Analyst: Commission is wrong to hit at Poland over the rule of law

Piotr Kaczy?ski [Georgi Gotev]

One could be critical of the Polish government’s actions, and one could disagree with them. But it’s a completely different thing to call them undemocratic, Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski is an external lecturer in the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) in Maastricht, and works with EUROPEUM, in Prague. He previously worked in think tanks in Warsaw and Brussels dealing with EU institutional and political issues, and has been an advisor to the Polish delegation of the European Parliament’s EPP group.

Kaczy?ski spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

What is your analysis of the Commission decision to launch an unprecedented punitive procedure against Poland over the recent judicial changes seen as putting the Constitutional Court under the control of the new government of the Law and Justice party?

It looks like there’s a big misunderstanding going on. There are far too many real problems in the world for the Commission to be looking at, and there’s little reason at this stage for the Commission to look at Poland breaking the rule of law, or basic principles of democracy. It’s a simple democratic process that took place in October last year.

A new government took power, and it changes realities as it pleases. It is not conducting a coup d’état, as some commentators have been calling it, on the rule of law. It is not doing anything illegal.

One could be critical of the government’s actions, and one could disagree with them. But it’s a completely different thing to call them undemocratic. This is not Orbanisation. This is not Putinsation. There is free media, there is a centrist opposition that is pinpointing the government’s mistakes. Even the opinion polls are suggesting that if elections were held today, Law and Justice would not win.

The civil society is present, there are protests going on, inside Poland, against the government. This is within a democratic process. Nobody is chasing those protestors, (or) saying that those protestors should be shut down, as would happen in places like Russia.

I interviewed George Friedman yesterday, and he said. “Doesn’t Ms Merkel have more important things to do than go after Poland, or Hungary, for that matter?” As you know, he is from a Hungarian Jewish family. His family escaped the Holocaust, and he said, “I have seen fascism, this is not fascism.” Is Friedman right?

He’s right, there is absolutely no fascism in Poland. There is a tiny group in the Parliament, not in Law and Justice, and another small group in the Sejm (Parliament), which is close to neo-fascists, which is a despicable situation in its own right. But it’s much smaller than in Greece or Hungary for that matter. And they are insignificant. They are not gaining in popularity, they are not setting the agenda, they are not the driving force behind what’s been going on.

There’s no threat of fascism in Poland. Whoever is talking about it is completely wrong.

There are things that can be contested, that can be disagreed, that can be debated, for example the style in which the new government and new Sejm in Poland are making decisions. Within 24 hours, you have a law that is presented and signed into action. Take that, compared to European lawmaking which, when it takes about 12 months to proceed, is considered fast.

There is not enough space for debate, for expertise, for consultations, and for that, the new rulers should be criticised. But it doesn’t mean that this is breaking the basic rules of a liberal democracy.

Poland is a country famous for relying too much on coal and unfriendly to climate change policies. With a government like the present one, and worsening relations between Brussels and Warsaw, shouldn’t we expect things to get out of hand?

There is the looming problem of the Union’s climate policy, and very few people noticed the constructive behaviour of the new Polish government in Paris. There were a few nasty articles before the Paris UN summit, saying that the new Polish government was unpredictable in its behaviour. In fact, it was quite the opposite, the Polish government was fully on board with the fellow EU governments for a global agreement, and they should be praised for it. Dura lex sed lex stands for the current government even with regards to the migrants. It is finally coming to terms with decisions taken by the former government, before November 2015. This is positive.

The climate policy has always been a big problem, and it is not going to change in the years to come. How the Szyd?o government will deal with the EU climate policy, how it will react to the 2030 objectives, how it will respond to the idea of pushing the Union’s contribution to the CO2 reduction targets from 20 to 30%, remains an open question. On that basis, we will be able to see how constructive this government is. But for the moment, what we have seen in December, is surprisingly constructive.

In a worst case scenario, wouldn’t the government be tempted to organise a referendum on climate-related issues? What would be the result and the consequences?

It depends on the question, of course. In Poland, where a majority of the power is produced locally from coal, it is very difficult to say. I would risk a hypothesis, that today, in January 2016, if this government was to risk putting any issue to a referendum, they risk losing, because of the super-fast growing unpopularity of its leaders.

Law and Justice as a party are not getting popular with their actions. Prime Minister [Beata] Szyd?o is not getting more popular with the government, President [Andrzej] Duda is not gaining in popularity neither. They are all losing popularity, and therefore it could be seen that even something they would see as an obvious win might be problematic.

The obvious win could be, for example, to reduce the retirement age. But even such a topic today would be a test for the government.

How about Poland’s privileged relation with the United States? Warsaw is expected to host the next NATO summit in July. But there are rumours that this is not a done deal…

Hopefully it is a done deal. There were indeed some rumours that Americans were having second thoughts about holding the summit in Warsaw, which might have been a cold shower on the decision-makers in Warsaw. The rumours may be interpreted as a sign from Washington that the expectations from Warsaw should be limited.

Warsaw wants US troops to be permanently stationed in Central Europe, and Germany doesn’t want that. Is this the correct assessment in a nutshell?

I don’t know who wants what exactly and when. Part of the equation is Russia’s war in Ukraine. One could interpret voices in Western Europe against the permanent stationing of NATO forces in former Soviet satellite states as a sign of good will that Europeans could send to Moscow. But one may also ask why should Europe send sings of good will to Moscow when Moscow absolutely sends no signs of good will.

The real security dilemma for the moment is how to provide for real security for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary – the front-line countries in the east.

There is talk about reform in the EU, about a stronger eurozone, with its own budget and parliament. Poland is not in the eurozone and has no plans to join. How about that?

Poland is outside the eurozone, and unlike the previous government, the present one is lacking nuances and ability to manoeuvre between the UK position and the eurozone position. In the past, Tusk as a prime minister, was making sure that the eurozone doesn’t get too centralised, but the current government, by losing clout in Western Europe, is not going to have many arguments that would be heard.

According to polls, Civic Platform, the party of Donald Tusk, is now third, it’s not even second, to be the leading opposition force. Should have Mr Tusk stayed in Poland instead of coming to Brussels?

Good question. They indeed have the problem of lacking a leader. The last leader Ewa Kopacz resigned and a new leader is coming any day. His name is Grzegorz Schetyna, former foreign minister.

As for Mr Tusk, it’s difficult to say whether he should have stayed in Poland. The public was tired of Civic Platform after two terms. It’s not excluded that even with Tusk, the Civic Platform would have lost the elections in 2015.

There might be plans for the future, about what Donald Tusk will do, once he finishes the job in Brussels. Remember, he is elected only for two and a half years, and there’s a government in Warsaw that is not necessarily very supportive of Mr Tusk as President of the European Council.

So it may be the case of the Warsaw government vetoing Mr Tusk from reelection. This is only in a year and a half from now. We don’t know what will happen, but it’s a lose-lose situation for Law and Justice too. If they block Mr Tusk from a second term, it creates the aura of a victim, (and) he comes back to Poland and runs for President in 2020.

If they support him as a Pole, Tusk would serve for another two and a half years, enjoy the support of the Beata Szyd?o government and Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski as “President of Europe” (this is how he’s been portrayed in Polish media). And again, he could run for President in 2020 on the platform of a national candidate.

You are not a relative of Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski. But you do have a common ancestor dating back from more than a hundred years.

From the 18th century, yes. I’m not related to Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, leader of Law and Justice, but we have the same second name, as do about 10,000 other people in my country.

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