Poland's 'intelligent Brexit' means it can have its cake and eat it

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right,speaks in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen , in red, listens. - Ronald Wittek /Pool EPA
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right,speaks in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen , in red, listens. - Ronald Wittek /Pool EPA

Poland has, to borrow a phrase from Michel Barnier, learned the lessons of Brexit.

The European Commission president and Poland’s prime minister both warned the EU could collapse on Tuesday, amid fears of a looming Polexit.

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal triggered a crisis when it ruled national superseded European law, which contradicts a cornerstone of the EU’s treaties.

But Poland is pursuing what some in Brussels call “an intelligent Brexit”.

After the Brexit referendum, EU leaders were united that there could be “no negotiation without notification” of Article 50.

In Brussels there are rarely talks without talks about talks but Theresa May fell for the bluff.

She set the clock ticking on two years of Brexit negotiations with the threat of no deal behind it to draw last minute concessions.

Mateusz Morawiecki and Jarosław Kaczyński, the true leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, will not make the same mistake.

Poland has received €195 billion in EU funds for only about €62 billion in fees since it joined the bloc in 2004. The EU Budget guarantees Warsaw another €139.4 billion in subsidies and €34.2 billion in repayable aid from 2021 to 2027.

Little wonder Mr Morawiecki has branded Polexit fake news.

There is no legal way to kick a member state out of the EU, and Mr Morawiecki faces no domestic pressure to trigger Article 50 because most Poles support EU membership.

Instead it can simply ignore EU rules it doesn’t like and continue to bank the cash from Brussels. The UK in contrast paid more into the EU Budget than it received back in funding.

Ironically, Donald Tusk, the former European Council president, is leading the domestic opposition.

He infamously warned Mrs May against “cherry-picking” while offering her a slice of cake at a humiliating Salzburg summit.

The commission claims it will use all its powers “within days” to bring Poland to heel but it needs strong support from other member states.

Brussels can hit Warsaw with lawsuits and, its strongest card, withhold approval of the disbursement of €57 billion of coronavirus recovery funds.

That carries political risk but alternative routes to freeze EU Budget funds are limited and lengthy.

Mechanisms to strip rogue member states of EU voting rights are hobbled by the need for unanimity among the 27 governments.

Poland and Hungary, veterans of rows with Brussels over the rule of law, have a deal to block any such attempt against the other.

Law and Justice are not freedom fighters. It is a homophobic, nationalist and authoritarian party given to stuffing courts with its political allies.

But as a member of the club, rather than one on the way out, it can veto key EU legislation and gum up the Brussels machine.

That is one reason why Angela Merkel is pushing for the row to be kept off the agenda of Thursday’s EU summit. Despite Emmanuel Macron's support, she may not get her wish.

Even if there is a summit showdown, indecision and division are paralysing EU capitals. They are expected to dodge the issue and kick the can down the road.

Britain was repeatedly told in the Brexit negotiations that it could not enjoy the privileges of EU membership without its obligations.

But, for now, Poland is having its cake and eating it.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting