Tag Archives: EU

“Where is Poland going” or “195 days with the new Government”

By Marcin Kovalevskij, Participant in the G-20 at BEF 2016.

Prior to the PiS party (Law and Justice, a right-wing party) achieving a majority in the parliamentary elections in late 2015, Poland has enjoyed eight years of relatively calm state governance by the PO party (Civil Platform, a central-right-wing party). It seems though that the Poles have achieved what they wanted – change. After the new Republic President Andrzej Duda signed the first set of new rules however, many Poles rushed out into the streets complaining about the violation of democracy. The changes adopted in the first months of its mandate by the incumbent Beata Szydło Government are significant. It ought to be said that without a majority in the parliament and the new President coming from the ruling party, the Government would not have been able to succeed in reforming the country, nor adopt controversial Constitutional Court and the public media acts[i] which today are one of the top discussion topics in Brussels. In order to see what is really happening in Poland, a quick overview of the most significant new law is required.

Starting with the most successful PiS coup de maître is the 500+ program[ii] which aims to counteract the diminishing birth rates and stop emigration. The plan is to encourage second and additional children regardless of family income through monthly 500 PLN handouts (EUR 114) until the children reach eighteen years of age. This social programme is a clever step forward considering the European phenomenon of negative birth rates and the associated consequences they may bring in the long-term. The initial secret of the success of this policy is by financing this incentive not through the national budget, but rather through a reform of the fiscal policy, including taxing financial institutions, banks and hypermarkets.

The second great legislative reform, the amendment to the Law on Broadcasting Act, is the one driving Poles to rush out into the streets in protest. The reformed act removes the mandate of the National Council of Radio and Television members to select management and supervisory boards of public radio and television, giving this power instead to the Minister of State Treasury. The outcome is clear – public media will be vulnerable to government pressure. This is therefore a first step in eliminating the main principles of a fair media: objectiveness, accurateness and reliability. Polish-Flag

The next Governmental change is the new reform to the Constitutional Tribunal Act of December 2015. This law has changed the quorum for the Polish Constitutional Court from 9 to 13 judges and amended process of hearing cases chronologically as they enter the court, whereby previously the more important cases were heard first. This change has caused domestic protests and criticism on the European level, as it threatens the rule of law and the human rights of Polish citizens. “Paralyzing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal poses a threat to the rule of law, democracy and protection of human rights,” according to the Venice Commission. In April 2016 however, PiS followed the recommendations from the Venice Commission and submitted a new Constitutional Court draft amendment to the Parliament, with changes to the previous controversial law, including increasing the quorum for the tribunal to 11 out of 15 judges.

It is worth noting that this is simply an overview of the few most significant changes adopted by the Polish Government. Other provocative new regulations were adopted, such as an amendment to the law on the civil service which changes the designation of higher positions in the civil service. Instead of the previous application and competition system, senior civil servants will be hired by appointment. As a result, this may increase nepotism and reduce the competence of the administrative branch. In addition, “coat hanger”[iii] protests took place in Warsaw in order to stop the possible adoption of strict anti-abortion laws which, if implemented, would make abortion almost impossible.

The success of right-wing parties in Europe, such as in Poland, can be explained very simply – there has been a saturation of liberal political systems which have adopted pro-immigration policies in response to the growing exodus from the Middle East. This helped the right-wing PiS to win elections and to pursue its political strategy. Nevertheless, the likelihood of PiS retaining its mandate for the next legislative period is modest, as public opposition to its policy is very significant given that the Government has been in power for little more than 195 days[iv].

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.


 

[i] Constitutional Court and Public Media new laws http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35786650

[ii] Poland +500 program http://inside-poland.com/t/polands-finance-minister-to-press-ahead-with-500-family-benefit-despite-report-that-government-cant-afford-it/

[iii] “Coat hanger” protests in Warsaw http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/03/warsaw-protest-against-proposed-abortion-ban

[iv] The current Polish Parliament has governed already for 195 days, with the first Parliamentary meeting taking place on 12 November 2015.

Sea of Tears: the EU Migration Crisis

by Mathilde Duhaâ, MEF Association Member

Sea of tears, sea of misery” for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Cemetery of Europe” according to Pope Francis. “A tragedy of epic proportion” for the UNHCR spokesperson. From 2013 onwards, the Mediterranean has become the world’s most dangerous sea route for refugees and migrants.

Since the beginning of 2015, refugees and migrants are attempting in greater numbers to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According the International Organization for Migration, more than 150,000 have reached Europe by sea since January and upward of 1,900 have died so far this year in the European waters (twice more than during the same period in 2014). The vast majority landed in Italy and Greece, where the number of arrivals have exploded. Figures are expected to increase even further this year as smugglers intensify their activity during summer months.

Immigration is dependent on the international context. Most of the refugees come from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia), fleeing conflict, persecution, human rights violations or poverty. Due to the progressive closing of the EU borders in recent years, migrants have no other choice than paying several thousand euros to smugglers to reach Europe. They often sail on unsafe and crowded vessels, resulting in frequent drownings and incidents at sea.

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Credit: FreeImages.com/Yago Bruna

In October 2013, after the Lampedusa shipwreck, the Italian Navy launched “Mare Nostrum”, a search and rescue operation aiming at helping boats in distress at sea. It proved itself efficient in rescuing over 166,000 people in 2014. A year later however, after pressure from member states arguing that Mare Nostrum was in fact encouraging migrants, the operation was phased out and replaced by “Triton”, a border protection operation run by the EU agency Frontex. Its mandate was far more restricted, with fewer vessels, a smaller area of operation and a budget three times lower than that of Mare Nostrum.

In response, several organisations warned the EU that such a cut back would contribute to a dramatic increase in the number of deaths and stressed the need to step up the EUs capacity to save lives in the Mediterranean Sea.

This call went unheeded until the tragic series of shipwrecks last April: 400 migrants drowned on April 12 and 800 on April 19, the largest loss of life in a single crossing. Over a thousand deaths in several days stirred up emotion among the international community, and European leaders were asked to open their eyes on this tragedy.

After an attempt to get UN Security Council approval to the use of force against smugglers boats operating out of Libya, which failed due to Libyas opposition, European leaders decided to increase Tritons resources and operational area to match that of Mare Nostrum. Germany, Ireland, Italy and the UK additionally deployed extra ships and aircrafts to boost the EU rescue capacity.

The Commission simultaneously presented a plan to relocate 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU member States. Furthermore, 20,000 resettlement places were to be offered for UN refugees from outside the EU. This quota system was rejected by several governments – Hungary, Austria, Baltic States and Spain amongst others – judging they do not have to accept a set number of migrants. Last week, on July 20, EU leaders finally agreed to redistribute the 40,000 asylum seekers, but only a voluntary basis.

The attitude of the European political leaders towards the quota system is symptomatic of a deeper problem: the reluctance of some States to address the issue of refugees at the European level. Although the Commission requested all countries to work together to find a common response, for now national interests have prevailed. Due to their dire economic situations, Italy and Greece are currently unable to face the arrival of migrants by themselves. Solidarity must remain central and only an EU-wide collective response will be effective. Whilst the world faces the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War 2, the EU has the responsibility to contribute to international burden-sharing.

Although positive actions have been effected in recent weeks, resulting in only 99 victims since the end of April, the recent a minima agreement shows that dealing with immigration policies remains extremely contentious. In the context of economic crisis and the rise of extremist political movements throughout Europe, it is clearly challenging to find the right answer.  For now, the management of this crisis has been characterized by the clear lack of political will. It has prevented the EU from preventing the human tragedy taking place along its coasts. If Brussels wants to avoid more deaths, migration across the Mediterranean Sea must be put higher on the EU agenda.

Addressing the refugee crisis strictly through a security approach would be a mistake. It certainly questions the efficiency of the EU external security mechanisms, but it must be considered first and foremost as a humanitarian issue, where peoples lives are more important than protecting borders.
The fundamental causes have to be addressed: tackling only the symptoms would not be enough and maybe even unproductive. If dismantling smugglers networks is the objective, simply destroying traffickers ships is not an adequate solution. Thousands of migrants would be trapped in Libya, in the grip of violent conflict and political instability, where human-trafficking has become a very lucrative activity.

Building walls will not solve the problem either: border crossing will move to other areas, people will find unsafe alternative routes and take even greater risks to reach Europe. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “We can’t deter people fleeing for their lives. They will come. The choice we have is how well we manage their arrival, and how humanely”.

Finally and maybe most importantly, failing to address this situation as a humanitarian crisis would impact the European ideal. The EU has core values it believes in and stands for:  “the respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”  By remaining silent on immigration issues and unable to have a concrete common vision for its foreign policy, Europe would seriously undermine its founding principles and image around the world.

In the words of Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, “we risk losing Europe’s noble idea if we fail Mediterranean migrants”.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.