What is power in the modern world? In short: a huge jumble of confusion. The classic and clear formulas straight from Montesquieu’s writings are a past long gone. Today the separation of powers is naked, only no one wants to admit it openly. Power is more like an elaborate spider web, where each fragment has a singular effect on the whole structure. And where is the European Union and semi-peripheral Poland in all of this?
Three fundamental questions for the future of Europe and Poland
's elections to the European Parliament, which put the Polish political parties on a path to total war („Kaczyński’s five” vs. everyone uniting with everyone, or proposing euthanasia and abortion on request), are a good opportunity to ask ourselves three questions.
First of all, what is the actual position of the European Parliament in the institutional jigsaw puzzle of the European Union and what political significance does it have? This question can be supplemented with another – where is the real political power located in the Union today? Is it in the hands of the European institutions, or in the capitals of the major member states, or perhaps elsewhere, in some hybrid structure?
The conclusions drawn from the answer lead us to the second question: what is the sovereignty nowadays and what is the potential causal power (subjectivity) of such states as Poland in the EU? This question is particularly important if we take a look at the slogans of almost all electoral committees – although we are dealing with European elections, and the European Parliament is by definition a transnational institution, the party narratives tend to refer directly or indirectly to Poland’s role in Europe.
Answers regarding the structure of power within the EU and Poland’s ability to shape the Community must lead us to the third question, a very practical one, regarding the future of Poland in the Union. Which way can the EU go; who decides about it; does Poland and its citizens have any say in it and what may come from it – these are the key issues from the perspective of conducting a sovereign European policy, which should be the appropriate leitmotif of the European campaign.
Game of EU thrones
Let’s start with the power structure in the EU, which, with the Lisbon Treaty entering into force on December 1, 2009, became a subject of international law. Almost 70 years after the Schuman Declaration, considered the Union’s symbolic beginning, a complex institutional system has been shaped.
It is made up of both intergovernmental institutions such as the European Council and the Council of the European Union, where representatives of individual Member States directly represent their countries’ interests, as well as non-governmental institutions whose task is to represent the interests of the whole Community. The latter include the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors.
In the last few decades, one could notice a process known as „domestication” of political relations within the EU; this involved gradual shifting of competences from intergovernmental institutions to non-governmental institutions on the one hand, and on the other, expanding the list of matters resolved in the Council not unanimously, but by the so-called qualified majority. The process was reflected in subsequent treaty reforms, and its crowning of sorts was the already mentioned Treaty of Lisbon.
In this context, it is worth devoting a few words to the European Parliament itself, which was to constitute the political representation of the European demos, particularly after the introduction of direct elections in 1979. Unlike its national counterparts, the European Parliament does not have a legislative initiative, which belongs mainly to the Commission. Its role is to establish secondary EU law (the international treaties being the primary law) in the form of regulations, directives, decisions, opinions and recommendations, wherein the last two acts are not binding.
However, it is worth noting that the Parliament does not make secondary law itself – as part of the so-called ordinary legislative procedure, introduced under the Treaty of Lisbon, the decision must be taken together by the Parliament and the Council of the European Union, although the consent of the intergovernmental Council of the EU is now easier to obtain due to the extension of the catalogue of cases subject to qualified majority voting. Furthermore, the MEPs do not represent their countries, but their political fractions – as a result, the legislative process should be less and less dependent on the particular interests of individual countries.
So much for theory. As usual, practice turns out much more complicated. First of all, the MEPs do represent the interests of their countries and, in key cases, they usually vote in accordance with their national interest. Second, the EP only slightly modifies the proposals that come out of the European Commission. This is not due to parliamentary laziness – it’s just that draft acts must have initial acceptance from both the Member States and the European institutions before they leave the Commission. Of course, this does not require universal consent, but it is hard to imagine that the Commission would forward to the Parliament a project that is clearly disapproved of by the major EU countries. Third, there are intra-institutional dynamics of power at play within the framework of the Commission-Parliament-Council triangle, and, historically speaking, the parliament has always had the weakest hand in this game, which resulted directly from the distribution of actual competences.
The outcome is easily predictable – in crisis/breakthrough situations, which is what we are dealing with now, the struggle for „institutional leadership” takes place between the Commission and the Council, at the expense of the Parliament. Anyway, regardless of the objective scope of the case, the entire intra-EU confusion around Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union is also a great example of rope-pulling between the Commission and the Council.
If we also mention that after the 2008 crisis we can observe the reversal of the domestication process and the informal (not resulting from the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty) strengthening of intergovernmental logic, in practice the role of the European Council, the EU Council and, above all, the individual European capitals, we can, without much risk, put forward a hypothesis that the importance of the parliament is decreasing systematically. What’s more, all attempts to strengthen its legitimization, e.g. by introducing the so-called Spitzenkandidat, where the leaders of the EP factions are competing publicly for the position of the chairman of the Commission, is, in fact, a void ritual, which few people care for. In my opinion, last week’s debate of the Spitzenkandidatens did not attract the public’s attention any more than the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Finding one’s way in the European power network
However, to say that power is now found only in Berlin and Paris would be untrue. Indeed, certain issues are crucial from the perspective of German or French raison d’être, where the entire state is involved – from politicians to journalists. The best example is the North European Gas Pipeline, although in this case, we are dealing not only with national interests but also with the interests of the elites (vide the career of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Nordstream AG structures).
However, pressing particular stances by particularly strong players has its limitations, as the Union – as it is often repeated – is a space of compromises and working out common positions. Importantly, however, this work concerns not only states but also, and perhaps above all, interest groups. Brussels is a place where tens of thousands of lobbyists are at work representing states, political parties, social and ideological movements, local government institutions, businesses, media, etc. They are all stakeholders and, sensu largo, public policy actors, who are only moderately dependent on their governments. Furthermore, there are no clear divisions between these interest groups – an ally in one case may be a rival in another. As a result, we are dealing with a very complex network power system.
The key role in the network is played not by institutions, but by individual persons – politicians (including MEPs holding a mandate over several terms), officials, activists or journalists; in other words, representatives of the European elite. They are able to navigate the network effectively, gain the trust of the major players and build their personal position, which they can then use to achieve their goals and… further build their own position. In this sense, the source of power is not the democratic choice we make this Sunday, but rather one’s ability to move between different centres holding specific political assets.
Therefore, the legitimacy of power in the EU is not legal in nature in Max Weber’s understanding, but rather environmental – the power lies with those, whom others perceive as the ones wielding it. As a result, power results more from the social perception of elites than from having actual tools of exerting influence, although the latter, of course, constitutes an important element of building one’s position in the system of power. It should be noted, however, that the price for a high position in this system is full dependence on interest groups supporting a given person – breaking away from their „chain” sooner or later results in falling out of the mainstream.
Meanwhile, and here comes a cold shower for conspiracy theories enthusiasts, the influence of the members of mythical groups like Bilderberg on the direction and shape of political processes in Europe is still very limited. This is due to the system’s three characteristics: complexity (understood as both comprehensiveness and level of intricacy), emergence (the end result of human actions is not a simple sum of individual decisions, and sometimes even negates them) and contingency (the end result is determined by factors independent from the will of the decision-makers, which affect one another in a random way).
There are, however, situations where individuals are able to change history – one example is the departing president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who, with his flexible approach, reduced the risk of an Italian financial crisis (by the way – due to the importance of the eurozone for the future shape of integration, electing a new ECB president seems to be much more relevant than even the election of the President of the Commission). However, such situations are rather rare.
The political concept of insiders and outsiders according to Janis Warufakis
However, the issue of the theory of power in Europe does not concern only the researchers in the field of political philosophy, European integration or public policy. The above image also emerges from the book „Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment„, by an economics professor Janis Warufakis who leapt into the world of European politics for several months. In the introduction, the former Greek finance minister recalls the words he heard from Larry Summers, the former chief economist of the World Bank, secretary of the treasury in Bill Clinton’s administration, president of Harvard University and head of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama’s presidency, a true member of the global elite. The words that are worth quoting here in full, would not bring shame to Frank Underwood himself:
„There are two kinds of politicians: insiders and outsiders. The outsiders prioritize their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders who make important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do. Their reward? Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes.”
On over 700 pages, Warufakis describes the course of the „Greek tragedy” associated with the country’s debt crisis, all the while recalling talks with the ” great people” of the European and world politics that he conducted during the negotiations on „rescue programs” for Greece.
In my opinion, the book’s message can be summed up in three sentences. (1) Power is dispersed, and political institutions merely approve decisions taken elsewhere and by someone else (although the decision itself may result from a wider process and not a specific choice made by one entity). (2) Representatives of political elites (insiders) depend on various transnational interest groups, and they themselves are hostages of their willingness to stay in the elite. Finally, (3) the process of establishing and interpreting international law or policy is determined by the political interest of specific groups and serves to justify the elites’ will who fulfil the expectations of non-political, transnational interest groups.
At the very end of this part of the discussion it is worth adding for the sake of order, as Warufakis’ book also does, that the EU cannot be treated as an „autonomous” being – the Union is part of a global game, where it doesn’t always play a fully subjective role, which only adds to the complexity of the European system of power.
Unpleasant conclusions from the Greek lesson
These conclusions from analysing the system of power functioning in the EU shed new light on the second of the questions asked in the introduction: regarding the modern sovereignty of nation-states and the ability to effectively affect the shape of European integration. This question seems particularly interesting, e.g. from the perspective of the so-called Morawiecki Plan, whose creators already in the document’s introduction point to the unique role that the state has to play nowadays.
Let’s get back to Warufakis. In the aforementioned book, he points out that Greece had two options – either to accept the terms of surrender, accepting financial aid and immediately transferring it to the North to its French and German creditors, or refuse to accept the „aid”, leaving the euro area, using the full instrumentation of monetary policy and taking down with it the French and German financial sectors.
The latter solution was a sort of nuclear option for Europe, so it’s no wonder that under the enormous pressure of the French and German political elites, influenced by the French and German financial elites, the Greek political and financial elite have stood down and de facto vasalized their country (the word is not exaggerated; the Greek government will be under the control of international institutions for several dozen years) in return for certain individual concessions. Even Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a celebrity of the European alterglobalist left, finally gave in to pressure.
Worse still is that one may get the impression that this story could not end up otherwise. The Greek example shows that an EU member state may not only lose its subjectivity, i.e. international power, but also partly its sovereignty – both indirectly (e.g. through credit rating agencies that decide at their discretion about foreign debt servicing costs, or global technology corporations controlling the flow of information) as well as directly.
Okay – Greece is a country on the periphery of Europe, without the communist legacy, with a population almost four times smaller than Poland, and with a GDP of USD 200 billion, or about 38% of Poland’s. It is difficult to find comparisons or connections with our country (well, perhaps except Eleni), just as we cannot do it with countries smaller than Poland (although for incomprehensible reasons, some are doing just that, trying to convince the public opinion to adopt the common currency…).
It is an open secret that countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, on the one hand, and other Visegrad Group countries on the other, must take into account Berlin’s position in their foreign policies. In this context, the words of the former Slovak Prime Minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, sound rather symbolic; when asked about his country’s motivations, he replied: „Our raison d’être is to serve the great.” His statement perfectly explains the behavior of one of his successors, Prime Minister Robert Fico, who immediately after taking power in 2006, after picking up a phone call from Berlin, quickly withdrew from the initial declaration to conduct a more assertive policy towards the European Central Bank in preparation for entry to the eurozone (at least this was how the near-instant change of the then prime minister’s position was explained to me in 2012 by one of the officials of the Slovak Central Bank from that period).
What and why did we get with 15 years of Polish presence in the EU?
Poland undoubtedly has more potential and greater aspirations than Slovakia – after all, we constitute 7% of the Community’s population and slightly more than 3% of its GDP, and following Brexit, will be the EU’s sixth economy (after Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands). So how has our power in the EU looked in the last 15 years? Was it conditioned by the strategy adopted by the Polish government? Let’s start with listing successes and failures.
Our greatest successes (in terms of power) include the higher EU budget for 2007-2013 for Poland (December 2005) than originally planned, withdrawal of the Russian embargo on Polish meat (May 2007), sanctions against Russia after the annexation of Crimea (successively every six months since 2014) and blocking the refugees relocation mechanism (2015-2018). The major failures (in the sense of the lack of agency) are the Treaty of Lisbon adopting the so-called double majority in qualified majority voting in the Council and rejection of the Polish proposal of the so-called root system (October 2007), EU approval for the construction of Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines (2005-2011 and 2015-2019, respectively), the final effect of budget negotiations for 2014-2020 (December 2012) and the adoption of the directive on posted workers and work on the so-called Mobility Package (2018-2019). The election of Donald Tusk as the president of the European Council, and earlier Jerzy Buzek as the president of the European Parliament are completely separate cases of „successes” – they will be treated separately.
It can be seen right away that there is no specific period when Poland would record successes or failures only. This may mean that, in practice, adopting the strategy of the „polite pupil” (PO-PSL governments in 2007-2015) or the „classroom urchin” (PiS-Samoobrona-LPR government in 2005-2007 and PiS government in 2015-2019) was of little importance. This thesis seems even truer when we look at individual successes and failures.
Increasing the amount of funds for Poland in the EU budget for 2007-2013 resulted rather from Angela Merkel’s decision, who began her adventure as the German Chancellor and wanted to buy the support of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Abolishing the Russian embargo on Polish meat was, to an extent, the result of the PiS government blocking the extension of the EU’s PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) by another 10 years. It is worth remembering, however, that in spring 2007, the European elites were shocked by Vladimir Putin’s speech at the February security conference in Munich, during which he announced a desire to revise the international order, which somewhat lifted the odium of unjustified Russophobia from Poland. As for sanctions against Russia following the annexation of Crimea, apart from the psychological element, it is hard not to notice Donald Tusk’s positive role in this process. The same holds true with blocking the refugee relocation mechanism – although the PiS government showcases this as its huge success, it must be clearly stated that in the European arena it is probably chairman Tusk that was the most influential opponent of such a solution.
What conclusion can be drawn from this quick analysis? Admittedly, the policy of the Polish government/Poland’s representatives is not completely irrelevant, but its effects result from many factors independent of us. This conclusion is only reinforced by analysing the failures of Polish European policy in recent years – neither the PiS government nor the PO-PSL government managed to build a coalition capable of blocking the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline, just as the PiS government failed to build a coalition around the idea of the „root method” in 2007.
Similarly, in the case of negotiations on the EU budget for 2014-2020 – the „German option” adopted by Polish diplomacy under Radoslaw Sikorski did not bring the expected results, and the last-minute attempt to find support for our position in Paris couldn’t have succeeded, e.g. due to insufficient time and the lack of actual negotiation instruments, but also objective premises (clashing interests). As a result, the value of Cohesion Fund resources per capita placed Poland in the middle of the new Member States group, and if we compare this with the average income level in the regions – we would definitely be below the average, even if, due to the country’s size, we were nominally the largest beneficiary of EU support. We will most likely see a similar situation in the case of the next multiannual financial perspective – Poland will remain the largest beneficiary nominally, but according to preliminary estimates, it may lose up to 24% of funds compared to the reference value of 2014-2020.
The above analysis, of course, does not exhaust all European initiatives relevant from the perspective of the Polish raison d’état, but in my opinion, it allows stating that Poland’s power in the community-wide arena is strongly conditioned either by external factors or by having a Polish representative in the European elite.
Donald Tusk and the Polish case
However, one must be aware that just as the ruling party depreciates Donald Tusk’s role, the representatives of the opposition are definitely overestimating it. The issue is not only whether Tusk can pursue Polish interests – it was known from the very beginning that this is not the role of the prominent President of the European Council.
Even if for these reasons, Germany and France usually „located” their representatives in the rear seats. During the last dozen years or so, we only need to give the example of Uwe Corsepius, the Secretary General of the Council, who pressed for the German proposal to vote the so-called double majority in the Treaty of Lisbon; Martin Selmayr, referred to as the „monster of Berlaymont” (from the name of the Commission’s headquarters), secretary-general of the Commission, the grey eminence at Jean-Claude Juncker’s court; or, finally, Michel Barnier, who is accountable for conducting Brexit negotiations.
However, going back to Tusk’s role and significance – it can be considered symbolic that the moment he took the seat of President of the European Council, the chairman of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, took over the privilege of delivering the State of the Union address, even though it had so far been given by Tusk’s predecessor, Herman van Rompuy. The initiative to create the so-called energy union, Donald Tusk’s flagship project at the moment of taking over the position of the head of the European Council, ended with failure as well. Admittedly, we will have to wait for the overall balance of the five-year term of the former Polish prime minister in Brussels, but we may risk stating that despite the Pole’s such high role, Central Europe’s perception has not changed in the eyes of Western European elites, for whom we are still outsiders and second-class Europeans, which is seemingly well shown by the campaign around the directive on posted workers and the so-called the EU mobility package.
Recognizing the weaknesses of Donald Tusk’s presidency in the European Council should not, however, override the importance of such people for domestic European policy, especially since we do not have too many of them. Therefore, even though the strategy of not supporting Tusk in his struggle for re-election for the next term of office as the President of the European Council (the memorable 27:1) can be justified for internal reasons, ignoring him by the PiS government has weakened the Polish potential for negotiation in the EU.
European elites and the pissed off people
We have thus reached the third question posed at the beginning: the future of the EU and Poland’s place in the Community. I have already written over and over about the challenges facing the Union, both external ones involving the revision of the international order or the migration crisis, as well as internal ones, if only in the form of the euro area crisis. Nothing has changed in this regard over the past dozen or so months, and it is hard to even suspect it will be able to respond to these challenges within the existing system of EU power. In the context of the considerations held in this text, regarding the role of the European Parliament, and more broadly – the entire system of power and its legitimisation, it is worth considering the stability of the EU political system.
What we’re dealing with, in my opinion, is a widespread conviction regarding the alienation of European elites, or, in other words – the lack of connection between the will of societies with the decisions taken in Brussels. This is not a new phenomenon, but a relative deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the old Member States, primarily resulting from growing income inequalities, has caused the masses to again become interested in politics and express their dissatisfaction. Social anger first and foremost turned against the rulers in nation-states, who, in an attempt to lift political responsibility from their shoulders, directed it to the European elite, who had not enjoyed particular sympathy for a long time.
This mistrust was deepened by the Russian propaganda, although one should be careful when estimating its impact – if such emotion was not really present, Russian Internet trolls would not be able to rekindle it. Therefore, in spite of the voices appearing sometimes in the media, the increase in Eurosceptic attitudes is not only due to the Kremlin or the national elites, for whom some justification may be the fact that the increasing inequality was mainly caused by progressive globalization, which the rulers had a rather limited influence on.
The increasing anti-EU moods result in the growing popularity of Eurosceptic parties. If we seek any relevance in the elections to the European Parliament, one can only find it as a reliable survey of social moods, conducted on a sample of several dozen percent of voters. Electoral forecasts speak about the result of the groups questioning the current shape of European integration at the level of approx. 25-30%. However, if we add „revisionist” fractions of the European mainstream parties, represented even by the German Greens, this proportion will be closer to 50%. Of course, the views of individual groups questioning today’s shape of integration vary significantly – we see both the supporters of returning to the free trade area and of deepening integration towards a fiscal union.
Such a „critical” tilt of the European Parliament can be a clear signal not only for the representatives of the European elite but also for individual interest groups behind it. At the moment when the latter group recognize that it is necessary to replace elites (in Pareto’s sense), we can theoretically imagine a shift in the EU’s political system.
The problem is that the new political system could pose a risk to key interest groups, which is likely to increase the critical mass necessary to implement the changes and lead to its delay. In this sense, the success of Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament elections can only consolidate the political system. This, in turn, may result in an increase in revolutionary moods, especially as imbalances deepen, additionally driven by migration, and in the near future, the emergence of violence (street riots, pogroms, etc.).
Everyone knows, no one will do anything
Can this negative scenario be counteracted? Yes, and no. The critical challenge is to reduce income inequalities and stop the dismantling of the European middle class. There are at least several ways to achieve this goal: increasing redistribution, increasing the level of investment and leaping on a higher trajectory for long-term economic growth, improving the quality of human capital, improving the quality and accessibility of public services, sealing tax systems, etc. The target policy may be a combination of these instruments, depending on the current political moods.
Regardless of which elements we choose, however, implementing them is not feasible without the efficient functioning of nation-states, and in particular, the sealing of tax systems – without strengthening EU competence. In this sense, there is no contradiction in the vision of a strong state in a strong Union, provided one strictly adheres to the principle of subsidiarity, which unfortunately poses a serious problem recently, as we wrote in the recent report by the Jagiellonian Club Centre for Analysis. I can imagine the EU CIT tax or a Community-wide tax on financial transactions, as postulated by some communities.
The problem is that the probability of introducing such solutions is near zero. The reason is simple – it will neither be supported by „locals” opposing the surrender of competences to transnational institutions nor by „globalists” more or less consciously representing the interests of international interest groups. This is not the only paradox of the situation we found ourselves in.
Rodrik’s trilemma and the downfall of the separation of powers
In this context, it is worth recalling the famous paradox of globalization, proposed in 2007 by Dani Rodrik, a Turkish economist at Harvard University. He pointed out that of the three policy objectives at the national level: participation in economic globalization, (liberal) democracy and sovereignty, we can only pick two. So according to the so-called Rodrik’s trilemma, if we want to preserve the sovereignty of state power, which is a sine qua non prerequisite for implementing active politics, we must either abandon liberal democracy (more precisely, using the term proposed by Marek Cichocki, monitored democracy, where the central control institutions play a key role) or participation in a globalizing economy.
This conclusion has extremely significant consequences, and on two levels – national and EU. On the first one, we can analyze the Polish „Good Change” of 2015-2019. By giving voice to the Strategy for Responsible Development, but also to the politicians of the ruling camp, the goal of Polish development policy is to strengthen the state while taking advantage of the benefits of economic globalization. If we agree with Rodrik, such a choice must in some sense result in the „sacrifice” of (monitored) democracy. In this sense, the Polish authorities would sooner or later need to enter into conflict with institutions that recognize the protection of liberal democracy as their main task.
It does seem, however, that although the threat to monitored democracy is very real and, in a sense, is a consequence of the adopted policy objectives, the opposition of the government focusing on the now-abstract idea of the division of powers weakens their position in this dispute.
As indicated in the answer to the first question from this text’s introduction, in an era of economic globalization and information revolution, leading to the dispersion of power, the concept of the division of powers becomes fiction. This problem concerns both executive power (state power) and the judiciary power which performs control functions.
From the perspective of the average citizen, the evolution of governing power is particularly important – not only is one aware of its dependence on interest groups, but also the increasing effectiveness of other control tools. Simply look at online trade – issuing a negative opinion regarding a dishonest seller may turn out to be much more effective (and faster) than filing the case in court. This social experience can be an important disincentive to engage in protests for free courts. However, the phenomenon of the evolution of governing power can be seen not only at the individual level – Jewish communities demanding compensation from the Polish state for the heirless property; as shown by the Swiss experience, they will use media pressure rather than legal proceedings.
EU sovereignty or the fruits of globalization?
From the perspective of this text, however, the European level is more important than the national one. Naturally, the question arises as to whether the EU, in the name of defending its sovereignty and internal power, as well as the principles of monitored democracy, will be ready to „withdraw” from globalization, which leads to growing inequalities, but at the same time allows the elite to get rich.
This tension is evidenced in the field of artificial intelligence, the development of which depends on access to data, including personal data. The EU Data Protection Directive is, to an extent, a vote for liberal values and against „digital globalization”. However, one needs to be aware that in the coming years we will witness an increasing struggle between these two positions, all the more seeing how technology companies, ready to sacrifice the freedom of an individual, constitute a significant interest group that supports part of the European elite. This is also evident in Poland – government works on a national strategy for artificial intelligence have been dominated by all sorts of lobbyists.
Moreover, what one needs to remember is that, due to ideological factors and the state of their wallets, probably some parts of the elite will be in favour of sacrificing EU sovereignty. Furthermore, the axes of division between representatives of different positions will not only run between representatives of different countries but also, and perhaps above all, within the societies of individual countries. It should also be remembered that in this regard, the EU will be the subject of the intelligence game between two superpowers, supporting their technology corporations that constitute an important, transnational interest group.
And what does the semi-peripheral Poland has to say?
The outcome of this game, which is extremely difficult to make sense of, is very important from the perspective of Poland and Polish society, which will be beneficiaries of globalization for at least several, if not more years, which clearly sets us apart from Western European societies. Moreover, this difference is the primary barrier between Polish and Western European Eurosceptics, which will further deepen the gap between the EU and Poland, which for now is mainly present at the level of the political mainstream.
In this sense, it is in our country’s short-term interest to support further economic globalization and contest the popular alterglobalist movements represented in the West, for instance by the aforementioned Janis Warufakis (DIEM 25), postulating e.g. a revision of the Eurozone that Poland, unlike the majority of old Member States, would still benefit from. It may turn out, however, that in a few years we will be on the other side of the barricade and it will be in our interest to stop globalization and reduce the power of global corporations. The problem is, our degree of addiction may already be too big by then.
We are therefore faced with an extremely tough decision. The only consolation may be the fact that as a semi-peripheral country, we have a very limited impact on the outcome of the European game, the course of which is even more complex than what has been described messily in the last paragraphs.
Scenarios for the future to come
In conclusion, elections to the European Parliament are only relevant as a reliable survey of the moods of several dozen percent of European society. If Eurosceptic groups around the EU receive less than, say, 20%, the European elite will be temporarily convinced that the situation is under control and nothing requires changing. If the result exceeds 30%, the outcome will be similar, though inspired by the will to stiffen the system to defend the interests of the current elite.
Moreover, we may expect a growing discrepancy between the old and the new Union, regardless of whether the authorities maintain the current elite or whether it will be in the hands of communities that question today’s shape of integration. On the other hand, it seems that an even stronger divergence will affect the countries of northern and southern Europe – it will deepen regardless of whether or not the EU survives in its current form.
Moreover, a key test for the EU political system will be the ongoing development of globalization, which is currently driven primarily by another wave of the industrial revolution. It will sooner or later lead to a confrontation between the elites getting richer and the middle class becoming less and less wealthy. The outcome of this confrontation will determine the future shape of both nation-states and the entire EU.
Finally, Poland is and will be merely an observer to these changes, because it has neither sufficient economic and military potential nor a sufficient level of participation in the European elite. The one thing we can do is strengthen the state and enjoy the favourable international environment for as long as possible, even if it will be at the expense of a confrontation with international institutions guarding monitored democracy.
At the same time, however, we must ensure respect for individual rights, because opposition to monitored democracy does not necessarily mean preference for authoritarian solutions that in our cultural context lead to eroding social capital in the long run and undermining the effectiveness of development policy. This issue, however, is a topic for a completely separate analysis.
Polish version is available here.
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The publication co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as part of the public project "Public Diplomacy 2019" („Dyplomacja Publiczna 2019”). This publication reflects the views of the author and is not an official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.