appeared in the statements of the politicians representing PO. There was more and more frequent criticism of the American administration of President Donald Trump, including reservations concerning the government’s deepening of bilateral military relations between Poland and the USA (e.g., the Fort Trump project, i.e., increasing the US military presence in Poland, was being criticized). Politicians of PO increasingly stressed the need for Polish diplomacy to support the development of EU defense policy. The aim was not only to complement or strengthen NATO’s potential but also to build European geopolitical autonomy in relations with the world’s largest powers. In this way, the politicians of the opposition were clearly approaching a similar program presented in recent years in Paris and Berlin, while distancing themselves from the strongly pro-American position of the Law and Justice government.
Parliament President Antonio Tajani. © Stephanie Lecocq (PAP/EPA)
The views of the next opposition party, .Nowoczesna [EN: .Modern], are usually much more pro-European, although due to its declining electoral support in 2018, its influence on the government’s policy was moderate. .Nowoczesna strongly supported all pro-integration initiatives discussed in the EU and was also in favor of adopting the euro as soon as possible. It also stated that Poland should welcome refugees and immigrants and all EU’s initiatives concerning this matter. Regarding doctrine in European politics, it advocated the promotion of the four freedoms on the internal market. Similarly, the party supports the development of the EU’s foreign and defense policy and supports the traditional directions of Polish foreign policy.
Kukiz’15 is an opposition party that stressed the Eurosceptic position more than the Law and Justice government, thus helping to stiffen the position of the ruling party in many places on the European part of its agenda. In systemic matters, Kukiz’15 advocated the „Europe of sovereign nations” and was against „the imperialist attempts of Germany and France” that have a tendency to dominate politics in the EU. The aim of Polish politics should be to limit the role of the Brussels bureaucracy, and to defend national democracy, thereby reducing the power of EU institutions over the member states. Kukiz’15 strongly opposed Poland’s entry into EMU, which turned out to be an “unsuccessful experiment”. It proposed the controlled dismantling of EMU as the only possible scenario for the well-being of Europe. It strongly opposed EU plans to relocate refugees and immigrants. Kukiz’15 was a supporter of the internal market and at the same time advocated for the deregulation of EU law and for the reduction of protectionist tendencies in the EU. Simultaneously, it opposed preferences for foreign investors in Poland, at the expense of the rights of domestic entrepreneurs or consumers. It advocated for Poland’s denunciation of the energy and climate change package, as it leads to the destruction of Polish industry and increases in energy prices.
The policy of the government formed by PiS is, in many aspects, in line with the agenda of the previous government coalitions. This applies in particular to foreign and defense policy, as well as to the internal market. In some cases, the ruling party has very similar views to the opposition’s agenda, especially on the issues on which opinions of the public are clear and visible (for example migration). It should be noted, however, that the current government has a more distanced stance towards many reforms discussed in the EU arena compared to its predecessors, and the current opposition is divided in this respect. In some matters (for instance migration) it is quite close to the government, while in others it is divided into either more Euro-Enthusiastic or Eurosceptic than the ruling party (e.g., in relation to the adoption of the euro). In several cases, the liberal opposition is closer to the canon agenda of the German or French government than to the Polish one. The most emotional conflict between the government and a part of the opposition in 2017–2018 concerned internal reforms, especially those regarding the justice system. These reforms were also criticized by European institutions and some member states as an alleged violation of EU’s rule of law.
Apart from internal reforms, this dispute also concerned Poland’s role in the EU, understood in the context of prestige and influence on the decision-making process. The dispute contributed to the deepening of political polarization and certain political repercussions on the discussion on Poland’s future in the EU. According to representatives of the liberal opposition, the reforms of the judiciary introduced by the government violated the Polish Constitution. Interestingly, the opposition never consulted the Constitutional Tribunal (the only institution of the Polish law that has the right to settle constitutional disputes) if the judiciary reform is compliant with the Polish Law. The opposition decided to ask European institutions and some member states to intervene instead, thus using the authority of the EU institutions to settle internal disputes and participate in electoral rivalry with Law and Justice, as evidenced by its local government elections campaign in 2018. The success of the opposition in the largest cities in these elections was to a large extent based on the accusation that the government is moving towards Poland’s exit from the EU. During the discussion on the reform of the judiciary, two different visions of European integration emerged – envisioned by the conservative government, and the other by the liberal opposition. Representatives of the ruling party have repeatedly declared that they do not want Poland to leave the EU. However, they are in favor of changing the current political practice in the EU. For the government, the intervention of the European institutions is a breach of treaty law, according to which the reform of the judiciary is the exclusive competence of particular member states. Moreover, criticism of the Polish judicial reform is a too far-reaching intervention of external institutions in Poland’s internal affairs, as a consequence of which, Polish sovereignty and Polish democracy have been violated. That is why the opposition’s efforts to seek support abroad were treated as a sign of betrayal, both by representatives of PiS and by some non-liberal opposition politicians, for instance some members of Kukiz’15. In turn, for representatives of the liberal opposition, external political interference – both by some member states and European institutions – was justified by the processes of European integration, in which no state is fully sovereign, and its sovereignty is „shared” with other states and EU institutions. The EU institutions were, therefore, not treated as external but as belonging to a political system.
In this way, two visions of further European integration were confronted: conservative and liberal. According to Law and Justice, integration should be based on the autonomy and subjectivity of nation states, and true democracy is only possible at the national level. This means that other states should show respect for the government’s policy chosen and supported by local voters. External interference disturbs voters’ rights and restricts national democracy. Within the framework of a liberal and cosmopolitan vision of integration, European nations delegate more and more powers to European institutions, which means that political activity and elections held in these countries may be influenced by the media and politicians from other countries or officials from EU institutions. The dispute also concerned the fundamental values and principles of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU). The value of the rule of law (Article 2 TEU) was of key importance for PO. For PiS, it was essential to defend the values of democracy (Article 2 TEU), the principle of respect for national identity, inseparably linked with respect for fundamental political and constitutional structures of the member states (Article 4 TEU). The principle of conferral, according to which the EU’s institutions act only within the limits of the powers conferred on it by the member states in the treaties, is also very important (Article 5 TEU).
The principle of equality among member states (Article 4 TEU) was also crucial for the government as it should mean that larger and more politically influential states are not privileged by the European Commission or the Court of Justice compared to smaller states, especially when their democratic governments have a different perception of national interests than the perception held by the largest states. Politicians representing liberal opposition stressed the compatibility of Polish policy in the EU with European reform proposals put forward by EU institutions or the largest member states. The improvement of Poland’s image on the European arena was of fundamental importance here. This forced a greater willingness to accept external proposals. According to the arguments of politicians representing the liberal opposition, only an improved image guarantees Poland a greater influence on European reforms. On the other hand, for government politicians, it was of fundamental importance to assess external proposals and changes taking place in the EU through the prism of national interests and to block changes perceived as not being beneficial for Polish society. Such an attitude may, and sometimes even has to, take place at the cost of worsening the image of the Polish government abroad. Defending national interests, especially the ones which gained majority in parliamentary elections, is an essential task of a democratic government. Jarosław Kaczyński, President of Law and Justice, said that his party was authorized by the voters to defend the interests of Poland and not to stroke anyone in the EU or take care of someone else’s interests. For the ruling Conservatives, respect for democracy and national interests as defined in the elections was of fundamental importance (unlike image issues, which were not that important).
Electoral polarization around European issues resulted in a decrease in the consensus of Polish political forces towards European integration. The dispute with the EU over the reform of the judiciary led to political radicalization, both by liberal and right-wing groups. For an increasing number of right-wing voters, the political ideology of PiS is excessively pro-European, so there are groups demanding Poland’s exit from the EU. In this way, the radicalization of voters and the deepening polarization of opinion around European integration affected Polish society in a similar way as societies in the western part of the continent.