Thursday, November 22, 2012

Radek Sikorski stirs up indifference amongst his Tory friends

The Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski usually gets a good press in the UK. His fluent English and his academic intelligence help him stand out as an individual, while Poland is one of the few countries of Central/Eastern Europe where the British have a clear and generally positive view of what kind of country it is. It also helps a lot that Mr. Sikorski, as a graduate of Oxford University, has a big network of friends in Britain- including his former Bullingdon Club confrere, Boris Johnson. Mr. Sikorski's wife is the American historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her magisterial book Gulag , Anne Applebaum, and she is also a regular visitor to Britain.

Yet despite his close connections with the UK, and his former British citizenship, which he only renounced on becoming Polish Defence Minister in 2006, it is clear that Sikorski is hardly an uncritical friend of the UK. Indeed the Anti-EU faction in the UK would argue that he was hardly a friend at all, as he seeks to align Poland with France in the high spending group of countries, opposed to drastic budget restraint in the European Union. Nevertheless, his speech at Blenheim Palace and his subsequent  article for The Guardian reflect the deep concern that many close friends of the UK on the right wing have concerning the direction that the right wing of the Conservatives in Britain are taking towards the European Union. Although not the most British of the Polish Ministers- that honour goes to Jacek Rostowski who was born and educated in the UK and worked for the British foreign service, only "returning" to Poland in 2002- Sikorski's concern reflects the fact that while the British debate about the EU may be going on in a vacuum in the UK, is nevertheless being watched with concern amongst our closest allies beyond our shores.

Sikorski has made a series of thoughtful and intelligent speeches concerning his country's relationship with the EU, Germany, Russia and now the UK. In all of them there runs a series of threads- based on the Polish experience of the deadly twentieth century. The emotion with which Poles state their case passes the British Tories by. They do not understand that Poland and the other radical states of Eastern Europe regard the EU as highly necessary; and that existential threats to the EU, (which the British anti-Europeans now more or less openly hope for) are a deadly serious challenge for countries determined to build on the cohesion that the EU represents. Those who wish for the demise of the EU are enemies, even if they share many of the same outlook economically or politically in other spheres.

So although the British Conservatives continue to talk to themselves or to the saloon bar creeps of UKIP about the European subject- the fact is that the UK is already paying a price for their recklessness and losing a lot of friends by both the hostility with which they promote their cause and the illiteracy and ignorance of the arguments they put forward.

Listening to the two minutes hate from the right wing press is not a sensible way forward, and it  is time for the real debate to be joined.  

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