terça-feira, 12 de janeiro de 2016
Why Poland won’t be punished / Is Poland a failing democracy?
Why Poland won’t be punished
It’s too big and too important to suffer serious fallout from the EU.
By JAN CIENSKI 1/13/16, 5:30 AM CET
Poland’s new right-wing government faces international demands to roll back radical changes to the country’s institutions, but the odds that it will suffer any serious punishment from Brussels are close to zero.
The European Commission meets behind closed doors Wednesday to decide whether to place Poland under closer scrutiny for violating the bloc’s democratic norms — the start of a process that could lead to the suspension of EU voting rights.
But Brussels isn’t likely to issue any significant reprimands. Commission officials are downplaying suggestions that Brussels could bring Warsaw to heel for taking control over public media and passing a law that critics say reduces the powers of the country’s constitutional court.
“There are different positions but I don’t expect the Commission to pick a fight at this stage,” said an EU official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
That’s also the view of Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski. On Polish television Tuesday night, he said Prime Minister Beata Szydło spoke with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about Wednesday’s meeting.
“This is a routine procedure,” Waszczykowski said. “This debate will not end with any decision.”
Here’s why the EU-Poland standoff won’t reach the breaking point:
1. The Hungary precedent
The EU has kept an eye on Hungary for years due to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s embrace of what he called “illiberal democracy.” His government has reduced the power of the courts, taken over state media, hiked taxes and imposed other costs on banks and unpopular foreign companies. And that was before Orbán infuriated his European counterparts with his hard line on migration.
Yet Hungary remains an EU member in good standing and still pulls in plenty of foreign investment.
European leaders, including European Parliament President Martin Schulz, warn of Poland’s “Putinization.” But the soft treatment of Hungary undermines the tough talk towards Poland, which has taken similar steps to Hungary.
Not only that, Orbán has made clear that Hungary will block any moves to sanction Poland, most of which require unanimity of EU member countries.
2. Poland is too big to isolate
The EU didn’t succeed in changing Hungary’s direction, and Poland is a bigger beast.
With almost four times Hungary’s population, Poland is one of the “big six” EU countries with a crucial political role in the bloc, and with economic heft to match.
Poland is also a crucial partner for NATO, especially at a time of worries about the threat from Russia.
Here, mutual interests may prevail.
Poland wants a larger NATO presence in the country, something Waszczykowski plans to push hard for ahead of a July NATO summit in Warsaw. Duda’s visit to Brussels Monday will have a strong NATO component: He is set to meet NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander.
“Poland is particularly interested in preserving its ties with NATO and the U.S,” said Adriano Bosoni, Europe analyst with Stratfor, a think tank.
NATO also needs Poland.
In a recent interview with the Stars and Stripes newspaper, General Frank Gorenc, U.S. Air Force commander for operations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, warned that Russian missile systems based in the Kaliningrad enclave threaten NATO jets operating over parts of Poland and the Baltics.
Poland is one of the few alliance members to spend the required 2 percent of GDP on defense, and is a strategic linchpin in Central Europe.
That means there is no chance that the Warsaw summit will be called off, diplomats say.
3. The EU can’t actually do much
Brussels could invoke the so-called nuclear option of Article 7 of the EU treaties and remove the voting rights of a member who has gone astray. But it has never been used and few think there is any chance of it being imposed on Poland.
Otherwise, there are few other points of pressure.
Money could be a big one. EU funds have transformed Poland over the last decade, helping finance roads, sewage plants, ports and lots of other infrastructure.
The 2014-2020 EU budget allocates almost €106 billion for Poland. That money depends on countries fulfilling the requirements of particular programs. If that isn’t done, then disbursement can be halted, as has happened in the past with Italy, Romania and other countries.
But the money tap can’t be turned off for political reasons.
4. Poland is closing ranks
The new government stirred up domestic and foreign opposition with its rapid and controversial measures, but it has begun pushing back at criticism.
Szydło met Tuesday with leaders of opposition parties in Warsaw, the first time that’s happened since the new government came to power in October.
The parties went to war only a few weeks ago when Polish leaders rammed the controversial legislation through parliament over the objections of the opposition. So the sight of all political rivals sitting amicably around a table undercuts the view that the country’s democracy is under threat.
“We agreed that Polish issues have to be resolved here in Poland,” Szydło said after the meeting. “It’s bad that these issues were transmitted to the international arena and we’ll do everything for the situation to now calm itself.”
Foreign politicians who don’t get the message to leave the new government alone are in for a bit of a shin-kicking from senior officials like Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.
After receiving two letters from the European Commission’s first vice president, Frans Timmermans, regarding the Constitutional Tribunal and the media law, Ziobro fired back, accusing him of “unjustified accusations and unfair conclusions” and denounced the letter as “an attempt to exert pressure upon the democratically elected Parliament and Government of the sovereign Republic of Poland.”
Donald Tusk, European Council president and a former Polish prime minister, warned Tuesday that the pressure being put on Warsaw can be “counter-productive.”
“I wouldn’t like the criticism coming from the European capitals, the EU institutions, the European Commission, the European Council to be seen as an attack on Poland and Poles,” he told MEPs.
5. The government in Warsaw isn’t going anywhere
Despite protests by thousands of opponents and and strong international disapproval, the government shows no sign of budging.
“No pressure and hollering, no words … will turn us from this path,” Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice and by most accounts the country’s most powerful politician, told supporters on Sunday. “We will continue moving forward.”
There’s a good reason for that. The party has an outright majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, the first time any grouping has managed that since 1989. Kaczyński also learned a bitter lesson in 2007, when he called an early election after two years of running a coalition government and then lost. This is a government that will remain in power until 2019.
That means that Poland’s partners are going to have to make the best of the new government in Warsaw, as it’s a long-term partner.
“We have to have friendly and good relations with Poland,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said recently. “Poland is an important and a full member of the EU. We are at the beginning of the procedure. Now we are in discussion with Poland and I don’t want to speculate about further consequences. I don’t think we will come to that point.”
Maïa De La Baume and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed to this article
Is Poland a failing democracy?
POLITICO asked leading thinkers, politicians and policymakers to weigh in on the Polish question.
By POLITICO 1/13/16, 5:30 AM CET
The question posed above would have sounded absurd months ago.
For the quarter century since a Polish shipyard electrician helped end the Cold War, the land of Lech Wałesa was the poster nation of Europe’s post-Berlin success: A thriving free-market economy, a mature regional power and, with a vibrant press and political party system, a model democratic citizen and influential EU and NATO member.
The political earthquake that hit in 2015 with the unprecedented electoral sweep by the Law and Justice party has now upset contemporary assumptions about Poland. Immediately upon taking power, Law and Justice passed laws that critics, among them prominent voices in Brussels, say neuter the judiciary and hobble the free press.
The government, sounding confident about its electoral mandate and absolute majority in parliament, dismisses these critics as left-wing spoilers and promises more changes to come. Backed by influential voices, Law and Justice says its job is to clean up Poland after liberal, often corrupt elites that were out of touch with its Christian and patriotic values.
Every weekend for the past few, thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Poland’s larger cities, both to support and protest Law and Justice policies. The European Commission, which raised concerns about the government’s actions, meets on Wednesday to discuss possible sanctions on Warsaw. Add Poland to the lengthening list of European crises.
POLITICO asked leading thinkers, experts, policymakers and politicians to address the Polish question of 2016: Is its democracy really in danger?
* * *
Poland didn’t lurch right: PiS is a throwback to Soviet-style politics
Adam Zamoyski, a British historian of Polish origin, is the author, inter alia, of “Poland: A History” (Hippocrene, 2012) and “Warsaw 1920″ (HarperCollins, 2008).
Andrzej Duda’s election as president and the victory of the Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland have been universally reported in the international media as “a lurch to the right.” This is highly misleading.
The leadership of PiS is in fact deeply marked by the political culture of the communist era. The late-night shenanigans surrounding the nomination of new judges to the Constitutional Tribunal and the determination to muzzle the media are pure Soviet-style politics. In a throwback to the old days, the ministry of culture will decide which plays are staged by Kraków’s prestigious Stary Theater.
“Law and Justice’s conservatism is essentially provincialism, their politics populist.”
The PiS core are not natural capitalists: They are hostile to free-market economics, regard businessmen as “speculators” and believe in government control of everything, including property rights. Their fiscal policy is anything but right-wing. They have promised to crack down on banks, lower the retirement age and give massive monthly cash handouts to parents for each child.
They are conservative only in that they view the liberal center ground of Western politics — and the modern world in general — with suspicion. Their conservatism is essentially provincialism, their politics populist. They beat the drum of patriotism and talk of preserving national sovereignty, but their idea of patriotism is to wallow in the martyrology of the Second World War and the talk of sovereignty is mostly an expression of xenophobia.
Their idea of “Polish values” is selective; they display the same hatred for the pre-war elites and landowning class as did their communist predecessors, and in a recent interview Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski poured scorn on “cyclists” and “vegetarians” as somehow un-Polish.
Nor does their victory in last year’s elections represent any kind of lurch to the right by the electorate. It was the result of disenchantment with the previous government, which was seen as incompetent, arrogant and out of touch. People voted not so much for PiS as for change, and many of those who did so have already made it clear that they do not approve of the new government’s actions. There are also plenty of cyclists and vegetarians in Poland.
* * *
Poland is accountable to its voters, not ‘European values’
Marek Magierowski is the spokesman of Polish President Andrzej Duda. He writes in his personal capacity.
The most vital challenge facing contemporary Europe is the crisis of responsibility.
You can’t run a nation, let alone the whole continent, if you refuse to make difficult decisions. There is a frustrating shortage of responsible politicians amid current EU elites. When some do try to act responsibly — like Andrzej Duda in Poland — and follow the wishes and demands of their own citizens, a chorus of indignation suddenly reverberates in Brussels, Berlin or Vienna, with horror stories about a “breach of European values.”
Why such outrage? The answer is amazingly simple.
By bearing the brunt of tough reforms and making good on electoral pledges, Poland’s president lays bare the irresponsibility and indolence of the very politicians who now criticize him.
When Duda signs bills expected by a majority of Poles, many European leaders feel guilty about neglecting their citizens’ expectations for years. And when Duda talks about the dangers related to uncontrolled waves of immigration, his European colleagues choose to stand idle and keep mum.
“Our country is now run by politicians accountable to Polish voters, not to German, British or French left-wing intellectuals.”
But, ironically, in the eyes of some European commentators, it is Poland that “violates the foundations of democracy.”
Eurocrats are good at debating relocation quotas for refugees, but they are unable to strengthen border controls. They are good at ‘marching in protest against terrorism,’ but they are appallingly inept at protecting the safety of their own people, as evidenced by shocking recent events in Cologne.
They excel at lecturing others about democracy, but they are afraid of their own voters. When was the last time some of them showed up at an electoral rally? When was the last time they visited an impoverish European village? Say, in eastern Poland?
Democracy is not about posturing and finger-pointing. Democracy is about responsibility. Our country is now run by politicians accountable to Polish voters, not to German, British or French left-wing intellectuals. Democracy in Poland is faring pretty well.
* * *
Poland’s ruinous path
Guy Verhofstadt, European parliamentary group leader for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), was prime minister of Belgium from 1999-2008.
After Hungary, we thought we had seen it all. But in just a few weeks, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Beata Szydło have managed to place their country on a ruinous path.
Purges of the intelligence services and police, searches in associations’ headquarters, measures to weaken the Constitutional Tribunal and now the dismissal of public broadcasting managers have created a toxic atmosphere within Poland and despair outside it.
Poland’s foreign affairs minister, Witold Waszczykowski, claims to be “curing” the country of “diseases” after “25 years of liberal indoctrination,” yet he himself shows a serious lack of awareness about the basic principles of democracy. The measures Warsaw is taking are not only anti-liberal; they are above all anti-democratic and contrary to the principles of the rule of law signed by Poland upon its EU accession.
It is clear that if an accession agreement was to be sought now, it would fail. But European treaties do not provide for the exclusion of a member country. Moreover, there is no reason at this stage to punish Poland and the Poles for the mistakes of its leaders.
Thankfully, Polish civil society has not converted to the retrograde and nationalist vision of Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of PiS and deus ex machina of the Polish government. Its people aspire to be a part of a major European country that is open to the world and to modernity. Tens of thousands have marched on the streets to protest against the growing authoritarianism of the PiS government, while the centrist, pro-European party Nowoczesna continues to voice the fears of the Polish people.
In these dangerous times, the Polish people need and deserve EU support. There are rules that allow sanctions for “serious and persistent” violations of the founding principles of the EU, particularly by temporarily removing the right to vote. The first phase of this procedure is a verbal warning, in the hope that draconian plans will be dropped. This worked in the case of Orban’s overreach in Hungary. And the Commission and the European Council should do the same before the situation in Warsaw gets out of control.
* * *
Western interference unwisely turns Polish opinion hostile
Walter Laqueur, an historian and political commentator, is author, most recently, of “Putinism: Russia and its future with the West” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015).
At first, recent events in Poland caused more than a little confusion among friends (and non-friends) of Poland outside the country. Only gradually did it emerge that it was the issue of censorship that led tens of thousands to march in the streets of Warsaw and Krakow — a very serious issue indeed.
I grew up in heavily-censored Nazi Germany. I belonged to a generation that was politicized at an early age. It so happened that Nazi censorship was only fitfully applied to foreign language newspapers. Since I knew a little Danish a considerable part of my pocket money went to purchasing Politiken and Berlingske Tidende. Thus I was better informed than most of my contemporaries. For a considerable time after, I believed everyone had the right to know everything.
Doubts crept in when, as a historian, I had to confront the issue of arcana imperii (“secrets of state”) — the classical doctrine asserting that governments have certain prerogatives, including the right to keep secrets. I came to realize that the world isn’t a better place for people having access to bomb-making instructions on the Internet. But then the old question arises: Who will guard the guardians? Because, of course, once censorship is introduced it can easily be abused.
According to Western news reports, this is what happened in Poland following the recent elections. And the Polish government does influence the media, by withdrawing advertisements, or banning a play because it is allegedly pornographic for instance. The political opposition alerted its friends in the West.
This is perfectly legitimate, but is it wise?
The next Polish elections will not be won or lost in New York, London or even Brussels. Part of Polish popular opinion has become strongly anti-Western and in particular, anti-German, as a result of what they regard as unwarranted interference. I am told 19th-century patriotic songs have again become fashionable. This is about the last thing we need at a time when Europe faces very serious challenges and needs unity more than ever before.
* * *
Poland threatens Europe’s unity
Jiri Pehe is a political analyst, global professor at New York University’s Center for European Mediterranean Studies and director of NYU Prague.
Poland — just like Slovakia during the rule of Vladimír Mečiar and contemporary Hungary — is quickly becoming an illiberal democracy. For the time being it will adhere to basic democratic mechanisms, such as regular elections, but it will continue to violate some basic principles of liberal constitutionalism. All institutions that are by definition independent from governments in liberal democracies — such as public media, the judiciary and central banks — will come under increasing pressure.
“Three out of 4 Visegrad countries are now ruled by populists who lack respect for rule of law and liberal democracy.”
Developments in Poland show how limited the understanding of democracy still is in most post-communist countries. There are large segments of society in those countries that still desire autocratic leaders and are intolerant of minorities.
Even more than 25 years after the fall of communism, significant parts of those societies have not been able to internalize democratic values. For the most part, these societies react to globalization and further EU integration with fear, which populists easily transform into militant nationalism.
The EU faces a real problem in the post-communist region: Three out of four Visegrad countries are now single-handedly ruled by populist parties that show disrespect for the rule of law and the values of liberal democracy.
It is becoming clear that before enlarging to the politically underdeveloped post-communist region, where the tradition of democracy is weak, the EU should have adopted strong safeguards allowing the Union to suspend the membership of any country whose government chooses not to respect the rule of law and basic human rights.
Existing mechanisms are too rigid because sanctions, like suspending voting rights of a country that violates EU principles, need to be adopted by a unanimous decision in the European Council. Hungary has already indicated that it will veto any such attempt.
The possibility that Western Europe may lose patience with the East and resort to measures outside the current EU treaties cannot be excluded. But there may be no good solutions. If circumventing the current EU framework for dealing with illiberal and undemocratic tendencies in Eastern Europe is problematic, tolerating the countries with authoritarian, potentially even semi-fascist regimes, in its midst may be even more risky for the EU.
* * *
This is not the end of democracy
Tomasz Wróblewski is the editor of Wprost, a weekly magazine in Warsaw.
Journalists at our weekly well remember a summer evening in 2014 when special service officers raided our editorial offices, demanding computers and equipment on which they believed conversations of politicians from the ruling party had been stored.
The recordings given to us by our sources revealed shocking cases of abuse of power, including a conversation between the minister of the interior and the head of the central bank, where in return for interest rate cuts the minister of the interior promised to dismiss the finance minister and increase the central bank governor’s powers.
Our offices were searched and agents of the “politically independent” services physically attacked the former editor-in-chief. Endless interrogations and intimidation of our advertisers followed; the cases were only recently dropped. Our journalists weren’t aware that for many months their private phone conversations were being tapped.
It’s hard for us at Wprost to treat seriously accusations, levelled by politicians from the former ruling party and the radio and television chiefs they nominated, that the new government is attacking our freedom of speech. These are the same people who, hand in hand with disgraced politicians, accused Wprost journalists of a crime, of publishing “illegally” recorded conversations.
For those who eagerly supported the ruling party, losing their jobs will certainly be an unpleasant experience. But that’s not the end of democracy. The media market doesn’t only include the public media. And what’s happening now can in no way be compared to the police harassment previously meted out to right-wing journalists.
Wprost survived a difficult period, thanks in large part to the broad diversity of Polish media. Right-wing journalists fired from public television created new magazines, portals and radio stations.
Neither the government nor any single publisher controls the market. Freedom of speech in Poland is safe.
* * *
Poland’s real problem isn’t press freedom — it’s rule of law
Wojciech Przybylski is editor-in-chief of Eurozine and chairman of Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw.
Our democracy is doing well. But there is a problem with the rule of law. Poland will be in grave danger if the government introduces the bills that are as yet only hypothetical or planned, including the revision of the Constitution.
A law passed in December 2015 limits the powers of the Constitutional Tribunal, obstructing an institution firmly established in the European democratic culture of checks and balances. By doing so, the Law and Justice party (PiS) assumed more power than mandated in the October elections.
PiS did so under false pretenses. Irreversible damage was done by President Andrzej Duda when he refused to accept legally elected judges, swore in new judges in the middle of the night, just hours after their nomination by the new PiS-dominated parliament, and left three previous nominations in limbo. His decision was roundly criticized by the legal community in the country for violating the Constitution.
Now the ruling party wants to strengthen central powers and undermine privacy and human rights through a series of new regulations that will limit the power of the ombudsman and undercut the independence of the prosecutor general. Laws that give police the right to collect private Internet data without substantial judicial supervision and allow PiS to bypass media regulatory bodies established in the Constitution have already passed.
The biggest threat would be a change to the Constitution. It can be adopted by parliament under two scenarios: By a trick, in the absence of the opposition since a two-thirds majority is needed with a minimum half of MPs present; or as a consensual decision taken by the government and the opposition.
The first option would indeed put Polish democracy in danger. Law and Justice politicians claim it’s unlikely, but they are already treading down that decidedly Orwellian path.
* * *
The Polish challenge to Europe’s post-Berlin order
Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly professor of European studies at Princeton University and author of “Europe Reborn” (Routledge, 2003) and “Making the European Monetary Union” (Harvard University Press, 2012).
By overthrowing the constitutional court, purging public media, and threatening to intervene in privately owned media, the Polish government is clearly threatening democratic principles. It also — explicitly and deliberately — poses a threat to a Continent already weakened by a succession of crises, related to debt, migration, security, and energy.
The Law and Justice party’s strategy is striking. Quietly tweaking rules in order to increase chances of winning in the next election is not an uncommon practice in democracies, and some commentators have pointed to other countries (notably Italy) where governments intervene in the media.
“Pope John Paul II’s lesson for PiS.”
But the rapid actions the party took after their election victory were clearly intended to get a hostile response from Brussels and from Germany. These responses fit into a compelling narrative that resonates in a country which — justifiably — sees its 20th century history as perverted by foreign interventions. Jarosław Kaczyński makes the link between German criticism today and the Soviet interventions of 1956 and 1968.
The Polish policy has the effect of reinforcing the Western critique that the eastern extension of the EU and NATO were fundamental mistakes. The combined effect of the Polish challenge and the Western response will divide and eventually destroy Europe, making European countries vulnerable to pressure from the outside (and Poland is vulnerable). In reality, the only way of responding effectively to Europe’s multiple challenges is through collective response in which East and West work together.
An effective European response to Poland’s constitutional crisis does not involve judicial sanctions or penalties. What is needed is a new way thinking about why Europe matters, and why important goals cannot be realized by individual countries any more than they can be by individual people.
What better place to start that thinking than with the legacy of the real founder of post-Communist Poland, St. John Paul II, who offered a vision of a “Europe of the spirit”? In the aftermath of the political revolution of 1989, he explained how the political and constitutional dimensions of a new European order should involve “Ideological neutrality, the dignity of the human person as the source of rights, the fact that the person comes before society, respect for democratically agreed juridical norms, pluralism in the organization of society.”
* * *
No cause for hysteria or political bullying
Agnieszka Kołakowska is a journalist and translator who lives in Paris and writes for the Polish and British press.
The world’s press gets its Polish news from the same people who have just lost their power and privileges: The left-wing elites that have been in alliance with the formerly ruling Civic Platform party and who cry fascism at anyone who disagrees with their views or threatens their monopoly on what passes for an enlightened opinion.
“PiS is vilified for embracing traditional values, its smidgen of Euroskepticism, and its refusal to submit to bullying by the EU and Germany.”
Now they have lost control of the media and public institutions and are howling in outrage. Hence the talk of a fascist dictatorship and the end of democracy, freedom of the press and civil liberties.
It is shocking that this is being taken at face value; it shows just how far-reaching the influence of Poland’s left-wing elites and the liberal newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has become.
The Law and Justice party (PiS) — which won an absolute majority in both the Parliament and Senate — is vilified for embracing traditional and family values, its smidgen of Euroskepticism, its refusal to submit to bullying by the EU and Germany in particular, its emphasis on national sovereignty and its insistence that Christianity and the Church have a public role to play in Poland. None of this warrants investigation by the European Commission, let alone cries to topple the government.
It was the Civic Platform party that appointed five of its people to the Constitutional Tribunal at the last minute, resulting in 14 out of 15 judges being Civic Platform nominees. At present there are nine Civic Platform appointees. I fail to see how this is less democratic.
When Civic Platform came to power, they purged the media, appointing people who would toe the party line. Neither the foreign press nor the European Commission seemed concerned at the time. The public media were independent only in name. They were in fact controlled by Civil Platform and disseminated an endless stream of virulent anti-PiS propaganda.
Government funding for the arts was similarly partisan. Newspapers loyal to Civic Platform were subsidized under the table through government advertising. The list goes on.
Polish voters have lived through eight years of scandals, spectacular corruption, and public services that did not fulfill their purpose. The media and the judiciary were independent only in name. Voters felt they were treated with arrogance and contempt, and that Poland was too accommodating toward the EU. They were tired of being dictated to. They wanted to be proud to be Polish. They were sick of “patriotism” and “sovereignty” being treated like dirty words.
Voters want an end to cronyism and corruption. They want transparency and the affirmation of their country’s sovereignty. There is no justification whatsoever for the current hysteria over threats to Polish democracy.
* * *
PiS is not strong enough to end Polish democracy
Janusz Bugajski is a policy analyst in Washington who has published 20 books on Europe, Russia, and trans-Atlanticism. His most recent, co-authored with Margarita Assenova, is “Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks” (Brookings, 2015).
Democracies periodically confront challenges from the “tyranny of the majority.” The threat appears when a party gains a parliamentary majority in one election and seeks to permanently enshrine its agenda using constitutional amendments, new legislation, and personnel appointments, all the while disregarding any opposition.
Poland under the Law and Justice (PiS) government is testing Polish democracy along these lines. The core danger is that PiS leaders believe they have a mandate to create a “new Poland” by imposing a conservative social agenda and a protectionist economic program.
Claiming to be the voice of the majority, the government ignores the fact that different people voted for it for different reasons: Some were protesting the previous government and some believed PiS’s pledges to raise living standards, without accepting its program in its entirety.
In democracies, majority parties can rapidly become minority ones as voters switch allegiances. As this process unfolds in Poland, moves to make PiS policies permanent will increasingly be challenged by a more coherent opposition and a vibrant civil society that has already staged mass protests against the government. After only a few months in office, support for PiS is shrinking and backing for the liberal and centrist opposition is steadily rising.
“By trying to reverse the liberalization of Polish society, PiS is risking its own survival.”
PiS is simply not strong enough to establish a “partyocracy,” even if its leaders harbor such ambitions. Poland experienced a PiS government that sought to implement an ultra-conservative agenda in 2006. But it ended up alienating the majority of voters and being replaced in the 2007 elections. While PiS currently has a parliamentary majority, splits and defections become more likely if protests over controversial policies such as government control of the media or the introduction of anti-abortion laws accelerate. Political divisions will be compounded by unfulfilled economic promises because serious doubts remain over PiS’ ability to stimulate investment.
By trying to reverse the liberalization of Polish society, PiS is risking its own survival. Its program will polarize globalists and isolationists. Traditionalist revivals in any EU state tap into widespread fears of competition and modernism. Most Western European societies are experiencing a similar phenomenon, as the electoral successes of anti-immigration and Euroskeptic parties demonstrate.
The onus is on liberal, centrist, and free market parties in Poland to convince voters that they offer a more secure and prosperous future. The longer that PiS pushes its agenda, disregards all opposition, and alienates its international allies the more likely it is that Poland will stagnate economically and damage its international reputation.
* * *
Poland’s strong position within EU and NATO on the line
David J. Kramer, a former senior official in the Bush Administration and president of Freedom House, is senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington.
Every September, Poland hosts the meeting of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), part of the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Last year, most of the criticism was focused on Russia, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Belarus, and Hungary, among others.
I do not recall much mention, if any, of concerns about the meeting’s host, Poland, and the possibility that one of the most successful models of democratic transition — from Soviet-imposed Communism to an influential, democratic member of the European Union and NATO — could backslide. But that was before the parliamentary election that brought the Law and Justice Party (PiS) to power last October.
“This summer’s NATO summit in Warsaw could be very awkward.”
In light of a number of actions taken by the new government, I fear that this year’s ODIHR meeting could be quite different, with Poland much more of a focus. It has taken worrying steps that essentially neuter the Constitutional Tribunal and expand government control over public broadcasters, and made several controversial, high-level appointments, including the head of the secret security services and the defense minister.
In addition to hosting the ODIHR meeting in September, Poland will host this year’s NATO Summit. Should current trends continue, that meeting could become awkward as well. Relations with the European Commission — which holds a special meeting on the state of rule of law in Poland Wednesday — have already become tense.
In a January 7 letter to Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the Polish Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Aleksander Stepkowski wrote, “someone has provided you with misleading information that is biased against the Polish government.”
Whether or not interpretations of the new Polish government’s actions have been unfair or based on “misleading information,” there is no arguing that President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, and the PiS-led government have made a bad first impression. A meeting last week between PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (not exactly the poster child for liberal democracy) didn’t help.
The new Polish government needs to reassure Euro-Atlantic institutions that it remains deserving of hosting values-based gatherings, for its own sake and the sake of the EU, NATO, and the OSCE/ODIHR.
* * *
The EU needs to formulate a balanced response
Rebecca Harms is the president of the Green Group in the European Parliament.
The populist wind that has been blowing across Europe reached Poland this winter. While it’s no surprise the governing Law and Justice Party has lurched away from democratic norms, the speed and extent of this shift is disturbing.
It’s important to await the precise analysis of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, but there can be no doubt that the laws passed and pending compromise the independence of the media and the judiciary, and are at odds with the basic democratic values to which all EU member states are committed.
There are clear echoes of the previous situation in Hungary, but also in other EU member states like Italy, Bulgaria and Romania. The European response has typically been characterized by dithering from the European Commission and complete inaction from EU governments in Council. The response from Poland’s partners in Council must now be more decisive.
The Commission has already indicated it is ready to use a new a framework to safeguard the rule of law in the European Union. While it’s far from perfect, it is nonetheless an important means of filling the vacuum left by the lack of constructive action from EU governments in Council.
Poland is a vital member of the European Union. Simply accepting its rollback of the rule of law would essentially change the rules of the club. It would also seriously undermine the credibility of the Union in promoting its values with partners beyond its borders, notably in accession countries like Turkey and the wider neighborhood.
There is a delicate balance to be struck in the EU’s response. Ultimately, it is only with Polish citizens that this attack on Polish democratic norms can be faced down. Meeting the Polish government’s provocative stance with provocation, as some EU politicians have done, is not helpful in this regard, particularly given their inaction in similar cases in the past.
There is clearly wide opposition in Poland to the new government’s plans. The EU has a duty to support this opposition and ensure that one political party does not change the country’s entire democratic architecture and undo it’s hard-won democratic achievements.