Europe and its discontents: Poland’s collision course with the European Union

Press release

Poland’s backlash against Europeanisation

If Poland continues to drift away from the EU it will not only diminish its own influence, but also undermine the EU’s internal cohesion.

When Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power in 2015, Polish politics was turned on its head. Since coming to power PiS has been boldly chipping away at the country’s democratic institutions in a series of moves that led the EU to respond with the threat of sanctions.

Today, Poland is gradually moving away from European ideals and values, even though 88 percent of Poles want to remain a member of the EU. Increasingly, the Polish government is dissatisfied with an EU that it believes is changing the ethnic and cultural identity of Poland, and that stifles its economic ambitions. Polish politics has undergone a paradigm shift. Alignment with western Europe may have informed the country’s post-1989 transformation, but today, PiS presents the EU more as a threat than a source of opportunities.

In “Europe and its discontents: Poland’s collision course with the EU”, Piotr Buras, Head of the ECFR’s Warsaw office, explains the sources and implications of Poland’s ideological and economic backlash against Europeanisation. The party successfully replace the 1990s ideal of ‘alignment’ with Western European values and economies with the populist ideal of ‘emancipation’ from its former partners.

Poland, Buras claims, is caught in a paradox: it needs the EU for its economic development, but feels that it cannot fulfil its ambitions or remain true to its identity following the European model. The Polish government’s decision to distance itself from European ideals has led it to push away its closest partner– Germany. Instead, Poland has attempted to form loose alliances with more Eurosceptic member states, including the Visegrád states and the UK, to counter-balance Berlin’s influence in the EU.

Poland has always been a unique EU member state, straddling Eurozone-EU and east-west divides, but it has diminished its influence in recent years by pushing European partners away instead of bringing them together. Poland’s foreign policy is one area in which this is becoming increasingly clear. Poland has shown less and less commitment to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, allying itself more closely with the US and the NATO format. Warsaw has also thrown away its hard-won influence on eastern European affairs, demonstrating a lukewarm approach to the Eastern Partnership, which it initiated with Sweden in 2009.

Piotr Buras, author of the report states that:

“Warsaw wants to benefit from the single market and cohesion fund, but is not ready to participate in integration projects which will constitute the foundations of real solidarity and cooperation. When it comes to the single currency migration policy, defence policy, or climate policy – Poland’s government and society share a high level of scepticism.”

In the coming months, Poland will face difficult negotiations on the next EU budget. The EU may only agree to grant certain contributions and benefits if Poland proves that it will respect the rule of law.

Poland needs to legitimise the idea that it is deeply anchored in a changing EU. But that will not be possible unless it upholds the rule of law and protects democratic institutions, which are key principles of the EU. The prospect of Poland leaving the EU is not in sight yet, but the PiS government needs to be careful. If it continues to drift away from Europe it may be the EU that ‘leaves’ Poland first. 


Piotr Buras is available for comment. To request an interview please contact him directly at [email protected]  Tel.: +48 5064 75471

This paper, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its authors, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members.

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