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Can Poland be part of the hard core of European defence?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Krakow on November 11 (credit: PiS)

(B2) Poland clung to Permanent Structured Cooperation at the last minute. We could rejoice because Warsaw's absence from most European projects was disturbing. But this membership was not made without reservations or anti-European declarations. Which poses quite a problem.


First of all, we can notice that Poland insisted on adding a declaration to the implementation of the permanent structured cooperation. It is the only country to have made this official step. Even if the legal value of this document can be discussed, its political value is indisputable. It appears contradictory with all the declarations made around this cooperation indicating that the 20 commitments form a whole which cannot be separated and cannot be subject to reservations. This poses a problem of form.

An underlying will to block

Basically, the letter appears fairly innocuous and merely emphasizes certain principles, even if certain terms are ambiguous. This ambiguity was removed by the statements of the Polish Defense Minister. Antoni Macierewicz goes further than the very content of the declaration intending to condition Polish support on the absence of parallel structures between the EU and NATO (read Poland sets three written conditions for joining PESCO). Statements made only in Polish, but which we have every reason to take seriously because it is this minister who will sit within PESCO. We can therefore trust him that his ambition will not be to develop European cooperation but, on the contrary, to curb and limit it.

A lack of European dynamics

At the industrial and operational level, Poland is currently absent from all major European defense projects, which is surprising for a country of this size. It does not participate in EATC, the Air Transport Command. It takes part in virtually none of the "major" military operations and missions (Mediterranean, EUTM in Africa, anti-piracy), although it claims to have "one of the most powerful armies in Europe". It does not take part in any of the European defense structuring projects (A400M, NH90, MALE drones, tankers, etc.), almost systematically gives preference to American equipment over European equipment and has even withdrawn from the Eurocorps ( read : Poland slams the door of the Eurocorps, out of political resentment).

A major problem: political

Added to this is a general attitude of a political, historical and philosophical nature.

Kaczyński's anti-Semitic outburst

In an Independence Day speech in Krakow on November 11, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the PiS (Law and Justice) — the ruling party — and his legitimate authority, made a particularly harsh outing to demand , again, war reparations to the Germans, based on an argument that is surprising to say the least...

“The French were compensated, the Jews were compensated, many other countries were compensated for what they suffered during the Second World War. Not the Poles” “It's not only a material question. It is about our status, our honor. » - Jaroslaw Kaczynski

It is a well-known refrain currently in Poland, which continues to want to make a new reading of history, in a spirit of revenge. But this statement, in addition to its historical inaccuracy (1), constitutes a flagrant departure from the road and is not insignificant. It is absolutely unacceptable coming from a European leader. We flatter, here, not only the patriotic or national fiber, but we flirt more squarely with the darkest anti-Semitic tradition in history, seeming to consider Polish Jews as foreigners (about three million perished during the Second World War). This declaration took place the very evening of a "patriotic" march in Warsaw which saw some neo-Nazi slogans reappear, while leaders of European extremist groups such as the Italian Roberto Fiore were invited to meetings in Wroclaw. is not entirely insignificant.

Finally, this is all the less trivial since this declaration by the leader of the PiS has of course not given rise, to my knowledge, to any official condemnation (difficult to condemn an ​​authority like J. Kaczynski).

A claim that has no circumstantial excuse

Putting the cover back on war reparations seems inappropriate to say the least today, especially since nothing in national political or economic news justifies it. Poland enjoys a healthy economy, is not subject to any drastic reform plan (2). It has its full and complete place in the European institutions (very well represented in the structures and departments of the European institutions). It is not the victim of any ostracism, even if it shows no intention of pursuing a more integrated policy (especially the Euro). (3)

A desire for revenge

Sowing the spirit of revenge, displaying frankly anti-Semitic slogans, are they of the European essence? We can wonder. The European Union was precisely created with a single objective: to silence all national claims in order to work together (the common market or the Euro are only avatars of this political objective). Resuming the fight on this very sensitive issue is also dangerous. Any European country could be inclined today to claim war reparations and damages from its neighbors (4).

A lack of democratic engagement

Admittedly, none of the commitments signed in the PESCO mention any respect for certain values ​​(democracy, human rights, good neighborly relations) but this is intrinsic to the various principles enshrined in the preamble to the Treaty on European Union and in particular to the principle on which the EU's foreign (and defence) policy is based: " the common foreign and security policy [is] based on developing the mutual political solidarity of the Member States ».

A fundamental question

Can a government in which one of the main leaders makes such a declaration be part of a hard core of European defence? The question deserves to be posed clearly and to have an answer. You don't have to be an ostrich. Accepting Warsaw's candidacy, today, in the Permanent Structured Cooperation seems both contrary to the spirit and to the letter of the Treaty and even of this European cooperation.

Beware of a precedent

The authorities who have to evaluate the applications of member countries to PESCO must therefore consider all the elements involved (political, ideological, technical, legal, operational, capacity). The response to these various prisms of analysis produces the same consequence each time: Poland's candidacy must be "suspended", until it clarifies both its political strategy in terms of war reparations, and the conditions it poses to the development of European defence.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) In a way, Poland was "compensated" by being granted a piece of territory that had previously been part of Germany. We can gauge whether this is fair compensation for the annexation of part of its territory by the USSR or not. But it is one of the most important territorial movements of the post-war period.

(2) This reparations debate had resurfaced in Greece, but in a more circumstantial way, linked to the pressures exerted by Berlin to implement stronger economic structural reforms in Athens. The Polish situation is in no way comparable.

(3) The only ongoing proceedings concern the rule of law in Poland and the reform of the judiciary. But each country is in turn the subject of infringement procedures.

(4) The Czech Republic for example for the territories conquered by Poland in 1938 thanks to the German invasion or Lithuania after 1945, etc.

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).