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April 20, 2021

Euroscepticism and “the British model”

An annual forum of experts from Poland and Great Britain took place last week in Cracow. An issue that seemed to have disappeared from the European agenda after the 1989 events – the end of Soviet communism – was debated this year: “Britain and Poland: A Shared Future?”

Obviously, in the context of post-1989 geopolitical developments, when the West answered the requests of the states that formerly were satellites within the Soviet domination system to become members of NATO and the European Union and conducted a series of enlargement rounds so that the North Atlantic Alliance now has 28 member states and the EU has 27 member states (Croatia being the last to join last year), such a theme seems to be unwarranted. Or it seems to be warranted only as an academic exercise through reduction ad absurdum.

Nevertheless, this debate took place and, based on one of the participants’ statement (G. Rachman from the “Financial Times”), it even included theses worth taking into account. This on the backdrop of the aforementioned person’s conclusion to the fundamental question raised by the debate: “not necessarily.” Meaning it’s not imperative for Great Britain and Poland to share a common future. Several of the ideas circulated on this occasion catch the eye. While, in today’s conditions, Great Britain and Poland present some common details – members of the aforementioned Western organizations, both outside the Euro Zone that is at the epicenter of the crisis, the presence of approximately one million Poles in England – the Polish side circulated the idea that Warsaw is interested in being “in the heart of Europe” and has little sympathy for the British attempts to reach a new agreement with the EU that would conserve its sovereignty prerogatives, even talking of London’s “blackmail” towards Europe. On the other hand, it’s however understandable that, in the absence of adequate communication, in Poland – just as in Romania in fact and probably in other former communist states in Eastern Europe – the predominant perception is that Great Britain has decided to take a different road than the rest of the continent, and Premier Cameron’s decision to organize a referendum on keeping the country within the EU in 2017 (and the current attempts from the Conservative Party’s eurosceptical part to move forward the date of this democratic consultation) has done nothing but strengthen this opinion and render it very powerful among the electorate. Arguments the likes of those circulated and mentioned by Rahman, such as: England leaving the EU would weaken the “northern axis” Poland is part of – note already this partition of the continent into axes, southern and northern; Poland should militate for keeping England within the EU, because if London leaves the organization the “balance of power” in Europe would change decisively (an obvious hint to Germany’s preponderance) – are not relevant in our opinion, knowing the sources of a foreign state of influencing the political game in Great Britain, where euroscepticism is massively gaining ground. One has to also mention two other arguments invoked, namely the fact that the Polish public opinion’s support for the country’s “accession” to the Euro Zone is fairly weak (30 per cent) and Premier Cameron’s current orientation to renegotiate the date of the referendum on maintaining the country in the EU is based on the fear of a part of the Conservative Party towards the public appeal of the anti-European Independent Party and that it is possible that a future British government might adopt a less radical position towards Europe.

The comments posted on G. Rachman’s recent entry on the Financial Times blog are – as expected – the ebb of the current debate within Great Britain between those “for” and “against” keeping the country within the EU. The arguments put forward by the “eurosceptical” stress the fact that if Poland is part of Mittel-Europa then Great Britain is an Atlantic power and if Poland’s interest for the alliance with the US and England is determined by its geographical position between Germany and Russia (hence geopolitical arguments for a preponderantly negative answer towards a possible common future for the two states); and the pro-European arguments underscore: Great Britain’s huge potential that has to be exploited or the fact that Germany has understood the Polish fears – especially during Chancellor Merkel’s term – and has “calmed” Poland’s historical apprehensions; that Great Britain (or England, because commentators are already talking in terms of a possible split with Scotland) leaving the EU would be catastrophic for that country and “very bad news” for the EU; that Great Britain has already done enough harm to the European project at this moment. Leaving aside the fact that both comments mentioned and even the author of the blog entry seem significantly concerned with the issue of the referendum in Scotland and of Great Britain’s unity, two observations concerning the debate that took place in Cracow have to be made. The first refers to the issue of “euroscepticism,” which is justifiably and in line with opinion polls conducted in various countries, including Romania, considered increasingly relevant in EU states. Namely, that this phenomenon is not determined just by the Euro Zone’s European crisis and all of its political and economic implications, but also by the fact that England has adopted an ambiguous position towards solving it, preferring a “distancing” from the EU, which went as far as scheduling a national referendum on leaving this organization.

It has to be added that this position towards the EU has also had internal repercussions in England, amplifying Scottish secessionism and generating an internal political crisis that could overwhelm the element of “euroscepticism.” The second observation concerns another European phenomenon that is on the rise, closely linked to that of “euroscepticism,” namely the renationalization of EU member states’ foreign policy, the attempt of some of them to identify, against the backdrop of the European crisis, alternatives to their membership in this organization. First of all, here one can suspect the influence of the “British model,” namely that of “distancing” from Europe, heightened to match the worsening of the Euro crisis. Secondly, even though the stage of organizing “in or out” referenda has not been reached yet, nevertheless noticeable in polls is the weakening of confidence in the EU’s solidity, more precisely the hardening of what is called “euroscepticism.” This also happens in states that recently joined the EU, so far characterized by high rates of public approval (“euroenthusiastic”), and has led to the weakening of recent initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership (set up in 2009) or to the dynamism of some powers that present themselves as alternatives to the EU (Russia, Turkey). Another effect that the influence of the “British model” has – as noticed in the case briefly recalled earlier and that took place in Cracow – is that of the strengthening, because of various reasons, of the attractiveness that Germany exercises, being an avowed partisan of solving the crisis (it’s true, with the price of an unprecedented austerity applied to problem-states) but also of saving the European project. The attractiveness of the position adopted by Germany will probably determine – in the absence of a major change in the British policy or of US “interventionism” – the future of Europe.

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