If the UK leaves the EU, Poland will become the fifth-most populous country in the EU, and it will boast its fifth-biggest economy (measured in GDP PPP) thanks to having the fastest pace of GDP growth among the major EU economies. What’s more, it will have the fifth-highest military expenditures among EU states. In fact, these expenditures are increasing rapidly and are supposed to reach 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030.
These factors help to explain why Poland drafted a few strategic documents developing the idea of a whole-of-government approach (WGA), although they sometimes are rather selective and superficial. In theory, such economic, demographic and military potentials, combined with elements of strategic thinking and a holistic approach, make Poland one of the key stakeholders of potential cooperation within the WGA among EU member states. However, one should mention several caveats. First, Poland has been more of a follower than a leader when it comes to operationalising a WGA for responding to foreign conflicts and crises. Second, substantial Polish military and police deployments abroad tend to not include a strong civil (including diplomatic) component, and receive completely negligible assistance from development-cooperation bodies or organisations. Third, countries whose security is of strategic importance to Poland (e.g. Ukraine) occasionally do not receive sufficient financial and organisational support from Poland.
These shortcomings when it comes to operationalising a WGA in foreign affairs can be attributed to structural problems, such as insufficient formal cooperation between various national institutions. Instead, such cooperation is overshadowed by informal relations, political interference and the ‘insularity’ of state structures (not to mention the unnecessary rivalries between them). Moreover, the situation has deteriorated decisively since the parliamentary elections of 2015, which represent a turning point in the most recent history of Poland. The election saw the establishment of the first single-party government (de jure, a single electoral list) since the fall of communism. After the elections, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), a soft Eurosceptic and national-populist party, implemented a comprehensive political programme. Titled ‘Good Change’, the programme is transforming Poland from a liberal democracy that is based on the rule of law and protects individual and minority rights into a majoritarian and ‘national’ democracy with authoritarian elements. The governing party’s virtual capture of the state has been accompanied by an exceptional rise in the number of informal networks working behind the scenes. There has been a major decrease in the transparency of the decision-making process as well as in the oversight and efficiency of state institutions. The rivalry between various PiS factions constitutes another serious impediment to embracing a WGA because each of them controls different institutions or departments.
Furthermore, Poland’s rather close cooperation with key EU members states and EU institutions in pursuing a WGA to foreign conflicts and crises has grown considerably more difficult in recent years. The PiS views any efforts to further integrate the EU with suspicion and, in fact, advocates for a radical reversal in such trends and efforts. The Polish government has also nurtured very close ties with the United States and particularly with the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the dismantling of the rule of law in Poland has resulted in an unprecedented deterioration of relations between the Polish government and key EU member states and EU institutions.