Poland's balancing act after Trump's visit

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Agnieszka Bieńczyk-Missala
Agnieszka Bieńczyk-Missala

Agnieszka Bieńczyk-Missala is Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of Warsaw

Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) sympathised with Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency of the United States. It appreciated his conservative views and counted on a tougher policy towards Russia, remaining sceptical of concerns about Trump–Russia relations. Regardless of which candidate became President, the US would remain the most important country for the PiS government as it sought guarantees of security and cooperation, especially in the face of conflict in Ukraine.

Trump’s Warsaw visit in July, although important, was not a breakthrough, rather the confirmation of good relations. Its measurable effect consisted of signing a Memorandum on the sale of Patriot missile system to Poland. Both parties needed this visit for image reasons: Trump to prove there is still a country whose inhabitants greet him warmly; the Polish government to show voters that the opposition’s assertion of Poland’s international marginalisation is exaggerated. The visit had no significant impact on Trump’s critics or the Polish government at home and abroad. Trump, through his participation at the Three Seas Initiative summit in Warsaw, supported Poland’s flagship foreign policy initiative to tighten cooperation between states bordering the Baltic, Black Sea and Adriatic.

The Polish government expressed satisfaction with the US strengthening sanctions against Russia and welcomed their critical attitude to the Nord Stream 2 project – a gas pipeline planned by Russia’s Gazprom and German companies through the Baltic Sea. According to the Polish government this project is incompatible with EU law and threatens to increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, risking the energy security of Poland, Ukraine and other central European countries. Poland’s government accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of placing German business interests ahead of her neighbours’ key energy security interests.

The conflict over the Nord Stream 2 project overlaps with deteriorating relations between Poland and the European Union. Poland does not want to agree to compulsory participation in the relocation of refugees. In addition, following Poland’s Constitutional Court crisis, the European Commission is running an infringement proceeding that could result in the suspension of certain rights that Poland holds as an EU member state.

The government has not cooperated with the Commission and has systematically accused it of going beyond its powers. Some independent experts also respond with caution to the Commission’s actions. They fear that too sharp course against Poland, coupled with the government’s anti-European propaganda, will translate into a rise in negative attitudes towards the EU. The Poles are among the greatest supporters of the EU and losing such pro-European hearts would be a great harm to Poland and the EU itself.

This article was first published in Europe’s World print issue number 35. Read more on the issue and order your copy here.

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