How has the UK’s decision to leave the EU been received in Poland?
Polish politicians received the initial news with both surprise and disappointment. Very few expected the Brexit referendum to yield the result that it did. Britain’s ruling Conservatives are also a key European ally of Poland’s governing PiS (Law and Justice) party: both movements oppose what they see as excessive EU centralisation. Brexit could therefore seriously weaken Poland’s reach and influence within the EU.
At the same time, some policymakers also see opportunity in Brexit. Development Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who oversees Poland’s economic growth programmes, has travelled to London to convince financial institutions to move part of their operations to Poland. Several Ministers likewise hope that a Brexit would encourage UK-based Poles to return, giving the domestic job market a much-needed uptick.
How concerned are you about the impact on Polish citizens living in the UK?
The Polish government will fight to secure its citizens’ right to stay in the UK post-Brexit. Negotiations with Britain could therefore focus on matters such as freedom of movement and residence rights for Poles who have already settled in the UK. British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as prominent Leave campaigners, already emphasised that Poles who are already resident in Britain will not be deported. Many have also lived in Britain long enough to apply for citizenship. Those forced out of Britain, if any, could end up moving to countries such as Ireland instead.
Informal community relations might also become ever more important. Polish citizens have fallen victim to hate crimes and xenophobia in the UK, prompting a quick reaction from Warsaw. Such attacks have dominated some headlines in Poland, and were even condemned by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his recent State of the Union speech.
Should the UK start negotiations over its future relationship with the rest of the EU as soon as possible?
The Polish government is not pushing the UK to trigger Article 50, which would formally initiate its exit procedures, as soon as possible. States that are putting significant pressure on Britain, such as France, are facing the prospect of domestic anti-EU parties. No major Polish political party, on the other hand, is calling for Poland to leave the EU. Warsaw would prefer a well-negotiated exit to a quick one, especially since it would strongly benefit from a post-Brexit relationship that still includes free movement and easy trade.
Do you think Poland will give any concessions on the free movement of people and access to the Single Market?
Poland is a strong supporter of both free movement and the Single Market. The issue of free movement might, however, prove more important in negotiations with the UK. Many Polish citizens currently live and work in Britain. They often send remittances back home, or return with significant savings and newly gained foreign language skills. The government will likely support their right to travel, work, and stay in the UK.
Britain will probably continue to trade openly with Poland after Brexit, be that through the Single Market or some other type of agreement. Freedom of Movement will prove much harder to arrange and will require tougher negotiations.
Do you think the outcome of the Bratislava summit helped pave way for a stronger Europe post Brexit?
The summit did witness some tensions. Southern member states want less austerity. Germany disagrees. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, keen to pursue a more assertive line on migration and the economy, openly challenged the summit’s conclusions and direction at one point. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also called for treaty changes that would reduce countries’ migration-related duties. Such proclamations must, however, be understood in context: they were designed for a domestic audience, with Renzi and Orbán both trying to address voters ahead of upcoming referenda. They were not, as some journalists suggested, a sign of deeper splits within the Union. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico also stated that the Visegrad Group should veto any Brexit deal that would make EU migrants in the UK seem like ‘second class citizens’. This does not mean that Slovakia would oppose every agreement that excludes freedom of movement, as some media sources suggested. Instead, all Visegrad states want to ensure that their citizens who are currently resident in Britain are treated fairly.
Do you think Brexit will help the Visegrad nations pursue a more nationalist agenda?
It all depends on how ‘nationalist’ is defined. Visegrad states have already called for a less centralised EU in which the nation-state plays a much bigger role. Many regional leaders feel that Brexit could provide them with an opportunity to push for such reforms. The result of the British referendum has certainly allowed Visegrad nations to pursue a sharper rhetorical line towards Brussels. Still, their reform plans have little chance of succeeding, as Visegrad states have limited influence within the EU Council. Their decentralising proposals will also compete with calls for further integration by states such as Italy and perhaps Germany.
Marek Matraszek is Founding Partner of CEC, the leading public affairs agency in central Europe. CEC is a member of the Interel Global Partnership, the global network of independent public affairs consultancies. For more information about our Brexit services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org