Six months ago the West was looking forward to the Hungarian presidency of the European Union and speculating on how the presidency and the EU would navigate Hungary's new press censorship laws and economic policies that discriminated against foreign investors.
These issues and others were forgotten because of the sovereign debt crisis and the Middle East instability. While landlocked Hungary managed to produce admirals in the period between the two world wars, today's Hungary could not exert a major impact in far away areas. Budapest was effectively shoved aside by European countries who have bigger battalions and, more importantly, bigger cash reserves. Poland was chosen.
Next week starts the Polish presidency and as one of the more populous European countries, Poland can be expected to play a more influential role. Foreign leaders such as Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have paid visits this week to sound out the leadership in Warsaw.
The European Union is undoubtedly congratulating itself that the Polish government of Donald Tusk is pragmatic rather than confrontational towards Germany and particularly to Russia, as was its predecessor. Warsaw has announced its willingness to move ahead with the European-Russian strategic partnership.
Angela Merkel, during her visit this week, announced her support for Russian energy pipelines that would traverse Poland on their way to Western Europe. This means increased revenue for the Poles and represents a contrast with previous plans by Russia and Germany to bypass Poland.
This does not mean that Poland has abandoned its suspicion of Russia, but as Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski puts it "We think that Europeanizing Russia is in Europe's interest as well, and those kinds of initiatives will have Poland's support during its presidency."
Poland plans closer relations between the EU and Ukraine and Moldova in the expectation that it will lessen the dependence of these two countries on Russia. It also intends to pursue energy security for the European Union that would mean a decreased dependence on Russian energy than at present.
Sikorski also favors a democracy endowment fund to assist Middle Eastern countries pursuing paths to democracy and believes that Eastern Europe has a great deal to teach these countries about democratic transitions.
On one issue Poland has stood firm against fellow members of the European Union. Poland vetoed a proposal that came up in the meeting of EU environment ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday that proposed a 25% cut in emissions by 2020.
Poland produces 90% of its electricity from coal. Andrzej Kraszewski, Poland’s environment minister replied to the critics by saying that Poland expected "Greater solidarity within Europe and an understanding of the situation of specific member states."