Poland returns to Europe (again)

Incoming and outgoing president of the European Council (Photo by Chancellery of the PM of Poland)

Today it was announced that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk will be packing up his things and moving to Brussels as he will become the 2nd ever permanent President of the European Council.

This comes largely as a surprise, mostly to all those analysts and experts (both domestic and across Europe) who months ago predicted that this is simply not going to happen. Tusk denied interest in the job repeatedly as well.

But this should not be a surprise to anyone who carefully watched the path Poland took after 1989. That year, Poland experienced its first ‘return to Europe’, liberating itself in a bloodless transformation from the sad bloc of crumbling communism.
Poland returned to Europe for the second time when the former Warsaw Pact member joined the NATO. Back then, however, everybody was already anxious to start the road towards the EU.

Exactly 10 years ago we returned to Europe for the third time, joining the enlarged, stronger, and more complicated European Union. Central and Eastern Europe ceased to be the periphery of the continent and became part of its core.

Today Poland returns to Europe, again – this time by virtue of Donald Tusk’s election as the President of the European Council. Fervent enthusiasts and supporters in Poland already began to use the once-forgotten colloquial term for Tusk’s new position: ‘the President of Europe’. Rather obviously, it is fundamental mistake and covering the actual importance of this election.
Donald Tusk is not becoming the President of Europe, because Europe does not want one and does not need one. However, on December 1st Tusk will ascend to the important position of the Chief Engineer of the overly complicated mechanism designed to draw the path Europe is to follow in the next years and decades. Polish – or rather Central-European – impressions about this path make up for a unique perspective. For only 25 years ago – when the new President of the European Council was starting his political career – no one in Poland, including Donald Tusk, could possibly imagine that his country will follow the same path with Germany, France or Spain.

Polish PM’s election to his new European post is a political success and surprise in a domestic context as well. It is the end of an era and the dawn of major changes. Nonetheless, it is far more important and interesting to observe how Poland as a country and political system goes through these changes. The last 7 years of Civic Platform’s rule were, in the history of Polish democracy and its party system, the time of unprecedented political stability, notwithstanding the dramatic consequences of the Smoleńsk plane crash in 2010.
Beneath all the fervour and delight, let’s not forget that Poland „returns to Europe” in the most difficult time for the continent. The European Union is no longer the land of growth and ubiquitous prosperity as it used to be. Our Union is an assembly of problems and a chaos of solutions. The EU, the largest political force in the region, is now being challenged by other regional powers – South America, China along with other ‘Asian tigers’ and – perhaps most pressingly – Russia.

In 2014 Poland is celebrating 25 years from the fall of communism, 15 years since its joined NATO, 10th anniversary of its membership in the EU – all the times the troubled country has been ‘returning to Europe’. The extent of its success during the past 25 years will be the impact and the effectiveness with which a Pole can guide Europe through one of the most daunting challenges in her post-war history.

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