Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Poland: the transition is over and is successful

Adelina Marini, July 5, 2011

In the beginning I was thinking to start this text with two brand new ideas Poland proposes as priorities during its six-month rotation Presidency, which has started on July 1, but then I decided that the bigger news is the recognition that the transition in Poland has ended and that the country can now be included in the group of the "old" EU member states. I decided to choose this beginning of this article because for years we are talking in Bulgaria about whether the transition is over or not and, in the end of the day, it is not clear what transition actually means and whether it is possible here. Instead, the Poles are for a long time not being torn apart between the past and the present, refusing to look in the future. The Poles do not have a problem with Russia anymore, although they could have easily found a good justification for it.

Poland now not only looks ahead to its own future but it puts it, as an inseverabale part, in the successful future of the European Union. My thoughts about Poland's evolutionary leap are steering around in my head for several months now, but I was worried that they are not very correct, as I'm looking at Poland from a country where the transition not only did not end but it seems it never started. This is why I was very pleased to hear the words of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, uttered during the symbolic transfer of presidency in the presence of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Words, worth to be quoted precisely:

"For you, membership of the European Union was the crowning of a long struggle for sovereignty and freedom. During the difficult moments of history, your country never lost its confidence, its culture, its dignity, its own personality. The Polish people wanted to find its place back amongst the free nations of the world. So many uprisings for democracy and justice are witness to this, so many battles for freedom and solidarity. These moments defined your country. Ultimately, in 1989, they sealed the beginning of the end of the Cold War. They opened a new era for Europe as a whole. And we are all thankful for that. Since then, Poland has transformed itself into a democratic, modern and prosperous country".

In support of Herman Van Rompuy's words is an article in the Italian daily La Repubblica, entitled Europe's New Locomotive. The newspaper points out that the beginning of the Polish Presidency of the EU is an opportunity for us to take stock how far the country has come along after the end of communism.

It is hardly possible to find a better recognition of the many years' efforts of the Poles, which is why they take their presidency with exceptional responsibility, perceiving it as a test for their preparedness to be an "old" member of the European Union. Reading their 6-months programme, however, is enough to see that Poland has matured for its membership and for leading the European Union through difficult times.

The new moments in the Presidency programme

Although it is totally expected that Poland would turn East, what surprises in the programme is the idea to create free trade zones with the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), as well as to sign association agreements with them. According to the Polish Presidency, Europe should not lose sight of its Eastern neighbours. Besides, Warsaw intends to focus also on the agreeing of a liberalisation of the visa regime with those countries.

The second new element the Polish Presidency intends to bring in the next 6 months, in fact is not new in itself but the approach to it discerns from the traditional mentioning of the issue in the programmes of rotation presidencies so far. It is about the country's wish EU's military and civil capabilities to be increased.

Secure Europe – Food, Energy, Defence

This is how is formulated the part, in which the Polish Presidency outlines its main ideas, focusing on the fact that Europe can be strong only if it is strong economically, independent in energy and has a strong foreign policy and defence power. Continuing the priorities of the previous trio (Spain, Belgium, Hungary), Poland will also invest efforts in improving Europe's macroeconomic security. The increase of the quality of EU's economic governance will be a top priority for the Polish Presidency in the area of economy and finance, the programme reads.

Secondly, as can be expected, Poland puts the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), but in the context of the negotiations of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will take place during the Polish Presidency. Poland is one of the biggest beneficiaries of agriculture subsidies and this is why it is not s surprise that it focuses on CAP. According to the Polish Presidency, CAP's reform should focus on improving effectiveness of EU funds absorption. Who could have a biggest reason to want this, except Poland, which is a champion of EU funds absorption - nearly 100%, with effectiveness added to it?

And here too there is a new element, which is new from the perspective of the fact that Poland is a former communist country and at least from our part of the EU it is interesting that it insists on it - CAP to remain a market-oriented policy, with taking into account public interest. Agricultural security and multi-faceted development of agriculture and rural areas must be a focus when reforming the policy, Warsaw deems. Furthermore, resolving the issue of direct payments and rural areas aid must be acknowledged as a crucial element of CAP reform.

According to Poland, the next MFF should serve as an "investment tool used to the purpose of implementing the “Europe 2020” strategy", where a focus is put on innovation, science, education and green technology.

From Poland for Poland

Another important indicator for Poland's maturity as a member of the EU is the way media refer to the presidency. In a commentary in the influential weekly magazine Polityka Marek Ostrowski and Paweł Świeboda write that for now everything is going well, but there is a danger Poland to discredit itself in the autumn when the campaign for the general elections will start in October. The authors are trying more or less to outline which could be the dangers and risks for Poland during its Presidency, as well as to point out what the country should focus on.

According to the magazine, Poland should focus on the careful building of alliances and to maintain good relations with the European Parliament which, according to Polityka, is a guarantee for a successful presidency. "We should show that European history is not a narrative of the domination of other continents but a story of successful democratisation, which, 20 years ago, was by no means a foregone conclusion in our regions", the magazine writes and goes on: "Poland should highlight the benefits of its own transformation and insist on the creation of special representative responsible for reforms in the Arab world — a post that should be reserved for a well recognised Central European statesman".

"They say that a country does not really become a member of the European Union until it has taken its turn to be president. The Romans believed that only the rich could look on reality with courage: and in the European Union, recent member states often content themselves with a limited programme that is designed to avoid the risk of failure. As a general rule, these are mandates that have no impact on history. Poland now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is a recent member state, but one that is conscious of its strength and its value".

And given the priorities in the Presidency programme, among which the Eastern Partnership and the European integration of the Western Balkans, Bulgaria should actively get involved in the building of alliances, of which Ostrowski and Świeboda write, because these issues are of even greater interest to us, given the direct proximity of these regions.

Poland is the fourth new member state of the EU that takes over the presidency after Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. With the last two there were several serious gaffes, which accompanied their presidencies, and Slovenia, although it did well, has nothing to be remembered with. And, as we know that Poland has put a lot at stake to manage successfully, we wish it success and we believe that it is fully capable of achieving it.