Kataryna Wolczuk

By turning its back on Poland’s leadership role in eastern Europe, the ruling Law and Justice Party is jeopardizing the country’s security and its standing in the EU.

Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership in 2009, Poland has been the most important member state in driving the engagement with the EU’s eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. But as the 4th biannual summit begins, Poland has seemingly abandoned its former policy, risking the political and economic development of these important partners, and in particular, the stability and integrity of Ukraine.

At the operational level, Polish diplomats and experts continue to contribute: Poland has the most impressive expertise on the post-Soviet countries in Europe and many think-tanks are working hard to promote closer ties. But the Polish political leadership is not only hesitant to promote the policy, it has seemed at times directly antagonistic to it, by, for example, re-stoking historical tensions with Ukraine, traditionally the most important of these relationships.

As a frontline NATO and EU state, Poland should benefit from having a strong, stable and friendly Ukraine as a neighbour. But domestic politics and ideology have come together to push foreign policy in a different direction.

Firstly, the ruling party Law and Justice party (PiS) has deliberately abandoned the policies of the previous government led by the Civic Platform under Donald Tusk – on principle, almost irrespective of their utility. As a result, not only has the Eastern Partnership been downgraded, but it has in effect been replaced by a seemingly deliberate attempt to stoke confrontation with its two key neighbours – Germany and Ukraine. Thus, domestic electoral objectives have become drivers of foreign policy.

Increasingly, PiS politicians and officials seek to outbid each other with ever more shrill accusations, typically historical, against Ukraine and Germany. The question of German reparations to Poland is once again on the political agenda; Ukraine is once more recast as the ‘historical foe’. In both cases, PiS has positioned itself as the defender of Polishness, meaning that by implication Civic Platform under Tusk betrayed Poland’s best interests to its worst enemies. This stance goes down well with the right-leaning part of the Polish electorate and leaves the party well placed when it comes to elections.