Monday, 3 January 2011

EU Presidency 2011

I didn't expect to have any interest in this, let alone think about it this early in the year, but a rather loony article in the Economist's Eastern approaches attracted my attention. The article is mainly a quote, but the journalist does have the plea that the elected politicians in Poland's government do everything that their non-elected advisers suggest. Why have MPs at all?

The quoted letter is 'co-authored by the heads of several Polish think tanks' - remember that in Poland all such people are completely political commentators, not neutral observers. Much of it has superficial sense, but there is one perfectly justified item: "A lack of understanding of the presidency’s role could lead to unnecessary disputes inside Poland and inappropriate moves at the EU level". The authors clearly themselves have little understanding how the presidency works and have started an unnecessary dispute inside Poland, so they appear to be completely right.

I also loved the quoted "we demand that the political parties represented in parliament sign a “Pact for the Presidency” in which they would promise not to use presidency-related issues in the election". "Demand" - who do you think you are? Since the presidency covers work on all topical EU issues, that means they demand that electioneering should not cover any EU issues - do they actually believe that is a good thing for Polish democracy? As for all political parties agreeing to this - where are the men in white coats with straitjackets? Do me a favour...

However, it was when I got down to the claim that "the Lisbon treaty has fundamentally changed the nature of the rotating presidency" that I started to think that it was me that had lost touch. I didn't know that and had to check up what had happened. I was right - it hasn't. Despite some tinkering and reduction of importance of the country running the presidency, The Lisbon Treaty failed to agree any radical change and it's pretty much business as usual. Whilst it would be great if Poland started creating "a post-Lisbon presidency model", this would be a radical and unexpected departure. Failing to do so won't surprise or upset anybody. If they had mentioned EU foreign policy, the presidency role has changed and this might have made some sense, but they don't.

Then came priorities: "The list should be short. That is why the list of six priorities presented by the government last summer seems too long." I didn't even know the priorities and had to look them up. However, this comment, as much as any, shows the complete lack of practical experience of the commentators. The list of priorities has two purposes: practical and presentational.

Other Member States are already fully aware of what Poland's political priorities are, but the presidency priorities are designed to show that primary effort will be given to those areas of work for which a) there is general consensus that progress will be achieved; and b) Poland has political priorities even though there is not broad consensus; whilst c) identifying those priorities which Poland does not support and will will not be giving significant effort to. Three Presidency co-ordination also provides the impetus for showing continuity, but in practice, this is not a fundamental requirement in setting priorities when countries differ significantly.

On the other hand, the presentational motive is the desire to show success at the end of each country's presidency both for the country and to emphasise EU progress overall. Having too few priorities sets too high a risk of six months work being a public failure. Whilst it might seem to be a good idea to be able to judge failure, the reality is that work is too broad-spread for this to be the full truth.

It is now time for me to see what the priorities are from this perspective. They were not easy to find, but I think a news clipping at describes them:
... 85% of the work of previous rotating EU presidencies had been on ongoing EU issues, with only 10% on crisis management and 5% on priorities set by the mandate holder.

... identified six general priority areas: the internal market, the Eastern Partnership, energy security and developing an external energy policy, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU's 'financial perspectives' and intellectual property.

... intention to act as a fair moderator in resolving disputes, saying the country "wants to show its ability to work for the Community".

The Polish government will cooperate with NGOs and think-tanks to discuss its priorities in order to "see them through different eyes," ...

Interesting. Internal Market, Foreign policy and financial perspective are consensus themes, even if there are differences on approach. Eastern Partnership and Energy Security are Polish priorities, to which a number of other countries give little but lip service. Intellectual property is interesting if only because I don't know what the issue is. It sounds either like the culmination of work over a number of years on which consensus is close, or else the type of thing where most other Member States will be thinking "Oh, no! It's the Poles pushing their private interests again." I will need to look out for it in the future to see if it's the latter.

Although one must suspect some political weasel wording, New Europe reports Barroso, EU Commission President's reaction:
he hopes to see progress..., in particular the New Financial Framework for 2014-2020, the deepening of the internal market, further implementation of the Eastern Partnership and higher European energy security.

... the programme of the Polish Presidency, is for the added value of Europe: In deepening energy security, in deepening the internal market, in a stronger foreign and defence policy, in a stronger economic governance on all those matters Poland is supporting more Europe.

Has intellectual property been dropped, or is Barroso suggesting it is trivial?

Barroso adds ... Poland will show strong leadership and careful handling of these issues, which is the challenge that the commentators in the Economist article are particularly focused on. I suspect Barroso's view will be widely held amongst other Member States, at least compared to the performance of many other countries. It is a challenge, but one that Poland is quite capable of meeting, with little risk to the downside. In my view, the commentators warnings about the risk of elections diverting attention and expenditure cuts getting rid of essential staff are complete red herrings by people who have no faith in their own people's capabilities. Even the claim that "a presidency badly managed will weaken Poland’s standing in the EU for many years" fails to understand that it is not the presidency that dictates any country's effectiveness in EU negotiations at other times - Poland has routinely proved its capability and presidency effectiveness cannot undermine this. It's all just a typical example of something I hate: ignorant Poles bashing what they believe is incompetent Poland. Politicking for the sake of hearing your voice heard.

Krzysztof Bobinski President of Union & Poland Foundation; Jacek Kucharczyk President of the Executive Board, The Institute of Public Affairs; Bartek Nowak Executive Director, Centre for International Relations; Jan Pieklo Director, Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation PAUCI: try to understand you're subject before you write about it, please.

Of course, I am completely biased in believing that the priority of every national government should be national interests, which should not be subservient to the EU. Indeed, I never understood why 'Poland is Most Important' was not thought to be an acceptable English language party name for the EU Parliament. 'Labour' and 'Conservative' are meaningless and much more ridiculous. (Do Democrats want monarchy and Republicans want plutocracy?)

1 comment:

Pan Steeva said...

Intellectual property does seem to have disappeared. See's - Poland ambitious for its EU presidency