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
"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
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
"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
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
"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. …