Poland’s veto on EU budget fuels ‘Polexit’ talks

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Poland’s frequent clashes with the EU since the ruling Law and Justice party came to power five years ago have always had the potential to spark a debate over the country’s future in the bloc. As Warsaw fights with Brussels over the € 1.8 billion EU budget and the stimulus package, such a discussion has now erupted.

Last week, after Poland and Hungary threatened to veto The protest package against an EU plan to link access to funds to respect for the rule of law, conservative magazine Do Rzeczy published a striking cover page: “We must tell the EU: Enough, ”thundered the cover. “Polexit – we have the right to talk about it.”

The editor-in-chief of Do Rzeczy, Pawel Lisicki, gave as one of the reasons for considering Polexit the rule of law quarrel and “the arbitrary expansion” of the powers of Brussels and its desire to judge the member states. But he also cited the “increasingly blatant attempt by the EU to impose LGBTQ ideology on Poland,” highlighting the Polish right-wing’s belief that the liberal values ​​of the bloc also pose a more fundamental threat to the country. traditional Catholic identity of Poland.

Despite rising tensions, at least in the short term, Poland is unlikely to leave the EU. Opinion polls show that over 80% of Poles want to stay – even more than the 78% who voted for membership in 2003. And even though Law and Justice (PiS) has clashed in Brussels, its deputies insisted they had no desire. leave the block.

Front page of Do Rzeczy magazine last week © Do Rzeczy

“[The idea of] Polexit is utter nonsense, no political force that counts on the Polish scene has ever made such a request, and the [ruling coalition] would be the last to try to think or speak in these terms, ”declared Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in the aftermath of the Do Rzeczy salute.

It is less clear how the Polish debate will play out in the long term. The freedoms that the EU gives Poles to study and work abroad remain extremely popular, as do the funds that have helped fuel the Polish economy over the past 15 years. For many older Poles in particular, membership in the bloc also symbolizes the country’s re-anchoring in the West after 40 years of Soviet rule.

However, PiS opponents fear that its clashes with Brussels and its repeated shootings against the EU could eventually tip public opinion against the bloc and one day lead Poland to the same path as the UK to exit. of the EU.

The PiS and its allies did not prevent the opposition from making this argument. President Andrzej Duda rejected the EU as a “Imaginary community few consequences for us “, while Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently warned that the bloc risks becoming a”oligarchyAnd that his plans to link funding to the rule of law could lead to his “collapse.” Last week, the new Minister of Education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, called the EU “the image of a civilization of death”.

“It’s time to sound the alarm, because what happened in the UK is starting to happen here,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, of the main opposition Civic Coalition, wrote on Twitter, after Do Rzeczy published its first Polexit page. “We have to stop it in time.”

Poland’s right-wing observers say the claims are just part of the opposition’s efforts to scare PiS voters. Instead, they argue that the real risk for the EU comes from expanding the powers of its institutions far beyond what was initially envisioned, and from an increased willingness in Brussels to intervene in them. internal affairs of the Member States.

“If there is a danger of Polexit. . . it emanates from the actions of the EU institutions and the opposition politicians who support them, and encourages the EU to play the role of a policeman who is supposed to correct election results in certain countries if these elections do not bring outcomes that suit the dominant liberal elite in the EU, ”said Pawel Musialek of the Klub Jagiellonski, a think tank.

“If we treat the EU this way, then it’s a road to Polexit at some point, and not just Polexit, but the exit of other countries as well.”

Other observers downplay the similarities between the trajectories of the UK and Poland. The security and economic situation of the two countries is markedly different. Most importantly, the UK has always had a much higher level of Euroscepticism than Poland.

“Even when no one contested [Britain’s membership of the EU] at the level of political elites, there was a huge section of public opinion that simply never accepted [it]. Polish and British public opinion is in a radically different place, ”said Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University of Sussex in the UK.

“If anyone wants [the Polexit project], they must participate in a long game. This is what I think Do Rzeczy is trying to do. I think they’re trying to sow the seeds of an intellectual narrative. . .[so]this [Polexit] is a respectable political option for people on Polish political law to consider. This is where we are at the moment. “

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