The possibility of a 'Polexit'

Poland may possibly follow the United Kingdom in leaving the European Union, Elizabeth Meade explains.

Elizabeth Meade
16th February 2021
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Brexit, voted on in 2016, is the widely-known (and frequently put-off) plan for the UK to leave the EU. However, the UK is not the only country to be rumored to be doing so - Poland may be making its own 'Polexit' as well. Although the government, led by the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, denies its desire to leave the EU, many citizens worry that a move to leave the EU is in the works, particularly after the Polish and Hungarian governments threatened to veto the EU's 1.82 trillion-euro budget, which would be necessary for countries to receive COVID-19 recovery funds.

One of the main ideological conflicts sparking this concern is the EU plan to deny funding to nations that do not follow the 'rule of law.' The 'rule of law' is generally taken to mean that nobody is above the law, i.e. members of the government and citizens alike must follow the law. Many people believe that this rule will mean Poland will need to follow laws protecting LGBTQ+ people in Europe, and according to a recent poll, 81% of PiS supporters 'do not approve any form of formalised relationships between same-sex couples,' as do 51% of Koalicja Polska Party (right-wing Catholics) supporters and 70% of Konfederacja Party supporters (a radical ex-libertarian party) (CBOS, 2019 via euobserver.com). Conservative publication Do Rzeczy even published an article titled 'Polexit: We Have The Right To Talk About It' which postulated that 'Leaving EU is the only response to EU arrogant attempts to inflict LGBTQ ideology on [Poland]...' However, 83% of PiS supporters would rather stay in the EU (IBRiS, 2020), forcing one to question whether Polexit will become a reality.

Another factor impacting desire for a Polexit is anti-German sentiment, as Germany is a key player in the EU. This attitude is not completely unprecedented. Germany has attempted to take over Polish lands for centuries, notably during WWII. However, given that the EU rules would apply to all EU members - including Germany itself - it is difficult to make a well-supported argument for the 'rule of law' requirement as an example of German hegemony.

Brexit itself has influenced Poland as well--indeed, at the time of Brexit, EU approval was already at a low in many European countries. According to a 2016 survey, Polish EU approval was down to 72%, and many countries' approval was even lower: 38% in France and 27% in Greece, for instance (Pew Research Center, 2016). It was common for older citizens and right-wing citizens to favor the EU less, although in some countries (Sweden, Spain and Greece) left-wing citizens were more anti-EU (Pew Research Center, 2016). Since the Brexit referendum, the UK's bold move has undoubtedly been an inspiration to fellow Eurosceptics.

To complicate matters further, the Polish public does not desire Polexit--former presidents Lech Walesa, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski have spoken out against the move, and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski displayed EU flags during the EU summit in order to demonstrate that the Polexit idea 'is not the position of the whole of Poland.' Citizens also depend on EU funding for coronavirus recovery and university students do not want to miss out on the Erasmus study abroad program, which would be at risk if Poland left the EU.

Given the wide political split between the government and the general public, it seems unlikely that Polexit will become a reality at this juncture, but given our current unpredictable political situation, it remains a vague possibility.

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