Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Cameron, Paris, ISIS, PiS and Brexit

Hasn't Europe changed since Friday's mass murders in Paris. Fault lines in the UK, in Poland - across the EU - have been redrawn. Complexities intertwine, opinions shift and reshape.

How many Europeans now favour Schengen? How many now favour greater state powers to intercept our e-mails and mobile phone calls? How many suddenly have qualms about letting large numbers of migrants from the Middle East into their countries?

And what does this all mean for the future of Europe, Britain's place in the EU, and Poland's new government? Five events stand out as significant.

1) The Kalashnikovs used in Friday's murders are said to have come from the Balkans. Criminal gangs there are making money selling automatic rifles and rocket grenades to Islamist murderers. Once inside the Schengen area, the weapons passed freely all the way to Paris via Brussels. Schengen's border with the Balkans runs through Slovenia and Hungary. Now, both countries have put up anti-migrant fences along their southern borders to cries of outrage from the well-meaning European left. But how many of them now feel a bit more secure now that a well-worn gun-smuggling route has been cut? The happy notion of open borders between Schengen members is beginning to look like becoming an anachronism.

2) One of the murderers, it is suggested, had entered the EU as a refugee from Syria, passing through Greece in September. How many more 'sleeper' ISIS terrorists have slipped into the EU posing as migrants? Alright, the vast majority of those refugees are fleeing the same murderous thuggery as Paris experienced last week. But if even 1% of those hundreds of thousands seeking asylum in the EU are ISIS sleepers, or simply have the potential to be radicalised, then yes - many more people today are thinking it's better to be safe than sorry than thought this last week.

3) Solidarity with the people of France - Wembley Stadium - scores of thousands of Englishmen singing the Marseillaise and shouting 'Vive la France!' is moving. How many of them were hitherto Little Englanders with a less-than-secret liking for Nigel Farage? The evacuation of central Hanover this evening shows that the threat hangs over the whole of Europe. So - shared insecurity and feelings of solidarity are bringing Europe closer together emotionally, while at the same time the same fears are closing European countries off from one another physically.

4) Russia draws world attention away from its crimes in Eastern Ukraine, as Putin talks about cooperating with France to punish the perpetrators of last month's terrorist bombing of a Russian passenger jet killing 221 civilians over Sinai. Russia's early intervention in Syria was mainly directed at anti-Assad rebels rather than ISIS. The attack on Metrojet Flight 9268 is another factor changing things. Putin changing his spots? Don't be taken in, West. Today, Ukraine reported 25 ceasefire violations in the Donbass.

5) Poland's new government. Amateurs, Dude. It will take PiS a while to settle in. The new ministers' top fonctionnaires will - I hope - give them some lessons in how not to put their feet into their mouths, especially in the international arena. (That's where the undersecretaries of state and department heads are not being summarily sacked.) PiS is Eurosceptic, though not daft enough to want to try to pull Poland out of the EU. As such, PiS has much in common with David Cameron. There can be some interesting talks ahead between the UK and Polish governments on issues that will affect Cameron's EU negotiations. PiS might want to fight unto the death for Poles' rights to in-work benefits in the UK, but then Cameron should remind them that President Duda campaigned on a platform of 'no sale of Polish fields and forests to foreigners'. 

The arguments and battle-lines are changing as swiftly as clouds scudding across a storm-blown sky. The outcome of the UK's Brexit referendum is totally in the air - it could go either way.

One thing the new Polish government needs to be VERY MUCH AWARE OF as it deals with Cameron: Poland NEEDS the UK in the EU. It needs a strong EU as a backstop against the Kremlin's neo-imperial ambitions. Poland needs the UK in NATO. It needs the UK as a strong ally. Winding up the Brits to the point of provoking a Brexit over the threat to remove access to tax credits for Poles working in the UK makes no sense. Poland was partitioned by Russia for 123 years, then occupied by the USSR for a further 45 years after five years of Nazi occupation. Membership of a strong, united EU is Poland's best guarantee that the Kremlin will not try to push Russia's borders westwards. Poland's PiS government must do all it can to ally with Cameron and make the necessary adjustments to the EU to keep the UK in. And keeping the UK in is more likely to keep Scotland in the UK.

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
Foggy days and Warsaw's airports
This time five years ago:
Local elections - the lure of ultra-localism

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is so nice to see someone so optimistic and involved in relation between Poland and the UK, but let's not indulge in fantasy :-)

There never was any serious link between Poland and the UK.

Polish migrants to the UK can be considered "lost" from the local perspective. They will be assimilated within two generations. In case of Brexit they will apply for UK citizenship and will assimilate within a single generation.

There is no economic links to speak of either: the trade between Poland and the UK equals that of Poland and Czech Republic.

British people are completely indifferent to Eastern Europe.

And frankly speaking the question of British exit will be watched in Poland as an interesting but exotic development on the periphery of the EU. UK's ties with the "old" Europe may be strong but there are examples of Switzerland, Norway, Island and Kerguelen Islands ;-)

The result of the British referendum depends entirely on the internal dynamics within the conservative party. The list of negotiation points is so vague or obvious or irrelevant that the result of those negotiations can be called success either way.

It is quite possible that there will be no negotiations at all with everybody busy fighting ISIL, dismantling Schengen and reinstating strict border controls the issue of "negotiations" will be left to Mr Cameron entirely. He will be received in several European capitals, then in Bruxelles, there will be some nodding and sighing over the "difficulty" of his list of requests and then he will be left to decide by himself what recommendation he has for the referendum.