2. Poland and rule-of-law issue
Europe Germany Polska
- Poland’s illiberal turn or is it illiberal Europe ?
A showdown is approaching in the conflict between Poland and the European Commission over the rule of law. Dialogue with Warsaw started after the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s unlawful exchange of Constitutional Court judges in the autumn of 2015; the president refused to appoint judges elected by the former government, and PiS instead elevated their own. That dialogue did not change the government’s policy. Instead, Warsaw denies the Commission’s right to judge the government’s domestic moves, and continues to steer Poland’s illiberal turn.
First, a short-term respite may be brought about by disagreements between Parliament, which is fully controlled by Kaczynski, and Duda, who is from the same party. By vetoing as he did in July two legislation proposals that would advance the judiciary reform far beyond what is acceptable in the framework of separation of powers, Duda for the first time dared to challenge Kaczynski and signaled his own ambition to lead Poland’s political right.
Optimists, including those among the European Commission, hope that Duda might stop some the government’s most dangerous reforms — not so much out of any genuine liberal-democratic convictions as for the sake of underlining his political independence. But his space for manuever is very tight. Despite his rising popularity Duda needs the party’s support to be re-elected.
He can hardly afford an all-out political war. PiS is still very strong, and with 40 percent support sits well ahead of the liberal opposition in the polls. PiS has delivered on its promises to financially support society’s poorest, and the economy is running at full speed, notching 4 percent growth.
A long-term reversal of the current trends will not be possible without a change of government. Patience will be needed. Still, the hopes of defenders of a pro-European and liberal-democratic Poland are not without merit. Protests against the judiciary reform this summer catalyzed a long-awaited mobilization of young voters. More than 50 percent of Poles do not support the illiberal reforms, and many wish for a more integrated Europe. (Support for Poland’s EU membership registers over 80 percent.)
Will those figures translate into political backing for the opposition? To prove the urgency of their claim that the destruction of liberal democracy by PiS must be stopped, liberals would have to overcome their party divisions and come up with a convincing policy alternative beyond criticism.
And a new modern left will be necessary to attract those fed up with the conservative-liberal duopoly in Polish politics. No doubt the hurdles are high, as are the stakes in this battle for Poland’s future. The policy of illiberalism and de-Europeanization is leading the country astray and weakening the European Union at a time when it can not afford it.
closely follow two developments in the country’s deepening crisis.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available atcom
Piotr Buras is the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Warsaw office. The views expressed here are the author’s own.