Original by Sergey Cherkasov published by PolitRussia; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Poland once again announced its intent to expand NATO contingent stationed on its territory.
That’s the Poles for you.
The proffered reason, as always, is the mythical threat allegedly posed by Russia. However, recent events give reason to doubt Poland is mainly afraid of an invasion from the East.
In late 2015 Poland’s Sejm adopted amendments to the law on mass media. The victorious Law and Justice (PiS) decided that Poland’s media have it too good and need additional government oversight. Since PiS has parliamentary majority, the amendments passed.
Therefore currently Poland’s government can remove, with no explanation, the heads of TV and radio broadcasters and appoint others. It not only can do so, but will. The government is not trying to conceal the fact this is but the first wave of reform. The second will take place once all Polish media have new directors.
This is what’s known as “freedom of speech in a developed European country.”
Such open disregard for the principles of freedom of information did not find acceptance in the EU’s upper echelons. Eurocommission head Jean-Claude Juncker registered a session concerning Poland’s media policy for January 13. EU Commissar for digitization and society Guenter Ettinger proposes to impose a special oversight mechanism on Poland to ensure the rule of law is observed.
There is a sense to all this. Using its majority, PiS also reformed Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. The reform means the number of its justices will expand through the addition of supporters of the ruling party, and the rulings can now be adopted not by a simple majority but a supermajority. Thus PiS has the ability to block unwanted laws. [Actually, the supermajority requirement means the Tribunal will find it difficult to stop PiS-enacted laws from entering into force–J.Hawk].
If the Eurocommission decides that such actions violate Poland’s rule of law, the country may be deprived of its vote in the EU and suspend the payment of subsidies. Poland is the biggest recipient of EU subsidies at 14 billion euro a year.
Naturally, Warsaw has no intention to say goodbye to that kind of money. But it also doesn’t want to deprive itself of control over the media and the Tribunal. So instead the Poles adopted a clever defense strategy. They announced that since Ettinger is German, he is not expressing the opinion of the EU but rather Germany’s. And they went to town with that theme.
Berlin found itself under a barrage of requests to turn a blind eye on the goings-on in Poland, of accusations that Germany views Poland only as a source of cheap labor and as a placeholder between itself and Russia. The Germans were made understood that mutual understanding and reconciliation between the two Central European countries would be a symbol of overcoming the eurozone crisis and were urged to act with greater tact considering that the Polish-German relationship is burdened by Germany’s crimes during WW2.
One would think that references to a war that ended 70 years ago would influence nobody, especially when discussing a clear violation of EU principles? However, Poland has time to find additional arguments in its favor. The Eurocommission meeting will take place on January 13. But even if violations are found, nobody expects countermeasures to be adopted quickly. The case will then go to the European Court of Justice which will make the final decision. Which will not happen any time soon. In the summer at the earliest, if not some time next year. This gives Warsaw to push through its Plan B.
Warsaw’s Plan B
While the EU is powerful, there is one organization that’s more authoritative. Poland has been a member of NATO since 1999. NATO is older than the EU, and has a different leader. The US formally supports the principle of law and democracy, but it could easily look the other way concerning Poland’s antics. Especially if Poland will host a sizable NATO contingent.
It would be pointless to ask the US directly to station troops. Washington must express its own concern with the violations of rights and liberties in Poland. But nothing stands in the way of a collective NATO decision, and here Warsaw needs an ally.
The main obstacle to expanding US (NATO) presence in Poland is Germany. Germans understand perfectly well that NATO bases right on Russia’s border spell trouble. It means that one has to approach it differently. And Poland decided to try its luck on the other side of the English Channel.
Poland may get support for bases on its territory from the UK, which is second most important NATO country. UK’s opinion will outweigh Germany’s. Especially if Poland continues to remind who defeated whom. Granted, the British won’t do it for nothing. But Poland has a bargaining chip.
David Cameron recently issued demands to the EU which included making migration laws more strict. It’s not about Middle East refugees. UK PM is worried about intra-EU migration. According to current rules, citizens of EU member states can come to the UK and apply for social benefits same as the British. Polish citizens are actively taking advantage of that, which is why Warsaw sharply opposed Cameron’s demands.
But that’s in the past. Now the Polish MFA Witold Waszczykowski holds to a softer position:
“It would be very difficult to agree any sort of discrimination if the UK does not help us realize our ambitions during the NATO summit in Warsaw.”
That’s quite a turnaround.
The Polish government naturally feels sorry for its compatriots in the foggy Albion, but it values the 14 billion euro of annual subsidies more. Poland believes that by increasing its role in NATO with US support it will be able to dictate terms to the EU. It will readily sacrifice the interests of its citizens who left the country in search of work.
The EU was never an organization which enjoyed complete unanimity. There’s always someone who’s unhappy with the overall policy. But recently the centrifugal tendencies have strengthened. Poland’s current effort to hide behind NATO in order to escape consequences for violating EU rules is one of of the most outstanding examples of that trend. Time will tell whether that attempt will be successful and how it will influence the EU’s future.