Polskie think-tanki o Prezydencji dla „The Economist”

POLAND takes over the presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2011. The government has won some applause in Brussels for its early preparation. One feature of the process has been the government’s use of think tanks, both as sounding boards and as advisers. But the following open letter (below the fold), co-authored by the heads of several Polish think tanks and published recently in Gazeta Wyborcza, implies that not everyone is listening. Let’s hope that changes.


The success of the Polish presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2011 requires that strategic decisions be taken and a great deal of attention be paid to detail. Much as we appreciate the effort the Polish government is putting into preparing the presidency, we would also like to note some problems which threaten the success of the project.
Parliamentary elections planned for late autumn 2011 pose a major challenge for the Polish presidency. The government has said that these will not be a problem. However it has to be clearly stated that the elections will impact negatively on our presidency and the only thing that can be done is to try and minimise the damage they will inflict. The election campaign will come in September and October when the presidency should be in full swing. That leaves little time for attention to be paid to the presidency itself, as it is a „second half year” presidency which is shorter than a January to June presidency (July and August are holiday months and the working month of December is shortened by the Christmas period). The election campaign in the autumn and the prospect that the presidency will be used in the campaign, both by the government and the opposition, could very well have a negative effect on its smooth conduct. That is why we demand that the political parties represented in parliament sign a “Pact for the Presidency” in which they would promise not to use presidency-related issues in the election.      

There is another key issue related to the election campaign. Ministers will be involved in the work of the presidency. Some of them will be standing in the election which means that they could be distracted from the work of the presidency. The presence of ministers who chair meetings of the Council of the European Union in its various forms is essential to the success of the presidency. Their absence at such meetings would be a major political error which would endanger the standing of our presidency. Polish ministers should regularly take part in meetings of the Council of the European Union. Indeed, those people who will be involved in working groups preparing Council meetings should now be taking part in working group meetings to see how they function. For certain, none of the Polish representatives in working groups and other people working on the presidency should be sacked as a result of the expected cuts in the public administration.

Another worrying feature is the visible lack of understanding by politicians as well as businesspeople of the nature of the rotating presidency in the EU. Some treat  the presidency as an opportunity to win additional membership benefits for Poland on top of those the country already enjoys. They ignore the fact that the presidency, above all, is charged with co-ordinating the work of the EU and looking for compromises among the 27 member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission. A lack of understanding of the presidency’s role could lead to unnecessary disputes inside Poland and inappropriate moves at the EU level. It seems that the government is aware of the dangers of misunderstanding the nature of the presidency but should do more to minimise the risks. The government should include an information campaign in the coming months to explain the nature of the presidency and avoid arousing excessive expectations.

It also has to be remembered that the Lisbon treaty has fundamentally changed the nature of the rotating presidency. The first post-Lisbon presidency was held by Spain and this showed the limitations on the country holding the presidency. Spain was not entirely successful in finding a role for itself in the new arrangement. Meanwhile, Belgium, partly because of its internal political crisis, decided to lower the status of the presidency to that of supporting the new Lisbon EU institutions and helping to run the working groups. It seems that Hungary, whose preparations for the presidency have been affected by the change in government, is not proposing any concrete initiatives or coherent vision of a „new-type” presidency. To Poland, then, falls the responsibility of shaping a post-Lisbon presidency model.   

The right choice of priorities is very important for a presidency. The list should be short. That is why the list of six priorities presented by the government last summer seems too long. Special attention should be paid to the first two—the internal market and relations with eastern Europe. In the first case, Poland should pay more attention to implementing EU directives related to the internal market as this would enhance our credibility. Alongside other issues connected with the internal market, the Polish presidency should address other economic issues, especially the question of economic governance. Relations with eastern Europe should be seen in the wider context of EU enlargement. This is why the Polish presidency should support the integration of the Western Balkans and do everything to break the present impasse and the worsening atmosphere surrounding the „open door” policy. It should not limit its efforts to signing an accession treaty with Croatia. The enlargement of the EU will be one of the priorities of the Hungarian presidency and Poland should actively continue these efforts.    

A presidency badly managed will weaken Poland’s standing in the EU for many years. That is why everything possible must be done to avoid a black scenario. The government’s present efforts show that this is possible but not necessarily certain.

Krzysztof Bobinski President of Union & Poland Foundation

Jacek Kucharczyk President of the Executive Board, The Institute of Public Affairs

Bartek Nowak Executive Director, Centre for International Relations

Jan Pieklo Director, Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation PAUCI