Poland’s political elites in the context of Polish-German relations within the European Union Cover Image
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Polskie elity polityczne wobec stosunków z Niemcami w ramach Unii Europejskiej
Poland’s political elites in the context of Polish-German relations within the European Union

Contributor(s): Krzysztof Malinowski (Editor)
Subject(s): Government/Political systems, International relations/trade, EU-Accession / EU-DEvelopment, Geopolitics
Published by: Instytut Zachodni im. Zygmunta Wojciechowskiego
Keywords: elites; Polish-German relations; EU; EU’s eastern policy; security; energy; climate change; crisis
Summary/Abstract: A review of the opinions of Polish political elites on Polish-German relations within the EU framework, which are of both academic and practical significance, was undertaken in a project of the Institute for Western Affairs conducted between 2013 and 2016 (Poland’s political elites in the context of Polish-German relations within the European Union). The goal was to examine the positions of Poland’s political elites within specific thematic fields associated with the EU (such as visions of EU transformations, the EU’s eastern policy, as well as security, energy and climate change) as held between the outbreak of the eurozone crisis in 2009 and the outset of the refugee crisis in 2015. The opinions and views expressed by Poland’s political elites reveal a conviction that a strong correlation exists between the nature of Polish-German relations and the crystallization of Poland’s role in the European Union. The elites are deeply divided on Polish-German relations at this critical time for the EU’s development, which suggests an absence of a political consensus. The divisions run deep, rooted in differences in the basic political orientations represented by the elite’s members. Conflicting views on Poland’s role in Europe and the European Union coincided with discrepancies in approaches to Germany, the concepts of mutual relations, and particularly the acknowledgement of Germany’s vital importance for Poland in Europe. Evidently, there are two aspects to the relationship. On the one hand, the perception of Germany as a strategic partner has influenced the search for Poland’s place in the EU. On the other, Germany was seen as a hindrance for defining a role for Poland within Europe. In this sense, the discourse on the shape of Poland’s role in Europe and specifically in the EU ended up being bundled with a dispute on the significance of Germany for Poland in this process. As a secondary consideration, the discourse influenced the way in which the state of Polish-German relations was diagnosed and predicted. The same applied to collaboration between the two countries and the widening gaps between the interests pursued in various fields of the EU’s engagement (such the eastern, energy and defense policies). Noticeably, the opinions of Polish elites on Polish-German relations became polarized along the same lines that separated views on a more prominent (leadership) role which Germany aspired to play in the EU in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis and in the face of the Ukrainian conflict. Diverse interpretations of Germany’s actions prevented Polish elites from reaching a consensus on the opportunities and prospects awaiting Poland in the event Germany succeeds in strengthening its position in the EU. The above maneuverings were echoed in the parliamentary discourse. Thrown into sharp relief were two narratives on the desired way in which Poland should develop its relations with Germany within the framework of the EU. While one of them saw Poland rising to the role of Germany’s strategic partner, the other expected it to pursue its own subjective policy within the EU independently of Germany. Both approaches reflect two archetypical visions of the course that Poland should take in history, i.e. (1) the Piast line which combined support for strengthening European integration with the belief that Poland’s cooperation with Germany is likely to help it rise to greater significance in the European Union; and (2) the Jagiellonian view oriented at increasing Poland’s autonomy within the EU through closer integration with Central Europe (and possibly the Intermarium region) and consequently also with the EU as a whole. Disparities between the two visions were reflected in debates on eastern, energy & climate and security policies. Despite differences on the essence of relations with Germany, underpinned by the divide between the ruling coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party and its right-wing opposition embodied by the Law & Justice party, as reflected in the pre-2016 parliamentary debates, the two approaches converged in e.g. the admission that it is in Poland’s best interest to keep the EU from evolving towards a confederation dominated by large member states which alone would determine the fate of the Union.   In the academic discourse, references to Germany are central to disputes about Europe and Poland’s place in the Union. The line that separates advocates of Poland’s integration with the EU from Euro-skeptics coincides with different understandings of Germany’s role and significance for Polish-German relations and for the development of the EU. In the former (prevailing) approach, emphasis has been placed on (a) Germany’s huge potential, partially compromised by dissenting forces, including those seeking to divide the EU into a “multi-speed Europe”, and (b) the relevance of the European imperative in Germany’s policies. The authors stressed also the key significance of Poland’s collaboration with Germany (regarding the CSDP, eastern policy and the future structure of the EU). The latter critical approach supported by the political right wing tended to focus on Poland’s geopolitical security and the need for Central Europe’s autonomy, both of which are seen as alternatives to cooperation with Germany. Differences in views on Germany’s leadership were associated with the way the proponents of the two approaches saw the EU and their preferred visions of European integration. Such proponents agreed to oppose Europe’s domination by major powers and resist the historically discredited “concert” among the member states. However, when the advocates of the pro-European approach sought to strengthen European institutions as an effective means of holding Germany in check, the Euro-critics proclaimed such a strengthening would stand in the way of transforming Europe into a commonwealth of sovereign states which they saw as a guarantee of Poland’s equality vis-à-vis Germany. For that reason, a closer cooperation between Germany and the EU was treated as rather contrary to Poland’s interests and as a barrier to Poland’s empowerment. The participants of the discourse of experts agreed to accept Germany’s central role in transforming the EU. The experts generally supported the postulate that Poland has an interest in ensuring that Europe continues its integration and that the EU achieves internal cohesion. The key point on which they diverged was Poland’s adoption of the euro. The scales tipped in favor of the proponents of a wait-and-see approach. The prevailing opinion was that a closer relationship with Germany would strengthen Poland’s position in the EU and that Germany was potentially interested in establishing closer links with Poland due to the similarities in the two countries’ fiscal regimes and specifically to (a) Poland’s possible future entry into the eurozone and (b) the benefits that Germany expects to derive from having Poland as a partner that would legitimize Germany’s leadership of the EU. Surveys of parliamentary elites have shown that Germany’s leadership of the EU is viewed primarily as a consequence of the eurozone crisis and of the weakening of the member states rather than as Germany’s pursuit of a long-term scheme to assert supremacy. The survey’s respondents suggested that the most likely consequences of Germany’s leadership of the EU would be a transformation of the eurozone into a hard core of the EU as well as the strengthening of Germany’s position and economic model in the Union. Both were pronounced as the definitive cause of adverse consequences for Poland. The survey’s results suggest that a pivot is possible in Polish-German relations. Since the coming to power of a new Polish government in the autumn of 2015, Germany has lost its status as Poland’s favored partner. Poland’s new preference is to choose its partners selectively and form flexible coalitions. The view that collaboration with Germany would continue to be as good as it has been and that its tightening would strengthen Poland's position in the EU is being gradually forsaken. Surveys offer two types of predictions. One envisions Poland’s flexible positioning in response to individual German initiatives while the other sees Poland acting on its own initiative vis-à-vis Germany by forging alliances with third countries. The findings of (anonymous) interviews with experts support the results of questionnaire surveys, albeit to a lesser degree than those suggested by the discourse unfolding among the same experts. It is evident that the expert community subscribe to two differing views and propose two types of recommendations for Poland’s policy towards Germany in the field of EU transformations and especially its eastern policy. Some of the experts recommend opposing Germany within the EU framework to avert a German domination of Poland. Others advocate building a closer political relationship with that country as a logical consequence of strong economic ties. As for the future, the anticipated negative impact on Poland has not necessarily been correlated with Germany’s assumption of leadership as Germany is not generally perceived as harmful for the EU.

  • Page Count: 342
  • Publication Year: 2017
  • Language: Polish
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