chapter  17
16 Pages

Periphery, or perhaps already the centre?: The impact of ten years of membership in the European Union on the position and perceptions of Poland


This paper attempts to answer the question of to what extent the decade that has elapsed since the biggest European Union enlargement in history has helped Poland to shift from Community periphery to the centre. To this end, an analysis has been conducted regarding changes across selected economic and social indices and selected press articles about Poland published in 2013 and 2014; in addition, an assessment has been made of the political role of Poland in discussions on major issues addressed at the EU level. The analysis foregoes cultural and religious issues, in recognition of the fact that over the last decade they have not had a relevant impact on changes in the status of Poland within the European Union. Moreover, the chapter ignores the issue of the regional diversification of Poland; this subject has been well described by T. Zarycki, who identifies the eastern regions of Poland as a periphery area not only within Poland but also in the EU as a whole, thus treating them as so-called ‘internal peripheries’ (Zarycki 2011).1 Consequently, this paper refers to entire states rather than examining particular regions. The theoretical foundations of the analysis are based on the classic contribution

by Immanuel Wallerstein that divided the world into four groups of states: core, semi-peripheries, peripheries and external areas (Wallerstein 1979). Poland has experienced a shift across the first three categories. Within the European Union, the status of external area is granted only to overseas regions of certain member states, such as the Canary Islands and French Polynesia. To assess the changes in the political role of Poland over the past decade, I will

apply the approach proposed by Stein Rokkan, who defines the centre as the place of growing political domination over the functioning of periphery territories (or states) (Lipset and Rokkan 1967: 9-13). In the case of the European Union, this influence should be understood as a significant impact on decisions made during meetings of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, as well as on the agenda of the activities of the European Commission. For periphery states, this may entail becoming dependent on the decisions of the states of the core; the concept also involves the perception of the core states on

the part of periphery states as dominant polities that only sporadically take the interests of the less powerful group into account. In this context, when the European Union was enlarged in 2004 following accession negotiations that obliged aspiring member states to adopt the entire acquis communautaire without gaining scarcely any influence over it,2 the European Union was divided into regions. According to this approach, the western European states constituted the core, the southern European and Scandinavian states were semi-peripheries, and the accession states from CEE regions became peripheries within the Community. Upon its accession to the EU, Poland thus became the largest periphery state. The rest of the chapter explores how much this situation has changed within the recent decade.

Along with seven other CEE countries, Poland completed its accession negotiations with the European Union on 13 December 2002 during the European Council summit in Copenhagen. The referendum carried out on 7 and 8 June 2003 was also successful, with 77 per cent of Poles voting in support of accession to the EU. Poland’s accession to the Community came at a time when the EU was experiencing one of the most difficult moments in its history after 1989. In the period 2001/2, the EU’s economic growth was only slightly above 1 per cent, while the unemployment rate (calculated according to Eurostat’s methodology) approached the level of 19.1 per cent in 2003. Neither of these indices had reached similar levels since 1990. In early 2004, inflation exceeded 5 per cent, adversely affecting the economic situation of many households. The main reason underlying this difficult economic situation was the necessity to adjust to European Union requirements; this primarily generated costs for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a category upon which the Polish economy is largely based. In contrast to what happened in Spain and Portugal, in Poland the majority of harmonisation efforts were carried out before accession to the EU. As a result, rejection of membership by means of the referendum (which was not quite unlikely) would basically translate into incurring costs while refusing the benefits afforded by accession to the European Union. Poland would thereby have lost its chance to shift from Europe’s periphery to its core. The political situation prior to accession was not much better than the eco-

nomic one. Beginning in June 2003, a minority government headed by Prime Minister Leszek Miller came to power in Poland. This government dissolved itself immediately after Poland’s accession to the EU on 2 May 2004, replaced by a transitional government under Prime Minister Marek Belka. The situation was not conducive to political stabilisation in the country, and in practice it hampered Poland’s ability to achieve any significant impact on EU functioning immediately after the country’s accession. In sum, Poland acceded to the European Union at a difficult economic and

political time, which comprises an additional argument contributing to its peripheralisation in the initial period after accession.