Poland and the EU: membership entails existential security

21 Jun 2016 - 11:40
Source: © European Union 2015

According to the latest opinion polls provided by the PEW Research Centre, Poland is the country with the highest approval rate for the EU. Thus, Poles belong to the true enthusiasts of the European integration project, which is rather a rare case in the nowadays gloomy European landscape. Therefore, the  option of a Polexit is not being considered by any serious political party in Poland. However, it does not mean that the future shape of the European integration project raises no concerns in Warsaw. Quite on the contrary.

Unity in diversity cannot remain a slogan
The EU is perceived in Poland as facing the deepest crisis in its history and even the collapse of the whole project is considered likely. Such a scenario would throw Europe into chaos and undermine the existential security of Poland, which was in many aspects a beneficiary from the EU enlargement in 2004. The prevailing feeling in Polish European politics now is that if you are on the edge of a precipice, this is not the best moment to accelerate the speed of integration to avoid the worst. European integration needs to pause to be protected in difficult times, instead of repeating unreflectively the old mantra of more and more Europe as the sole remedy for all evil.

The EU needs to pause not in order to wait but to slow down. There is a lot of unfinished business which should be completed first, before we can look ambitiously to the future again. First of all, when we finally know the outcome of the British referendum, we will have to figure out the mechanism making the EU capable of managing its increasing differences. Unity in diversity cannot remain a slogan. It has to be transformed into a method if the Union wants survive. Not being a member of the common currency, Poland is starting to recognise the reality of diversified integration. 

For now, the Euro is the absolute limit for Polish integration
Ten years ago the common currency still seemed to be a natural destination towards which Poland was driving and the completion of the integration process with the EU was perceived as a symbol of Poland belonging to the centre of the Union. This, nevertheless, turned out to be an illusion and in the course of the financial crisis the Euro became the absolute limit for Polish integration, at least for the near future. In the next decade Poland will not join the Euro zone, it is a fact, and accepted both by  public opinion and the decision makers in politics and business.

It implicates the key question from the Polish point of view, namely, how the further development of the Euro zone is going to influence the relation with the non-Euro states within the Union and whether further steps of integration in fiscal policies, banking services, labour markets or capital will increase the gap that separates the countries of the Euro zone from the rest. Poland is not in the position of the UK to consider the total separation from the Euro zone. Being outside the Euro, the Polish currency and Polish economy will still remain vulnerable to instability of the common currency and dependent on its future development. This is why Poland seeks to remain in the position of cooperation with the Euro zone in  future arrangements and reforms, and to have the possible option open for future membership.
Cultural and social coherence is the responsibility of member states 
The Euro is one of the most important examples of the increase of real diversities in the European Union which Poland is learning to handle. Migration is another one, especially in the face of the current migration and refugees crisis threatening the Schengen system to collapse completely. Poland belongs to Schengen and contributes to it substantially by protecting and securing the long EU eastern border and by hosting Frontex; one of the most important European agencies nowadays.

For Poland, Schengen became a symbol of successful integration and of a Europe without internal borders. This makes Poland deeply interested in restoring security at the EU external borders, including establishing a common European border guard system and harmonising the European policy of asylum. On the other hand, it is quite inevitable to leave the protection of cultural and social coherence of the member states in their own hands. Therefore, according to Polish priorities, the migration policy has to be decided in the national capitals.
The EU as a common market
The thing that bonds the Union and gives common ground is still the common market - the most valuable achievement of the last decades of European integration. Poland sees the main potential of European integration in the extension of the four main freedoms of the common market. Taking advantage of this potential constitutes true hope for the future of the European Union. According to Mario Monti’s report from 2010 on the single market, this project is however far from being completed or form showing all its profits.

It is the main task of the European Commission, which is the main institution originally responsible for safeguarding the project, to lead this project and make use of all its opportunities.. Especially since the Big Bang enlargement from 2004, the common market has not just comprised different social and economic models of different member states but has also had to cover different levels of social services in member states and various levels of economic development. It makes the future of the common market especially tricky.

Countries like Poland, which are experiencing probably the most crucial moment of their social and economic transformation, are seeking ways to put their economic future more on their own footing than just on foreign investments and structural funds coming from the EU. Therefore, it is essential for them that the potential of the single market is based not only on the reduction of the internal barriers but also on a safe balance of various interests of different member states as well. Thus, the future of the single market lies as much in its further liberalization and market integration as in the accommodation  of differences between member states 

EU institutions should return to their primary responsibilities
Fulfilling this main challenge and making diversity in unity not only a slogan but the real mechanism of the European integration project requires an appropriate institutional design of the EU and in particular public support. These elements seem exactly to be the weakest points in today’s EU. The ways in which the financial crisis and the migration crisis were handled, have disorganised the institutional architecture of the EU, leading to a situation in which each institution tries to tear away more competences but without being able to carry responsibility. This is the reason why the European institutions should return to their primary responsibilities and functions. Instead of deliberating about new institutional arrangements, we should therefore first properly  implement the existing treaties and regain credibility.

National democracy needs to be strengthened in EU decision-making
What is even more important is the democratic legitimacy of the EU, which does not work at all. We have to look for possibilities of involving the national parliaments and national citizens more decisively in the decision making process. The balance between technocratic solutions on a supranational level and the democratic expectations and needs on a national one has to be found indispensably and soon. The EU must cease to be the project of elites. Without the support of its citizens, it is bound to collapse.

Marek Cichocki is the Research Director of the Natolin European Centre in Warsaw since 2004 as well as Editor-in-chief of the magazine “New Europe. Natolin Review”. From 2007 to 2010 he was Advisor to the President of the Republic of Poland Prof. Lech Kaczyński and Sherpa for the negotiations of the Lisbon Treaty.