The victory of Poland’s conservatives in an election on Sunday should help British prime minister David Cameron as he seeks to redefine his island nation’s European Union membership.
The Law and Justice party that unseated the liberal Civic Platform groups with Cameron’s Conservative Party in the European Parliament and is generally more Euroskeptic. It won an overall majority on Sunday, the first time since Poland emerged from communism that a party will be able to govern without coalition partners.
Cameron, who gave his party its first overall majority in twenty years in an election in May, seeks a looser relationship with Brussels to convince Britons to vote in favor of continued European Union membership in a referendum due by 2017.
Open Europe’s Pawel Swidlicki argues that the Polish election result strengthens Cameron’s narrative about “an EU that has overreached itself and which needs reforms to become more accountable to its citizens and less dismissive of their concerns.”
The British leader made the same argument after nationalist parties made big gains in elections for the European Parliament last year. “The European Union cannot just shrug off these results and carry on as before,” he said at the time. “We need an approach that recognizes that Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs, and not try to do so much.”
The Netherlands and Nordic countries largely share Cameron’s views.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has called for “fewer rules and less fuss from Europe.”
Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Danish liberal leader who returned to power in June, has said it would be a “disaster” for Europe if Britain left the union.
“Some of the points the British are prioritizing match my own thinking,” Rasmussen said this summer, “namely that we need to strike a new balance between the free movement of labor and what welfare services those rights entitle a person to.”
Britain, Denmark and Poland are all outside the euro (although the latter is formally obliged to eventually join the single currency) and worry that a eurozone core, led by powerful Germany, could eventually act against the interests of the outsiders.
Sweden, another non-euro state, has warned against relegating countries like it to “second-class members of the European Union.”
According to Swidlicki, Law and Justice in Poland could be a strong ally for Cameron in his bid to achieve a more flexible Europe in which not every member state has to pursue the objective of “ever-closer union.”
However, Cameron’s renegotiation objectives risk setting in stone the very two-speed Europe Sweden worries about.
As the Atlantic Sentinel reported earlier this year, Germany has proposed to link its push for a more integrated eurozone with the United Kingdom’s desire for a less closer union. That could formalize the divide between insiders and outsiders.
Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has said this is the point. “We seek reforms that will allow those countries that want to integrate further to do so while respecting the interests of those that do not.”
At least under the last government, Poland resisted this British objective and aligned itself closely with Germany for deeper European integration. It remains to be seen if Law and Justice will be willing to give up influence in Brussels if that is the price to pay for “less Europe.”
There are other areas of disagreement, writes Swidlicki. Britain’s Conservatives favor free trade; Poland’s are protectionist. The former want to limit labor migrants’ access to benefits, something all parties in Poland — which has sent millions of workers to other European Union states — oppose.