From October 4th to October 6th Lo Spiegone took part in the “Internazionale a Ferrara” festival. We discussed a series of relevant issues with some of the main speakers of the festival.
Among them, Wojciech Przybylski: Polish journalist, editor-in-chief of the platform Visegrad Insight and chairman of Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw. He is also the founder and leader of the project ‘New Europe 100’ .
Together we discussed the relations between Brussels and the Visegrad Group countries and the results of the last local elections in Poland.
Talking about the future relations between Bruxelles and the Visegrad Group, mainly Poland and Hungary, which direction will the next European Commission take?
Currently, we do not have a Commission yet. We have nominees and those from Hungary, France and Romania will have to change. Therefore, it is also likely that the portfolios for which they are currently applying will change. Hungary wanted for their representative the portfolio on the neighbourhood and enlargement but they may not get it. Romanian candidate was expected to be in charge of transport, so maybe this portfolio will go to Romanians. We will see because the new Commission start was already postponed one month.
When it comes to Central Europe, these countries are currently also punching below their weight in the Commission. Poland has a big budget attached to agriculture but policies in this area are not frontline agenda of the Commission. Slovakia and Czechia have more important portfolios – on strategic foresight and on rule of law. Central Europe used to punch above its weight, and used to get better portfolios. Then, overall, they seemed to be strong players in the European game. But now the political importance has diminished along with internal divisions and the portfolio is less preeminent and important when it used to be.
Do you think the next European Commission will be more flexible with these countries or will the relations be contrasting?
I do not think there will be a conflict. The political conflict will be avoided both by the Commission and the Member States. As we know and as we can hear during the hearings, even the candidates for the rule of law portfolio are careful about it. They say that they will continue all the work done by the previous Commission. But, somehow, the Visegrad Group countries scaled down on the protest against the Commission, because they see that there is a new opening and there is not a good outcome if they go into war with Brussels. Politically, it only helps the domestic narrative to kick the European Union, because they can kick the blame, which is their blame, on someone else.
What about the possibility to link the european funds to the rule of law ?
We can expect the Commission will appeal the investigation and infringement procedure on the questions related to the rule of law. So, in that sense, it is optimistic because all Europe is the empire of the rule of law, it is the empire of regulation. It has to defend its own existence in this way.
What is your view regarding the outcomes of the national elections?
You can find a rich source of quotes in our recent analysis that I have published exactly on that a few days ago with Edit Zgut.
In principle, the results of Polish national and Hungarian local elections were disappointing for the illiberal forces. Somehow, despite their best efforts and dominant resources they did not manage to gain more power in elected offices. In Poland, the PiS government lost control of the Senate and retained only the exact number of MPs (235) as before. It is too early to say yet if this is a retreat of the trend but it seems that attractiveness of illiberalism is limited.
How these outcomes are linked to the ones of the European elections?
In both elections, the government won but the scale of victory in the national elections is much smaller than in the EP elections. Importantly, with higher turnout, the PiS had a higher number of voters but also the opposition increased its numbers. But the government was counting on significant gains in the last elections, just like it scored in the European race. That is now their source of sorrow disappointment.