There are many good omens for the launch of the Polish Presidency of the European Union. For some time, Poland has benefited from a positive image, and it is one it has created through its own efforts, and without recourse to advertising or public relations gurus.

As it stands, everything is going well. However, all it would take is a small slip-up in the general election campaigns in October, and the European media could quite easily go back to unearthing stereotypes of “Polish muddling.” Looking beyond this technical question, in the course of its mandate, Poland will have to be careful to build alliances and to take good care of relations with the European parliament.

If the Polish government wants its EU presidency to be meangingful, it will have to think about how it can make a lasting impact. The Belgian Presidency [from 1st July to 31 December 2010] made a very good impression at a time when Belgium was without a government: especially through its management of difficult issues and hard-fought negotiations, for example on the problem of patents.

At the same time, there is plenty of scope for grandiose ideas because the problems faced by Europe are immense. At the same time, you might wonder if a country that accounts for only 5% of the EU’s GDP and one which is still waiting to join the euro can hope to be on an equal footing with larger countries when negotiating on economic issues.

A new contract favourable to both South and North

For the Polish government there is no getting away from the fact that EU is now at turning point. The periphery of Europe has been thrown into chaos by incompetent economic management and social revolt, and it is a chaos that has the potential to spread.

Poland could argue that it is not concerned: after all, the country is doing quite well economically. And the temptation to do just that will be all the greater given the enormous sums at stake in the EU budget negotiations, which will be starting soon. The easiest course would be to ask all concerned parties to leave everything as it was for the previous budget and to demand 100 billion euros from rich countries, a just contribution [due to the most recent EU members, in particular the countries of the former Eastern Europe].

For years, Poland has campaigned for European solidarity and funds for new member states. Today, the issue of financial solidarity has once again been raised by the need to rescue the countries of Southern Europe, and this will have an impact on the traditional solidarity that is of benefit to Poland.

The question is how should we respond to this situation: we could keep quiet and defend our interests, in the hope that events turn in our favour. Alternatively, we could invent a “new narrative:” one in which we are cast as the guardians of the spirit of Europe and the architects of a new contract that is favourable to both the South and the North of the continent.

The second major concern is the question of European neighbourhood policy. We were overcome with envy and admiration when we read Barack Obama’s speech on the changes in the Middle East and North Africa — a master piece in which the Arab revolution was presented as a new chapter in the struggle for American independence. Barack Obama told the young people in Arab countries that they are like Americans, and European leaders would do well to learn from this approach. But Europe, which is geographically much closer to these regions, has been stricken by doubts about the process of change and where it will lead.

Importance of the next since months for Poland in Europe

This is a challenge for Poland. We should show that European history is not a narrative of the domination of other continents but a story of successful democratisation, which, 20 years ago, was by no means a foregone conclusion in our regions.

Poland should highlight the benefits of its own transformation and insist on the creation of special representative responsable for reforms in the Arab world — a post that should be reserved for a well recognised Central European statesman. We should force the EU to establish an ambitious plan to support change through the liberalisation of trade and financial aid, which also offers assistance for the establishment of institutions necessary for the functioning of a state of law: an independent media, and all of the mechanisms that contributed to our transformation.

At the end of the day, public opinion, the media and other analysts, and not European civil servants, will have the final say on the success of the Polish Presidency. Everyone remembers Tony Blair’s speech to the European Parliament in 2005, which was warmly applauded MEPs, even the ones who did not like him very much. Prime Minister Donald Tusk would do well to follow his example, and focus on his vision for Europe rather than the technical aspects of the presidency.

We should not underestimate the importance of the next since months for Poland in Europe. They say that a country does not really become a member of the European Union until it has taken its turn to be president. The Romans believed that only the rich could look on reality with courage: and in the European Union, recent member states often content themselves with a limited programme that is designed to avoid the risk of failure. As a general rule, these are mandates that have no impact on history. Poland now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is a recent member state, but one that is conscious of its strength and its value.