The Polish view of Brexit....
They have shared British scepticism towards the euro, and both countries have taken a hard line towards Russia. But....
The dominant reaction of most Poles to Brexit is incomprehension. Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Polish people have a favourable view of the European Union and are glad that Poland is a member. There is a suspicion that these views are not deeply rooted, and depend on the financial benefits of membership rather than any ideological commitment, but currently they prevail and make it difficult for most Poles to empathise with dislike of the EU.
Any deeper consideration of the reasons for Brexit come up against ideas that Poles find deeply troubling. In particular the suggestion that immigration was a major factor in the Brexit vote. The present Polish government of the Law and Justice party has whipped up strong anti-migrant feeling, refusing to take any Syrian refugees on the grounds that they pose a security risk and, as Muslims, would seek to undermine Poland’s Catholic values. The Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, commented immediately after the recent Westminster attack that “It is impossible not to connect the wave of migration with what is happening in Europe. Of course not every migrant is a terrorist, but in Europe we have not been able to develop an effective policy towards migration.” It is therefore particularly unpalatable for Poles to realise that, in Britain, the negative consequences of migration are often associated with their fellow countrymen.
That this is so was vividly illustrated by the wave of racism, much of it directed against Poles, that swept Britain after the referendum vote. A Polish man was murdered in Harlow, and there were other assaults and hostile notes pushed through letterboxes. These events were widely publicised in the Polish media, and the Polish Prime Minister sent a delegation of three senior ministers to London to discuss its concerns with the British Government. "Law and Justice" sees Poles in Britain as a substantial electorate to be courted, and can be expected to continue to make high profile interventions during the Brexit negotiations to protect the rights of the Polish community in Britain. Poland’s Europe minister recently said that social security rights and payments are a central issue.
Brexit has left the Polish Government in an isolated position. Successive Polish governments have seen the UK as a natural partner in the EU. They have shared British scepticism towards the euro, and both countries have taken a hard line towards Russia. Law and Justice and the British Conservative Party were the only significant parties in the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the European Parliament. Without the Conservatives, Law and Justice are left partnering only with small fringe groups and individual maverick MEPs. The vote to reappoint Donald Tusk as President of the European Council, in which Poland was defeated by 27-1, dramatically underlined the current Polish Government’s friendless situation. Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice, has said on several occasions that he has no plans to lead Poland out of the EU. He is well aware of the favourable view of it his countrymen currently hold. Nevertheless he and his party are engaged in conflict with the European Commission on a number of fronts, and have laid the blame for a wide range of ills on malign influences from Western Europe. It is well within the bounds of possibility that he will take a cue from Brexit and try to lead Poland out of the EU after 2020, when the current generous financial support ends.
Liveryman Karol Szlichcinski, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Silesia School of Management in Katowice, Poland
One year ago: See http://womc.org/2016 Mar31-1 Back to the 1930’s: another dispatch from Poland. Liveryman Karol Szlichcinski watches the flow of radical new legislation with horrified fascination….