Central parties seem lost in our post-crises reality where antisystemic parties of various colours suddenly have become important political forces.
These centre parties are losing control over the leading political narrative and are focusing on resisting attacks from these fringe groups.
However, liberals are benefiting from these divisions as their message is clear and without compromise. In Europe, the leader of the growing liberal option is French President Emmanuel Macron, whose vision to reform the European Union is becoming a reference point for the pro-European factions.
In his idea, titled European Renaissance, Macron calls for the consolidation of European integration around the eurozone, which, in the French President’s view, should extend economic integration with new instruments, such as tax harmonisation and the introduction of a European minimum wage.
Macron also proposes the creation of a whole range of new EU institutions and the adoption of a defence treaty containing a NATO-modelled mutual assistance clause. It is worth noting in this context that Macron initiated the establishment of the European Intervention Initiative, which only included Estonia from Central Europe and notably excluded both Hungary and Poland.
These moves are not too surprising as France was never an advocate of the EU’s enlargement to the east, which it considered an expansion of the German sphere of influence in Europe.
Due to pressure from Germany, France reluctantly agreed, but the unenthusiastic attitude to this project is constantly reflected in France’s policies and positions.
For example, in 2005, when the spectre of the Polish plumber invasion convinced the French to vote against the draft European Constitution even though the issues had nothing to do with each other.
President Macron eagerly approaches these sentiments when demanding, for example, that French companies cease to relocate production to Poland or when it effectively steers the amendment of the EU directive on posted workers – which mainly concerns employees from Poland.
Proposing to tighten European integration around the eurozone and at the same time becoming the toughest critic of current governments in Warsaw and Budapest, Macron is in essence partially reversing the effects of enlarging the European Union and relegating countries that do not use the common currency (primarily Poland, Hungary and Czechia) to the periphery of integration European.
Currently, the Macron narrative is at most a manifesto of the liberals and it does not arouse special admiration among the European centre-right, including the German CDU, not to mention the Polish PO.
Incidentally, Grzegorz Schetyna was the only Polish politician who openly responded with a polemic against Macron’s vision, publishing several critical articles in major European journals. But the inclusion of the liberals in a joint coalition with the EPP and Social Democrats strengthens the power of the message of the French President.
It is already willingly supported by the majority of the groupings on the centre-left today and will probably also receive approval from the greens.
It cannot be ruled out that a large part of the ruling majority of the European Parliament will weigh in the direction outlined by the President of France.
What are the consequences for Poland and the V4 if the grand coalition in the EP shifts to the left?
The enlargement of the grand coalition to include the liberals and greens may have a whole range of short and long-term consequences. In the near future, we can expect a further decline in the status of Poland and the possibility of influencing EU policy.
One of the first challenges of the new parliament will be the establishment of a new European Commission, including the chairman, who will most likely be Manfred Werner – the EPP candidate.
Moreover, the decision of the new commissioner from Poland will be decided by the new President and will be approved be the new majority in parliament.
In the post-election political context, it is difficult to imagine that the Polish commissioner will be one of the most important – for example Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who is responsible for the common market.
The filling of political offices will be even worse, which determines how much we, Poles, will know as well as our influence over future EU decisions; in turn, this will marginalise Poland even more, even within the V4, whose existence in general depends to a large extent on Poland’s potential to make European policy in Brussels.
In the long term, the consequences may be more dramatic. If, in essence, European integration around the eurozone comes to a close, Poland will be on the periphery of the union.
For Poland and the other countries outside the eurozone access to EU funds may be limited and linked to the rule of law. The eurozone can create a separate budget and even a separate parliament. Such solutions will not arise immediately and will have many opponents, such as the German CDU, but the party logic in the enlarged majority of the European Parliament may push a broad coalition in this direction.
If this happens, it cannot be ruled out that Czechia and Hungary will decide to adopt the euro quickly, leaving Poland alone on the union’s periphery.
Poland’s marginalisation in the EU is not in the interest of any political party in the country. To prevent this, Polish politicians must regain the opportunity to influence the opinion of the new coalition in the European Parliament.
Such a possibility will be given to the parties of the European coalition, which will be in the ranks of the parliamentary majority. But their influence will be limited if they do not win the autumn election.
Certainly, the Polish voice in Strasbourg and in Brussels would be more powerful if PiS decided that it was leaning towards the centre-right rather than with the eurosceptics. This would not necessarily include PiS’ membership in the EPP but practical and frequent forms of cooperation.
Naturally, in the long term, Macron’s arguments would be completely disarmed if Poland decided to adopt the single currency. Already today, Poland meets most of the criteria, but a political decision is needed.
Following the current government’s loose fiscal policy, Poland no longer meets most of the Maastricht criteria. Moreover, Kaczyński has recently declared that Poland will not adopt the single currency as long is its wealth level doesn’t match Germany’s, which in practice means not in this century if ever. It seems, therefore, that whilst Kaczyński and Macron disagree on pretty much everything, they agree on pushing Poland to the periphery of Europe.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. It was published in Polish by Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.