Don's diary: pushing poland into a europe sans frontieres

June 6, 2003


Victory in Europe day and high jinks in Edinburgh yesterday when our new MSPs were sworn in, many taking the oath of allegiance to the Crown under protest. Even the outgoing speaker, Sir David Steel, noted that anachronism was heavy in the air. Odd how lacking in "modernising" zeal new Labour is when it comes to parliamentary practice.


To Warsaw as a guest of the Polish Senate for a gathering of Poles from across Europe. The European Union referendum is on June 7 and 8, and the government needs to pull out all the stops to get its "yes" vote with decent participation (below 50 per cent and there will be trouble just when the Polish administration is in disarray - president falling out with premier, bribery scandals, unemployment approaching 20 per cent). We meet to hammer out a resolution. Debate centres on whether the group is "convinced", "believes", "judges" or merely "notes" that Poland will do well out of EU membership. We settle on the strongest variant - jestesmy przekonani (we are convinced).


The Senate speaker tells us that our help is needed to keep accession on track. The emigre community must vote, and the rest of us (I am a Scot of Polish-Italian extraction) need to make sure that our parliaments ratify accession in good order. Jan Ciechanow-ski, emeritus professor of history at Thames Valley University, adds: "If not the EU, then where to go?"


The annual Europe Meeting of the Polish branch of the Schuman Foundation and the Polish president, Aleksander Kwas+niewski, fresh from a chilly meeting with Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder in Wroclaw, looks forward to a renewed integration impulse in 2004. That could be some way off as officials say that the most important thing the three discussed was the weather.

It is disappointing to see how the Warsaw political elite, from ex-communist president to former Solidarity activist Adam Michnik, editor of Poland's leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, have opted for the George W. Bush line on Iraq. Michnik is particularly forthright: "From the viewpoint of a victim of Saddam [Hussein], it's of no interest whether freedom comes from UN resolution or not." But a German history professor, Heinrich Winkler of Humboldt University, points out that the new doctrine of pre-emptive military action destroys the UN system. Europe must argue for the liberal tradition despite the inclement atmosphere. Alas, Poland's leaders are preoccupied with contracts for Iraq's reconstruction.


The Airbus "infomaps" tell us we are over Hanover. We reach London more or less in a straight line these days without the detour that used to take us up to Gdan+sk and over the Baltic to avoid German Democratic Republic airspace. Europe without frontiers - is it possible? We still have a long way to go - Geneva and Oslo remain outside our union, as do Kiev and Istanbul.

Read the scurrilous but immensely popular paper Nie, whose front-page story on Iraq is "Down with the Polish occupation". A Polish sociologist notes that an international role is just the tonic for a nation exhausted by daily revelations of scandal and corruption. I feel uneasy about all this but cheer myself up by imagining a huge surge in demand for European studies courses in UK universities and plenty of work for Polish specialists.

George Blazyca is professor of European economic studies, Paisley Business School.

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