Saturday, October 01, 2005

Poland and the cheshire cat in Downing Street

On taking over the EU presidency in July he promised to drive forward ‘necessary reforms’, and would ‘sort out the EU’. And then he disappeared into thin air, leaving only a grin behind him.

After making his speech in June outlining his plan for a more flexible Union and a reformed CAP, the eurosceptic tabloid The Sun, called Blair a "brave British gladiator walking into the lion's den". They did say to be careful of the once Europhile who could, you know, speak a bit of French, but then said, "But we do not carp. Instead we rejoice as a political sinner repents."

And then, all of a sudden…nothing happened. Was he a repenting lion, or a distracted pussy cat, many euroskeptic Poles wondered?

But now he’s back. Tony Blair has said that he is going to re-focus on the EU. His centerpiece is going to be a deal on the EU budget, and skewering together an agreement on Turkey’s membership on October 3.

Helping in his re-introduction as EU lion is the rightwing victory in the general election in Poland. As usual, New Labour are much more comfortable these days with rightist foreign relations. The German election result – a kind of daschund’s breakfast – was a knock back. And then Law and Justice and Civic Platform served up the kielbasa.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott – obviously a fan of Polish sausage - has spoke of a new ‘special relationship’ between the two countries.

And that relationship will surely center on maneuvers in Brussels.

There will now be no EU constitution in its present form. The Polish line will be to try to keep things much as they are. That’s how Poles thought things would be when they voted to join the organization in the first place. Poland – with a population of nearly 40 million – is one of the larger EU countries, and the Nice Treaty gives it more shout than the subsidiarity in the Constitution.

And that’s a bit of a relief for Tony, because now he doesn’t need to have a referendum he would surely loose.

Poland will be adopting the euro later rather than sooner. The budget draft that the outgoing SLD government has just agreed to, envisages meeting criteria in the Growth and Stability pact as soon as 2008! Poland’s budget deficit of over six percent will have to be brought down rapidly. That means ruthless cuts, and a high growth rate, that the outgoing government probably couldn’t manage anyway.

The new government – now that Law and Justice, and not Civic Platform are the boss - will be in so such a rush.

Further political integration will now, either come to a grinding halt, or turn to a two speed Europe. If it's the latter, Poland will be riding pillion in the slow lane with the UK.

And Poland, like New Labour, will be looking more to Washington than to Brussels as far as defense policy is concerned.

But this might wipe the smile of his face

Blair would be naïve to think that it’s going to be all vodka and sausage with the Poles. One of his intended reforms is to the EU’s agriculture budget. In the future he wants individual states to be largely responsible for subsidizing their own farmers.

He said recently: "I totally understand why countries may want to give their money to support farmers. What I have an objection to is the European Union deciding collectively it is going to give 40% of its budget into an area that has got 4% of its people. “

The trouble is, is that Poland has two million farms, and a quarter of its population rely on the farming industry for its living. A large section of Poland is part of the four percent Blair was talking about. Many farmers are now receiving a nice whack of subsidy from Brussels, and they rather like it. They have also seen agricultural exports go up 40% since joining the EU last year.

So Blair will have a friend in Brussels for much of the time. But Poland will be shifting its alliances to suit its needs, and at the same time keeping a close eye our Tony, and making sure he doesn't disappear again.