The political earthquake that hit Poland in 2015 with an unprecedented electoral sweep by the Law and Justice party upset contemporary assumptions about Poland. Backed by friendly and financially dependent media1, Law and Justice (PiS) says its job is to clean up the mess left in Poland by the liberal, corrupt elites who were out of touch with its Catholic and patriotic values.
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Since winning the elections, the new Law and Justice government conducted a broad spectrum of controversial “reforms” carried out during its first months.
Since November 2015, the Polish government has undertaken significant legal reforms – concerning in particular the Constitutional Tribunal, which has drawn the attention of several regional bodies and the European Commission. The reforms have seriously undermined the Constitutional Tribunal’s ability to effectively carry out its mandate, and have created legal uncertainty and an environment where human rights are structurally at risk2.
Apart from infringing upon the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal, the government has embarked on a trajectory of interference with the independence of the judiciary in general3.
What is more, the government adopted an amendment of the Law on Assemblies that introduces a category of “cyclical demonstrations” organized by the same entity in the same location several times a year. Under this law, assemblies organized by the state or the church would have priority over other assemblies. The proposal raised serious concerns over a possible breach of the freedom of assembly under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights4.
In 2016, NGOs have become the target of a massive campaign by public media and pro-government journalists in particular. The government has imposed certain limiting administrative decisions ranging from funding cuts to administrative controls on human rights organizations5.
The media law passed in December 2015 led to a dismissal of a number of directors and supervisory board members of public TV and radio stations. For the first time since the fall of communism, the government in Poland could soon have almost complete control over the public media.
Another new law allows Law and Justice to take control of the civil service. More than 1,600 civil service directors, who are apolitical, can be sacked and replaced without the need to hold open competitions.
Polish society did not accept all the changes. In 2015 and 2016, Warsaw and other cities experienced large-scale demonstrations when hundreds of thousands of people protested against the government and its policies. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the October 3, 2016, women’s strike and Black Protest (#CzarnyProtest) against the proposed near-complete ban on abortions.
In recent months, a number of issues have put the government on the defensive. One has harmed its image particularly hard – cronyism and appointments to state-owned companies (SOEs).
Repolonization6 of Poland
In finance and development, Law and Justice has also set a controversial goal of boosting state control over the economy. One of the main obstacles for Poland’s development – based on the government’s Plan for Responsible Development announced by Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki7 – is a lack of balance between foreign and domestic capital. Morawiecki proposed that some of the PLN 1 trillion (EUR 229 billion) that is about to be mobilized to boost Polish investment come from SOEs.
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1 Eg. nationalist and conservative press (Gazeta Polska, Gazeta Polska Codziennie, wSieci, Do Rzeczy, Nasz Dziennik), tv stations (TV Republika TV Trwam) or catholic radio (Radio Maryja), as well as public broadcasters (TVP and Polish Radio) are completely subordinated to the government.
3 Law on Prosecution of January 28,2016 (Ustawa z dnia 28 stycznia 2016 r. Prawo o prokuraturze) Journal of Laws 2016 item 177. https://oko.press/the-end-of-independent-judiciary-in-poland-pis-government-brakes-the-constitution-and-assumes-control-over-all-courts/
6Repolonization means here going back to the “old times” when economy, industry, etc. were in the hands of Polish capital instead of Western capital. It is, however, difficult to say what “old times” PiS has in mind – the communist era of state monopolies or the so-called Second Republic (1918-1945).
7 The objectives of the Morawiecki’s Plan are as follows: “an increase in investments to over 25% of the GDP”, “an increase in the share of R&D expenditure to 2% of the GDP”, and “an increase in the number of medium-sized and large enterprises to over 22,000”. According to the plan, the government is willing to spend money immediately on certain investments and branches which are not chosen by consumers and producers but by the state itself. By 2020, PLN 530 billion (EUR 122 billion) from the state budget will be spent as an implementation of the plan (apart from the EU funds and the funds of the state agencies such as the National Health Fund). http://4liberty.eu/morawieckis-plan-as-a-symbol-of-polish-state-interventionism/