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The Possibility of Polexit

By manufacturing a constitutional court ruling that effectively rejects the legal basis of EU membership, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party may have finally bitten off more than it can chew. Sadly, whatever happens next, all Poles are likely to bear the costs of the government’s brinkmanship.

WARSAW – After the Soviet Union collapsed, Poland’s greatest dream was to join the European Union and NATO. Scarred by Nazism and then communism, Poles longed for a fresh start, and membership in NATO and the EU became a goal that transcended politics.

EU membership was considered so important that Polish liberals pointedly refrained from taking up divisive issues concerning Polish history or the Catholic Church. Even Pope John Paul II (a Pole) got involved, pushing the slogan “from the Union of Lublin to the European Union,” in reference to the 1569 pact that finalized the unification of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (under which today’s Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine comprised a single, democratically governed state). In 2003, more than three-quarters of Poles voted in favor of EU membership.

Eighteen years later, Polish support for EU membership stands near 90%. The EU thus enjoys a democratic mandate stronger than any achieved by a Polish government since 1989, owing primarily to two factors: national security and the economy. The EU is widely seen as the guarantor of Polish independence, which has for centuries been threatened by Russian imperialist ambitions. When Poles see Ukraine being tormented by Russia, they see their own fate were it not for the EU and NATO.

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