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The 5 impending crises in Polish politics – POLITICO


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WARSAW – Most countries are able to handle only one or two political emergencies at a time – Poland has at least five, and that doesn’t count the coronavirus.

As in the rest of the world, COVID is still looming. The daily infection rate is low, but only 46.5 percent of the population are fully vaccinated and resistance is increasing – which poses problems for autumn.

But that is further in the future. The next few days and weeks will be marked by a series of political crises that will challenge the ruling nationalist coalition of the United Right – led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). If it stumbles, there could be early elections in Poland in 2023 instead of the planned parliamentary elections.

The result will also shape Poland’s increasingly strained relations with the European Union and the United States.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has dismissed Deputy Development Minister Anna Kornecka | Omar Marques / Getty Images

1. Tensions in the coalition over a tax package

The government plans to win an unprecedented third term in 2023 thanks to the so-called “Polish Deal” – an economic program that cuts taxes for low and middle earners, supports homebuyers, increases healthcare spending and increases benefits for retirees. and families with children. It is largely paid for through a large increase in self-employed health insurance contributions. The municipalities are also warning of a dramatic decline in subsidies.

The government insists that a large majority of Poles will see gains from the package, but the opposition and employers’ organizations have managed to portray the measure as a tax hike. A poll on Thursday found that almost 55 percent of Poles feel that they are worse off.

It leads to considerable tension within the governing coalition – consisting of the PiS and two smaller allies, the far-right United Poland and the more liberal agreement. The government only has a majority of one seat in the 460-member parliament.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed Deputy Development Minister Anna Kornecka from Accord after criticizing the Poland deal. “When I entered the government, I had one goal: to defend Polish entrepreneurs. For them, dramatic increases in payments and taxes will not be accepted, ”Kornecka tweeted after his dismissal.

“Some people, including those in Accord, are providing untrue information about the Poland deal,” said government spokesman Piotr Müller on Polsat television.

The chairman of the agreement, Jarosław Gowin, will hold a party meeting on Saturday. “We will decide whether and under what conditions we are ready to continue our cooperation in the coalition of the United Right,” he told news channel TVN24.

President Andrzej Duda approved a 60 percent raise for the legislature | Maja Hitij / Getty Images

2. Embarrassing raise for MPs

President Andrzej Duda approved a 60 percent raise for the legislature, which will come into effect on September 1st. It is a reversal of a decision made by PiS boss Jarosław Kaczyński in 2018 to cut MPs’ salaries by 20 percent after a controversy over the payment of large financial rewards to parliamentarians.

The wage increase is extremely unpopular with the Poles; An opinion poll this week found that 84 percent are against it.

This is ammunition for the opposition. Donald Tusk, who was returning to Warsaw from Brussels – where he had previously chaired the European People’s Party – to take over the leading opposition party, the Civic Platform, rammed his MPs’ decision to submit a bill to repeal the pay rise.

“Everyone wants to earn more, but it is obvious that this is not a crucial need from the point of view of every citizen,” said Tusk at a rally earlier this week.

Tusk, Polish Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014 and two-time President of the European Council, has revived the fortunes of the Civic Platform. The party jumped from third to second place in opinion polls and is now 27 percent compared to 36 percent for the PiS.

The Supreme Audit Office unleashed its inspectors on Zbigniew Ziobro | Wojtek Grzedzinski / AFP via Getty Images

3. An annoying watchdog

The government coalition’s efforts to stay ahead in opinion polls are not supported by Marian Banaś, head of the Supreme Audit Office (NIK). The former PiS loyalist, who broke with the party, unleashed his inspectors against Zbigniew Ziobro, the powerful justice minister and chief prosecutor, who is also chairman of the ruling coalition’s United Poland party.

This week the NIK finalized a report addressing deep issues in a special fund administered by the Justice Department that is supposed to be used to help crime victims but has instead been used for a variety of other purposes. In its report, the watchdog said that Ziobro had failed to respond to “systemic problems” of the fund “as well as to conflicts of interest and anti-corruption mechanisms”.

Banaś informed Morawiecki, Kaczyński and the head of the Central Anti-Corruption Authority (CBA) about the report, which will be presented next month.

Ziobro denied the allegations and the Justice Department accused NIK of using its investigation for “internal games and in defense of the individual interests” of Banaś and his son. The CBA is investigating Banaś’s son, which, according to the NIK boss, is a political attack on him, while the Ziobro-led public prosecutor’s office accuses Banaś of having submitted false information about his assets.

This junk doesn’t help Ziobro, who is fighting a power struggle behind the scenes with Morawiecki.

Donald Tusk uses concerns in Brussels to fuel his efforts to revitalize the Civic Platform | Christian Marquardt / Getty Images

4. Problems with Brussels

These internal disputes come as Warsaw’s longstanding dispute with the EU comes to a head.

The radical reorganization of the country’s judicial system – a project by Kaczyński and Ziobro – has led to allegations of bringing judges under greater political control.

The EU Court of Justice ruled last month that a new disciplinary body within the Supreme Court violated EU law and ordered the decision to be suspended. Didier Reynders, the Justice Commissioner, has warned Poland that if it does not adapt, it could face fines. On Thursday, the chairman of the Polish Supreme Court partially frozen the disciplinary body.

The Polish Constitutional Court also ruled last month that the EU court does not have the power to impose measures affecting the Polish judiciary.

The dispute becomes even more intense at the end of the month when the Polish tribunal hears a motion from Morawiecki to determine whether EU law takes precedence over Polish law.

This leads to fears from Brussels that Poland could undermine the bloc’s legal order.

Using these concerns to fuel his efforts to revitalize the Civic Platform, Tusk says he is fighting to prevent a pole exit from the EU, which Morawiecki insists and cites the government’s no intention of allowing this to happen “political fantasy”.

But the tensions with Brussels have consequences. Poland (along with Hungary) has still not received European Commission approval for its pandemic recovery program – required if Warsaw is to tap € 24 billion in next-generation EU grants and € 34 billion in loans. This money is critical to the government spending programs that are part of their primary campaign.

US President Joe Biden observes Warsaw closely | Win McNamee / Getty Images

5. Washington makes the law

Warsaw has also come into conflict with Washington, the country’s main NATO ally.

The battle revolves around TVN, a popular television station owned by Discovery of the US. The station’s independent news arm enraged the government, which has long tried to get the media under more control.

TVN’s broadcast license is due to be renewed next month, and parliament is working on a bill that would not license companies that are majority-owned by companies outside the European Economic Area. TVN is officially owned by a company registered in the Netherlands, which in turn is owned by Discovery, so it currently complies with Polish regulations but would not if the legislation were passed.

Morawiecki said the new law was needed to prevent a Polish broadcaster from being bought by “a company from Russia, China or an Arab country”. Accord boss Gowin wants to expand the definition to include countries belonging to the 38-member organization for economic cooperation and development, which includes the US The White House warns that President Joe Biden is keeping a close eye on the law.

A bipartisan group of US senators issued its own warning on Wednesday.

“Any decision to implement these laws could have negative effects on defense, business and trade relations,” said their joint statement. “We urge the Polish government to take a break before taking any action that would affect our long-term relationship.”

PiS wants to decide on Tuesday whether the legislation will be pushed forward or the course will be changed.


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