Photographer: Piotr Malecki/Bloomberg

Poland Sides With U.K. Over Germany as Brexit Debate Divides EU

  • Law & Justice says Europe's integration zeal cause of crises
  • Foreign minister rejects U.K. push to curb immigrant benefits

Poland lauded the U.K. and its vision for a less integrated Europe Union, charting a course away from the bloc’s economic and political driver Germany ahead of a February summit over reforms London wants to stay in the 28-nation club.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in a policy speech that Poland shares views on “major items on the European agenda” as well as security issues with the U.K., which may hold a referendum on staying in the EU as soon as June. At the same time, he refused to support Prime Minister David Cameron’s goal of curbing benefits for immigrants living in Britain, including hundreds of thousands of Poles who moved there after the country’s EU accession in 2004.

Witold Waszczykowski
Witold Waszczykowski
Photographer: Mehmet Kaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“A debate about the future of a European Union beset by crises is of fundamental importance today; crises that were sparked off by not always realistic integration projects such as the common currency, over-regulation and economic governance,” Waszczykowski told parliament on Friday. “We should be looking at these as the reasons behind the Greek crisis and the United Kingdom’s questioning of the idea of an ever-closer union.”

Since ousting a pro-European government in October elections, Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party has raised alarm by increasing its influence over constitutional tribunal and the public media as well as bolstering its surveillance powers. The European Commission this month started an inquiry into whether Poland was backsliding on its democratic commitments and Standard & Poor’s handed the sovereign its first ratings downgrade, citing concern over independence of country’s institutions.

‘Honesty, Openness’

By aligning itself with Britain, Poland -- the biggest beneficiary of the EU budget -- is betting that the Brexit debate will create more room for EU countries to pursue their own policies without interference from Brussels. The government hasn’t specified how it wants to help the U.K. win concessions without hurting the interest of Poles living abroad.

Cameron came for talks with the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday as he prepared to comb through a compromise, set to be ironed out at the Feb. 18-19 summit, to help him keep the U.K. in the bloc.

Poland’s policy shift is a departure from the approach of the previous administration, which pushed for deeper integration and considered Germany its key EU partner. While Germany remains Poland’s most important “neighbor” and economic partner, some “small stock-taking of issues” was needed to make sure future relations continue in the spirit of “honesty and openness,” according to Waszczykowski.

‘Assertive Policy’

“Poland’s foreign policy is an assertive policy, which doesn’t mean that it will be a confrontational policy,” he said.

The government’s stance has helped trigger a sell-off in Polish assets, with the zloty weakening 3.6 percent against the euro this year, the worst performance in emerging Europe. The zloty was 0.9 percent stronger at 6:10 p.m. in Warsaw at 4.4185 against the single currency.

Law & Justice, which has also resisted German-led calls to accept more refugees in Europe, replaced a government whose pro-European approach helped lead to its former head, Donald Tusk, being named president of the European Council. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said he seeks to emulate the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has embraced an “illiberal” democratic model.

“We will keep up dialog and regular consultation at various levels with the most important European partners, in the first place with the United Kingdom,” said Waszczykowski.

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