Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Poland Aims to Be a More Assertive Power Player in Europe

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Poland Aims to Be a More Assertive Power Player in Europe

Article excerpt

As Poland prepared to join the European Union, French President Jacques Chirac in 2003 told the Poles to "shut up" about their support for the unpopular, US-led invasion of Iraq.

They did not. But Polish rhetoric in the following years was not preoccupied with the foreign policy issues of the day, or even its new membership in the EU. Instead, Warsaw veered between two deeply historic sentiments: anti-German and anti-Russian.

In 2007, when political scientist Bartek Nowak was working in the European Parliament in Brussels, he says the Polish position on everything from budgetary issues to treaty change was always driven by nationalism hailing from World War II and Soviet occupation. "The image of Poland in the EU was very bad," he says. "It was very difficult for me to be ambassador of my country."

Today that job would be much easier. Poland has not only shed its image as a pesky Atlanticist and cold war warrior, it is a rising star on the foreign policy stage of the EU, consciously forging its relationship with Germany, not as a former foe but as the key ally to have in the EU.

Some even call Poland a new "Paris" - comparing it to the dual role France and Germany (increasingly the latter) have played in forging the diplomatic policies of the Continent. While most dismiss that comparison as hyperbole - Poland is in no position yet to define European policy - it still points to how power is shifting at a time of economic crisis in Europe.

Poland's rise has implications for how Europe deals with Eastern Europe. And at a time when European citizens are broadly skeptical of the EU, the optimistic, pro-European Poles are a critical player as the Continent seeks to get its head above various political and economic storms.

"Poland today is a responsible player with big ambitions," says Mr. Nowak of the Center of International Relations in Warsaw. "We are getting more and more influential."

For decades it has been France, the United Kingdom, and Germany driving the affairs of the EU. But with the UK perhaps distancing itself from the project, and France weakened by an ailing economy, Germany, the de facto leader of Europe, has sought new allies.

The Poles made a conscious decision to cozy up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which they could pull off because of a relatively healthy economy. In 2009 Poland was the only EU economy not to enter into recession, aided by an infusion of EU funds, a depreciated zloty that made exports competitive, and a strong banking sector.

Poland does not use the euro, so it is not part of the core group of Europeans dealing with a currency crisis. Yet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski share Ms. Merkel's policies on how to steer Europe out of crisis, and they support her push for austerity, spending cuts, and fiscal responsibility.

"Our [mutual] support is a reflection of the growing convergence of our agendas," says Jakub Wisniewski, director of the department of foreign policy strategy in the Polish ministry of foreign affairs.

This has put the two center-right governments on the same side of the table, as both put aside long-standing tensions and stereotypes. In March, the Bertelsmann Foundation and Poland's Institute of Public Affairs released a study showing increasingly positive views that Germans have of the Polish, especially among members of Germany's elite.

"Poland is very close in many points to Germany, which thinks that the debt crisis should be solved, not by making more debt," says Christian Schmitz, head of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Warsaw. …

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