Analysis

Warsaw must focus on repairing ties with the European Union, said Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell

Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to veto controversial judicial reforms gives Poland—the scene of creeping authoritarianism—an opportunity to mend its relationship with the European Union (EU). It also represents a significant split between the president and Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and a man to whom Duda owes much of his political career.

On July 24, Duda vetoed two of three controversial judicial reforms approved by parliament. These include replacing supreme court judges with government nominees.

“[Duda’s decision] gives Poland the opportunity to walk back from the brink with the European Union,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative.
Political developments in Europe leading up to, and in the wake of last year’s Brexit referendum show that the path toward a more secure future for the European Union (EU) cannot rely on traditional political structures, a reality demonstrated by the campaign and election of French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a political analyst.

“The traditional right-left divide as it has structured democracies is obsolete,” Benjamin Haddad, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, said at the Atlantic Council. He said that Macron saw the developments in Western democracy, driven by populist impulses, and by appealing to the growing political center rode the anti-establishment wave to the Élysée Palace on May 7.

That same popular discontent with existing political structures is “something that [US President Donald J.] Trump saw as well,” said Haddad. However, he added, “Macron did the opposite of Trump.”
The Conservative government’s surprise loss of its parliamentary majority in the United Kingdom’s June 8 general election will greatly complicate the task of withdrawing the country from the European Union (EU), on which negotiations are due to start June 19. But it might conceivably lead to a better outcome in the end.

Prime Minister Theresa May specifically called the “snap” election on April 18 in order to increase the Conservatives’ seventeen-seat majority in the House of Commons. This, she argued, would give her a stronger mandate for the so-called “hard” Brexit she was demanding from the EU—involving complete departure from the EU Single Market and Customs Union and a clampdown on immigration.

Far from achieving such a mandate, she has received a stinging and humiliating rebuke. The Conservatives now have only 318 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons, down from 330. While she will try to carry on governing with the support of ten Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland, her days as prime minister are almost certainly numbered. The Conservative Party is notoriously intolerant of losing leaders.
British Prime Minister Theresa May made a gamble when she decided to call early elections with the hope of shoring up political support ahead of difficult Brexit negotiations. That gamble did not pay off.

May’s Conservative Party, while still the largest in Parliament following the June 8 election, failed to secure the 326 seats necessary to hold an absolute majority in the House of Commons. The Conservatives now have 318 seats, down from the 330 seats they had before the election. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party increased its number of seats from 229 to 261. As a result, the United Kingdom now has a hung Parliament.

This outcome raises many questions, including about the negotiations on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (EU), set to start on June 19, and May’s own political future.
Emmanuel Macron’s election as the next president of France marks a defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a setback for the wave of populism that has swept the West, but France is not out of the woods just yet.

“Vladimir Putin emerges as a loser,” said Daniel Fried, a former US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. Russia is believed to behind a massive cyberattack on Macron’s campaign days before the election.

Fried added, “whether or not [Macron’s victory] is a strategic turning point depends on how well Macron does.”
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has strengthened solidarity among the bloc’s other twenty-seven member states, David O’Sullivan, the EU’s ambassador to the United States, said at the Atlantic Council on March 29.

“The debate around Brexit has strengthened support for the European Union elsewhere around Europe,” according to O’Sullivan. “If anything, it has joined the rest of us more closely together.”

On March 29, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty beginning the process of taking the United Kingdom (UK) out of the EU.

O’Sullivan said that the prospects of Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, triggering a domino effect among other European nations is “most unlikely.” While populist forces in other countries with upcoming elections—such as France and Germany—seek to capitalize on the challenges facing the Union and introduce division, O’Sullivan asserted, “I remain remarkably optimistic about the future of Europe, the future of the European Union.”
With the United Kingdom formally starting the process of leaving the European Union on March 29, the Atlantic Council is launching a series of blog posts that will track the course of the Brexit negotiations and the many challenges they pose for the future of US-UK relations. 

By formally notifying the European Union that it plans to leave, London has effectively handed over control of its exit negotiations to those on the other side of the table—the EU institutions and the remaining twenty-seven member states. In diplomatic terms, the United Kingdom has become the demandeur, the one asking for favors.

Since the referendum last June that endorsed the country’s departure from the EU, the UK has been engaged in an often-angry debate over how far it should actually disentangle itself from EU regulations and the key components of the Union, notably its single market and its customs union. 

Many Britons have seemed to think they can themselves define their new relationship with their former partners, without fully understanding that the other EU countries will largely dictate the outcome, and that the UK will have to make major concessions to achieve its aims.

‘Transatlantic bond remains as important as ever,’ said Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano

Unprecedented migration, instability in the Middle East, and the growing threat of terrorism necessitate a joint US-European approach to common security challenges that stem from the Mediterranean region, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said at the Atlantic Council on March 21.

“In the past, common security threats came from the east,” said Alfano, adding, “today, they are coming from the southern shores of the Mediterranean.” Describing the Mediterranean region as a strategically significant location that ties the European Union (EU) to NATO and then to the United States, Alfano insisted that “a common effort in the Mediterranean is a keystone to our security,” and should be a priority in NATO strategy.  

“Europe and the United States face common challenges in the Mediterranean,” he said. “For this reason, I am convinced that our transatlantic bond remains as important as ever.”
Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, as well as the leadership in Athens and Ankara, are committed to ensuring the success of a protracted process aimed at the reunification of Cyprus, a top United Nations (UN) official said at the Atlantic Council on March 8.

“I am more and more convinced that all parties would like this to be solved now,” said Espen Barth Eide, the special adviser to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Cyprus.

“On the strategic outlook map of each of these players, a solution in Cyprus is factored as a positive thing. What we have to do is align their positions sufficiently that they can agree on something that they can all live with. I think that is possible,” he added.

With the Mediterranean island seemingly on the brink of peace, the Atlantic Council hosted a conference—“Strategic & Sustainable Development for a Unified Cyprus”—in partnership with Concordia and One Cyprus Now on March 8.
Of all American alliances around the globe, the transatlantic relationship is the crown jewel. Despite disagreements and quarrels, the United States and Europe have together built and defended the liberal order for more than seventy years.

March 8, International Women’s Day, is an official UN commemoration day and as such, part of that liberal order. Symptomatically for the current state of the transatlantic link, many thousands of pink-knitted “pussy hats”—a symbol of protest against US President Donald J. Trump—are expected to be seen on the streets in the United States and Europe on March 8. Over a month ago, on January 21, the Women’s March on Washington echoed all over the globe as one of the world’s bigger protests against the newly inaugurated US president.


    

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