The first Polish Presidency of the Council
Poland will for the first time be taking over the Presidency of the European Union. The legacy of ‘Solidarity’ is meant to be reflected in the Polish actions and priorities during the six-month Presidency – especially in the new budget agreements and in external and economic policies.
From 1 July to 31 December 2011 Poland for the first time will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In May 2011 the Council of Ministers adopted the 6-month Programme of the Polish Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2011. The main objective is to lead the European Union on a path of faster economic growth and towards an enhanced political community. In order to achieve these goals Poland will concentrate on three basic priorities: ‘European integration as the source of growth’, ‘Secure Europe’ and ‘Europe benefiting from openness’.
When choosing priorities Poland had to reconcile ambitious plans and expectations with possibilities and challenges during the six-months of its Presidency. Some of them are impossible to foresee or tackle.
The most important challenge is the economic crisis that affects the Member States of the European Union. They are facing constrained budgetary revenues, high unemployment rates and social anxieties. In these circumstances it will be difficult for Poland to continue and moderate discussions on the new EU budget. The Commission will publish its proposal for the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 just before the start of the Polish Presidency. Warsaw takes the view that the new EU budget should support the Europe 2020 strategy. Poland, the biggest new EU member from the 2004 enlargement round, has a top priority in maintaining ‘solidarity’ as a leading principle in EU funding. For the country it is also important to secure the future of the Cohesion Policy.
Regarding the need for faster economic growth, the Polish Presidency will give special attention to: development of electronic services, small and medium enterprises, creation of the European patent system and will support reform of the Single Market Act.
The security issue is one of the priorities of the Polish Presidency. According to Warsaw European security includes: the macro economy (improvement of economic governance in the European Union), external energy policy, agriculture (reform of CAP to be market-oriented and public goods to be taken into consideration), safety of frontiers (Frontex supporting Member States in crisis situations) as well as military and civil matters (consolidation of EU-NATO dialogue and EU foreign and security policy). The Polish government hopes that during the Presidency a new framework of cooperation between the EU and Russia can be established.
Poland will have to face the new ‘trio Presidency’ procedure established under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. Therefore the trio of Poland, Denmark and Cyprus will create many precedents such as planning and implementing their programmes or sharing competences over the eighteen-months.
It should be mentioned that the Polish Presidency was preceded by that of Hungary. It is an opportunity for a Central European perspective in the EU. The countries of the region should be able to use that possibility to enhance their impact on the European agenda. In that context, Polish plans to continue the process of signing association agreements and establishing free trade areas with the Eastern Partnership countries should be noted. Poland wants to achieve a step forward in the enlargement policy by finalising negotiations with Croatia. Poland will also support the efforts of Turkey, Iceland and the European aspirations of the Western Balkans.
The election calendar in Poland should be considered as one of the factors influencing the Presidency. Parliamentary elections are expected to take place in autumn 2011. Political parties however have not been able to reach an agreement on the exact date for elections. The ruling Civic Platform wants them after the start of the Presidency, while the largest opposition party Law and Justice has called for elections in the spring. Exploiting EU-Presidency related issues in the electoral campaign is one of several problems that could threaten Warsaw's image and efforts as a country holding the Presidency.
The Polish Presidency is a huge administrative challenge. It is also perceived as a test of the country’s presence in the EU. The government is encouraged to prepare credible information not only on the role of the Presidency in the European Union but furthermore on the European strategy of Poland as a responsible and reliable partner in the European Union. The Presidency should be perceived above all as a time for Poland to articulate its vision of Europe that promotes solidarity.
Anna Skolimowska, PhD
Polish Bishops’ Conference, European Union Office