1 – All animals are equal…
BSSB.BE stratfor.com 14.01.2016
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
The European Union is fragmenting, and Russia is becoming more active in its former Soviet sphere of influence. In such upheaval, it is no surprise that a string of countries running from the Baltic Sea down the Carpathians to the Black Sea is slowly developing a common interest in countering Moscow while chafing under Western European interference. This is especially true of Poland, which sees itself as the natural leader of Central and Eastern Europe. But uniting these countries, whose agendas often conflict with one another and with Poland’s, will not be easy.
Since taking over the Polish government in October, the Law and Justice party has based its domestic governing strategy on introducing measures that extend the party’s political control of the country.
In some ways, Poland is beginning to follow in Hungary’s footsteps by distancing itself from Brussels. Yet unlike Hungary, Poland is more ready to resist Russian influence in the region. Such contradicting trends pervade the countries between the Baltic and Black seas.
Many share common features, including young democracies, painful memories of Soviet domination and growing doubts about the future security of the European Union. But these countries also have their own priorities and interests. Thus Poland’s cooperation with the rest of Central and Eastern Europe (specifically with Hungary, Romania, Lithuania and Slovakia) will most likely happen on a case-by-case basis, making a completely unified region unlikely but working with each country on specific interests no less important.
As Europe becomes more divided, the economic and security benefits that should have come from partnering with the European Union are no longer apparent or certain for some Eastern and Central European countries.
- For that reason alone, Poland and Hungary are and will remain critical of EU institutions. They will defend measures to freeze the process of Continental integration while trying to take back national prerogatives that were transferred to Brussels. Warsaw and Budapest will work together to resist the European Union’s attempts to enforce a scheme to relocate asylum seekers across the Continental bloc.
- They will also support the United Kingdom’s push to introduce safeguard measures for EU members that are not part of the eurozone. Ultimately, Polish-Hungarian relations will improve, as a well-received meeting between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Jan. 7 suggests. Simply put, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and Poland’s Law and Justice are ideologically close: Both seek to expand the central government’s influence on the economy, the media and the political system.
- Poland will also work with other governments in the region. The Law and Justice government, like the previous administration, is interested in extending Poland’s alliances beyond the Visegrad Group (a political alliance that comprises Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) by strengthening ties with Romania. And while Poland and Romania, two of the largest recipients of EU agricultural and structural funds, will likely negotiate together to protect the continuity of both programs, they will also simultaneously resist Brussels’ plan to relocate asylum seekers by refusing to enforce it.
Similarly, Slovakia and Poland mistrust some EU policies, especially those concerning the immigration crisis. Under Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and his socially conservative Smer-Socialist Democratic Party (Smer-SD), Slovakia was among the first to oppose an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers.
Fico even threatened to take the plan to the European Court of Justice and said the country would not accept any Muslim asylum seekers after the Paris attacks were connected to the immigration debate. Since then, the government has been courting nationalist voters in an attempt to win a majority in parliament during upcoming general elections on March 5. Fico is currently leading the opinion polls, implying some support for his Euroskeptic vision and room for cooperation with Poland.
To the east, the fear of Russian aggression is a unifying factor to some degree as well. Romania and Lithuania share Poland’s views when it comes to Russia, supporting stronger ties with NATO in the region and the existing regime of sanctions. Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia are also concerned about the dominance of Russian energy and will cooperate to reduce their dependence on it.
- Poland and Lithuania recently opened LNG terminals, and in late December 2015, Lithuania inaugurated electrical links to Poland and Sweden that will reduce its reliance on Russian electricity. Romania and Poland also want to construct pipelines, interconnectors and LNG terminals while developing their own domestic energy resources.
- Meanwhile, the Ukraine crisis has somewhat changed Slovakia’s calculations. First, Moscow reduced its natural gas supplies to Slovakia after Bratislava sent natural gas to Ukraine through reverse natural gas flows. Second, Slovakia is concerned about Russia’s plans to build pipelines that bypass Ukraine as a transit state.
- Consequently, Slovakia will join Poland in opposing Nord Stream II, a pipeline project that would deliver natural gas to northern Europe, bypassing Ukraine and Slovakia.
Of course, Warsaw is mostly focused on Nord Stream II’s political implications, since the pipeline would bind Germany and Russia closer together — a worrying development given Poland’s history of insecurity between two regional powers. Slovakia is instead concerned about the financial impact of the project, which would cost it billions in lost revenue from transporting Russian natural gas exports to Europe.
Euroscepticism Geopolitics Crisis
- http://www.voxeurop.eu – POLAND AND EUROPE. They want to control Poland again. The front page of the Polish weekly newspaper compares EU leaders Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and Günther Oettinger to the Axis powers. For the columnist, EU pressure on the Polish government apparently regarding its slide towards authoritarianism is really about “the billions of euros that will now stay in Poland or continue to flow towards Germany or France.” Europe’s leaders are spooked not so much the measures they have loudly criticised, but rather by “three projects that the PiS announced in its campaign and that it is currently working on.” These are, Staniszewki adds, “the tax on financial institutions, on hypermarkets and the lowering of tax on revenue. In principle, EU institutions should prevent a single country – Germany of course – dominating the continent. In fact, they have given the most powerful country the ability to exert yet more pressure on the others.
- http://www.politico.eu – Greece pitches ‘new social contract’. The Greek government plans a radical shake-up of the country’s pension system in a bid to impress the markets and press the reset button on its relationship with its EU partners. To ensure “social solidarity,” the government continues to promise there will be “no reduction in primary pensions,” and says the total annual savings of its plan will be €791 million. This is a startlingly precise figure for an effort the government admits will require harmonizing 900 ways to calculate pension entitlements down to one method. Burnt by accusations from poorer EU countries and still developing members of the IMF that Greeks were expecting other countries to subsidize their profligacy, the government now says that two-thirds of pensioners will receive under €1,000 per month, and that just 1.89 percent of pensioners today are receiving more than €2,000 per month.
- http://www.robert-schuman.eu – The defence of Europe before European Defence. The future of Europe “a small cape on the Asian continent” , is linked to the sea. 23 of the 28 Member States have a shoreline of 90,000 km and 3,800 harbour facilities, the European trade fleet is the first in the world and Europe has the biggest businesses involved in the protection and use of the seas, where mankind will soon set sail in quest of the new resources that it requires. In terms of the environment, economy, technology, research, and therefore in terms of protection, security and defence, maritime issues are vital to Europe. When Europe loses interest in the fate of the world the world struggles more and Europe along with it. Let events enable strong response on our part to the demand for security by our fellow citizens i.e. to guarantee our defence that Brussels will accept the temporary change of method in this area and for the member States to be aware of the dangers surrounding us; so that we as Europeans can respond together.