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It is time to ask about the purpose of Polish politics in the European Union, since the constantly galvanized consensus has yet to give us any alternative to it.

Marek Jurek

Politicians have perhaps never spoken more about national sovereignty and identity, about firm protection of rules and interests, than when they expressed their support for Poland’s accession to the European Union.

On the pre-accession finish line, during the tenure of Prime Minister Miller1, when Poland’s biggest opposition party was the Civic Platform, the Polish Sejm adopted the resolution “on the integration of Poland in the European Union”: “We want a European Union that is a strong alliance of sovereign nation states that respects the richness of cultures and national identities. We want to co-create a community of nations based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity […] we demand […] respect for the principles of equal opportunity and justice, as written on the European Union’s banners. We call on the Government of the Republic of Poland to undertake firm negotiations in the final phase of the talks. In the end, however, the resolution contained a discreet explanation of the underlying motives for “firmness in the final phase”: “The contents and approach to the final round of the negotiations will have an impact on the result of the referendum in 2003”.

That is how – in accordance with the old Wałęsa formula “For, and even against”2 – the most vital “European standard of Polish politics” was created: the EU product that sells best in national packaging.

At that time, Polish diplomacy was supervised by Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz. During a debate which took place in the Sejm over a draft resolution proposed by the Law and Justice party which would “guarantee” the “sovereignty of Polish legislation in the field of morality and culture, he assured that there is no need to formulate a condition that “Polish legislation in the field of the moral order of social life, the dignity of the family, marriage, and upbringing as well as the protection of life is not subject to any restrictions by international regulations […] There is no reason to fear – argued the Prime Minister – that European law will ever invade these areas of regulation. It is legally impossible.”

Today, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz is a Member of the European Parliament. Two years ago, he supported the resolution entitled “Sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health”, calling Poland and other European Union countries “to ensure universal access to safe and legal abortion”. The ultimate meaning of “the universality of legal abortion” is well explained by Parliament’s resolution from 2019 which established that enabling legal “abortions is essential for […] a safe sexual experience” for young people. Cimoszewicz also supported this resolution.

The Nice method of voting through which we joined the European Union made Poland one of the six great states of the Union, with a voting power – as part of the intergovernmental mechanism – almost (93%) identical to that of Germany or France. Thanks to the “compressed” voting system, favoring the weaker states, it introduced a situation that none of the major decisions of the European Council could be taken without the consent of the liberated Central European countries. To be more specific: neither the anti-industrial nor immigration policies could be imposed on the countries of our region under that system. However, the sole purpose of the position, temporarily granted to Poland and other countries in our region, was to encourage the countries of Central Europe to accept all the conditions of accession, assuming, for example, the future perspective of giving up their national currencies. The incentive fulfilled its purpose and was quickly withdrawn. But along the way there was also an opposing front, and it was then that the famous slogan: “Nice or death!” came to be.

The voice of opposition should be included in the political achievements of Jan Rokita, who, however, shortly thereafter, found himself in a large group of politicians (with the co-founders of the Civic Platform, Andrzej Olechowski and Maciej Płażyński), who were removed from the party by Donald Tusk. Thus, from today’s perspective, the “early-EU” declarations of Tusk, virtually adopting the same position as Rokita, are considerably more interesting.

In December of 2004, during the debate on the Constitution for Europe, Tusk strongly condemned the post-communist government, which urged the Sejm to ratify the Constitution for Europe. Tusk accused it of “unpatriotic selfishness”, instigating “propaganda-based uproar” to “cover up” political failures in the country (it was a time of parliamentary investigation into the Rywin case), “a European hoax” by manipulating the public into believing that a substantive discussion about the new European treaty is a dispute on “whether we are for or against the European Union.” At that time, Donald Tusk firmly defended the right to a European debate, to criticize EU proposals, and he spoke out against the populist threat that is currently labelled as “Polexit”.

Tusk not only criticized the government of Marek Belka, but also analyzed Poland’s situation in Europe. He explained that “the refusal to ratify the constitutional treaty does not leave Poland or Europe in some dramatic void”, because the hear of the matter is about overthrowing Poland’s position resulting from the Treaty of Nice. Even if the Treaty collapses, the European Union – argued Tusk – will continue “in such a legal framework that is more favorable to Poland than that enshrined in the constitutional treaty”. Thus, he advocated for the maximum possible delay in ratification, hoping that in the meantime “one of the [old] 15 countries would not ratify the constitutional treaty in the referendum procedure” and the Constitution for Europe “would cease to exist”. He also emphatically added that he was “shocked” that some of the Polish politicians were “enthusiasts of the constitutional treaty, which weakened and did not strengthen Poland’s political position in Europe”.

Tusk did not limit himself to the issue of Poland’s place in the EU, but also criticized its characteristics. He spoke about the “incomprehensible renunciation of Christianity in the provisions of the constitutional treaty”. He was the strongest attacker of the “excessive bureaucratization of the life of the European Union”, because the constitutional treaty “makes the European Union even more socialist”, and – as he assured – “the Civic Platform will not support socialism in any form – neither European nor national”.

This is was the shape the politics of the Civic Platform at a time when the party preferred death to the Constitution for Europe. With such a program, the Platform won the first elections to the European Parliament. The League of Polish Families, which criticizes the Euro-constitution, took second place. Poles were strongly against European federalism, and shortly afterwards the Constitution for Europe was rejected by the French and the Dutch. A “time of reflection” was announced in the European Union, Chancellor Merkel had already invited Benedict XVI to Berlin for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, it seemed that we could safely “stay” in “the legal realities that were more favorable to Poland”.

What transpired then, that after less than four years Poland found itself among the countries which were most eager to implement the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which repeated all of the key provisions of the Constitution for Europe, apart from its echoing name? And that even earlier, Sławomir Nowak, one of Donald Tusk’s closest advisors assured that we will be one the first EU countries to ratify the Lisbon Treaty?

It was already at the time of the Euro-constitution debate when the barrel of Sarmatian honey placed on the Sejm podium by Donald Tusk contained a spoonful of EU tar. Even though he called to treat our presence in the EU as a “constant, permanent struggle to defend Polish interests and the Polish position”, he simultaneously underlined that maybe, despite all of the indicated damages to our country – we will be better of ratifying the Constitution for Europe, because “Poland cannot, should not be a country, which does not take on the full weight of the liability for the events surrounding the constitutional treaty on its shoulders.” As it turned out – our national independence ended where the EU establishment consensus began. At that time, it ended in rhetoric, today even the rhetoric is inappropriate. “The European mystification”, that is the presentation of every discussion concerning the EU as the first step towards secession – became a much better source of fuel in the fight against the government than the former questioning of the Polexit fantasy, in a different political configuration.

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1 Leszek Miller was Poland’s Prime Minister from October 19th, 2001 to May 2nd, 2004

2 In Polish culture, there are specific sayings and linguistic phrases derived from or attributed to former president Lech Wałęsa’s public statements.

The full version of this article was published in October 2021 in Do Rzeczy magazine.