Poland on Orbán’s Lap

EPP via flickr || CC

It is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who is to defend the Law and Justice (PiS) government against the consequences of violations of the rule of law in Poland. These violations have led eventually to the reactions set out in the EU treaties. The Polish ruling party can blame only itself.

According to those in power, Poland is currently “getting up off its knees”. As a part of the alleged process of so-called “good change”, Hungary is currently recognized as the greatest ally of Poland under the rule of Jarosław Kaczyński. It may be doubted whether the foreign policy of Viktor Orbán, who regularly visits and receives visits from Vladimir Putin, is closer to Warsaw than to Moscow. The Polish leaders, despite the anti-Russian slogans glued to their lips, do not seem to care. Within the European Union, instead of playing a major role as befits one of the largest member states, the Polish government prefers to strengthen, together with Orbán, the anti-EU coalition against the principles and values binding the European Union member states. Despite criticizing the EU, the ruling party is obviously still interested in the constant flow of money to be received under various EU programs.

The chairman of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, has been gazing at Orbán and his politics for years. “I am deeply convinced that a day will come when we will have Budapest in Warsaw,” he said after losing the election in 2011. As I wrote a few months ago, Jarosław Kaczyński follows Orbán’s path, harming the Polish economy, the rule of law, and democracy. He has decided to model himself on the worst decisions of the Hungarian leader, ignoring many of the truly positive changes which got under way in this country. In addition, as Tomasz Kasprowicz aptly noted in the social media, “at this speed, in a moment it’ll be Kaczyński who is an inspiration for Orbán.” The takeover of political control over the judiciary, signed by President Andrzej Duda in December 2017, accelerates the negative changes and opens the floodgates to the further weakening of Polish democracy and economy. The ruling party removed another safety fuse.

Such disassembly of checks and balances may have catastrophic consequences in the long term. As stated in the Declaration for Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, one of the serious regional problems can be described as “a lack of independence and accountability in key political institutions, including the judiciary, which can lead to abuses of power and corruption, in turn posing risks to the economic health of the countries in the region, and delegitimizing democracy in the eyes of the public”. A priority of the genuinely good change which could repair the damages inflicted by the actions of PiS, should be focused on rebuilding of institutional safety fuses, and anchoring them firmly in the legal system, which would protect Poland from the bad development of the aforementioned scenario.

In the FOR’s analysis from December 2016, Wiktor Wojciechowski reminds that “[M]any actions implemented by V. Orban’s government are, in the light of international experience, detrimental to the long-term growth of the economy.” Similar bad changes have taken place in Poland, including, among others, new sectoral taxes, increased state ownership in the economy, limitation of market competition and taking over control of the justice system, in particular of the Constitutional Tribunal.

The list of bad changes in Poland is longer and has been discussed in detail within the FOR’s Report “Perspectives for Poland. The Polish Economy from 2015–2017 Against the Background of the Previous Years and Future Forecasts.” Some features are unique to the Polish “good change” under PiS, some are common to Poland and Hungary. “European post-socialist countries that are members of the European Union have largely become similar in their structure of property management to the countries of Western Europe (…). However, in recent years, as a result of a sudden change in political doctrine, we see a tendency of a radical change in ownership policy, towards a strategy aimed at reducing the private sector, increasing state ownership, and domestication of foreign enterprises in two of these countries (Hungary and Poland),” as written by Professor Barbara Błaszczyk in the report.

In the introduction to the report, Professor Leszek Balcerowicz, recalling the successful transformation that Poland underwent after 1989, mentions also the bad development paths, noting that “[S]uch fundamental deviations from the initial direction of changes were absent in Central and Eastern European countries, however, Hungary (since 2010) and Poland (since 2015) have recently become exceptions”. As one can see, countries that have entered the path of bad transformation are sticking together today, to the detriment of their own citizens and their future development.

While addressing the Helsinki Commission in the US Congress, I emphasized that “Poland has a historic potential to be an inspiration for societies east of Vienna (e.g. Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia) and the Balkans, looking for higher quality of life and greater individual freedom”. In 2014, Orbán listed Russia, Turkey, and China – all authoritarian countries with a high proportion of enterprises controlled by central authorities – as his role models. This is one of the important messages of the slogan “Budapest in Warsaw” and should be remembered. Unfortunately, the fact that the PiS government is inspired by negative changes in Hungary weakens Poland’s potential to become a role model to other countries in the region.

When the European Commission decided to start the procedures related to the Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union against Poland, the importance of the alliance of Polish and Hungarian governments has increased for both parties. It is Orbán, who is to defend the PiS government against the consequences of breaking the rule of law in Poland, the actions that eventually led to the reactions set out in the EU treaties. The leaders in Poland can blame only themselves for such a drastic response. As FOR has disclosed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was providing the European Commission with the materials on manipulations in the process of changes in the Polish judiciary.

Replicating the harmful policies of the Hungarian government and strengthening the anti-Brussels alliance with Orbán are detrimental to Poland and its people. “Getting up off the knees” in the realm of Polish foreign policy meant jumping eagerly onto the lap of Viktor Orbán and making Polish position in the EU dependant on the good will of the Hungarian Prime Minister. It is a pity that Hungary is currently the most powerful ally of the Polish government in the whole of Europe. Alas, it seems that that is just about everything that Poland is capable nowadays.

Marek Tatala