Polish leaders at odds with EU mainstream

For a country that has viewed European Union membership as the crowning moment in its triumphant march back from communist rule, Poland's leadership has certainly been acting strangely lately.

Until recently, Poland's population seemed skeptical of joining the EU, coddled and pushed into it by the government.

But since elections in September ousted the old government, experts say the currents have reversed. The new leaders, President Lech Kaczyinski, and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw, are leery of EU membership, while the population has formed a bond with both the idea of a united Europe and the 60 billion euros in subsidies that will arrive from Brussels from 2007 to 2013.

Experts say they detect a nationalism in Warsaw's new foreign policy that could make things very difficult for a Union grappling to forge a common energy policy and new constitutional treaty. The brothers "are very parochial in their foreign policy," says Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform in London.

Tensions between Poland and other EU countries have been laid bare recently. President Kaczyinski's public call earlier this month to bring back the death penalty brought angry reaction from Brussels, which doesn't consider it a "European value."

"A country like Poland, which benefits from the EU, looks strange when the leaders stand there and say 'bad EU,'" says Bascha Mika, the editor the German newspaper Tageszeitung, in which the offending satire appeared.

A foreign policy based on national pride and the traditional mistrust of neighbors Germany and Russia could make things difficult for the country as soon as this fall, when current EU president Finland hosts an EU-Russia summit.

The Kaczyinski brothers' deep skepticism of Russia – which provides the majority of Poland's gas supply – could make it difficult for the EU and Russia to agree on a common, mutually beneficial energy policy, says Mr. Grant.

But the true test of EU readiness will come in the middle of next year, when the European Union decides what to do with the constitution that French and Dutch voters torpedoed in public votes last year.

Grant foresees problems for Poland if they push national interests ahead of Europe.

"If Poland decides to be [stubborn] in that negotiation," he says. "Then it will soon be very isolated."

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