Ivan Krastev: “A Polexit could happen, not by strategy, but by accident”

Ivan Krastev is a political scientist and President of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. It analyzes the roots and consequences of the persistent conflict between the European Union and certain member countries on the rule of law, foremost among which are Poland and Hungary.

Tensions between Warsaw and the European Union (EU), linked to the independence of the judiciary, are at their highest. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki even told the “Financial Times” that the Commission’s attitude threatens to start a “third world war”. What does this unprecedented crisis in the EU reveal?

It must first be seen as an element of Polish domestic policy. The society is polarized between a conservative right and a more liberal fringe of the population, engaged in a form of cultural war. For the conservatives, the question of national sovereignty is central. However, the Prime Minister intends to be the defender, especially since he must show no sign of weakening to his coalition partner, more to the right. This crisis is not about whether to leave the EU. The vast majority of Poles do not want it, unlike the British during Brexit. Rather, it lies in the nature of the Europe that everyone wants.

However, the two parties do not seem to speak the same language. On the one hand, the Polish government – like that of Hungary – wants a Europe of Nations functioning as a common market, but refuses that it can interfere in its internal affairs. Why not. For the Polish government, defending the country’s sovereignty means concentrating strong powers in its hands, which has led to the problematic loss of independence of the judiciary. On the other hand, the EU intends to protect the freedom and rights of European citizens and businesses, wherever they are in the EU. Brussels should approach the problem from the angle of the political regime and not from the angle of Polish sovereignty. And ask the following question: do you have to be an authoritarian regime to be a sovereign state?

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Do these differences of opinion not highlight a fundamental misunderstanding dating back to the entry of the Eastern European countries into the EU?

It should be remembered that 1989, unlike 1945, was not a defeat of nationalism in Europe. Nationalists and liberals joined forces to overthrow communism, which was then seen as an internationalist regime that had suppressed national sovereignties. The countries of the East wanted to get rid of this postcolonial feeling and gain their independence. Today, some leaders are trying to convince their constituents that the EU represents a new colonialism. Even if the citizens are aware that Brussels is not Moscow, the leaders play on this nationalist fiber.

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Ivan Krastev: “A Polexit could happen, not by strategy, but by accident”