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The National Gamble of Poland

From the series European News

In a lawsuit brought by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the Constitutional Tribunal, which is composed of judges chosen by the government, ruled that fundamental parts of the EU Treaty are incompatible with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. This ruling thus denies the primacy of European law over national law, undermining both the political assumption of continental integration and the supranational character of the EU.

Vectors of Polish history

We can shed light on this event if we consider the four field vectors that cross Poland: its traditional ethnic-religious nationalism, its marked Atlantic tropism, the objective attraction exerted by the European force field, and the looming threat of Russia.

The general picture is global collisions: China’s irruption and the crisis in the world order have put pressure on Warsaw to define its strategic position. The process is nonlinear, and creates political and institutional convulsions with unpredictable outcomes.

The history of Poland’s relationship with Europe and its German heart is troubled. After having had royal dynasties and an independent state for centuries, Poland fell under foreign domination. Since the end of the 18th century, it has been the subject of partition between Prussia, Russia and Austria, and Polish state unity has been continually challenged, in the face of a continuity of national culture which has never been interrupted and where an important integrating role was played by the Catholic Church , according to the historian Krzysztof Pomian [L'Europe et Ses Nations, ]. Only after the First World War did Poland regain independence under Jozef Pilsudski, but in it was split again, this time between Nazi Germany and the USSR. After the Second World War, it became a Russian satellite.

This condition led the Polish bourgeoise to seek alliances elsewhere: with the Anglo-Saxon powers, which thus gained an option to interfere in Central Europe’s affairs. For London, Poland’s accession to the EU helped to weaken the Rhineland centralisation tendency, while moreover it utilised the Eurosceptic currents present in Warsaw. After being freed from the Russian yoke, Poland has been reluctant to relinquish the sovereignty that it regained to Europe.

In Eastern Europe, marked by bitter ethnic-territorial disputes, immigration and the opening of borders are the subject of the national demagogy. Global changes have brought insecurity, and the prevalent feeling is that globalisation has been a negative experience, marked by strong flows of emigration, whereas the West has seen great advantages. Coal-dependent Poland is now complaining of being penalised by Europe’s ambitious climate targets. Warsaw intends to benefit from the new cycle of state intervention, enabled by the Next Generation EU fund, but on its own national terms.

Contingent aspects, such as the composition of the acting coalition government, are also involved in this dynamic: the extreme right of United Poland (Solidarna Polska) influences the PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosé — Law and Justice) and, according to some versions, has forced Jaroslaw Kaczynski to overplay his hand with Europe.

Dirty remain

The crisis has crossed the threshold of political rhetoric because it sets some powers against each other. But, by revealing the objective limits of its gamble, the Polish government resolutely ruled out the Polexit scenario. The Financial Times states that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal judgment poses a bigger challenge to the EU’s unity than Brexit, because it is a direct attack on the EU’s legal order. […] The UK withdrew from the EU; Poland is asserting its constitutional independence while staying inside. It is corroding the union’s integrity from within []. The Economist speaks of dirty remain. [].

The Polish case also involves a risk of contagion because, in the new political cycle of proprietary fears and petty-bourgeois anxieties, it is grasped by other sovereigntist parties out of political opportunism or mere electoral calculations: in France, in addition to the extreme right of Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, Michel Barnier and Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains party also winked at Warsaw. Then there are, among others, the Hungarian nationalists, the Spanish post-Francoists of Vox, the Italian post-fascist party Fratelli d’Italia and, still in Italy, la Lega [formerly Northem League] with a more nuanced position.

In the plurality of EU superstructures, the dialectic between national and supranational powers is a natural regularity. There have been other legal disputes, such as that delivering a ruling from the German Constitutional Court on the purchase of ECB securities. However, in these cases, the confrontation took place in compliance with the separation of powers, and a solution was found in the spirit of institutional loyal cooperation. In the Polish case, as former French diplomat Pierre Vimont points out, the legal rebellion is a political instrument in the hands of Poland’s executive branch, and moves directly against the principle of supranational EU integration.

The rule of law and EU funds

Sergio Fabbrini, in the Italian business daily Il Sole24 Ore, notes that the decision of the Polish court had an immediate purpose: one aiming to delegitimise the legal architecture of the Next Generation EU [NGEU] program. The latter, in fact, has established a conditionality regime according to which European funds cannot be distributed to countries that do not respect the rule of law, which is vital for the functioning of the single market. Poland is expected to benefit from as much as €36 billion from the NGEU funds and €120 billion from the Structural and Cohesion Funds. Fabbrini explains Poland’s move in this way: If the rule of law is established by the national Courts and Constitutions, then the Commission cannot prevent the payment of European funds to Poland for violations of the rule of law.

But the EU cannot allow one of its members to ignore the primacy of the Buropean Treaty. On the formal and legal level, the clash seems irreconcilable. Angela Merkel, however, faithful to her method of seeking for a political synthesis, urges a political solution, and warns against withholding European funds destined for Warsaw: We have big problems, but my advice is to solve them in talks, to find compromises [October 15th].

Poland’s National-Europeanism

In spite of national rhetoric, in fact, Berlin knows that the European constriction imposed on Warsaw is deep, even vital from an economic point of view — not only because of the dependence on EU funds, but also because of the structural integration of the Polish industrial sector with the industries of Rhineland and the rest of Europe. On the wider strategic terrain, a break with the EU would be fatal and offer no way out.

Could the strength of the European constriction plunge Poland into a constitutional crisis, until the fall of its government? In a condition of marked political imbalance, the conservative Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, which is pro-European and critical of PiS, evoked a parallel with Italy, hoping for the advent of a Polish Monti [i.e., a pro-Europe grand commis].

The polls show a majority in favour of the EU close to 90% (which former Prime Minister Donald Tusk seeks to unite); this majority, however, can harbour different gradations of a nationally motivated Europeanism in its midst, which opposes the principle of an ever closer union.

The Rhenish attraction

In the turbulent phase which has commenced, however, doubts about America’s engagement in Europe could push Warsaw towards the Rhine. Rzeczpospolita interprets the AUKUS affair as a warning: Biden will not spare Poland, if he deems its sacrifice necessary. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Morawiecki reiterated the sovereigntist line, but pointed out Poland’s interest in a possible European common defence, so far always opposed due to a sense of loyalty towards NATO: If the EU wants to survive, if it wants to be strong, it must remain a Europe of sovereign states, a Europe of homelands. It must have respect for their traditions and cultures, as well as a close economic cooperation. And it must have also a real European army, which can defend Europe in the south, east and north. The Bulgarian scholar Ivan Krastev, interviewed by Le Figaro, urges France to speak to countries that are serious on the military level, such as Poland, which is certainly obsessed with itself, but is attached to the notion of power.

Rzeczpospolita shows concern about the PiS nationalist gamble, in the context of the changing transatlantic relationship and the end of the Merkel era: Angela Merkel’s priority was to keep our country in the EU. This won’t be the most important thing for the next German government. An editorial is titled: Goodbye Angela, we return to the East. But the Russian bear looms on the eastern flank, while China advances on the horizon.

Warsaw in the Kantian garden

François Heisbourg writes that the European powers, after having fought for centuries, have created a Kantian garden in the EU. The Eastern States have been integrated into this intra-European peaceful ideal. […] The German-Polish reconciliation, the pacification of relations between Hungary and its Danube neighbours, the velvet divorce’ between the Czech Republic and Slovakia show how the values of non-violence have been integrated by the newcomers. However, Heisbourg points out that Europe has not marched 'at the same pace in this direction. In the future, other historical shocks may follow — such as those of the late 1940s, which opposed two different Europes, or those of the late 1980s, which united them — causing differentiated effects in different parts of Europe. Heisbourg continues: Why think that the Kantian garden is by construction sheltered from such disturbances? Now, it is precisely the series of strategic ruptures that are looming at this moment that will test Europe’s ability to preserve in a united way the integrity of the European garden. These challenges require a European response [La Fin du Réve Européen, ].

Against the ideology of a benign (because it was pacified internally) Power Europe, we have emphasised the imperialist character of the European project, which has eliminated war within its borders to project power externally, on a continental scale, as a reaction to the rise of Asia. Heisbourg observes that, while the strategic context is worsening, the Kantian character of intra-European relations is no longer an element of progression towards a more advanced integration. Pacification is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the creation of a federation.

A Europe that aims to be a power that protects not only in the economy, but also in politics and in the military field, may possibly increase the attractive force it exerts on Warsaw. The question concerns the ability of the EU to express a degree of centralisation that is sufficient for the world contention. The Kantian garden, under capitalism, is just the need for unity of European imperialism. But the world is Hobbesian.

Dalvit, Federico. Azzardo nazionale polacco Lotta Comunista, , p. 5