2011: the year of Polish leadership in the EU

December 18, 2011 12:04 pm

If last week was the week of Cameron’s walk out, this week has been the week of recriminations, with newspaper column inches full of talk of Nick Clegg involved in spats with Tories and France. While in some way it is good that EU politics is front page news, I am nevertheless tired of these tactical manoeuvrings and negative outlook.

So my aim this week is to bring a bit of vision and optimism instead. So where, you ask, do you find something positive in these dark times? The answer – perhaps surprisingly – is to look to Poland.

22 years on since the fall of Communism and 7 years since its entry into the European Union, Poland finally seems to have found its role. Just three years after its entry into the EU – around 2007 – Poland was even more unpopular than the UK in the corridors of power in Brussels, with the hardline traditionalist Kaczyński brothers as both Prime Minister and President. There was even a time when President Lech Kaczyński would pitch up at EU summits essentially to keep an eye on Donald Tusk who had meanwhile ousted his brother as Prime Minister.

Yet is it Tusk, fresh from re-election in Poland’s general election this autumn, his Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski (Twitter: @sikorskiradek), and outgoing President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek (Twitter: @jerzybuzek) who simultaneously personify a new confidence in Poland’s role, yet within the European Union and not at odds to it.

Tusk set the tone for Poland’s 6 month Presidency of the Council of the European Union with a speech strongly at odds with the negative mood in EU national capitals and in Brussels. The most startling lines were: “The European Union is great. It is the best place on Earth to be born and to live your life.” Think about that for a moment, and ask yourself where in the world the vast majority of citizens would be better off? There’s more analysis of his speech from The Guardian and Nosemonkey’s blog.

While Tusk offered vision, Sikorski trumped him last month with a speech of extraordinary bravery delivered in Berlin (full text, analysis from The Economist). The most famous lines are these:

I demand of Germany that, for your sake and for ours, you help [the euro zone] survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.

Can you imagine any French, British or Italian politician using those words? Rather predictably back in Warsaw Kaczyński branded him a traitor and wants him brought before a state tribunal.

Last but not least, this week marked the final plenary session of the European Parliament with Jerzy Buzek presiding. The position of President of the European Parliament is largely ceremonial – not too dissimilar to the role of Speaker in the House of Commons – but Buzek has occupied the position with honour. Using his background in Solidarność and position of elder statesman in the EP, Buzek has dared to speak out on democracy and human rights issues that the heads of other EU institutions have not dared touch – this tweet about Ai Weiwei a case in point. Firebrand German social democrat Martin Schulz is his likely replacement in January.

Oh for a few more politicians in the EU to show the determination and optimism of these three Poles in 2012.

Photo Credits: Tusk/Buzek and Sikorski. Both Creative Commons Sharealike Licensed from Flickr.

  • Sd

    Good reminder of one Of the few bright spots this year, but i guess i was mislead by the twitter links, promising sg on the “why”
    So fellow eu netizens why is pl the only bright spot? Is it a brigh spot at all (talk is cheap when u dont have influence), Is it alone (sw, dk etc have been encouraging, and even the media law ridden hungarian presidency has done quite a lot for europe in the background), and most importantly, whats the difference that makes this possible from pl but not from cz, hu, uk or others?
    ObviOus questions perhaps but the answers could tell us sg interesting about the state of eu societies today….

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