Poland’s Balanced De-Europeanization and the ENP
WARSAW—Largely Eastern-oriented, Polish foreign policy has filled a gap in Brussels: Warsaw has been perceived as the spokesperson for the former Soviet republics striving to join the European family and it has built its foreign policy reputation in Europe around that role. This has also served its own transformation well as a recently joined member of the EU. For example, it was Warsaw that supported change in Ukraine with the 2004 Orange Revolution, followed by engagement in Georgia four years later, and the launch of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with Sweden in 2009.
The role has suited successive governments well. With no expertise or concern regarding North Africa and the Middle East, Poland has let others decide how to manage relations with the EU’s Southern neighborhood.
But this one-dimensional approach has not paid off and may change with the new government. Recent activities in the East have achieved little in an increasingly complex situation. Since it was excluded from the Normandy group negotiating the Russia-Ukrainian crisis, Warsaw’s status has diminished. The last EaP summit in Riga has shown the initiative to be unprofitable for both its members and the EU. What once appeared to be an attainable goal — democratization of its Eastern neighborhood — is now merely a distant dream.
Poland’s own bilateral performance has been mixed at best. In 2014, Poland issued over 800,000 visas to Ukrainians, overtaking Russia to become their favorite travel destination. With its solid economy and healthy democracy, Poland remains a role model for many across Eastern Europe. But its commitment to development aid for the region, for instance, has been disappointing.
The timing for Poland’s review of the ENP and its own contribution to Brussels’ Eastern outreach could not be more opportune. The country’s political landscape has just changed. After eight years in power, the Civic Platform (PO) has ceded the full authority to its conservative rival the Law and Justice party (PiS), which– for the first time in the Polish history – received a parliamentary majority in the most recent elections.
If in the past the ENP was seen in Warsaw as a useful tool and a channel through which its foreign policy campaigns could be promoted, the new government realizes the limits of such approach. It is not in Poland’s interest to revise its European standing. Warsaw knows it can most efficiently exert influence through Brussels. But in order to do that, the new government is likely to focus more on what it sees as its national interest.
Poland’s key objective will be Ukraine, but placed in a wider geopolitical context. Warsaw will also try to reanimate regional cooperation between the Visegrad-4 group (The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), which have recently been under domestic political strain, and the Baltic States and Romania. Building coalitions of allies to push the Polish ideas forward will be the way to go. In the past, with the Law and Justice party in power, Polish-German relations have been tense. Today, Berlin will continue to be a pillar of Polish foreign policy, but its willingness to accommodate Poland’s needs will be tested.
Michał Romanowski is a program officer for The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Warsaw.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.