Poland and 16 other EU states have signed a joint letter handed over to the President of the European Council pledging support for a free market approach within the EU.
According to Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita”, the letter shows that an alliance has formed inside the EU against restrictions on competition that have recently been pushed by France and Germany. The paper observes that until now it was Britain that was the advocate of free-market policies in the EU, but since its decision to leave the EU the role of being the leader of states advocating free-market solutions has fallen to Poland.
“Rzeczpospolita” notes that the letter is signed by only one head of a member state government, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki. This underlines the importance Poland attaches to this initiative and to its desire to help promote its exporters and service providers on Europe’s single market.
The coalition line-up
The 17 signatories include the Baltic states, Czechia and Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia (the west European states did not want Hungary to sign). But they also include western European states such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden Finland, Ireland, Portugal and Malta.
The common thread which seems to link all these states is that they are all countries which have made considerable efforts to make their economies competitive and want to have the opportunities for them to develop further.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister responsible for EU matters, Konrad Szymański, told “Rzeczpospolita” that the letter was part of an effort at consolidating positions of states who favour more competition on the single market. “It is our reaction to the growing risk of protectionism in the EU,” said the minister.
Poland is reacting to developments in the EU such as the posted workers directive and the draft of the transport directive. Both of these are perceived by Warsaw as endangering their road haulage and construction industries by robbing them of their competitive edge.
A coalition which is to block and initiate
It is hoped that a new coalition of 17 states will be able to block any new moves to restrict competition on the single market, even though the coalition is not strong enough to actually force through any pro-competitive measures on its own. It wants to give an impulse to unblocking negotiations over recognition of professional qualifications, exchange of services and to building joint energy, digital and stock markets. It plans to call for the European Commission to identify all common barriers which are blocking further progress on the single market by 2020. Extending the scope of the single market, argue the signatories of the letter, is the only way of avoiding the stagnation of the European economy.
Divergent interest line up
The conflict over the single market was to be expected. France and Germany have successfully used the single market in capital and goods to establish them on European markets. The European market is now awash with French and German banks and supermarkets.
But the single market has not been developing nearly as quickly on the service and labour market side. These are of particular interest to the member states that joined in the noughties who need them to compensate for their lack of economic capacity on the capital and goods side of the equation.
The myth of Poland being isolated exposed?
The present Law and Justice government in Poland has been accused by the opposition of being isolated in the EU and it has been embroiled in conflict with the EC over its judicial reforms and migration issues. This initiative and Poland's prominent place in it seems to give the lie to the fears that Poland is a pariah in the EU.
However, it is important to remember that a letter does not a solid coalition make.
Poland recently thought it had a blocking coalition to stop the passage of “ACTA2” (the copyright directive) in the European Council. But when push came to shove it was left alone among the Central and Eastern European states and the measure was approved. Similarly, Poland lost the battle over the posted workers directive. German and French clout and the ability to create temporary alliances to get their way should not be underestimated.
Nevertheless, it may be a sign of growing confidence in Poland that it is able now to move to attempt to build coalitions which are “for” rather than “against” something. Of late, Poland has been focused on building blocking coalitions, sometimes to stop EC actions against it (Article 7 proceedings on the rule of law issue). Now Poland is engaged in building a coalition which will attract support both here in Poland and also abroad.