Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

Poland slams the door of the Eurocorps, out of political resentment. A strategic mistake (V2)

Poland renounces its signature. She reconsiders her decision to be part of the Eurocorps – in September 2016 General C. Podlasiński with General Ramirez commanding the Eurocorps (credit: Eurocorps)

(B2) B2 pro readers (read: Notebook 24.03.2017) had the scoop. The information is now official and has made the rounds in the newspapers. The Polish government deliberately chose to withdraw from Eurocorps. Officially, it is a question of having more troops to confront the East (see box). Unofficially, we know very well, the reality is quite different... it is a strictly political decision, even political, which has nothing to do with the historical interests of Poland, but is one of the many avatars of the rancor between the two sister parties of the Polish right – the Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS) (1) – and the desire of the new government to refuse any additional steps towards European integration as well as to develop defense Europe.

A long-prepared decision

The previous government (of the PO civic platform, led successively by Donald Tusk and Ewa Kopacz) had prepared Poland's passage as a framework nation of the European Corps. A carefully considered decision which was not only symbolic but had a deep political meaning: Poland was reintegrating into the European heartland. It was in fact able to participate in all decisions and had the “right”, by rotation, to command the European body. On September 1, 2014, an agreement was signed allowing Poland to access this status. Many Polish officers are gradually heading to Strasbourg with this objective. There are still 120 of them today. And this figure was to rise to nearly 200. The official transition was normally planned for 2016 at the latest (with a takeover planned for 2019).

In September 2016, Eurocorps officially announced the news, with a photo of the commander of the Polish land forces, General Cezary Podlasiński, in support. And a photo of the command as it was supposed to be had even been taken.

A very personal “Exit” decision

But the new PiS government has chosen to turn around. First, he played for time, postponing membership of the Eurocorps from 2016 to 2017. Internally, as on the diplomatic side (French, German, Belgian, etc.), it became very noticeable that Warsaw no longer had “really want to get on board” as a diplomat tells B2. In a paper that we were preparing on the Eurocorps, an officer had obligingly indicated to B2 that our statement on the accession of Poland (taken, however, from official documents) was “ false ", or rather " a bit optimistic ", advising us if we wanted to be exact to be the most " possible evasive on an accession date ". But everyone acted as if everything was still possible. No official notification had taken place.

Poland downgrades to second or even third gear

It was the Polish Minister of Defense, Antoni Macierewicz, who made his decision known – which apparently did not seem to have been very collegial. This decision was taken without really consulting his Foreign Affairs counterparts. And the government was careful not to inform public opinion of this. When the news of B2 was picked up on the Polish side, by the radio RMF ( here), the government initially denied the information, considering it to be “fake news” before acknowledging the facts, half-heartedly. Poland could nevertheless remain an associated nation (see box), that is to say without any power over Eurocorps decisions.

For the Eurocorps a political loss more than a military one

For the European body, this defection is a loss on a political level. Poland would have been one of the first Eastern countries to join the European heart formed by the Franco-German couple, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg. But, on a military level, it is not dramatic. It is not a few officers more or less who will make the value, or otherwise, of this European corps. And, in fact, having in its ranks anyone who does not want Eurocorps to be involved in European operations would have been rather negative for all those who want it to be involved more significantly in European operations (or of NATO).

A country that no longer really counts militarily

It has been several years since Poland ceased to be counted in Europe as a country that engages in military matters. This in itself is paradoxical: while the budget for the army is increasing (Poland has reached a budget of 2% of GDP), its troops are today confined to playing “toys” in the barracks or in the woods to train in case the Russians cross the border... in the purest remake of the Tartar desert. The time of significant engagement in Iraq in 2003 or in Afghanistan or even Chad in 2008 is over. Today, the Polish army is virtually not involved in any European missions or military operations: neither in the Mediterranean nor in the Indian Ocean, and even less on the African continent, unlike its Eastern neighbors. , who have always insisted on participating in at least one or two operations/missions, some in a notable way (2). A non-engagement which has a more political than military reason.

A decision that runs counter to… European and Polish history

Politically, for Poland, this news is rather contradictory. After having officially fought in Rome against a multi-speed Europe (3), Warsaw decided to leave the first circle, to downgrade to second or even third gear. This is another sign that Poland wants neither European integration nor a Europe of Defense. But this is not really in line with the tradition from the Solidarność union, carried by the entire Polish intelligentsia... and the peasantry, of integration as close as possible to the European heart, to be present politically, to influence the decisions, to show that Poland is a country that matters. This is a strategic error...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

The contradictory reaction of the Polish government

The Polish Ministry of Defense wanted to react on Tuesday in a communicated published – only in Polish, English being reserved only for “positive” news. A press release (translated by us) could not be more contradictory. On the one hand, the ministry denies having withdrawn from Eurocorps. On the other hand, he confirms having deliberately “ abandoned the role of framework nation in the command of the Eurocorps " and " decrease its commitment within 3-4 years ». This decision being two according to him to three causes. The first is operational. It derives from " the need to reduce participation” in view of a “increased burden on the armed forces arising from the implementation of the resolutions of the NATO summit in Newport and Warsaw, including the strengthening of the Eastern flank of NATO within the framework of collective defense ». The second reason is more political, Warsaw criticizes “ the change in the nature of Eurocorps' activity, which risks weakening the role of Eurocorps in the implementation of tasks within NATO, in particular collective defense » (NB: Here we have the official translation of the political and non-military intention of this withdrawal). Finally, Warsaw complains of being mistreated by having to “ Commit too many resources [proportionately] compared to other framework nations, as we have repeatedly emphasized » (NB: a fairly common refrain in the tone of victimization). In fact, what seems to particularly bother the Polish ministry in the word “Eurocorps” is the word “Euro”. He considers, in fact, that according to “ its plans and expectations, the Eurocorps should retain the capacity to carry out tasks arising from participation in the NATO force structure as a high-readiness body », like the VJTF.

(1) We can also see it as a decision as a logical continuation of the Caracal affair with Airbus: it is a question of “breaking the feet” of the allies, in particular France, Germany and Spain, the most committed. in defense Europe. A decision that closely resembles the decisions taken by Barroso's Portugal or Berlusconi's Italy, which in the 2000s constantly put obstacles in the way of the countries best able to defend a certain autonomy. of European defense. All under the influence of certain American officials (not all) believing that NATO should have the first word on any defense commitment. We find this tropism and this influence in the current Polish government which never ceased (before the arrival of Obama) to defend the establishment of an American anti-missile shield, even if this device was not not shared by all Europeans.

(2) The Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia) have thus made a point of participating in a sometimes notable way in the missions in the Central African Republic. They have also regularly provided (together with Lithuania) on-board protection teams (VPD) for ships against piracy (EUNAVFOR Atalanta). The Czechs have been present in Mali since the beginning, ensuring the protection force of EUTM Mali, with courage (read EUTM Mali HQ attacked in Bamako. A new target in the Sahel: Europe), the Slovaks send a small contingent aboard the German ship participating in Operation Sophia (read: Slovaks in the Mediterranean), the Hungarians provide (with the Austrians) the hard core of the EUFOR operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Outside the EU, Georgians, Ukrainians and Serbs are regularly present in EU military operations: the Central African Republic for the first, anti-piracy for the second, training missions for the third.

(3) In fact, when Beata Szydło threatened to veto the declaration, the game was already set, Poland had obtained everything it could have in this declaration, and the Polish Prime Minister's Sherpa had approved the text of the declaration without finding fault with it, from Monday. The rest was just political gesticulation intended to show the eyes of Polish public opinion how influential Polish diplomacy is, and how much its Prime Minister weighs on the European scene. Read : Europe wants to ensure the defense and protection of the population (Rome declaration)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).