On Monday, June 27, the Polish state news channel, TVP Info, reported that at a meeting in Prague, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault presented the top diplomats from the Visegrád Four (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) with a nine-page document that included a plan to create a «European superstate». The Polish television station described the document as an «ultimatum», referring to the fact that the constituents of this prospective superstate would lose their sovereign right to their own armed forces, national currency, and separate tax system. What’s more, the member states of the proposed supranational entity would lose control over their own borders, as well the procedures for admitting and relocating refugees.
The Steinmeier-Ayrault memorandum is titled «A strong Europe in a world of uncertainties» and was drafted, as it turned out, prior to the referendum on Great Britain’s departure from the European Union. But in any event, the Brexit has facilitated and accelerated the promotion of this «European superstate» project, an idea that took root long ago and has been carefully cultivated for some time.
Warsaw reacted more quickly than the others to the memorandum from the two principal powers of «old Europe». And that reaction was negative. «This is not a good solution, of course», TVP Info quoted Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, «because from the time the EU was invented… a lot has changed. The mood in European societies is different. Europe and our voters do not want to give the Union over into the hands of technocrats».
Such a reaction from the government in Warsaw is no surprise. In European affairs, the policies of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) take their cue from London. Immediately after the results of the UK referendum, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski held emergency talks via telephone with his British counterpart Philip Hammond. Hammond reassured the Polish official, claiming that the Brexit would neither affect London’s level of support for Warsaw nor Poland’s status in NATO.
The second major component of Warsaw’s European policy is the concept of the «containment» of its neighbors: Germany in the West and Russia in the East (and at times «containment» rises to the level of Germanophobia or Russophobia). However, no matter how much Berlin claims not to be contemplating a «superstate», but only to be thinking of how to create a «better Europe» after Great Britain’s pullout, the Poles understand that a «better Europe» in the German mindset means a «German Europe».
Although Berlin and Paris are lobbying for «further European integration», how might that idea play out in Poland’s domestic political environment? First of all, it will dramatically improve the prospects of the Euroskeptics, as well as those overtly hostile to the European Union. Thus it will increase the chances of a Polexit.
Back in February 2016 Paweł Kukiz’s opposition party, Kukiz’15, suggested holding a popular vote about the advisability of Poland’s continued membership in the European Union. That initiative materialized after last year’s presidential election, in which Kukiz, who ran as an independent, took third place, winning 17% of the votes cast by the Polish electorate. «The people of the United Kingdom», states Paweł Kukiz, «have declared themselves to be in favor of withdrawing from the EU… This is a defeat for the project of creating a united Europe that is founded on bureaucracy and limitations… What does Great Britain’s pullout mean for Poland? Unfortunately, nothing good. The British were a counterweight to the centralized aspirations of Berlin, which is now growing stronger».
But those German aims represent the Poles’ greatest fear (their memories of the World War II era are still quite vivid). In a practical sense, the strengthening of Germany’s position could mean a resurrection of the Mitteleuropa project, in one form or another. This concept originated with Friedrich Naumann (1860-1919), a Pan-Germanist, monarchist, and supporter of the military might of the German Empire. In the 100 years that have passed since Naumann began promoting his plan for «Mitteleuropa», which for him embodied the ideal of Pan-Germanism, his idea has repeatedly reemerged in the thinking of German politicians and diplomats.
Wary of this concept of Mitteleuropa, Kukiz feels that by consolidating and expanding the Visegrád Four (currently Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) it will be possible to redress this disruption of the geopolitical balance. The expansion to «Six» would include Romania and Croatia, thus creating the foundation for a union of Central European states (assuming that such a union would have the support of London and, of course, Washington).
The Poles are still quite leery of Germany and concerned about how it might behave in the future. At times this wariness finds radical expression. The political columnist and journalist Rafał Ziemkiewicz writes that Poland’s dependence on the German market and the policy mechanisms of the European Union – which cannot function without Germany – are turning that nation into a German colony.
That is certainly an exaggeration. But the idea that a «strong Europe» will inexorably begin to resemble a German Europe is, however, no exaggeration.