quinta-feira, 9 de junho de 2016
Welcome to European Union B
Welcome to European Union B
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice has no reason to give in to Brussels. The EU’s too easy to portray as arrogant and out of touch with ordinary Poles.
By NORBERT MALISZEWSKI 6/9/16, 5:30 AM CET
When Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) came to power in 2015, the party and its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, claimed to represent Poles who feel like they missed out on the country’s quarter century of political and economic revolution. PiS cast its rivals as arrogant crony politicians who cashed in on Poland’s transition and represented the richer western half of the country, known as “Poland A,” and treated the eastern, poorer half — “Poland B” — with disdain.
Ten years later, with the party now back in power with a strong majority in parliament, the same messaging is at work in PiS’s current standoff with the European Commission. In Kaczyński’s version, the crisis prompted by concerns about rule of law and democracy in Poland is really about something else: arrogant Brussels bureaucrats and their supporters in Warsaw who don’t understand the needs and aspirations of average Poles.
PiS is presenting the crisis as one more example of Brussels overreach. Poland is now firmly with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which all resent Brussels over a wide range of issues, especially the proposal to force all members to accept a set number of migrants. This Euroskeptic bloc is forming what could be called a “European Union B.”
Poles are among the strongest supporters of the EU, but there is a minority in favor of loosening ties with the EU. Some even voice support for a so-called “Polexit.” The constitutional standoff with Brussels over Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal could move more Poles in that direction.
“Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and a former Polish prime minister, said at a recent meeting of the European People’s Party.
PiS is betting that it can leverage that hostility towards the Brussels elites to help win the present battle. The key to victory for them is to drag it out until December. That’s when current tribunal chief justice, Andrzej Rzepliński, is due to step down, and his replacement could be more amenable to PiS.
Last week, the Commission issued an opinion on Poland’s adherence to European law. Though it wasn’t made public, the Commission’s stance is hardly a secret: It urges Poland’s ruling party to seat three justices appointed by the previous parliament to the Constitutional Tribunal. PiS has thus far refused to recognize those judges.
To get its message across, Kaczyński’s party is belittling the unprecedented nature of Brussels’ intervention, which could even escalate to suspending Poland’s EU voting rights.
The ruling party last year changed how the tribunal operates. The tribunal itself later ruled the law was unconstitutional. The government has ignored the verdict, which the EU wants it to accept.
The Commission has never before launched a rule of law probe against a member state. To get its message across, Kaczyński’s party is belittling the unprecedented nature of Brussels’ intervention, which could lead eventually to the suspension of Poland’s EU voting rights. “An opinion is an opinion, and it doesn’t have any influence on decisions being taken in Poland,” said Prime Minister Beata Szydło.
PiS contrasts the supposedly pettifogging approach of Brussels bureaucrats with all the hard work its politicians are doing on behalf of the Polish people.
“Most of my time today has been spent on working on Apartment+,” Szydło told me in an email, referring to a new low-cost housing program announced late last week. “That’s the difference between the Polish government and the Brussels bureaucracy. We are taking care of the problems of the people; we speak a language they understand, while the Brussels administration is involved with itself. Will the procedure launched by the EC in any way improve the life of the average Kowalski? Does the technocratic opinion of well-paid Brussels bureaucrats help solve the housing problems of Poles?”
PiS will only agree to end the crisis on its own terms.
The mix of populist economics and a sense of grievance at the arrogance of the previous government is why an ongoing purge of state media, government ministries, and state-controlled companies has been greeted with enthusiasm among the party’s core electorate.
Kaczyński is using that same playbook in his standoff with Brussels. Unfeeling Eurocrats play the role of villains. The Commission’s current approach only helps Kaczyński by feeding that narrative. He has called into question the Commission’s authority to even begin such a process, threatening to appeal the case before the EU’s Court of Justice.
His response is even more aggressive than the approach Viktor Orbán took when Hungary came under EU fire for not adhering to democratic principles. The Hungarian prime minister was conciliatory toward Brussels, but flexed his muscles back home. Kaczyński doesn’t make any distinction between foreign and domestic audiences
PiS will only agree to end the crisis on its own terms. Kaczyński wants a bill on the Constitutional Tribunal that seeks a “compromise” to the crisis to be taken up in parliament, where PiS has a clear majority. The bill includes measures that the tribunal has already ruled unconstitutional, and would finesse the issue of the three justices elected by the previous parliament, whom President Andrzej Duda refuses to swear in
Poland’s ruling party won’t back down, but can Brussels? Acquiescing to PiS would mean ending a damaging conflict with the bloc’s sixth-largest member, but also turning a blind eye to democratic abuses. Pushing forward with the probe may support the noble goal of securing the rule of law in Poland, but it may also cement a “European Union B.”
Norbert Maliszewski is a political scientist at the University of Warsaw.