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.
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.
[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.