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March 9, 2006
Poles, Apart

When Poland finally freed itself from the grip of Soviet tyranny and brought back democracy to its government, the nation expressed a strong desire to integrate itself into the European Union as a way to strenthen those institutions. Now, however, the Poles have decided that a tight integration no longer serves those purposes but rather the aggregation of power by the larger nations of the EU:

When Poland was negotiating its entry to the European Union, its diplomats indicated that joining a politically integrated Europe was the best way to protect national interests. This belief in the power of community was shared by the other aspiring countries from the former Soviet bloc, which as a group greatly expanded the union in May 2004.

"Poland was a strong supporter of more integration," said Piotr Buras, a European policy specialist at the Willy Brandt Center in Wroclaw, in southern Poland. He said Poles believed that small and medium members would be defended against bigger interests.

But President Lech Kaczynski arrived in Berlin on Wednesday bringing a deeply altered vision of Europe: it is a nationalist, Euroskeptic vision, at odds with the policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and her government.

Mr. Kaczynski has overseen a revision of policy in Warsaw since winning the presidency last October. His conservative government, while supporting European Union enlargement to include Ukraine and Belarus, no longer accepts the idea of a deeper and more integrated Europe.

The Poles have decided that with the largest countries -- France and Germany -- using the union to battle for their own national interests, the best policy is one of distance. The new conservative government has made plain that they work for Polish interests first and foremost. While Angela Merkel works at reviving the EU constitution that France and the Netherlands rejected, the Poles have reversed their earlier acceptance and now say that a new constitution is not necessary, preferring the less-restrictive and still-operational Nice treaty.

What changed, besides the Polish elections that put conservatives in power? It probably started with Jacques Chirac's infamous scolding to the EU nations of Eastern Europe during the debate over the Iraq war, when he told the emerging democracies that supported the US and Britain that they had missed a great opportunity to "shut up". It wasn't long after that when the world discovered that France and Germany had undermined the sanctions regime (along with Russia) that the pair declared kept Saddam in his box.

The change likely accelerated through the debate over the EU constitution. The document, when it finally appeared, was a monument to bloat and overregulation, with the national interests of all 25 nations attempting to find expression in what should have been basic by-laws and expressions of principles. After having this shoved down European throats by France in particular, its defeat in that country for reasons that it forced France to compromise with the rest of Europe had to be the last straw.

The election of Polish conservatives probably came in part from a reaction to the silliness of the EU and the second-class status that Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder implied for the newer members from the East. Now the Poles have made it clear that the EU itself enjoys second-class status among its national priorities. Knowing how hard the Poles has fought for their sovereignty after being more or less abandoned by the nations of Western Europe after World War II, that status is not likely to change soon.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 9, 2006 5:50 AM

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