Risks and Trends

R&T 2021: On Europe, politics and society

Preview 2021-02-17
What is European sovereignty and how the epidemic has changed Polish society - find out at Risks and Trends.

Europe (10.00 am)

Can Poland be sovereign in a sovereign Europe? Despite the closing of borders, last year brought a new opening for the EU. The challenges of 2020 did not extinguish the debate on how to ensure that the EU and its member states can decide their own destiny in an increasingly unstable world. Brussels has been pondering how to manage a situation in which familiar mechanisms based on international cooperation are giving way to new forms of confrontation. How to build European sovereignty without falling into the trap of protectionism? How do individual capitals relate to the changes that are taking place? And who actually bears responsibility for the decisions made in Brussels?

Szymański and Stubb on EU vaccine strategy. Konrad Szymański has been in charge of the Polish government's European policy since 2015, having previously been a member of the ParlEur for many years, while Alexander Stubb is a former Finnish Prime Minister and currently co-founder of the School of Transnational Governance in Florence. In the first conversation of the European segment of Risks and Trends, Agnieszka Smoleńska, PI's Senior European Affairs Analyst, will ask them how the EU is changing as a result of the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and what sovereignty means in this context today. The interviewees will also consider what mistakes the EU has made in dealing with the epidemic and the lessons it needs to learn from them.

Leonard and Sasnal on the geopolitical awakening of Europe. Mark Leonard is the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a centre that has recently been exploring, among other things, how Europeans perceive the EU's global priorities, especially in relations with the US and China. Patrycja Sasnal heads the Research and Analysis Office at the Polish Institute of International Affairs. In a discussion hosted by Piotr Buras, head of the ECFR Warsaw Office, experts will reflect on the meaning of EU declarations that it will conduct its foreign policy - in Sinatra-like fashion - "its own way". They will use the new investment agreement between China and the EU and the prospects of relations between Brussels and the new Washington administration as examples.

Bradford on the EU's global influence. Anu Bradford is a lawyer at Columbia Law School and author of The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World. In an interview with Agnieszka Smoleńska, she will talk about why EU regulations (e.g. RODO) are adopted and copied by companies and countries around the world. She will also say why different entities trust EU regulations and how the "Brussels effect" benefits European companies. Bradford will explain how the EU's shift towards protectionism could jeopardise Brussels' quiet success of that is the replication of EU regulations around the world.

Politics and society (3.00 pm)

Has the epidemic changed Poles. 2020 has restored the central role of the state in public debate. The state of healthcare has become the focus of public interest. Has Poland coped with the biggest challenge since World War II? Were the restrictions introduced by the government proportionate to the threat? Were the successive anti-crisis shields effective? At the same time, the state's measures - not only those related to the epidemic - triggered the biggest wave of demonstrations in the history of the Third Republic and radicalised the language of politics. Which aspects of the turbulent year will stay with us for longer? Will the conflicts exposed in 2020 change the current axes of political dispute?

Bucholc and Łuczewski on public reactions to the epidemic. In the first part of the debate Monika Helak, researcher at PI, and Wojciech Szacki, head of PI's political department, will talk to sociologists Marta Bucholc and Michał Łuczewski. Bucholc is a specialist in history of social thought from the University of Warsaw. Łuczewski, also from the University of Warsaw, deals with issues of the nation, and until 2019 was deputy director of The Centre for the Thought of John Paul II. The guests will answer questions about what Poles think about the role of the state today and whether they will become more involved in social and political activity. They will also discuss what society will look like when the epidemic ends. In the second part of the meeting, Szacki and PI Executive Director Andrzej Bobiński will use the video podcast format to talk about how politicians see the role of the state and what else awaits the political scene in this parliamentary term.


Politics and society

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dr Agnieszka Smoleńska
Fmr. Senior European Affairs Analyst
dr Agnieszka Smoleńska
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Wojciech Szacki
Head of Political Desk
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Wojciech Szacki
PI Alert

EU summit: Member States launch discussion on financing joint defence initiatives

State of play

Leaders approved appointments to top posts. At the EU summit that ended on Thursday night, they nominated Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as head of EurCom, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa as head of EurCou and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as head of EU diplomacy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from voting for von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas. This means that Meloni is preparing for tough negotiations and may demand a high political price in return for his party's support for von der Leyen in her approval in the EurParl. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán voted against von der Leyen and abstained on Kallas.

They adopted the Union's strategic agenda for 2024-2029. Over the next five years, the Union's goals include a successful digital and green transformation by "pragmatically" pursuing the path to climate neutrality by 2050. Another objective is to strengthen the EU's security and defence capabilities.

Von der Leyen spoke of EUR 500 billion for defence over a decade. This was the EurCom estimate of needed EU investment presented by its head at the EurCou meeting. Poland and France were among the countries that expected the EurCom to present possible options for financing defence investments before the summit, such as EU financing of common expenditure from a common borrowing. This idea was strongly opposed by Germany and the Netherlands, among others. In the end, von der Leyen decided to postpone the debate until after the constitution of the new EurCom, i.e. in the autumn. And the summit - after von der Leyen's oral presentation - only launched a preliminary debate on possible joint financing of defence projects.

Poland has submitted two defence projects. These might be co-financed by EU funds. On the eve of the summit, Poland and Greece presented in writing a detailed concept for an air defence system for the Union (Shield and Spear), which Prime Ministers Donald Tusk and Kyriakos Mitostakis had put forward - in a more general form - in May. In addition, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia presented the idea of jointly strengthening the defence infrastructure along the EU's borders with Russia and Belarus. Poland is pushing for the EU to go significantly beyond its current plans to support the defence industry with EU funds and agree to spend money on defence projects similar to the two proposals. But EU states are far from a consensus on the issue.

Zelensky signed a security agreement with the Union. The document, signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels, commits all member states and the EU as a whole to "help Ukraine defend itself, resist efforts to destabilise it and deter future acts of aggression". The document recalls the EUR 5 billion the EU intends to allocate for military aid and training in 2024 (in addition to bilateral aid from EU countries to Kyiv). It says that "further comparable annual increases could be envisaged until 2027, based on Ukrainian needs" i.e. it could amount to up to EUR 20 billion. Ukraine's agreement with the EU comes on top of the bilateral security "guarantees" Ukraine has already signed with a dozen countries (including the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy). As Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed in Brussels, talks are also underway between Ukraine and Poland on the text of mutual commitments on security issues.

PI Alert

KO wins elections to the European Parliament

KO received 38.2 per cent of the vote and PiS 33.9 per cent, according to an exit poll by IPSOS. Konfederacja came in third with 11.9 per cent, followed by Trzecia Droga with 8.2 per cent, Lewica with 6.6 per cent, Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy with 0.8 per cent and Polexit with 0.3 per cent. According to the exit poll, KO gained 21 seats, PiS 19, Konfederacja 6, Trzecia Droga 4 and Lewica gained 3. The turnout was 39.7 per cent.

According to the European Parliament's first projection, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which includes, among others, PO and PSL, will remain the largest force with 181 MEPs in the 720-seat Parliament. The centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), whose members include the Polish Lewica, should have 135 seats, whereas the liberal Renew Europe club (including Polska 2050) will have 82 seats. This gives a total of 398 seats to the coalition of these three centrist factions (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) on which the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has relied on so far. The Green faction wins 53 seats according to the same projection, the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (including PiS) 71 seats and the radical right-wing Identity and Democracy 62 seats.