Indeed, the Hungarians will probably be best remembered for the controversial media law which Budapest introduced early on and which was viewed by many as restricting press freedoms.
Warsaw faces challenging days ahead because Poland takes up the presidency at a very complicated time in the EU’s history. First there is the ongoing eurozone crisis, which is far from being resolved. Moreover, euro-skepticism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise. The support of countries that were traditionally pro-European integration has faded away. Luxembourg is perhaps the only one left. Meanwhile the EU’s neighborhoods are in turmoil. The Arab Spring continues to roll on while in the East, Belarus continues to slip deeper into economic crisis, while Ukraine finds itself being increasingly squeezed between Russia and the West. The EU has found itself unable to deal with either one adequately, demonstrating once again a weak and split foreign policy. While in Syria Turkey seems to be filling the EU gap, in the East the Russians are taking advantage of the EU’s weak policies and lack of vision for the region. Therefore, Poland finds itself with quite a full agenda for the upcoming months.
While the responsibilities of the of presidency has been reduced since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, member states still want to leave their mark during their time at the EU helm. Even though Poland is not yet a member of the eurozone (it is aiming to join in 2017), Warsaw finds itself having to finish off what the Hungarians failed to finalize, including bringing a quick conclusion to new legislative rules for eurozone states. Growth needs to be increased, and this means exploring the unused potential of the single market by eliminating existing barriers. It is also crucially important that the EU consider the reasons why the region was hit so badly by the crisis in the first place and takes the necessary measures to avoid a repetition in the future. Certainly, much stronger and coordinated cooperation is required at the EU level with respect to national budgets and the sustainability of public finances. Slower growth and the need to reduce public debt means less money to boost the economy, so Europe will need to find other means to do so.
Being heavily dependent on coal and gas from Russia means that a second big priority will be energy security and in particular making progress on different routes of supply, as well as further diversifying sources, and in particular the EU’s Southern Energy Corridor, which will bring gas from the Caspian to Central and Eastern Europe. Presently all projects aimed at bringing the southern energy corridor to life are being held up due to Turkey failing to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Azerbaijan on gas tariffs and transit. Turkey insists on being an energy “hub,” as opposed to a transit state, meaning it wants to resell gas, something Azerbaijan (as any other state would be) is strongly opposed to.
The Eastern Neighborhood will also figure high on Poland’s list of priorities. The Eastern Partnership Summit in September will be a good opportunity for the EU to engage with partners for European development and to help them become more stable and democratic. The presidency wishes to engage with these countries on trade, concluding the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (CDFTA) with Ukraine, and following the same path with Moldova, Armenia and Georgia. Warsaw also wants to speed up the visa-free talks with Ukraine and Moldova, as well as finalize Ukraine’s Association Agreement, which will bring Kyiv one step closer to its ultimate goal of being an EU member one day.
There is also a strong commitment to have the Accession Treaty with Croatia signed in December and to making progress with other countries in the region. There is strong hope that Serbia may make enough progress to enable the country to have candidate status granted. One of the biggest problems in the region remains Bosnia and Herzegovina with a continuing stalemate between the two communities.
When it comes to Turkey it seems clear that not much is going to happen. The EU has made clear the ball is now in Turkey’s court. However, at a recent conference in Brussels the Polish ambassador said that both the EU and Turkey needed to play a role in getting some momentum back to the talks and getting the negotiations back on track. The stalled negotiations have an impact on the credibility of EU engagement, but Turkey needs to engage in reforms, settle outstanding problems with Cyprus and engage in better relations with EU member states.
Of course this only represents the tip of the iceberg, and Warsaw will have many other issues to deal with too. Good luck Poland!