Real Instituto Elcano in Madrid just published my analysis about the new European Parliament. This is one of a few recent publications from me about the current European political developments.
Real Instituto Elcano in Madrid just published a paper I authored entitled Poland in Europe: disappointment or merely hiccup? (Madrid 2019).
Abstract: What is Poland’s position in the EU in the context of the political and economic developments under the Law and Justice government? Since 2015 the one-party government in Poland has engaged in a policy of a radical change. A set of various reforms have been implemented, some of them highly controversial, such as the reform process in the judiciary. The judicial reforms –or ‘take over’– put the Warsaw government on a collision course with the EU institutions over the rule of law. This paper analyses three aspects of the Polish-EU relationship: (1) the state of the rule of law; (2) the economic challenges; and (3) the political position of Poland among EU member states.
Poland: what happened to the golden child of European integration? To the country that economically grew and developed like no other in the past 20 years, invested in infrastructure and kept its public finances in order? To the country that cut unemployment from 20% to single digits in a decade? To the country that in recent years gave Europe Presidents of the European Parliament, European Council and Council of Ministers? To the country that welcomed millions of visitors in the month-long party of the UEFA championships in 2012? To the country that championed EU values and defended, promoted and helped define them? And to the country where WWII began and Communism ended?
Excerpt (2): Poland first.
Global trends have tended to somehow gravitate around this country in the middle of the Old Continent. The First World War violently gave birth to a number of new independent states. The largest was Poland, a complex nation with ethnic minorities comprising 32% of the population. The Second World War broke out in Poland while communism in Europe ended with the emergence of Solidarność and the Round Table negotiations in 1989. Poland was the most important country in the process of NATO’s Eastern enlargement. It was a crucial partner in the EU’s 2004 ‘Big Bang’ enlargement.It was the first victim of the new wave of populisms that came to power in Europe:before the Brexit vote and Italy’s 2018 elections, Poland had become a victim to the new Eurosceptic populism. Will it be the first to leave it behind too?
This November 2018 it seems – paradoxically – that the Democrats have started to push back the Populists in the Western World. Let me bring three examples:
- The Polish local elections, run-off on 4 November
Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling populist, introvert, Eurosceptic party won the local and general elections, but they did not won as much as expected or anticipated. Their own expectations were compromised. Opposition was ecstatic about their – unexpected – performance. The performance saw a massive mobilisation of the urban vote against the Law and Justice candidates. Mayors of the big Polish cities – all of them – have defeated PiS candidates. The biggest town PiS rules has a population of 65,000. This was a manifestation of strength of the educated, open-minded populace. The signal the cities send was a major blow to the ruling party.The Law and Justice has two options. Option no. 1: move to the centre, open up to the urban vote. The party had done such a tactical move in the past; but today the hard-liners seem to control the core of the party. This is why there is the Option no. 2: keep the hard-line direction. The problem with this approach is that PiS has a glass ceiling support: it is virtually impossible for the party to move over 3,5 million supporters with a hard-line approach. In 2015 3.5 million votes produced a small populist miracle: 37% of the vote gave over 50% of the seats in the Sejm. In 2018 3.0 million votes gave the party power in 7 regions (województwo, out of 16), and no city of over 100,000 population. If 3-3.5 million people votes for PiS in 2019 parliamentary elections again, and the turnout is higher by 10% than back in 2015 (it was higher by 8% in 2018, compared with the local elections in 2014), I am afraid/happy Law and Justice is going to either lose power and move to opposition or – form a coalition government.
The decision is with the party leader alone, Jarosław Kaczyński.
For now the Polish cities population shown the Law and Justice a yellow card. If the government does not change its policies, a red card can follow 2019.
- The US mid-term elections, 6 November
It has been widely reported, so I will shortly recap: Democrats won with Republicans. They took over the control of the House of Representatives by 232 to 198 (with 5 seats still in competition).
In the Senate the post-electoral set up is pro-Republican (who control at least 51 mandates), but the 2018 vote was more nuanced. 26 seats held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democratic party were up for grab and only 9 seats held by the Republicans. Against this picture, the Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats won 24 seats, Republicans won 9 seats and two are undecided as I write: Florida most likely will go Republican and Mississippi will decide in a run-off on 27 Nov.
The Democrats were (1) able to take over the control of the House and (2) maintain their share in the Senate. As far as the Senate is concern, in two and four years the ball will be where the Republicans hold seats: 20 Republican Senate seats and 11 Democratic Senate seats are up for grabs in 2020 and 22 Rep/12 Dem in 2022.
What will the Democrats do with the new powers? First, control Mr Trump. He won’t be curtailed, but the struggle will continue.
The deep challenge in the US is similar to the Polish case: how to bring back the populist Republican party/Law and Justice into line with the principles of a liberal democracy?
- The UK Brexit chaos with the deal (Withdrawal Agreement) published on 14 November
It seems Britain prepares for the “Hard Brexit” on 29 March 2019, but the chain of events remains largely unknown. As explained before, the majority for the Withdrawal Agreement will be difficult to find. Still, the final deal (political declaration) will be signed only during the special summit on 25 November. Then it will be a subject for ratification. Nobody expects EU to have problems – it got all it wanted from the agreement. Problems may be in the UK.
(1) If Withdrawal Agreement is voted through the House of Commons we will have an orderly withdrawal on 29 March 2019 and future negotiations on future relationship between the UK and EU, while UK remains a part of the single market, hence yes – is a vassal state to the EU. What is a vassal state? A vassal state is a state which follows rules it did not negotiate. It applies foreign rules. Well, in the EU context it was Britain decided to leave the Union and it wants to keep the cake (access to the single market)? If Britain leaves the Union and wants to keep the goodies, it has to be ready to pay – to become a vassal state. Is this a downgrade of the British position in the world? Sure yes, but this is what the British have voted for. With time, possibly, this notion sinks in and Britain reconsiders and joins the EU to co-decide the rules it lives by.
(2) If WA is voted down there seems no reason for the Prime Minister to continue her role. She still may cling to power and ask for a prolongation of the negotiations. This way the “Hard Brexit” is avoided. In most likely scenario the European Union would agree to the request – and… what? A new deal would be negotiated? Most likely if there is a prolongation of the deadline for Brexit in the UK we should see either a) early elections, or b) second Brexit vote, or both. In a completely new political climate a new deal can be negotiated from the beginning.
(3) if WA is voted down and there is no prolongation: Hard Brexit happens, new government is formed, elections are held, shocks to the system takes place (potential shortages of food, medicine, fuel) and battered Britain has to re-interpret itself.
In all three scenarios all is down to the British society. What the British want. If they still want Brexit, they should get one. Vote the second time and get over with. If they changed their mind, let it be, remain in the EU. This Brexit process has shown all the many benefits of EU membership which were previously rarely or never mentioned. The public is better informed today.
The bottom line is this: the Western societies got used to the age of social media, fake news and populists. There are still major problems that need to be addressed of inequality, personal freedoms in the digital age, digital monopoly, jobs, healthcare, education, mobility, sovereignty, migrations and terrorist threats. The democrats compete for support among each other and with populists. Will they prevail? In recent years the populists were on the rise. They still are in many places – the populists rule in Poland, Hungary, Italy and in the United States, and are present elsewhere. But those two last weeks of November show that the Western democrats are gaining support of a new, wide social coalition of urban, open voters.