The first year of Law and Justice

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

No friend of the press: Jarosław Kaczyński. [Wikimedia]

It’s been a tough year since Poland’s populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) first took office. Both for Poles, and for the EU. EURACTIV Poland’s Editor-in-Chief Karolina Zbytniewska takes a slightly satirical look back.

Karolina Zbytniewska is Editor-in-Chief of EURACTIV Poland and host of the Now Europe radio show.

Poland’s Law and Justice Party marked its first year in office last week. Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s summary of how the electoral promises were kept was later reaffirmed by Poland’s real leader, Jarosław Kaczyński. And although he admitted that more could have been done, the fault lies allegedly with the previous government – that of Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) – which left Poland in a shambles. That’s why a “Good Change” (The Polish version of “making America great again”) was a major slogan of last year’s electoral campaign.

Applying Trumpspeech… Poland was in very very bad shape. As we cannot trust the media, experts or politicians on the government’s performance, as they are either unconditionally laudatory or unconditionally condemning, or very very dishonest, we need to appeal to someone of spotless objectivity.

What would the Martians think about the government’s performance, then? Maybe they would listen to the Central Statistical Office (GUS) who concluded that the growth of Polish GDP is the slowest in three years, and certainly worse than governmental prognoses, but closer to international institutions projections. One of the reasons is a low rate of investment, both public and private. And here PiS President Kaczyński also has a reason: companies don’t invest just to spite the government. That must be it. How very very mean.

The aliens would see that – to quote World Bank poetry at its best: “Poland is aging, and aging fast.” It was in 2012, but the trend continues, supplemented by the outflow of emigrants. According to CIA data, our population growth rate is 209th in the 235-state ranking, and measures minus 0,11. In 6 years, 1/4 of all Poles will be over 60. In this context, the PiS voted last Thursday (17 November) on one of its flagship projects to keep its other promise, to cut the retirement age from 67 to 65 years old for men, and 60 for women.

This is one out of several programs that will have pricey consequences. Families will receive a so called 500+ allowance meaning 500 PLN (€112 for each child after the first one, Apartment Plus (being finalised) offering preferential rent housing, raising the minimum wage (here I will shock you – it will have to be 12 PLN minimum per hour. That means… less than €3). Those programmes don’t come along with a solid, trustworthy development strategy that would provide resources for mounting social spending. But despite impairing the budget, they will benefit poor and lower class individuals.

With the retirement age cut, it’s different. It’s just populist and costly. There’s also a problem with another initiative – free drugs for elderly persons over 75. A beautiful policy but again, proportionally less and less working age people – for demographic trends and lowered retirement age – will sponsor more and more older people and allowances. But if Martians advise reasonably that they can join our workforce and have kids to improve the birth rate index, they will realise this is a wrong idea. Free movement of people works only outwards. Only when it’s about Poles fleeing conflicts (in the past) or emigrating to earn three times higher a minimum wage in Germany or the UK (in the UK Poles are now the biggest minority, over 900k). But when it is Martians, sorry guys, we will build a great great wall, or better, a dome.

It was about the internal policy. How are our European and external affairs going, well… You tell me. We began vigorously after the Paris attacks when our deputy foreign minister for EU affairs speeded to admit that we won’t take in any migrants, before expressing compassion. The oxymoronic “elastic solidarity” has been bluntly in place ever after. Then there was the Constitutional Court blockage that went viral, becoming a case for the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, of the European Commission, plenary debate issue of the European Parliament, and a case commented even by Barack Obama.

But Poland is now strengthening its ties with the Visegrad countries, although their interests and relations meet only in regards to refugee-phobia and preference for evermore distant union. And here also without any advanced and concrete synergies. We are pointed at with a finger, but still, this is a tendency visible in many Western countries. Only in some have they won the elections. In some, not yet. When they – touch wood! – win in Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany, well… Europe will be GREAT AGAIN, in populism united.

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