View Full Version : Europe's big boys encounter a new bad boy in Poland

14 Dec 03,, 09:51
From the war zones of Iraq to the diplomatic battlefields of Brussels, one country is rapidly gaining a reputation for being the new bad boy in the European bloc.

It has been by far the toughest negotiating partner for Brussels in the long and complicated process to join the EU.

It backed US President George W. Bush on Iraq with rhetoric and men on the ground, triggering bitter criticism in France and Germany. And it is Berlin's most diehard opponent at this weekend's EU summit on the constitutional overhaul of how power is wielded and decisions taken within the councils of Europe.

Five months before it is integrated into the club of western democracies, Poland is being cast by some of its new EU partners as a troublemaker. "We're certainly going in with a bang," admitted a senior Polish official. "And the Germans won't forget this."

The latest display of refusing to toe the line came 10 days ago in Naples, when European ministers were toiling over the new EU defense policy.

Why, some of the 25 foreign ministers wanted to know, was the new EU military planning cell to be described as "permanent"? To distinguish the European approach, came the answer, from the American penchant for constructing ad hoc "coalitions of the willing" or temporary military alliances.

"In that case," piped up the Polish foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, "we should call it the coalition of the unwilling. Maybe that would be a more precise and more realistic description of the situation."

The jibe highlighted frank Polish contempt for France and Germany's defense ambitions for Europe, the determination not to be talked down to by the EU's traditional heavyweights, and Warsaw's utter devotion to America as its indispensable strategic partner and security guarantor.

"We need a stronger European security and defense policy. There's no doubt about that. The Balkan experience was humiliating for all of Europe," says Cimoszewicz. "But we still have some doubts."

Poland's demands to be treated seriously as a regional European power and its robust defense of its perceived interests are fraught with risks.

Apart from Britain, Poland was the only European country that committed itself to combat in Iraq, with commandos storming targets at the beginning of the war. It now has 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq. In November, Major Hieronim Kupczyk became Poland's first combat casualty since World War II when he was killed in an ambush in Iraq.

This weekend in Brussels, Warsaw could notch up a significant victory by frustrating German plans to overhaul the EU's decision-taking machinery, denying the Germans, at least temporarily, a new constitutional system of power sharing through the way majority decisions are taken.

Both Berlin and Warsaw insist they will not budge from their positions. Poland's frankness was again evident on Monday when the prime minister, Leszek Miller, warned of an EU summit "confrontation" that could end in "fiasco."

There are plenty of pundits in Warsaw who worry that the Poles are punching above their weight -- over Iraq, over Nato, over the US, and over the EU -- and blundering by alienating Germany, their key partner and neighbor.

But Poland's blunt talking is being encouraged by its belief that it is the only tactic that brings dividends.

"We are not a very easy customer," says Roza Thun, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Poland, a pro-EU body. "But that's maybe our strength. No one took us seriously before. Now the attitude [abroad] has changed. The EU likes us less, but they treat us more seriously."

Earlier this year the French told the Poles to shut up over Iraq, while the Germans have muttered about the Poles being the US' Trojan horse in the EU. In Brussels, the Poles are fed up with being told they are not "good Europeans."

But of the 10 countries joining the EU in May, Poland is as big as the other nine combined, with all that that implies for markets, territory, the military, strategy, and, not least, being listened to.

"Joining the EU is very important and we're very grateful. But let's not forget about the political and the historical dimension," says the foreign minister.

For this country of 38 million, in a strategically important position and dominated for centuries by Germany and Russia, the "historical dimension" is an intense obsession that may seem baffling in the west. It is the wellspring of Poland's attachment to the US at a time of transatlantic estrangement.

"Security is the most important thing in this country and Europe does not give us that," says Thun, an ardent pro-European.

Adam Michnik, the outstanding liberal Polish patriot and editor of eastern Europe's first and most successful independent newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, says the sobering events of recent months, from the rows over Iraq to the tough negotiations over joining the EU, have seen the Poles find their voice internationally.

"There's no point preaching to us or pushing us. It won't work. We didn't regain our own voice just to give it up. The most important thing is that Poland has recovered its independence and we will speak with an independent voice. We have the same right to that as the French or the Germans."

On America and Europe, Michnik waxes positively Blairite: "For Poland, the democratic west has always been out there. We can't see how the US can be a threat to the democratic west. The essence is that we do support a long-lasting Euro-Atlantic alliance because the US presence in Europe serves Europe well and we won't support any actions that try to eliminate the US from Europe."

On the contrary, they are lobbying to get the Americans in Poland.

Having got rid of the Red Army garrisons, the Poles are eager to welcome a US military presence and are hoping some forces will be redeployed from bases in Germany to Poland. Senior US officials have been in Warsaw this week discussing plans for reconfiguring how the US projects its military clout.

The trajectory that has landed Poland in Nato and on the threshold of entry to the EU has spanned more than a decade, with governments following the same consistent policies since the overthrow of communism in 1989.

The irony is that Poland's claims to be heard internationally are being articulated by a center-left government which is the country's most unpopular since that revolution.

"Even a weak government can have good ideas," Cimoszewicz says.

And with an eye on this weekend's summit battles, he intimates that Brussels and Berlin have not heard the last they will hear from Warsaw.

"Anybody who believes that they can convince us of changing our well-justified positions and arguments is wrong. They will understand that sooner or later."


15 Dec 03,, 00:45
Good for Poland. Why should they have to take a back seat to Germany and France? I hope that they stick it good to the Germans and the French.

15 Dec 03,, 01:08
The Nice agreement, under which countries such as Poland entered the EU was brokered by a Msr Jacques Chirac. France constructed the terms such that the smaller nations would not be steam rolled by the largert (population) nations. I.e. Germany, which France was struggling to "control". Fast forward 3 years and Fance and Germany are now cosied right up.

And so now France wishes to change the terms, so that the larger (population) countries effectively outweigh the samller nations.

15 Dec 03,, 01:09

Congrats on the 15,000th post :)

17 Dec 03,, 02:55
I've always liked Poles.

As a people, they don't know when to give up.

A most admirable trait indeed. :)

17 Dec 03,, 03:04
oh yeah, charging German tanks with lancers definitly demonstrates that.

17 Dec 03,, 03:12
I've always liked Poles.

As a people, they don't know when to give up.

A most admirable trait indeed.


It's been fifty years and they are still trying to get that lightbulb in.