Itâ€™s election campaign time in Poland this month. Donald Tusk, leader of the main opposition party, has been campaigning in London; the estimated 1 million Poles living in the UK is undoubtedly fertile ground for support for his party. Yet on my travels this weekend to Belgium the sheer scale of the Polish migration to Western Europe has been hammered home to me even more strongly, this time in the transport sector.
Iâ€™ve travelled to and from Belgium via the Ramsgate-Oostende ferry, a service principally intended for trucks. Yet on todayâ€™s 1330 sailing from Oostende not one of the trucks that boarded the ferry was British registered; indeed more than half of the trucks boarding were Polish, along with a fair number of German vehicles, some Italian, a few Slovak and Lithuanian, and one solitary Belgian tanker. International combinations were also common â€“ Polish trucks pulling Dutch, German or Belgian trailers.
All of this cannot simply be put down to a mass-exodus from Poland, or major trade in goods between Poland and the UK. What essentially seems to be happening is that Polish firms are being contracted to do the work transporting goods between, say, Germany and the UK. Itâ€™s easy to do this â€“ drivers can sleep in their cabs, can work for a few weeks that way, not needing a costly place to stay, and can then transport a load home to Bydgoszcz or Szczecin. Plus itâ€™s possible to contract a Polish logistics firm from within Germany (where freedom of movement restrictions still apply to workers from Poland so they can’t easily be employed), as thereâ€™s no need to employ anyone directly if you contract a transport firm.
Of course the majority of the staff on board the TransEuropa Ferries â€˜Larkspurâ€™ sailing today were also Polish and from the Baltic States, doing similar service jobs in the bars and restaurants as their counterparts do on terra firma in London and across the UK.
In short â€“ from the transport sector to bars and restaurants, to plumbing, building and farm labour, are we are witnessing the ‘Polonisation’ of parts of Europe, all thanks to freedom of movement allowed within the EU? When in the last 50 years has a migration within Europe assumed such scale, and been so visible on an everyday basis? Good luck to all of those aiming to make an economic success of their moves.
Plus all of this is happening at the same time the Kaczynski twins are making Poland enemy number one in negotiations in Brussels, digging their heels to defend very traditional views of morality and national identity – hence little Europeanisation of Poland.