I recently attended a conference entitled “The future of the European Union – the view from Warsaw and London” organised by the Unia & Polska Foundation and the Polish Association of Journalists in cooperation with British Embassy in Warsaw. The key speakers were Lord Wallace, HM Government spokesman for foreign affairs in the House of Lords and Paweł Zalewski, an MEP and former chairman of the Sejm Foreign Relations Committee with contributions and commentary from the British Ambassador; Brendan Donnelly, director of the Federal Trust; Danny Finkelstein of the Times, Paweł Świeboda, director of the demosEuropa think-tank; under the chairmanship of Krzysztof Bobiński of the Unia & Polska Foundation.
It is not the purpose of this piece to summarise the conference, but rather to highlight an attitude which, in my view at least, might help to explain the continuing frustration the United Kingdom electorate has with the EU. Lord Wallace (a video of his contribution is available here) ran through HM government policy, the UK’s view on the functioning of EU institutions, and demonstrated that the UK was fully engaged in the EU and, of course, put the UK’s December “veto” (technically, there was actually nothing then to veto) in context. He also made the very important point that the UK has been a net contributor to the EU budget since 1973, so the UK can hardly be said to be uncommitted.
The Polish response was interesting, if not wholly unpredictable. First, there was a semi-snide remark that, presumably in relation to the UK’s approach to the December summit, “those who live by sword die by the sword” – not the best of analogies given Poland’s history, you might have thought – and, by implication, the suggestion that the UK should be pointed towards the door. Second, while Poland is generally happy with EU institutions and wishes to remain closely involved to maximise its influence, there was agreement that certain institutional reform was desirable, particularly in relation to the common agricultural policy. However, it was suggested that Poland’s co-operation over CAP would come at a high price: Poland is entitled to compensation for having opened up its markets twenty years ago! In other words, it seems, that despite having been the largest receipient and having received € 67.3 billion of EU funds in the 2007-2013 budget round (and not forgetting direct investment from EU investors between 1993 to 2010 of some €122 billion) Poland would like, nay feels entitled to, some more. Pity the long suffering tax payers of the EU.
It was left to Danny Finkelstein to restore economic literacy to the discussion by making the obvious point that logic dictates that for monetary union to work there must be fiscal union which in turn requires political union. Whether one is for against the single currency, the logic is the same. This was disputed by those who felt that all that was required for the single currency to thrive was the new EU fiscal treaty which the UK has declined to sign, when of course, this in effect more or less replicates the Maastricht Treaty borrowing limits which Germany and France were the first to breach. Simply put, political union is necessary if a single currency is to succeed and would certainly realise the goal of “ever closer union” as set out in the Treaty of Rome. Unfortunately the electorate of the EU has never been given the opportunity to vote on this explicitly and given the contempt for democracy inherent in the EU project – whether it is expressed by replacing democratically elected governments in Greece or Italy by EU technocrats or by requiring countries to re-stage referenda on EU treaties until they vote the “correct” way – it seems that electorate never will be. After all, as Lord Wallace claimed, voters do not always like to be told the truth. Which is a pity, because the electorate should be given the opportunity to vote on a coherent plan for political union rather than having imposed on it an incoherent plan by default.
And thus to my main point. Despite the UK having been a net contributor to the EU since joining, despite applying adopting EU regulations into domestic law with a suicidal rigour beyond the wildest dreams of even the most committed eurocrat, despite having been one of only three EU countries that allowed Polish workers and their families to migrate to the UK from the moment Poland joined the EU (which they did in the great numbers normally only seen in refugees fleeing crisis afflicted parts of the world) and despite being a long standing and, in reality, exemplary member of the EU club in deed (if not always in thought) it seems that for Poland, as one of the newest members of the club and the largest net recipient of EU funds, it is simply inexplicable that the UK should have on this one issue the temerity to depart from the prevailing “eurodoxy”. Based on logic and our democratic tradition of debate and rational questioning of authority, when the UK declares: “the (Euro) emperor has no clothes”, rather than finding him some the (eurocrat) tailors repeat ever more loudly the same dishonest message that if only the British we were cleverer and better Europeans they would be able see the clothes. No wonder folk in the UK increasingly find the whole set up so frustrating.