Welcome to the new site. I wrote a piece for the Polish tabloid Fakt last week about President Komorowski’s trip round Europe. The Polish version is here (well translated btw–thanks to whomever did it). The English version reads as follows:
Even his friends do not claim that President Bronisław Komorowski is sparkling company. He speaks no foreign languages and has never lived abroad. He has no expertise in world affairs, no close friendships with foreign leaders. He is not Donald Tusk or Radek Sikorski. But he is a sensible man representing a country that matters. He will find no difficulty in gaining meetings and audiences.
Not that the competition is very strong. Most presidents from “new Europe” are lightweights, cranks or political meddlers: Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic is a notorious example. Foreign leaders are tired of his bizarre theories about the menace of the EU superstate, or the green conspiracy behind global warming. They shudder when Romania’s rumbustious Traian Băsescu wants to visit. They find Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaitė insufferably self-important.
They thought Lech Kaczyński was tiresome too: his tussles with the Polish government about the minutiae of foreign policy, such as appointments, places at meetings and so on, and his overpowering sense of historical grievance stoked old stereotypes of Polish amateurishness, complexes and unpredictability.
Mr Komorowski heralds a different era: a sensible man working with his government colleagues rather than against them. Poland’s strong economy and stable politics, along with the upcoming EU presidency next year, mean that Polish ideas are taken seriously as never before. Mr Komorowski’s personal biography may be quite similar to his predecessor’s. But what he represents is a quite different country and mindset, conditioned not by the troubles of the past but the opportunities of the present.
The big question is what happens next, after the sighs of relief and the polite welcomes are over. What about the ideas themselves? Mr Komorowski shows every sign of sticking loyally to the script written by Mr Tusk and Mr Sikorski. He promotes EU integration and expansion, warns Brussels against neglecting “new Europe”, sharply distances Poland from the Kaczyński-era romantic attachments to Ukraine and Georgia, cautiously praises the apparent change of heart in Russia, and maintains a loyal but moderate Atlanticism.
That is fine as far as it goes. But it is vulnerable to events. What happens if Russia turns nasty again? The Polish government has bet heavily on the Kremlin’s sincerity in the year since Vladimir Putin’s half-apology at Sopot. Is there a “Plan B”? What happens if Barack Obama’s administration reciprocates the lukewarm and apathetic approach that Europe already displays towards America? Will Poland support more EU bailouts for the spendthrift countries of southern Europe? Poland’s foreign policy looks fine in good weather; it has yet to be tested by storms.
Another question is Mr Komorowski’s own role. Will he be content to be a general message-runner for the government, attending state funerals when Mr Tusk is too busy? To be a really effective foreign-policy figure he will need to learn English, at least for use in private meetings. I suspect not. Being decent and boring has worked well for him so far. His current crop of headlines may be the first and best.