Positive attitude remains in Poland despite the Irish ‘No’

Foundation for European Studies - European Institute
At the outset one has to recall the basic facts – The Polish parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty on 1 April 2008 (396 for and only 56 votes against). In the following week, it was swiftly ratified by the senate. After the Irish ‘No’ the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, agreed with the official EU line to continue the ratification process. “The result of the Irish referendum does not have to rule out the chances of its implementation. The EU will find the way out of this conundrum”.[1] The President, Lech Kaczyński, as yet, has not signed the treaty. On the eve of the French Presidency, on 1 July 2008, the President, Lech Kaczyński, in an interview for “Dziennik” daily, said that the ratification of the treaty by Poland was, in current circumstances, pointless. After the critique from many European capitals and an internal row with the government, Lech Kaczynski toned down his rhetoric against the Lisbon Treaty. “If the Irish change their mind, not under pressure, but of their own free will […] I will also sign the treaty”.[2]
Six months after that statement the President upholds his position – he will not sign the Treaty of Lisbon before the Irish pronounce themselves on its fate again. However, on numerous occasions Kaczyński reiterated that – “Poland will not be an obstacle to the ratification of the treaty. Even though the treaty is not optimal, after a long and protracted battle, we have succeeded in improving it”.[3] In other words, the Polish President promised to sign the treaty as quickly as possible, after the result of the second Irish referendum. The president’s stance comes despite the Polish parliament’s foreign affairs committee passing on 19 January 2009 a resolution for him to yield – “The parliament requests the president to respect the will of both houses of the parliament and to finish the process of ratification as quickly as possible”.[4] When it comes to the public opinion – even after the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, 60 percent of Poles support the deepening of integration, and only 13 percent are against it (52 percent of respondents are of the opinion that the presidents should ratify the Lisbon Treaty no matter what (75 percent of PO electorate), 14 percent are against).
The Polish government endorsed the conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. At the beginning of the year, all of the political parties are preparing the lists of their candidates for the elections of the European Parliament, which will be held under the Nice Treaty scenario (with Poland electing 50 deputies).[5] The government also started thinking about its candidates for the Polish Commissioner. In an interview with “Gazeta Wyborcza”, the President confirmed that he discussed the government’s candidate for the European Commission with the Prime Minister and that he supports it.
The mood in Poland is much more pro-European and fringe, extremist anti-European parties were eliminated from political life. More and more people want to participate in European elections; the European Parliament is treated as a serious, democratic institution. Poles are quite well informed about it. It also largely evokes positive connotations. In the Union, on average, 39 percent of the respondents have a positive connotation regarding the European Parliament, whereas 15 percent think of it in negative terms. In that respect, the European Parliament is quite popular in Poland – where 44 percent of respondents have positive connotations with the Europeam Parliament and only 5 percent have negative connotations. Poles are also more and more convinced that Polish MEP’s should be representing European, as well as Polish interests. Today, according to the 2008 Eurobarometer, as many as 51 percent of respondents declare that they would go and vote in the elections to the European Parliament. It remains to be seen whether such predictions are not too optimistic.
Judging from the present polls, the European People’s Party (EPP) contingent (PO-PSL – Civic Platform, largest Polish party) could win between 27 and 32 deputies in the new European Parliament (Europe of Nations (PIS) 10-14, and Socialists 5-7). That would mean that only 25 percent (compared to the current 45 percent) of the deputies would find themselves in the marginal political groups, which is a European average. Numbers paired with experience may allow Poland to play a much more important role in the future European Parliament. There is a chance that after the elections, a contingent from PO-PSL will become a second or third biggest delegation within the EPP-ED.
There are well documented rumours[6] that the biggest family of the European Parliament, the EPP, is willing to consider the candidature of former Polish Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, for the post of President of the European Parliament (for the first two and a half years of the legislature, followed by Martin Schultz, President of PES family in the European Parliament). If the Polish government were to endorse such a solution, it would mean that Poland (and all other new member states) would be effectively excluded from the contest for other most influential EU posts (the President of the European Commission, and in the event the Lisbon Treaty were to be ratified – High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and President of the European Council). It might also be difficult to secure for Poland an influential portfolio in the next Commission. When it comes to Buzek’s candidature, there is a difference between the President and the government, as Kaczyński does not think that promoting a Pole for the position of the President of the European Parliament is a good idea, as it will provide Poland with prestige instead of influence (which is embodied by other EU top jobs).

[1] Eurativ 13 June 2008, available at: www.eurativ.pl (last access: 25 January 2009).

[2] Euobserver, 02 July 2008.

[3] “Gazeta Wyborcza”, 10-11 January 2009.

[4] Euobserver, 21 January 2009.

[5] In accordance with conclusions of the European Council of December 2008, an additional MEP should be elected and take office after the Lisbon Treaty enters into force.

[6] See for example: Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 April 2008; Euobserver, 3 December 2008.