Fluctuating Relations: What Are the Current Dynamics Between Poland and the EU?

Poland is the most important EU member state in Eastern Europe and plays a pivotal role in the EU’s foreign policy dynamics. Joining the EU in 2004 was a crucial moment in the European integration process that marked the country’s commitment to democracy, market economy, and collective security. However, its foreign policy journey has not always been smooth, reflected in the tension between aspirations for national sovereignty and engagement in the much deeper process of EU integration.

Over the past few decades, Poland has faced a series of challenges that have affected its foreign policy outlook and implementation at the EU level. One of the most contentious issues in Polish domestic politics and its relations with the EU is the migration crisis. In June 2023, the EU finally passed the reformed Immigration and Asylum Seekers Law after a long delay. The Immigration and Asylum Act was agreed to share the burden of refugees fairly between member states. Poland refused to agree to this due to its skepticism of EU migration quotas, which it sees as a threat to national sovereignty and social stability. Around one million immigrants from Ukraine have voluntarily settled in Poland since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but if Poland agrees to the refugee burden, it will only add more social and security problems to Poland’s already alarming population due to the lack of birthrates and a dwindling working-age population using immigrant labor due to the labor crisis.

This step taken by Poland is not only in its national interest but is also supported by other actors within the European Union itself. The Visegrad Group, comprising Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, formed in 1991 as a regional forum to accelerate integration into the European Union, has been transformed into a political alliance that addresses economic and security issues, particularly migration policy. As part of this group, Poland maintains its cultural identity and regional security by changing its immigration policy which tends to pay more attention to cultural identity but still adapts to global demands. In this sense, Poland’s policy changes reflect the complex dynamics involving interactions with neighboring countries and perspectives within the Visegrad group. 

Moreover, in 2021, the narrative of “Polexit” or Poland’s exit from the European Union also emerged, which became a controversial issue in Polish politics. Although no concrete steps have been taken in this direction, speculation about the possibility of Poland leaving the EU has reflected domestic political uncertainty and its potential impact on regional stability. Polexit has also reflected some Poles’ resentment of EU policies that are perceived as intervening too far in domestic affairs, especially in sensitive issues such as the judicial system, rule of law, and media freedom.

The Russia-Ukraine war also highlighted Poland’s important role in Eastern European security. As a country that shares a border with Ukraine, Poland has been a pioneer in supporting sanctions against Russia and strengthening NATO’s military presence in the region. Poland’s response to Russian aggression also emphasizes the country’s importance as a key ally in maintaining stability in Eastern Europe. 

However, Poland also faces major challenges in terms of democratic values and civil liberties at home. Issues such as the judicial system, rule of law, and media freedom have raised serious concerns at the EU and international levels. The Polish government under the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) or Right-Wing Party of Poland passed laws that threatened the independence of judicial institutions and restricted media freedom, drawing criticism from various quarters that questioned Poland’s commitment to the fundamental principles of the European Union. 

Despite these fluctuations in relations between Poland and the EU, Poland has an opportunity to play a strategic role in supporting Eastern European integration. This would not only strengthen Poland’s position within the EU but also help realize a more robust and unified vision for European integration as a whole. With this in mind, Poland’s role in EU foreign policy is not just about navigating current challenges but also about taking the initiative to shape a more stable and integrated future for the EU as a whole. By addressing internal tensions and responding coherently to global challenges, Poland can play an important role in promoting security and stability in Europe. 

If we try to keep looking ahead, Poland’s engagement in the EU will continue to be tested by complex domestic political dynamics and the demands of adapting to an increasingly changing security environment in Europe. Polexit, as a controversial issue, reflects not only the divisions in Polish politics but also its potential impact on the stability and strength of the EU as a whole. Therefore, the challenges and opportunities faced by Poland in EU foreign policy cannot be separated from the discussion about the future of European integration and Poland’s role within it.

[Photo by Kpalion, via Wikimedia Commons]

Farhan Hamdi Pratama is a student majoring in International Relations at Andalas University in Indonesia. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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