An unlikely ally when it comes to Brexit
Enda Kenny seeks a new kind of Polish partnership
These are days of shifting alliances, partings with old friends and the embracing of new comrades. So Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s visit to Poland on Friday was not just about looking for an immediate ally in the Brexit talks or about discussing mutual bilateral issues like trade (worth €3 billion a year) or Ireland’s 150,000 “very welcome” Polish residents. It was also about exploring the possibility of finding a potential reliable partner in the Council of the EU to take the place of our current EU best friend, the UK, when the divorce happens. Even on an issue by issue basis.
Not that Poland, under the deeply conservative and Eurosceptical Law and Justice (PiS) government, would appear at first glance a natural fit for a new best buddy role. But although Kenny appears to have received precious few assurances on Brexit from prime minister Beata Szydlo, Polish and Irish strategic interests overlap in many respects. Warsaw is deeply concerned about the residency rights of its one million citizens living in the UK, as we are about our own. And it shares with Dublin worries about such issues as the future of agriculture and farm support, a reduced EU budget and liberal trade policies in the post-Brexit union.
The PiS may also be in the process of redirecting its own affections. Party leader Jaroslav Kaczyñski’s admiration for President Trump is more difficult to square with the latter’s cozying up to Vladimir Putin. And so a bridge-building visit to Warsaw during the week by Chancellor Merkel, until now a particular Kaczyñski pet hate, was noticeably warmer than expected. Szydlo took a constructive approach with her German visitor, although her boss, true to form, did dismiss Merkel’s hopes for refugee burden-sharing as “un-Polish” and backed Donald Trump’s view of the EU as a “vehicle for Germany”.
Unlike Merkel, Kenny did not advert in his remarks to journalists to serious EU concerns over the rule of law in Poland and the independence of public media and judiciary. But then he is in the business of wooing new allies. And sometimes such things are better left unsaid? Perhaps not.