Nicholas Richardson
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Interesting Times

“May you live in interesting times” as the apocryphal Chinese curse has it. And following the result of the referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union which was a narrow majority for leave (51.9 per cent to 48.1), times have become more interesting and more chaotic.

The lesson (and it’ not so much a lesson as a whole curriculum) to be learned from this is, according to the leaders of the Visegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) meeting in Brussels, that the EU must listen to citizens and national parliaments. The EU will not succeed if it does not create a genuine union of confidence. “Trust between member states must be strengthened, starting with overcoming artificial and unnecessary divisions, which we have observed an increase of in recent months,” the declaration by the V4 said. The EU must focus on subjects that unite, not divide.

This theme was repeated at a meeting of the Georgian and Polish foreign minister in Warsaw on Tuesday. The two ministers also spoke out in favour of an “open door” policy in both NATO and the EU. “Without Georg.ia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, the European project remains incomplete,” Poland’s Waszczykowski told a news conference following the talks. “Poland would like to see Georgia enter both the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union as soon as possible,” he added.

Georgia’s Janelidze, meanwhile, said that unity within Europe was of key importance to Georgia. He and added that European policymakers should be thinking more of EU expansion rather than the disintegration of the EU. The two ministers announced the launch of a “Tbilisi conference”, which is to serve as a platform for sharing Poland’s experience of the EU accession process with Georgia.

Be that as it may, there is no crisis so grave that it cannot be usefully exploited by Polish politicians for their own purposes. On Monday the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party blamed Donald Tusk, the European Council President and former Polish prime minister, for the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. “A particularly dark role was played by Donald Tusk, who conducted negotiations with the British and in fact contributed to them getting nothing,” Kaczyński said of his former political rival. “Hence, he is directly responsible for Brexit and should simply disappear from European politics. But this concerns the whole of European Commission in its present composition.” “The European Union needs reform, this would be a positive response to the Brexit, which can also in turn become an offer for Britain,” Kaczyński said, adding that the remaining EU members should work on developing a “new European treaty”.

The Polish foreign minister also suggested that some EU leaders should now step down following a meeting of foreign ministers from nine member states in Warsaw on Monday. He did not say which, but held both British and EU responsible for the UK referendum result. “We place part of the blame on the leadership of the European bloc,” Waszczykowski told journalists, adding that “some of the top EU figures should suffer the consequences and hand over the helm (…) to new politicians and experts (…) who could draw up a fresh roadmap for Britain and Europe.” The Warsaw meeting came after six founding member states of the EU had met for talks in Berlin on Saturday, to the chagrin of Warsaw and other non-founding member states, who were left out of the debate focusing on the post-Brexit future of the bloc.

While the President Duda urged unity to prevent a domino effect, he also said that an urgent question was why the UK had decided to leave. “Is it not the case that the EU imposes too much on countries which belong to it,” he asked during a press conference in Kraków, southern Poland. He also voiced respect for British Prime Minister David Cameron for taking the decision to hold a referendum.

For her part, the Polish prime minister. Beata Szydło, suggested that the result of the British referendum “is primarily a result of the crises which have been taking place in the EU for some time, and which have not been resolved. They could not be solved by European politicians, and were simply swept under the carpet.” Echoing her party leader’s comments, she said that Poland will help to propose reforms to the EU.

So perhaps at last reform is in the air. Has the UK set the fires of democracy ablaze across the Continent? Does Poland have a plan? Let’s hope so, because nobody else seems to.

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