Past Year of Priorities in the European Union

By Arthur Dunn

In 2011 Chairmanship in the European Union for the first time was trapped in the arms of two East European states. For the first time Hungary and Poland did it and it has become a significant event for each of the country.

Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs yet a year ago stated that even by its current limitation the Chairmanship remains to be not only simple moderating activity but also anticipates great political work, and for Hungary as well as for Poland Chairmanship also is a matter of image.

The past year was suppose to give an answer also on the question how efficient and practical would the new EU governing model be, which is now defined by the Lisbon Treaty. According to it, a significant part of authorities and functions of a Chairman remains in the arms of Brussels bodies, and the role of chairing state appears to be limited and even decorative to some extent.

Budapest and Warsaw worked hard and did their utmost during the past year to refute this statement. However it turned out to be not that persuasive, although Poland had it better than Hungary.

In respect with the Lisbon treaty the priorities of Chairmanship should inherit also the ideas of former Chairmen. In order to assure continuity of the process the Lisbon Treaty has legalized the so-called Three Chairmen. Now the Three should prepare a program of 18 months Chairmanship.

This program consists of two parts: strategic part which briefly lists main political goals and operational part, which develops the first part in details and events.

The key objectives of the two Chairmen-2011 were specified as eleven elements among which is introduction of the Lisbon strategy, economic crisis, effective control over financial markets, energy issues, the issues of unique European policy in the sphere of migration, foreign political representative offices of the EU, human rights. This has become a matrix for all Chairmen forming the Three. Hungary and Poland had an opportunity to formulate their own national focuses and priorities only within these frameworks.

The common point within the estimates of many experts regarding Chairmanship of Poland for example was the hope for unexpected circumstances and problems arose in the European Union and the EU states in 2011, with the reference to as “new challenges”.

Except for that, in Poland  a half-year period from July 2011 to January 1st 2012 coincided with a very electoral campaign – elections into the Sejm and Senate, which could affect the accomplishment of European mission by Warsaw.  And the Chairmanship itself could be perceived exclusively as “PR-action”, attached to domestic political campaign.  But the main challenges had general Union character.

Now the EU goes through a very complicated and even critical period. Many financial analysts, commentators and investors are already extremely skeptic towards the EU possibilities to stop the debt crisis threatening to disseminate all over the region. But here nothing was said by the Polish government: “Impression arises that Poland has Zloty instead of Euro, and the destiny of the EU economy shouldn’t disturb it” – noted “Rzech Pospolita”.

Current financial situation in the EU is closely connected with the issues of development of a long-term European budget. And this is the thing that Polish authorities tried to stick to. And first of all Minister R. Sikorski. He  expressed his view of the EU crisis and the way out in details in his resonance speech in Berlin, summarizing the results of Polish Chairmanship.

Another EU crisis is the so-called “Schengen crisis”. Less big but acute enough, which revealed in two versions..

First of all, introduction of control within internal borders of the European Union gradually becomes more real practice.  This for example did France and Denmark last year.

Secondly, a special precedent was established as a non-inclusion into the “Schengen Club” of Romania and Bulgaria, despite that they are extremely irritated with such decision and perceive it as dividing into first- and second-class members of the Union. But Brussels, Paris, London and Rome followed the Europoll, which published its verdict – inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania shall increase the flow of illegal migrants.

Another complicated subject for Poland is the war in Libya and the flow of refugees from rebelling countries of North Africa.

A political problem of 2011 was also the restart between the USA and the EU. The United States lose interest towards the European Union. In particular, it is forced to transfer their interests on Asia and China. It is followed by one significant problem of the EU – military one. In the sense that the European Union will have to adopt very painful decision on the establishment of European military identity. And this is quite not popular issue among Europeans. And many Europeans are not really prone to call this plot a new real challenge for the EU.

During six months of the Chairmanship all activity of Warsaw in the EU focused on accomplishment of three priorities.
- European integration as the source of growth
- Safe Europe: food stuff, energy, defense;
- Europe wins from openness.

The first priority Poland formulated as the need to promote for the new, breakthrough stage of the EU development, which should assure correspondent economic level, guaranteeing the well-being of the EU citizens. In this respect, Polish government called one of the tools a new many-years EU budget for 2014-2020, which should become an investment lever for the strategy “Europe-2020” and in the period of Polish Chairmanship they started talks on this EU budget and its connection with the strategy-2020. A significant part was also called the reform of General Agricultural Policy of the EU, directed at modernization and enhancement of competitive ability of this sector. Poland has also supported promotion of the developed through the European Commission pack of changes within market directives of the European Union – “Single Market Act” and held the forum  of domestic market (Single Market Forum).

Within the frameworks of domestic market reform, Polish Chairmanship tried to draw attention also to the situation with small and medium enterprises. Especially in new EU states.

In the sphere of foreign trade talks they made an accent on finalization of negotiations on the establishment of the free trade area the EU-Ukraine, the start of the same talks with Moldavia and Georgia, finalization of negotiations on conclusion of treaties on free trade with India, Malaysia, Singapore and Canada, finalization of talks of Doha round. In general plans on the first priority were pretty adequate and didn’t suggest great achievements.

The second priority of the Chairman “Safe Europe” included several components.

First of all,  Europe should enhance its macro-economic security.

Secondly, this is a strict observance of general parameters of foreign energy policy of the EU. Poland has repeatedly declared that additional decisions are needed, which would strengthen policy and the line of the European Union towards main manufacturers, consumers and energy raw materials transit states shall be stronger and more consolidated.

The third component is an agricultural reform and food stuff security.

The fourth “safe Europe” – and security of its borders

Another part in this sphere is particularly accumulation of military (defense) identity of the EU and promotion of the dialogue of the European Union with NATO. Here the objectives of Polish Chairmanship were formulated as follows:
- strengthening of the EU in the issues of planning and conducting of operations on crisis management;
- enhancement of the EU prospects on conducting of civil and military operations;
- promotion of the EU-NATO cooperation;
- promotion of the cooperation with East neighbors within the frameworks of General policy in the sphere of security and defense

In the frameworks of the establishment of the last component they talked also about a real establishment of military element of the EU.  To be more specific, about development of the so-called combat groups, peculiar modern European army. But how did military part coordinated with the priorities in reality? President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy already in the hit of Polish Chairmanship named 5 key issues which Europeans face in the sphere of security (terrorism, market stability, energy assurance, climate change and fighting cybercrime). As it is evident military component wasn’t mentioned by this. Moreover, most states of Europe and particularly Germany inside the EU conceptually and pretty principally support the development and promotion of the approach of “soft power”. Germany for example didn’t vote for the resolution of the UN Security Council on Libya. The concept of “soft power” grounds on that military successes don’t really consolidate nation anymore. In Polish political class, other ideas still dominate which evidently resonate with general and traditional European line.

Poland yet long before becoming the Chairman officially declared that it shall strive for finalization of talks with Croatia on entrance into the EU, opening and finalizing as many stages of the talks with Iceland, continuation  of the talks on EU entrance with Turkey. And also it shall strive to support the processes of European integration of Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.

Except for that, East foreign policy direction of the EU was also listed among main topics by Budapest as well as by Warsaw. Although after the events that happened and still happening in the states of Maghreb this thesis obviously has lost its priority and significance.

Poland initially yet at the stage of discussion of its Chair agenda expressed the intention to initiate the establishment of  a long-term strategy of cooperation with Russia. The process itself is pretty complicated and the document can be developed not soon, but it is extremely urgent. It shall allow the EU to lead towards Eastern neighbors agreed and solidary foreign policy. By this Warsaw announced that it shall support during its chairing the intention of Russia to introduce visa-free regime in the EU, as well as introduction into force the treaty  on small border movement between Kaliningrad region and North-East part of Poland.

In Warsaw they consider that development of the EU policy towards Moscow can’t be limited with the new project “Partnership for Modernization”. It should go together with the new Treaty on Partnership and Cooperation the so-called TPC-2 on which Russia leads talks now. Partnership for modernization has exclusively technical character and the treaty binds a partner in political sphere.

The both Chair-states-2011 called also the development of the “Eastern Partnership” program as one of their priorities. They intended to achieve the extension of funds that the EU grants for definite projects within its frameworks. Poland did its utmost to strengthen the program within all  four subject platforms having created the so-called “Club of Friends” from the number of EU non-member states that could finance the projects. As known the wish was expressed by the USA, Japan, Norway, Canada. Warsaw considers that this shall allow to solve the task to increase non-return financial aid and credit of the “Eastern partnership” states for the amount of 4,5 billion euro. But no above mentioned state has yet declared any specific decision. In general in Poland despite all new circumstances, that worsened the accomplishment of priorities of the Chairmanship, Eastern Partnership still remained to be in  the very center of attention. But it didn’t rescue the program itself and the year of Eastern partnership turned out to be the year of lost illusions.

First of all the attention of the United States and the European Union, geopolitical partners of Poland, is focused at the events in North Africa and Near East. It’s hard for Poles or anyone else to force their allies to distract from current political issues and focus especially on the problem of post-Soviet area or Polish-Russian relations.

Secondly, for a full-value functioning of the Eastern Partnership program participation of Belarus is needed which is impossible yet.

Thirdly, complicated is the task to attract Ukraine into the project fundamentally.

Fourthly, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as all Caucasus still remain at the periphery of Polish foreign policy, and bloated dalliances with Georgia are not needed anymore for Warsaw which strives to withdraw tension within Polish-Russian relations.

And as some observers consider, in the established situation special attention was given to Moldova that openly expresses for the benefit of Euro-integrational mechanisms as a counter to the enhancement of Russian influence in the region.

The main event should have become the Warsaw summit of the Eastern Partnership. However it was evaluated pretty pessimistically with not such clear results. Moreover pretty it was expressly highlighted that the project is of secondary importance and has no prospects. And many people directly call the situation as the collapse of European policy of neighborhood. The events happening in North Africa and Near East revealed that the policy of neighborhood of the EU is only a declaration, slightly supported by constructive projects and finances. And still Warsaw considering new challenges made for Eastern Partnership more it could.

Regarding the results of Polish Chairmanship the following can be underlined. Despite all difficulties, Poland to a significant extent has managed to strengthen its positions, initiate and promote internal Union discourse on individual subjects, and not to bury Eastern Partnership completely.

On the other hand the Chairmanship of Poland in the conditions of Lisbon regulations revealed absolute decorativeness of the last one, its exclusively image-cultural significance. As Poland couldn’t and didn’t take for patronage. Financial-economic issues were also far from it as an EU governor, even temporary one.

It’s understood that Poland was included into the Chairmanship during a wide dissemination of the EU crisis, not only financial, but also the crisis of trust, the crisis of system. Ahead it is a very serious crisis, the choice between community, union on the one hand and national and state selfishness on the other. And the most real great successes of ex-chair Poland include adoption of the pack of six legal measures on strengthening of control over budget  policy  of the states of Euro-zone and signing of the treaty on entrance of Croatia into the EU.