Le Taurillon, the webzine of the Young European Federalists, has a recent article (French) on Poland’s recent turn from intensely eurosceptic government to an enthusiastically Europeanist one. An “every man for himself” mentality is, according to the author, poisoning everything from the talks on climate change, through Belgium’s eternal government (non-)formation to the Eurozone’s response to the Greek Crisis. In a rather morose Europe today, he says “a ray of hope has come from the East” in the form of Poland’s new attitude towards the Union.
What makes Poland pro-EU? The end of the reign of Kaczynskis meant a halt to a systematically negative attitude towards the Union. For a time it looked as if they would keep hostage the European constitutional/Lisbon treaties. The rise of the liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Platforma party was accompanied by explicit orders to Polish diplomats to be friendlier to Brussels. The Polish member of the European Commission, Janusz Lewandowski, recently proposed a European tax independent of national governments. Poland, neither a member of the Eurozone nor a country with massive investments in fiscally vulnerable southern Europe, nonetheless supported the idea of a European rescue fund. The author claims that Poles no longer feel they need to go abroad to work in England or America and have “an almost blind confidence in the future,” largely because of the Union.
Now, as much as this is all true on the governmental level, I was sceptical of any reality in terms of the Polish public being affected by “europhoria”. However, the September Eurobarometer poll claims that Poland is, indeed, practically the most pro-EU country of the continent. Across the EU, the proportion of people who said that their country had “benefitted” from membership had fallen to 49%. In Poland, the same figure increased 3% over the previous year to 77%.
Now, I have to say, this does not square with the sampling of Poles, admittedly limited, I have met thus far in Brussels. For most, “Europe” does not so much elicit hostility as evoke a rather far-removed place, psychologically really quite “distant” from Poland. Neighbouring non-EU members like Ukraine or Belarus often evoking more familiarity, interest and sympathy, in the sense of caring about the outcomes of the awful politics of those countries.
Yet, it is possible that Poland is experiencing a quiet, latent europhilia which is best explained by the successful economy and an apparent lack of European intrusion in their lives. Indeed, when asked what the Union meant to them, 57% of Poles answered “freedom to travel, study and work anywhere”. Boom. It is the most practical, down to earth benefit of EU membership for Eastern Europeans looking for greater opportunity, one which Poles have used enthusiastically with over 2 million working people abroad. No other issues elicited anywhere near as high a reaction with about 20% associating the EU with “peace”, “bureaucracy” and “democracy”, while less than 10% thought of “a waste of money,” “unemployment” and “loss of identity”. Poland last year became the biggest beneficiary of EU funds but the Polish public does not appear to be very aware of this advantage of membership.
In contrast, in countries that face immigrants, fiscal austerity, an overpriced euro “Brussels” has been, rightly or wrongly, taken much of the blame for their problems (often egged on by national politicians).
Still, I am having some difficulty digesting all this. Can some Poles corroborate any of this or help confirm/deny/nuance the apparent Europeanism of the Polish government and public opinion?