In diplomacy it helps to have friends and a good reputation abroad. Poland’s populist government lacks either, which will not help its efforts to block changes to the Council of Ministers voting system at the EU summit which starts on Thursday.
Poland fears that a proposal to allocate votes according to population will diminish its voice in Europe while its old enemy Germany, which has more than twice the population, will gain votes.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s prime minister and his brother Lech Kaczynski, the president, have been making efforts to improve relations with western European leaders. However, domestic policy disputes over issues such as homosexuality have damaged Poland’s image abroad.
Lech Kaczynski has been a bugbear for gay rights groups ever since he banned two gay pride parades while mayor of Warsaw. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has browbeaten eastern European states for failing to support Poland's position on voting rights and Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s comments about Germany’s Nazi past have damaged relations with Poland’s largest neighbour.
“It was the Germans who inflicted unimaginable injury, terrible harm, on Poles – incomprehensible crimes – and Poles like Germans while Germans do not like Poles,” the prime minister told Polish radio.
The efforts of Poland’s diplomatic service to improve relations behind the scenes have been hampered by foreign ministry infighting that has left 25 embassies without ambassadors.
Even more harmful to the country’s image have been the antics of the Kaczynskis’ Law and Justice party’s smaller coalition partners, particularly the nationalist League of Polish Families.
The League is responsible for two stories: news that Poland’s education ministry’s reworked syllabus could exclude writers such as Conrad, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Goethe, and earlier reports that Tinky Winky, the large, purple Teletubby (in a BBC children’s TV show), was to be investigated to make sure it didn’t send inappropriate sexual messages to Poland’s children.
Senior League members, trying to rebuild their party’s flagging popularity, have a habit of less-than-politically-correct pronouncements on matters such as homosexuality.
Maciej Giertych, an MEP who is the father of Roman Giertych, the party leader, deputy prime minister and education minister, was reprimanded by the parliament for publishing an anti-Semitic tract under the parliament’s logo. He denounced evolution, a viewpoint that found favour with the deputy minister of education, who called evolution a lie.
The biggest target has been homosexuality, which finds little tolerance among Poland’s conservative population. Earlier this year, Roman Giertych stunned his fellow European education ministers by calling for a limit on “homosexual propaganda” in schools. The prime minister reprimanded him and told him to stop expressing his personal views as if they were government policy.
The League is crucial to maintaining the governing coalition and without it the government would fall.