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1/4/16

European Unity in danger ? Why Poland Matters - by Judy Dempsey

When the center-right Civic Platform party ran the Polish government from 2007 to 2015, it could do no wrong. That was the reputation it earned from several of its European Union partners.

The former president, prime minister, and foreign minister—all no longer part of Poland’s political landscape—tried to do something important for a post-Communist country that had peacefully shaken off one-party rule in 1989. They wanted to establish a foreign policy that could straddle East and West. It was to be a foreign policy aimed at giving the EU a security and defense coherence while at the same time making the EU recognize the necessity of bringing Eastern Europe closer to the EU.

The Civic Platform political elite realized that as U.S. interest in Europe waned, the EU had to start taking its own defense and security seriously. Civic Platform also campaigned hard for an EU energy security policy and an EU energy union.

The key question now facing Poland is whether the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which swept back into power in October 2015, will discard these policies. If it does, there will be one big loser and one big winner. Poland will be the big loser unless PiS can reconcile its strong nationalist, patriotic, and Catholic weltanschauung with an EU anchored on openness and tolerance.

The big winner if PiS turns away from the EU will be Russia. A strong and united EU is not in Russia’s interests, as the bloc’s ability to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region confirmed. That unity rattled the Kremlin.


Since PiS was reelected in October 2015, the European Commission has been quick to criticize the government’s plans to choose the directors of Poland’s public broadcasters. And within Poland, groups are now opposing PiS’s policies.

Poland’s stability and place in Europe lie with the voters. They elected PiS—not that the party ever made clear what its political agenda was. With Civic Platform still nursing its defeat, Poland is going to need a strong opposition to salvage the gains made over the past decade. If not, the loss to Poland, the EU, and Eastern Europe will be very, very big.

Read more: Why Poland Matters - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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