Morawiecki Hot after EU-Russia Relations Freeze Up

  • Mateuz Morawiecki is coming with a huge diplomatic victory
  • The Polish prime minister is adopting a key role in the EU during the war in Ukraine
  • Morawiecki is embracing a pragmatic approach regarding the EU’s status quo
Krystian Maj

Why is Morawiecki Hot?

Answer: Morawiecki is bringing home a diplomatic victory by adopting a key role in the Ukraine war and embracing a pragmatic way of diverting from Hungary within the EU.

In late May, the European Council agreed in principle to ban all imports of Russian oil by sea in its sixth round of Ukraine-related sanctions. This decision has been a pivotal diplomatic moment for Polish leader Matteus Morawiecki. Since the beginning of May 2022, Warsaw has wanted the EU to shorten its transition period from a partial ban to a complete ban on imports of Russian crude oil. Thus, the European Council’s decision has secured a win for Poland and other European countries, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in their leadership against Russia in the ongoing Ukraine war.

Morawiecki is doing what he can to make sure that EU cuts on Russian oil are followed through while ensuring energy demands for Russian hydrocarbons of certain EU countries, such as Hungary, are met.  Notably, Morawiecki has convinced his European counterparts to adopt a harsher tone against Russia and to speed up the EU’s independence from Russian oil and, in the foreseeable future, from Russian gas. 

The launch of the Three Seas Initiative in February, a Polish-led initiative prioritizing infrastructure and energy cooperation in the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas, has allowed Moraweicki to gain a lot of importance. For instance, in July 2021, former Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga affirmed that Japan is interested in participating in projects related to the initiative, showing it extends beyond the region. During the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Three Seas initiative has regained momentum. For instance, The Board of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has also bought into the initiative by approving a $300M, as they support diversification of Russian influence in the area.

What we can see during the ongoing war in Ukraine is that infrastructure is becoming a top priority for the EU. For instance, The Minister of Transport and Communications, Marius Skuodis, and the transport ministers of eight other European Union (EU) countries urged the European Commission (EC) to allow for more flexible control of EU investments for the implementation of transport infrastructure projects. A key project will be Rail Baltica. This rail network will connect the Baltic states with Poland and will protect the Suwalki corridor and the Baltic states from any Russian military manoeuvre.

The Polish economy is highly dependent on coal, and other EU countries including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, are preparing to boost coal-fired power generation as a response to the current invasion in Ukraine. This will keep prices down for consumers and provide Poland with alternative suppliers. 

Additionally, this shift will disconnect other key EU countries from Russian hydrocarbons and thus, speed up Putin’s isolation from the EU. This initiative will connect the Baltics, reduce Russian grip in the area and would make Poland a transit area. This would consolidate the country’s geopolitical clout in Central Europe.

At the same time, Morawiecki is becoming another alternative to Hungary as a leader of the anti-establishment bloc in the EU. While Orban expresses his differences with Brussels in a clear way, Morawiecki adopts a pragmatic approach with Brussels regarding judiciary reforms.  For instance, in 2017, Morawiecki´s cabinet approved the creation of a Disciplinary Chamber of the supreme court, allowing Morawiecki to gain grip on the judiciary branch. However, in 2022, Morawiecki´s cabinet removed the Disciplinary Chamber of the supreme court and thus, easing up tensions with Brussels.
Above this, Morawiecki has managed to keep Visegrad (a political alliance between Hungary, Chzech Republic, Slovakia and Poland) united, as all members have unanimously condemned the Russian aggression.

What is changing Morawiecki’s temperature?

Answer: Russia, national emergency, and the partial embargo on Russia are helping him to solidify his power in Poland and the EU.

Morawiecki’s role during the ongoing war in Ukraine is raising his temperature. In 2020, the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Poland included activities to support the aspirations of Ukraine in becoming an EU member, as a way to stabilize Poland’s borders. And now, Brussels’ acceptance of Ukraine’s candidature stature, is likely to shift the power balance within the EU towards Poland as a steadfast supporter of Kyiv’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

This step is particularly important as combining Kyiv’s potential EU membership with close ally Poland would dispute Germany’s leadership, the richest and most influential state within the EU. Bringing in other Central and Eastern European allies would comfortably create a majority within the bloc more powerful than the traditional Franco-German axis.

Furthermore, Morawiecki has had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He has clearly managed to reduce the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Polish economy. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) expected a 3% growth in 2021, which would make Poland the only EU member to reach its pre-crisis level by the end of 2021. As the COVID-19 pandemic has become less urgent, Morawiecki has focused on the economic impact of the rising energy prices, inflation and the Ukrainian crisis. Morawiecki has been the biggest supporter of shipping Ukrainian grain and other goods for Ukraine to become an economic hub for the EU.

Since the Ukrainian crisis, Morawiecki has also leveraged Poland’s geographical position and leadership in the military and diplomatic fields. In June 2022, the Polish parliament passed a bill strengthening the country’s army and increasing its numbers.
Within this realm, a key actor and diplomatic change has been the Biden administration. For instance, Washington has gradually moved to provide Warsaw with advanced military equipment suited to the defeat of Russian forces. Additionally, Biden is not discarding a permanent deployment of at least one U.S. armoured brigade in Poland. This move will help Morawiecki against any further Russian move in the Baltic or against Warsaw.

What is driving Morawiecki?

Answer: Morawiecki is driven by the goal to strengthen Poland’s grip within the EU to gain more leverage in Poland’s ties with EU countries.

Morawiecki is a leader motivated by achievement, diplomacy and delivering results. He was born into and grew up in Soviet-occupied Poland and saw his country beset with economic difficulties for decades. He helped to print and distribute an underground Solidarity magazine, a key organization against communist authorities in Poland. Morawiecki’s Law and Justice party (PiS in Polish) emerged from the anti-communist Solidarity union.

Morawiecki is willing to challenge constraints to consolidate his power. For instance, in 2015, alongside Hungary, Morawiecki overcame the obstacles set by the EU—much like today—to evade mandatory refugee quotas. 

However, he does show the EU that he is willing to come to the negotiating table and leave aside all the internal squabble, by suspending the EU deemed controversial judiciary body in the midst of the Ukrainian war. And he can show Joe Biden he is willing to take a leading role in diplomacy and military for protecting Polish internal and external interests within Central Europe.

In the present crisis, Morawiecki has taken the lead within the European Union against Russia and has become a bridge between the Visegrad group and the EU. For instance, Morawiecki has managed that all Visegrad member states have unanimously condemned Russian aggression. At the same time, US President Joe Biden is not discarding a permanent deployment of at least one U.S. armoured brigade in Poland. In the most immediate term, he led the voice within the EU to reduce Brussel´s dependency on Russian energy and make Warsaw a regional hub. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Morawiecki’s approach toward the EU shows another pragmatic way of diverting from Hungary and highlights the relevance of diversifying Poland’s energy suppliers. 

Morawiecki’s approach is showing an internal fraction between the “illiberals” and a pragmatic voice in the European Union, hoping for regional unity. Morawiecki has been a proponent of showing solidarity towards Brussel’s stance on Russia and thus, reinforcing Brussel’s stance towards Ukraine. As well as the case with Orban, Morawiecki has been in the eye of EU authorities regarding the potential approval of a controversial disciplinary body within the country’s top court.

Contrary to Orban, Morawiecki has managed to solve its judiciary standoff with the EU authorities. Therefore, his ability to negotiate to avoid any internal disputes within the EU helps Poland and Brussels parties to boost their efforts to keep a strong and single voice in the midst of the Ukraine war.

For Poles, this pragmatism will embolden Mateus Morawiecki, helping him enact more of the changes and leadership he wishes to see at home and in Central Europe. For instance, Poland has been a key member that has managed Ukrainian partnership within the Three Seas Initiative. Kyiv’s participation in this initiative has elevated the importance of this forum for the US and EU, and thus, Central Europe’s relevance. This shift hopes to boost energy cooperation and connectivity to mitigate the ongoing energy crisis and limit Russian energy influence within the EU.

This role will avoid any internal break within the EU and ease off any uncertainty regarding Ukraine. As Morawiecki heats up, Putin is facing increased competition. Additionally, Poland’s leadership is paramount for the Baltic’s states ‘ protection against Russia and undermines Putin’s presence and counters Russian influence in the Baltic Sea. 

According to Forum Energii data, Poland gets 46% of its gas, 64% of its oil and 15% of its coal from Russia. This makes Warsaw one of the top EU buyers of Russian energy. Before late April 2022, state-owned gas company Gazprom cut Poland off from its gas supply. This implies that Poland is pushing for the limitation of Russian gas imports could be related to their experience of being cut off back in April. Despite this dependence, Morawiecki turned to Saudi Arabia and even more so to Norway with regards to the Baltic Pipeline. This project would be a powerful change to reduce Russian energy’s role in the Baltics and thus, avoid the skyrocket of energy prices within Europe. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned Poland from a controversial partner within the EU, mostly on judiciary reforms, to a reliable partner and a bridge between Eastern Europe and the rest of the EU and the US.