Opinion: Poland must stop alienating Europe

Warsaw’s ‘Law and Justice Party’ is now embroiled in three major disputes with the EU and Germany. Judy Dempsey writes in Carnegie Europe that Poland is alienating itself from its neighbours, and must stop ‘damaging its own interests’.

By Max Caskie

Polish President Andrzej Duda

War Reparations

Warsaw’s parliament research service has concluded that the country has a ‘right to demand reparations from Germany for the loss of life and damage it suffered during World War Two.’ The statement was issued on Tuesday, and has been met with ire in the German capital. Poland maintains that it was ‘bullied by the former Soviet Union not to seek reparations’ in 1953, and that the figure could be as high as $1 trillion. Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed under Nazi occupation. Several cities were destroyed, with Warsaw having been razed to the ground after a failed uprising in 1944.

Angela Merkel’s government responded by saying that Germany has already paid reparations on an ‘enormous scale’. Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, stated, ‘In the German government’s view, there is no reason to doubt the validity under international law of the act of declining reparations 1953…Therefore this question is in our view resolved both legally and politically.’

Bialowieza Forest

Since July, tensions have increased between Poland and Europe over logging in Bialowieza, home to the continent’s oldest forest. According to Deutsche Welle, Poland argues that ‘the logging is necessary to fight an outbreak of bark beetles.’

European Bison in Białowieża Forest

Currently, an injunction has been ordered against Poland to cease logging as the EU high court investigates the case. By ignoring this injunction and continuing to allow logging, Poland risks further infringement procedures, and the EU executive may ‘withhold EU structural funds from Poland – something allowed in EU treaties, but never used before. Poland receives 21 billion euros ($25 million) in EU structural funds each year, much of it for environmental protection.’ If found guilty, Poland could face a minimum fine of 8.4 million euros.

The Polish Judiciary

Simultaneously in July, the European Commission raised a separate legal battle against Poland over a new domestic law that may undermine the independence of Polish courts. The new law enables the Minister of Justice to choose (and remove) Court Presidents, prolong the mandate of judges who are of retirement age, and discriminates over gender through introducing different retirement ages for male and female judges. The Commission has given Poland one month to amend the law, or face a referral to the European Court of Justice.

Puzzling Attitudes

Poland has lost an ally with Brexit – the former believed Britain acted as a counterweight to the ‘Franco-German axis’. But rather than reaching out to its neighbours —Poland ‘is alienating Germany, the bloc’s most important country.’

Until recently, Poland was in favour of a strong European Comission (the very commission that it now faces in court), and European integration. Now, fighting two separate legal battles with serious ramifications, the latest decision to revisit the reparations issue will ‘only exacerbate its already strained ties with Germany.’