Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Optimism in Poland’s EU Presidency

On December 2, 2011, the Polish Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Maciej Pisarski gave a lecture entitled “Implications of the Polish Presidency of the EU for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs.” Mr. Pisarski explored the political, economic and social objectives pursued by the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, at the tail end of Poland’s 6 month term.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meeting with President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy

His lecture focused on the three priorities of the Polish Presidency: “European Integration as a Source of Growth,” “Secure Europe,” and “Europe Benefiting from Openness.” Objectives for economic and financial integration, energy, security and defense policies, and interaction with non-EU nations were all covered. 

The optimism conveyed by Mr. Pisarski was refreshing, explicitly fueled by Poland’s desire “to get back to the West,” an aspiration vindicated first by the nation’s 2004 EU accession, now by the symbolic and emotional values tied to its current leadership role. The state—crushed on both sides through two World Wars—is positioned to influence the agenda of both Germany and Russia, something unimaginable only fifty years ago. Indeed, the geographical position of Poland is beneficial in more ways than one, expediting EU goals for border nations such as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

However, one could also argue that the optimism in Mr. Pisarski’s remarks and the “Strategic framework” laid out by the current Polish Presidency are also somewhat over-ambitious. The framework contains several examples of rhetoric—“Europe has overcome the shock wave of the crisis,” or “Experience shows that in the face of crises, Europe can act effectively”—in which the optimism obscures the darker side of the sub-continent’s present struggle and recent history. The former comment overlooks the fact that “the shockwave of the crisis” is only the beginning of the problems facing the world’s economies and financial markets. To put it a different way:  Pearl Harbor may be over, but the War has just begun.   

In a similar fashion, the latter comment takes into account the EU’s positive role in dealing with this year’s uprisings in the Middle East, but forgets the divisions created by the war in Iraq, as well as the disastrous break-up of Yugoslavia…not to mention WWI and II. Can Europe really “act effectively” when facing real crises? More to the point, can it act coherently? History may tell us quite a different story.

However, we should also not overlook the notion that the EU and its Member States are not incapable, nor inactive. Most notably, Germany and France are doing all they can to plug the holes in a sinking ship and reverse its course, calling for tightened budgets, lowered deficits, tougher austerity measures and readier sanctions for sluggish eurozone members. 

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy discuss the EU’s reaction to the eurozone debt crisis
So, while Mr. Pisarski’s speech may have been somewhat overly optimistic, I certainly preferred that to the “glass half-empty” agenda frequently pursued by the media. Yes, Europeans (and the rest of the world) may still have a long road ahead in terms of mending a broken economic system. But just like the post-WWII establishment of the EU, positive, encouraging leadership will be essential to give fresh vision and energy to the European Project.

Adam Heinz is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Illinois in 2010. He has studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. In 2010-2011 Adam received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship to study Portuguese. He also was a 2009-2010 Illinois General Assembly General Scholarship recipient. Currently, Adam is working as a Graduate Assistant for the European Union Center. His research interests include the linguistic-economic relationship at the border of Spain and Portugal as a result of EU initiatives. Besides an interest in travel and languages, Adam spends his free time reading, camping and writing music.


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