Poland loses interest in EU

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When the Council of the EU votes on energy transformation, environmental protection or transport, the PiS government is usually in the minority.

The Eternal Question

Since joining of the EU, Poland is facing the question of its own position in the Union. The question is linked to its size: Poland is the smallest among the so-called “big states”, being demographically e.g. 54% smaller than Germany. At the same time, it is almost four times more populous than the group of numerous EU countries with a population of around 10 million. For example, Poland’s population is larger than the other nine countries that joined the EU fifteen years earlier. The economic potential undermines Poland’s stronger position by the fact that the Polish economy measured at constant prices is comparable in size to the economies of less populated countries of Western (Belgium) or Northern Europe (Sweden).

However, the status of Poland is determined not only by statistics. Over the past several years, Poles – its officials, as well as leading politicians – have learned to use their own advantages and play disadvantages effectively to pursue national interests. “At the dawn of accession, the Spaniards taught us that one should not be ashamed of being poor,” is one of the many lessons of Polish diplomacy testifying to the strategy for Poland’s presence in the EU.

This strategy was based on a delicate balance. Being the smallest of the big and the largest of the small, the Polish EU strategy included incorporating the Central and Eastern European perspective in its own political relations with large partners such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Hence, French President Sarkozy spoke in the middle of 2000s about the need to create a G-6, a group of six major EU countries. Today certain European politicians have similar ideas, including the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who talks about the weaknesses of the Franco-German leadership in Europe and the need to include Italy, Spain and Poland in it.

This delicate balance was an effective approach. One of the leading European think tanks ECFR, placed Poland as the fourth, equal to Italy, among the most influential EU country. A richer Poland has negotiated more funds for its own cohesion policy for the years 2014–20 from a smaller EU budget than in the previous budgeting period. Over the past fifteen years, Poland has not only made up for economic development (from 47 per cent of the EU average GDP per capita in 2004 to 71 per cent in 2018), but also gained many political advantages. Successful negotiations led to a new political opening towards Eastern Europe (Eastern Partnership), and two Poles took key positions in the EU: Jerzy Buzek presided over the European Parliament (2009–11), and Donald Tusk was the European Council president (2014–19) .

The 2015 Change

This strategy was abandoned by the government elected in 2015. The curent Polish government treats the Union as a purely external issue, of foreign policy, so it does not understand the involvement of EU institutions in the issues of legal system reforms in Poland. Since the dismantling of independent judicial institutions, as well as the civil service or independent journalism in public media, Poland’s position in the EU has deteriorated rapidly. In the national debate, the PiS government accuses the opposition of turning the European partners hostile, and that the European institutions are acting in bad faith and want to harm “good” reform for ideological reasons.

Meanwhile, there are objective reasons for launching the infringement procedures. The government under the direction of Mateusz Morawiecki is trying to promote its own version of “Europe of Nations”. These arguments boil down to undermining the independence of the EU institutions from the national governments. The Prime Minister said in the European Parliament that “respecting […] national identities is the foundation for trust in the Union. … every country in the Union has the right to shape its legal system in accordance with its traditions.”

There are many examples of progressing marginalization.

First, votes in the EU Council. The data collected by VoteWatch.eu shows that the Polish government is increasingly losing votes in the Council. By the end of the PO-PSL (EPP) coalition’s government, the rate of losing votes was at 3.1 per cent, placing Poland at comparable levels of Austria and Germany. From PiS’s rise to power in November 2015 to the end of 2018, this ratio increased to 6.6 per cent, and Poland fell to the second to last place. Only the Brexit’s UK achieves worse indicators.

This should be read as the growing incompetence of PiS politicians to substantively resolve controversial issues. Sometimes voting is used in a populist narrative in the country – with the directive on copyright in the digital single market, the Polish government voted against knowing that it is in a minority. The ruling party used a populist argument in the campaign to the European Parliament and to the Polish Sejm: “that’s why we opposed the EU regulations regarding […] censorship on the Internet (ACTA 2).”

Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the PiS government was in a minority in 19 votes, which are most often related to the topics of energy transformation, environmental protection, and transport. Those files concern legislation which was processed mostly in the ENVI (5) and TRAN (4) committees of the European Parliament, while in the Council the most problematic files were addressed by the General Affairs Council (8 files).

Second, the issue of differentiation of levels of integration. Poland has always been against structural divisions between member states, and deeper integration meant deepening of Poland’s involvement in European structures. However, since 2015 Poland has not participated in any new enhanced cooperation. No attempt was made to join the new ones (European Public Prosecutor’s Office, recognition of divorce and separation documents). During this period, Poland also did not join any of the previously initiated forms of enhanced cooperation.

In 2017, the government joined the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which brings together all EU countries except for Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom. In 2019, as part of defence cooperation, Poland participated in 10 projects, while France in 31, Italy in 25, Germany in 16, and Spain in 24. This shows Poland’s position among countries of medium potential – Czechia participates in 9, Hungary in 10, and Slovakia in 6 PESCO projects (out of 47 possible). Moreover, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania have been leading at least one of the projects since 2018. The first project with Poland as a leader was accepted only in November 2019 (The Military Medical Training Center).

Et alors?

The European elections have also accelerated the marginalization of PiS politicians in the European Parliament. The PiS MEPs are with the ECR. This it the sixth largest political group. Before the elections, the ECR was the third force in Parliament. A sanitary cordon against the PiS candidates was applied during the election of the leaders of the new European Parliament: the PiS candidates for the chairmanship of the employment committee (EMPL) and for the vice president of the Parliament failed in voting.

Today’s Poland is at one of the last places in the EU in terms of commitment to European integration and is not particularly interested in deepening the EU in new areas. Thus – standing still – Poland is moving away from other European countries.

The weakening of Poland’s position is not insignificant. The Polish success is the success of the most important European integration process of the 21st century: the unification of Eastern and Western Europe. The Polish failures are a symbol of the failure for the entire region.

This blog post is a translation and adaptation of the Gazeta Wyborcza article of 28-29 December 2019 as well as the a chapter of the book “Priorities of the New European Commission and the Polish Interests” published last month (Warsaw 2019).

Jarosław Kaczyński writes to voters

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Almost two weeks after the Polish general elections the politics in Warsaw is fourfold. There is a fight for the control over the Senate where the united opposition parties snatched a tiny majority (51-49) over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). PiS challenges outcome in six districts with limited chances of success.

The other three processes include the negotiations over the new government as PiS needs to negotiate with its junior coalition partners the details of the organisation of the next government.

The opposition main party Civic Platform (PO) is soul-searching and looking for – possibly – a new leader at their January congress when Grzegorz Schetyna is expected to fight for his re-election as the chairman of the PO.

The fourth is the campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for next spring, most likely in May. President Duda is already campaigning. The opposition is pondering its options and candidates. Most likely there will be 3 candidates for the centrist PO, the conservative democrats of PSL and the Left. The PSL’s and Left’s candidates are semi-obvious: Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and Robert Biedroń MEP, respectively. The PO candidate is “in the talks”, as the strongest options are now Donald Tusk and Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.

PiS Chairman writes to voters

On 24 October PiS official twitter account publishes a letter Mr Jarosław Kaczyński sent two days before to the voters:

In the letter Mr Kaczyński writes to the PiS voters thanking for their support: “to you, who have supported ours during the electoral campaign I would like to express additional signs of gratitude“.

Mr Kaczyński writes about dreams and aspirations: “By voting for Law and Justice you have supported Poland Plus, that is our native version of a welfare state. You have chosen the model of development of our Fatherland, the purpose of which is to ensure that in the not too distant future all Poles can enjoy the same level and quality of life as the inhabitants of the wealthiest European nations.”

He continues: “By standing in favour of Poland Plus, you stood by the great support programs that the Polish families waited for 30 years” and he enlists the 500+ programme of child support, 300+ programme of school support, 13th and 14th payment to the pensioners, the increase of the minimal wage and reduction of the retirement age. “By voting against Poland Minus you have said ‘no’ to the politics of bad governing and inability, the politics of a repeated ‘there is no money and there won’t be any‘”, Mr Kaczyński writes.

By voting the PiS candidates, Mr Kaczyński writes, “you have voted for the Poland of dignified life” and uses adjectives like “solidary” and “just“. Poles have voted “for Poland guided in internal and foreign policy by our raison d’etat and our interests. For Poland, a community of proud Poles boasting about the heritage of their ancestors, nourishing our Christian identity and values fundamental in our cultural circle“, he adds.

Et alors?

Mr Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS omnipotent chairman who rules the party single handedly. He listens and cooperates with his peers, yet he is the ultimate decision-maker.

He seems to write, “Poland is me” like Luis XIV used to say about his state. What does he mean by “our”, is it Polish or PiS’, or – is it the same, in his and Law and Justice, mind?

In his letter to the voters after the vote he continues to divide the nation and the political class into Poland Plus and Poland Minus. “We are better” he seems to argue, not “our offer is better”. “We are better” as humans, “Poland is us”, because our values are “our”, and “our” stands at the same time for Law and Justice and Poland.

Mr Kaczyński argued, upon news that PiS lost the Senate, that maybe there was a way to converse with people who think differently. Some secret negotiations may or may not have taken place with the PSL. But in this letter it is clear that Mr Kaczyński is not about governing. It is about ruling. His letter is judgmental, he argues that only PiS advocates for “justice”, “solidarity” and “dignified lives”, as if the party had a monopoly on the vocabulary that caries heavy emotional and evaluative meaning.

“Poland Plus” and “Poland Minus”, which side are you on? Choose.

Law and Justice four years in power is not one sided litany of negative and wrong policies. It took for years for PiS to convince itself to invest into solar and wind power. By now, year-to-year, the solar panels installations increased in Poland by 100%. A happy minister says Poland may soon overcome sunny Italy in amount of solar panels. Great, you – PiS – learn, you converge to the current global and European standards. Too slow, but you actually seem to turn the ship around over the past four years. And hopefully into the future 4 years the decarbonisation policy will take off fully.

Redistributive policies are hammered in Poland by the liberals, but the social policies work. Not only they buy PiS voters; they elevate some impoverished families and create opportunities for the excluded parts of the society. But PiS social policies are not perfect either. The policies are frequently missing the objectives as the 500+ or the 300+ often go to families who simply do not need that kind of support. Hence the social aspect of the policy is positive, but the demographic aspect is lagging behind. PiS talks of “13th and 14th” pension, but those programmes were only fractions of pensions, not a full 13th or 14th one.

The world is not perfect. The world is not 0-1. The world is not “+” vs “-“. Poland is not “Poland Plus” vs “Poland Minus”. There is one Poland that requires certain stability, progress, unity and… safety. Instead the most powerful man in the country offers divisions where he could offer unity. He could try to comprehend “the other side” rather than to demonise it, or degrade it by calling it “minus”. It is not US v THEM.

Mr Kaczyński has a history of demonising minorities, ethnic, sexual and other, as well as opposition parties. He does not like to talk to people who think differently. He does not like to travel outside of the country. There are many things he does not like. Where is all this hate coming from?

There is a village called Poland somewhere in Kiribati. It is on an atoll island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. Other villages on the island: Paris, London and Banana. There is one church in Poland.

In our Poland there are some 10 000 churches.

It is a Rainbow Friday in Poland today. Another “culture war”, as PiS likes to talk about it.

Political Europe & Me

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Dear Reader,

In a form of a letter, let me try to cover the ongoing political issues related to the European Union. You are free to ask and to comment. You are free to disagree.

Today is the last day of the old world. Today is the first day of the new world. Obviously. So, what’s new?

I am reading that Croatia is reading itself to join the Schengen. How wonderful to enlarge the passport-free to the Croat paradise and integrate the 28th EU country one step more. Did you know, Croatia is the next most likely – if anybody – to join also the Eurozone within the next 4 years? Truly, this is the wunderkid in the EU corridors of power.

I still cannot get over the Macron veto over the EU enlargement to North Macedonia and Albania. The French President is so wonderfully pro-European. Defending the European interest is his objective. Why is he risking the delicate peace in the Balkans over some French stubbornness like this? Sometimes you have to prove you are European, not only talk about it. Fingers crossed for Slovenians not to derail the Croat hopes.

Brexit is eyebrow rising. Prime minister Johnson is Mr Jackal and Dr House at the same time. Clock is ticking, British media are ecstatic, the British Parliament is more fun to watch than the Late Show with Colbert. Most likely Brexit will be delayed again, 5 minutes before midnight. Next?

The US President who truly does not like Europe. Exhibit one: the Kurds and the broken alliance over… what exactly? Is Turkey still in NATO? What is NATO? Some strategists in Moscow and Beijing must be laughing at how fast the American leadership in the world is shrinking.

Exhibit two: US just introduced sanctions against the EU. Allies?

The world is not getting safer when the Germans are planning their security with Russians and the Turks, is it? Well, Mr Trump, counting your days in office for America’s and Europe’s sake. Meanwhile good news come from Canada where Mr Trudeau survived the vote and will continue his government. And from Israel where the populist Netanyahu gave up on forming government.

I do not care if the government is liberal, green, social-democratic or conservative. I care if it is democratic. I am allergic to populism.

In Spain riots. Or, in Catalonia riots. These days even how you write is political. And this issue is for the locals to work out. An interesting thing I have heard the other day and could not verify: that about 7% of Spain is already a desert and the desertification continues and that the Catalan independence move is effectively linked to the distribution of water on the Iberian peninsula. Interesting theory. Greta?

Funny how the liberal media fast forget about difficult places hoping they will self-regulate. Well, they don’t and they come back to you twice worse. Exhibit one: Italy. Ever since Mr Salvini is out of government we hear less of Italy. Peace.

Exhibit two: Poland. Before the elections there was some buzz. There were articles about the country. There was interest. Now it is somehow limited. And imagine this: since yesterday night there is the battle over the Senate. You may remember that last week Law and Justice won the Sejm, but the opposition won the Senate. Well, yesterday the ruling party decided to appeal to the court over a recount in 6 districts where the opposition candidates won. In a normal situation you’d think “recount”, what’s wrong with that? Yes, that is the democratic impulse. But it turns out the recount is going to be managed without a public scrutiny by a chamber of the Supreme Court that was created anew by PiS. There are serious doubts over its independence or the validity of the appointment. One of the ECJ cases against Poland on the rule of law situation is about the National Council of the Judiciary (politically appointed, hence judicial independence compromised?). It was the new NCJ which chose the Supreme Court’s new chamber composition. The chamber’s name is Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs… we’ll see about the judges true independence. Still, no scrutiny?

Mr Schetyna, the leader of the opposition says he wants an international supervision over the recount.

Democracy is a funny system, where some decisions hung on a undemocratically elected official decision. Thinking Poland? Think Florida 2000. Think Boris Johnson. Not voted by the British Parliament. Appointed.

More Polish news: remember the K Towers? The “independent” prosecution just decided there is no case. PiS promised transparency of spouses tax returns before the elections last week. Yesterday the country’s president Andrzej Duda just took the issue for a legal check by the Constitutional Tribunal. When the obvious problems with the law were pointed out by the opposition MPs during the adoption of the act, the ruling politicians rejected every argument. Now they are proven right. But we are a week after elections. Nobody will remember little lies, right?

There is an Austrian angle to the K Towers affair. I guess we will see how that goes in due time.

It seems the influence inside the Law and Justice is changing post-elections. Jarosław Gowin and Zbigniew Ziobro are up (each gentleman has 18 MPs within the ruling majority) and Tadeusz Rydzyk is down. Mr Rydzyk runs his right-wing Catholic media empire based around the Radio Maryja. Listenership of the radio is record-low and now Mr Rydzyk lost two of his prominent MPs, who failed to be re-elected from the PiS lists.

In Switzerland the Greens are making headlines after a major increase of public support. Do you know that 3 Greens made it to the Sejm last Sunday? This is truly good news. With the return of the Left into the Sejm the number of MPs who are responding to the urgency of climate crisis is on a massive increase in Poland. Since this is a long-haul fight, we are in it to win it, right? As Greta says, however, this is also a race against time.

We are absurdly beautiful and warm October in Warsaw. It is 22 October and it is 22 degrees outside. Enjoy the climate change!

The dream for today: a moratorium in Poland for new coal-based power plants. Please someone take this issue to advocate in the discourse! The next battle on the issue is the new power plant in Ostrołęka, north of Warsaw. It is being built, to be based on coal. There are problems with financing of the power plant. Hopefully the power plant is there but not using coal as its resource material.

What is amazing is how this country changes bottom up, not top down. The turnout last week was 61%, the highest in 30 years! In Warsaw the turnout was 77% The highest in the country. Over 1 million people voted in the city. First time ever, too.

The bottom-up civil society organised a protest in my home district yesterday: because of a car crash in which one person died. Clearly changes are necessary in the way roads are build and drivers drive. Now people protest demanding it.

Bottom-up energy: in the first 9 months of 2019 the amount of micro-installed solar panels in Poland increased by 96%! Their power making capacity increased by 100%. Good news. There is also something new on my street, for the electronic waste.

This blog is called “Political Europe” for it shall focus on the new upcoming Commission’s theme, being “geopolitical”. The Commission is late on arrival as 1 November as its commencement date has been thrown by the window by the assertive and somehow unpredictable new European Parliament.

Yes, it was Juncker’s theme, political Commission. As opposed to the administrative one before, I guess. Why? Because of the political mandate the Commission receives from the general public. The general public of some 512 million Europeans chose the European Parliament and the Parliament will chose our Commission.

“Our Commission”, so someone should scrutinize it, right? Here I am and here’s the blog. About the political developments in Europe where I am. Where am I? Who am I? Those who read this blog since the beginning of 2019 may know, it was focused on the European elections. The elections are gone. Next elections will take place in 2024. It seems far away. It is not. I shall do what I can to share information from my Europe and see how the Commission, if the Commission responds.

This blog is written without any financial support. As a true independent I occasionally train people on the EU decision-making process. I do it within the EU institutions assisting the personnel of the Parliament and the Commission. Sometimes. Occasionally I also train businesses. I do it in English and Polish. If you’d like to get access to the internal proceedings of the EU institutions, let me know.

I am also an affiliate of Team Europe, a group of experts of the European Commission based in Warsaw. I am not paid by the Commission, I am not a Commission employee or representative. Team Europe-Warsaw takes me places like corridors of power in Brussels, but also schools and universities all around Europe. I have been privileged to talk with all kind of groups of Europeans in all corners of our Europe, also when I worked with the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. That’s the past, as I worked there over 7 years ago.

Today I travel to villages and towns and cities on invitation, mostly. This year alone (thus far) I am grateful for the opportunities to talk with the citizens of Douchy-les-Mines (France), Bruxelles, Tallinn, Belgrade, and in Poland: Wejherowo, Słupsk, Kołobrzeg, Ciechocinek, Kwidzyn, Dzierzgoń, Morąg and Biesal, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Załuski and Bończa, Katowice, Tomaszowice, Wrocław and Warsaw. Wherever I go I learn from the people I meet as much as I hope they find interesting what I have to say.

Until the end of the year I know I am speaking in Brussels a few times, as well as in Biecz and Nieporęt in Poland.

Thanks to all those who keep on inviting me.

If you’d like to hear me speak, contact me. I receive some spectacular feedback knowing that those who did not enjoy me speak won’t say it out loud. But it is nice when a group of 60 teenagers (16-17 year olds) listens to you and no mobile phone is in use for good 40 minutes. Another testimonial: “this was the most insightful presentation we have had in 7 years. Thanks” from people dealing with EU affairs.

I love those feedbacks for they show me that there is something I know others don’t and they prove people want to listen.

I also write and talk on the media, sometimes. This year alone Onet.pl and Euractiv.com published a number of my opinion articles. I invite you to read my opinion piece about the Polish elections of 13 October published with the Balkan Insight and on Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel published by Euractiv.com.

Larger reports were published in Madrid by Real Instituto Elcano and in Prague by Europeum.

More from me to come. Please contact me if you’d like to cooperate, either by contributing to the blog “Political Europe“, co-creating it, or in any other matter.

Cordially yours,

Piotr Maciej

The Week After the Vote

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Just four days after the parliamentary elections in Poland and the new political reality in Warsaw is slowly settling in. What do we know?

A New PM in sight – unlikely

Mateusz Morawiecki was or is the candidate for the Prime Minister job. But before this question is answered by the PiS chair, Jarosław Kaczyński, he needs to appease his coalition partners.

As a surprise as it may sound the position of the PiS chair is… reduced after the victorious win on Sunday. Almost 44% is less that 45% PiS had in the European elections earlier this year, some critics indicate. More importantly, Mr Kaczyński’s coalition partners within the larger PiS family are empowered following the Sunday vote.

Zbigniew Ziobro, the Justice Minister

There are two of them. One is Mr Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister. He has 17-18 MPs in the new Sejm. Apparently he is in negotiation for an upgrade (vice-PM?), even if he denies it publicly. Also, his party, Solidary Poland, PiS’s ally, would like to see a new ministry allocation. Most importantly, however, there is a conflict between Mr Ziobro and Mr Morawiecki. The media report that Mr Ziobro would like to see Mr Morawiecki go.

The other PiS coalition partner is Mr Jarosław Gowin of the Agreement (Porozumienie) Party. He also has about 18 MPs and has been a vice-PM and science minister in the outgoing government. His party is considered a more centrist-leaning in the larger pool of PiS universe. Mr Gowin’s ministers talk decarbonisation and focus on the economy, rather than social giveaways or justice reforms. They still vote in line, though.

However, Mr Gowin was Mr Tusk’s justice minister… with 18 MPs he could sway the majority towards the opposition. However unlikely, the political arithmetic gives Mr Gowin an upper hand in his negotiations with the PiS leadership. Could be that the new foreign minister is an affiliate of Mr Gowin. It seems the days of Mr Czaputowicz, the foreign minister, are numbered.

Senators: Civic Coalition with like-minded Independents (Orange), Law and Justice with like-minded Independent (Dark Blue), PSL (Green), Left (Red).

Luring the Senators

“The loss of the Senate is not a grave thing” is the message of the PiS Chairman to the party. Yet, on Sunday night he proclaimes “we deserve more”. As unnecessary as the loss of the Senate might be, it gives a hope to the opposition, and is a signal that there is a way to defeat Law and Justice machinery: with a unity of the opposition.

Before this happens PiS does its bit to try to convince any two Senators elected within the larger diverse opposition to change affiliations and chose the Speaker of the Senate who is either a PiS Senator or a moderate. What PiS wants to avoid is a strong and skilful Speaker who could play the power game with the ruling party.

Jan Grodzki is one of the opposition Senators and a doctor. He says he was offered to be a health minister in the new government. He declined.

Over the past years Law and Justice was ruling with a machine. The Parliament was adopting laws in no time. This shall change now. The opposition-controlled Senate should increase transparency of the law making.

The opposition leaders are quick to denounce PiS attempts to lure in any of their Senators. But they quickly enter into a fight over the consultation process on whom to chose as the next Speaker. Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz of PSL has 3 Senators. He rebukes the Civic Coalition (KO)’s attempt to elect Bogdan Borusewicz, who was the Senate’s Speaker before (2005-2015), without prior conversation. The Left (Lewica) and the Independent Senators are invited in this discussion, too. After all, together they form a 51 majority in the Senate.

Towards the Presidential Elections

Everybody agrees: the day the Sejm and the Senate are elected marks the beginning of the next campaign. The opinion polls are there, the opinions are there, the speculations are out there, too.

For months people were speculating who can match up Andrzej Duda, the PiS-affiliate President of the Republic. Mr Duda runs a rather successful term in terms of his popularity. Still, the opposition is empowered by the Senate vote: united they believe to stand a chance.

PiS (Dark Blue) v Opposition (KO+L+KP) in the Sejm electoral districts. Source: TVN24.pl

But who should be the person to unite the opposition? For months it seems it has to be Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. After last Sunday it does not necessarily have to be him.

Mr Tusk weighs in. He says that it is crucial to elect a President whose veto can stop detrimental policies of Law and Justice. He urges all the opposition forces to unite behind a candidate who has the best shot: “it is absolutely a strategic matter”.

Who has the best shot? Mr Tusk says it is important to chose the person wisely, not fast. Majority of commentators in Poland disagree: the sooner there is a good candidate, the better.

There is a new frontrunner. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska was the Civic Coalition candidate for prime ministership and lost the moment PiS was re-elected. But her individual result is astounding. Over 400,000 votes in Warsaw was the best individual result last Sunday. The polls are in favour: she polls even with Mr Duda. Mr Tusk also polls even with Mr Duda.

Effectiveness matters. Mr Tusk agrees that he does not have to be the candidate. Gazeta Wyborcza writes that Ms Kidawa-Błońska candidacy is the Civic Coalition’s leader Grzegorz Schetyna master plan.

Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska

Poland voted: the Senate results

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So you thought PiS won? Wait a moment…

Yes, the ruling party came first to the Sejm with the result similar to the exit poll and the late poll: 43.76%. At least this is the result from 99% precincts. PiS will form a government and rule like they did so far… this is the message of last night.

It is not as simple. The Senate results make things a bit difficult for Law and Justice with their “revolution”. Apparently sticking together (KO+Left+KP) brought a result in which 51 Senators will affiliate with the opposition parties (43 for KO, 2 for the Left, 3 for KP and 3 Independents) and 49 with the ruling block (48 for PiS, 1 Independent).

What does it change? It depends. PiS is known for not liking to share the power. By not controlling the Senate it will not be able to change laws automatically and over night. The Senate is also necessary for confirmations and appointments as well as ruling with referenda. A minimal thing this may mean that the legislative process will be a month long instead of one night.

The next Senate Speaker will be a high profile person; nominally second in the state after the President.

Yet, there is a different development possible. Last year in regional elections in Upper Silesia (Katowice region) the opposition won by one seat. The same happened in Mazovia (Warsaw region). In Upper Silesia the ruling party was able to attract one of the opposition counsellors to switch affiliations. In Mazovia, however, this proved impossible.

Will the new Senate majority hold the ground?

Poland voted: the morning after

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So yesterday Poles went to the polls. And yes they did. Big numbers, some 61% (estimated) of the electorate showed up. The celebration of democracy continues.

As the results come in and they are distorted after 25% and 42% of the vote, I prefer to present the “late poll” result, which is almost identical with the exit poll from last night.

Law and Justice (PiS) wins with 43.6% of the vote. It shall translate itself into 239 seats according to the polling institution. 239 is a majority of seats in the Sejm composed of 460 MPs. As those are still estimates some scientists pulled different figures out of this poll suggesting PiS dominance to be slightly reduced, ranging from 227 to 231.

Law and Justice will continue to rule alone. Mateusz Morawiecki will continue to be PM. PiS had a number of controversial policy programme items including the judiciary reform, the media law and the cooperation with the local authorities. Yet the most important of the campaign promises were on the social policy: the minimal wage at a Western European standard by 2023.

The opposition lost and is weakened. It was virtually a concerto to listen to all the commentators singing the same tune last night, and it may continue well into the weeks ahead, that Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform (PO) and main architect of the Civic Coalition, should be the person to hold accountable for the performance. It does not help the PO that majority of their voters vote them out of opposition to the ruling party. The positive offer was lacking in the campaign. The narrative remains reactive to the PiS narrative. The voters prefer the original and the new. Marketing 101.

The Left is back. A coalition of three partners who present themselves as three musketeers. They promise a lot, actually underperformed against the opinion polls, and risk divisions. The three leaders say they shall remain united.

PSL, the farmers party and their partners, is deeply relieved. PiS has targetted its audience in its campaign. Today, almost half of PiS voters are based in the rural areas of the country. Traditionally this is where PSL was strong. Eradication of PSL could serve the PiS increased popularity. This did not happen also thanks to the brilliant campaign rhetoric of the young PSL leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz. His star will continue to shine among the opposition politicians.

The alt-right is back. The Confederacy is a mosaic of far rights, nationalists, monarchists, libertarians and other movements. Will they stay united or disintegrate into individual atoms orbiting around Law and Justice? As long as Mr Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a vocal critic of the PiS rule in the Sejm it might actually be prevented from happening.

The Sejm’s new dynamics

The new Sejm will see a new balance to the public discourse in Poland. The dark ages of a debate between an EPP member PO and the ruling Law and Justice is largely behind us. Even with the PiS domination the renewed presence of the Left offers a fresh start. Among the key vocal debaters is Adrian Zandberg, one of the three co-leaders.

As the Left will check the redistribution policies of the government and will check the liberal values of the PO, the Confederacy will check the liberal economic offer of the PO and the conservative values of PiS. An interesting interplay, in which PSL does present itself as the “middle ground”.

If this was a game of thrones and the winter is coming, there are the Greens who arrive on the Polish political scene. Elected with the Civic Coalition the Green MPs will have, for the first time in history of the Sejm, a real chance of advocating the climate crisis, which may be global, but is also a local affair in Poland.

The Morning Questions

There are many questions, but let me ponder two. First, the future of the Senate is important. First indicators show that the upper chamber will be divided between PiS and the opposition. As the results are coming in and many races are tight, it is impossible to give the answer which way the Senate will go. The Senate elections is not proportionate, there are 100 seats and 100 electoral districts and the winner takes all.

Second, Donald Tusk’s future. The star of Mr Schetyna may be in decline, but is it also the case of Mr Tusk, whose term ends in December? Clearly the opposition will seek a unifier candidate for the next battle: for the country presidency, scheduled for late spring next year.

Poland voted: First reactions

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Today Poles go to the polls to elect new Sejm of 460 MPs and 100 Senators.

As the first exit polls come out, Law and Justice is the clear winner with 43.6% of the vote. The centrist Civic Coalition (KO) is second with 27.4% of the vote. The Left’s back in the Polish Parliament with 11.9%. The conservative Polish Coalition (KP) wins 9.6% of the estimated votes, and the alter-right Confederacy wins 6.4% of the vote.

The “but” is there as it is unclear at now if PiS wins the majority of the seats in both of the houses of the Parliament. The results are too tight to call it a clear win for either PiS (43.6%) or the collective opposition (KO, Left, KP, 48.9%), which was united in the Senate elections.

Initial reactions:

Jarosław Kaczyński talks about an upcoming reflection of what happened today. He notices millions opposed to his policies. He says “we got many votes. We deserve more”. He talks of credibility and keeping a given word that are crucial for this support. The next four years, even if PiS continues to rule, “will be more difficult”, says the PiS leader.

Grzegorz Schetyna of the Civic Coalition still waits for the Senate votes, but tonight he claims “there will be no Budapest in Warsaw”. A few years ago PiS was promising to recreate the Orban rule in Poland.

Robert Biedron, MEP and one of co-leaders of the Left: “we are back” in the Sejm. Adrian Zandberg, another co-leader of the Left, continues: “Jarosław Kaczyński has a problem because there will be a brave opposition. This is the first step towards a left-wing government.”

The Polish Coalition and PSL’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz is relieved as his party was hanging in the air for weeks. Almost 10% is a good result, that WKK sums up: “this is a strong mandate of confidence for a rational centre”.

One of many Confederates, Janusz Korwin-Mikke says to wait. Back in May they had 6% in the exit polls. Their final results was under 5%. Will it be the same today?

More news to come.

The Polish EP 2019 results are coming in

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As the night is unfolding, the first results of the European elections in Poland are coming in. Initially as exit polls, late polls, this morning (6 AM) we have results out of 95,9% of precincts. Here they are:

  • Law and Justice, 46,00%
  • European Coalition, 37,87%
  • Spring, 6,02%

The other committees fall short of the 5% threshold, most notably the far-right Confederacy (4,55%) and Kukiz’15 (3,71%). The last committee was the United Left (in fact, far left coalition) with 1,23%.

The turnout is 43%. Five years ago it was under 24%.

Et alors?

The big winner: the people, who showed up in big number in the electoral booth.

The big winner: Law and Justice, which bounced back from a nuanced results in 2018 to an astonishing result of 46% and 26 MEPs in the new European Parliament. PiS also managed to defend itself from the right side last-minute surge of Confederacy.

The big loser: Grzegorz Schetyna and his European Coalition. 8pp differential between EC & PiS is a major difference. Clearly Donald Tusk was wrong went he said “There are more of us” some 9 days ago addressing the EC rally in Warsaw. The EC should have about 22 MEPs

The big relief: if Confederacy fails to get elected this is a strong message that the only pill against the far right madness is a high turnout.

The big question mark: Spring with 6% and 3 MEPs. Where will they go? Can they be “the third way”, “the progressive option”? “What will Robert Biedroń do” was one of many questions asked last night. Is 6% a good departing point to grow, or, is it everything there is?

Will Poles double the turnout?

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In the previous European elections Poles did not vote in big numbers. Turnout never was higher than 25%. This time it looks like things go differently.

The Electoral Commission just informed that the turnout at 12:00 was 14.39%. This is almost double than five years before, when by midday the Polish turnout was at 7.31%.

Last year during the local and regional elections, the turnout at midday was at 15.62%. By the end of the day the turnout was at 54.9%.

The 12:00 turnout suggests that by the end of the day some 40% to 50% may show up to vote.

The high turnout is driven by a high degree of political polarisation and a lack of a clear projected winner ahead of the vote. All leaders called on the voters to turn out to cast their ballot.

In Warsaw the turnout is significantly higher at 16.79% (compared to 10.7% five years before at 12:00). The same can be said of other regions, i.e. in the south-eastern Podkarpacie region the turnout at midday is at 15.96%, compared to 8.72% five years before.

The choice

The European citizens in Poland vote for one of 6 lists:

  1. Confederacy Korwin-Braun-Liroy-Nationalists
  2. Spring of Robert Biedroń
  3. European Coalition PO PSL SLD Modern Greens
  4. Law and Justice
  5. Left United – Razem, Labour Union, RSS
  6. Kukiz’15
The Electoral Commission (PKW)

Poland on strike

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Since Monday, 8 April, Polish schools and pre-schools are on strike. Classes are cancelled throughout the country. Teachers are demanding increases of salary. The government reached an agreement with one of three of the trade unions, the educational branch of “Solidarność”, but most teachers continue to strike. Many of “Solidarność” members defy their union. Many of the teachers on strike are non-unionised. Altogether some 600,000 people are on strike.

There was a referendum in schools about the strike. 78% said they were ready to strike. The unions ask for:

  • Increase of salary by 1,000 zł (about 230 Euro)
  • Increase budgetary expenditure on education
  • Change of the teachers work system
  • Change of the teachers advancement path
  • Firing of Anna Zalewska, the PiS education minister.

The teachers unions were pondering a strike since the end of 2018. However their motions to engage with the ministry or the prime minister proved elusive. They felt forced into strike. If you are a 25 years old in Poland today and you would like to be a teacher this is not your popular choice. Average age of a Polish teacher is 42. Only 2,4% of students dream to be a teacher one day. This is one of the lowest indicators among the OECD countries.

The response & the memes

The government took the strike threat seriously only last minute. Beata Szydło, vice PM responsible for the social matters and MEP candidate, was called in for help, as the teachers do not consider Anna Zalewska (another MEP candidate) a partner. Ms Szydło mission fails, yet she continues to lead the talks. For the time being the leading union, ZNP, rejects all the governmental proposals.

On Saturday before the strike, Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, made a new promise to the farmers offering at least 500 zł (about 116 Euro) per cow and 100 zł (about 23 Euro) per porker. That was a classical PiS campaign: offer financial assistance to groups supporting Law and Justice. The timing, however, could not be worse: the Internet is full of memes like these:

“Every teacher can use 500+ zł. All they need is to buy cows. The more cows the greater the increase”. On the photo: Minister Anna Zalewska.
“The money we simply deserve”.
“And is thisf*** fair that a cow gets 5 times more from Kaczynski than me?!??!”

The tests

If the timing is terrible for the ruling party, the real life test is next to come. What to do with millions of children who should go to schools? Parents took holidays, special leaves, or took children with them to work. But the real test is about the exams season that also starts this week.

On 10, 11 and 12 April there is a state exam for the middle schools’ final year (gimnazjum) aged 16. The middle schools are being phased out this year, hence the final exams season continues next week for the 8th graders of the new system (aged 15): they shall have exams on 15, 16 & 17 April.

The phasing out of the old system created a major havoc in the educational system. There is a great anxiety there will not be enough space for all the 15-year olds and 16-year olds who should move to high schools at the same time (3-year long and 4-year long schools). There are also costs related to the adaptation to the new system where the state has not provided enough funding for the local governments which sustain the schools. There are even court cases pending on the issue.

Awhile back the ZNP leader Sławomir Broniarz said the exams could be jeopardised by the strike. The government does everything in its power to avoid the disaster. Crisis management in full bloom.

On day 3 of the strike and day 1 of the exams the country holds its breath. And a relief in the afternoon: only in 3 schools out of the entire country the exams did not take place. Day 2 of the tests and a relief, all schools carried out the exams. Day 3 and the situation is under control.

What will happen next week? Will the 15-year olds be ok, too? How about the schools that those 16- and 15-year olds will be moving to, are they ready?

There are more questions than answers today, the victorious government is temporarily relieved, the strike continuous, and so do new rounds of negotiations led by Ms Szydło.

XLI High School “Lelewel” on strike. This is the high school Jarosław Kaczyński attended.

The trolling

On one hand, the government is negotiating. The Szydło offer includes a 15% salary increase. Thus far, the unions reject the offer.

“Still, the strike. 15% increase is not enough”

On the other hand, there is trolling against the strike, the ZNP and its leader. The leader in the process is the right-wing public TV, TVP in its information programmes. Cynical comments, false accusations and misused video material to prove one’s point: welcome to TVP’s Wiadomości daily routine. Some programmes are saying that only 11% schools are on strike, others – 48%. ZNP says 78% of schools are on strike.

PiS politicians talk about the strike, ZNP and Mr Broniarz that they are politically motivated, politically inspired by the opposition, that they work “hand in hand” with Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the Civic Platform. One PiS politician said: nobody stops teachers from having more children.

There are reports confirming that Law and Justice used trolling farms in the past campaigns. There is no reason to believe this not to be the case today.

Some commentators draw parallels to the demonisation of teachers today to the way handicapped people and their parents were addressed when they went on a strike over a year ago, or migrants or the LGBT community. Virtually anyone PiS chooses to be a “target” of their campaign.

The Ministry of Education tries to single out teachers on strike to keep this information on the record for future reference. The Ministry asked the school directors to provide information who’s on strike. Minister Zalewska asked directly, denies the story. The Internet is flooded with counter-proof.

Gazeta Wyborcza sums up the PiS strategy: “Don’t talk about the strike, demonise Broniarz, talk about the PiS offer”.

It’s about the society, not politics

Meanwhile, the strike continuous for the 5th day today. There is no compromise in sight. The strike is controversial and divisive, only 46% of the public supports the teachers, 43% is opposed to the strike. Most of the people disagree with the strike timing (exams). Most of the people are concerned about the children promotion to the next class, or graduation.

When teachers strike they do not receive salaries. ZNP organises support for the teachers. People wear black to support the teachers. Someplace teachers call for a pizza delivery, and when the pizza arrives they receive the food free of charge. In solidarity with the striking teachers.

Et alors

Not only teachers are on strike this week. The strike of taxi drivers on Monday lasted a day. The taxi drivers do not like Uber, but also other companies providing taxi services without proper licences.

The real issue is if Law and Justice can contain the teachers strike problem. Contain, not solve. Clearly the strike is a negative development for the ruling party. It is 600,000 people who are concerned. By now PiS tried to control the information, to shame, to troll and to intimidate. With time PiS proves to be partly successful as the exams take place and large part of the society is against the strike. The next hurdle: graduation papers that can only be signed by teachers (unlike the exams, which were managed with assistance of volunteers working at sport facilities, universities or the Catholic Church).

The crisis management is with the detriment to the quality of education.

It seems that the argument of children education can prevail. The strike has been quite intrusive, but the unions could consider softening their strike method to be more accommodating of children needs.

The one actor who lost credibility thus far is “Solidarność” trade union, not ZNP or Mr Broniarz, despite PiS trolls efforts. Traditionally “S” has been the most respected trade union. To see teachers blurring the emblem “Solidarność” to continue the strike – this is the end of an era.

People who have problem are PiS leading MEP candidates: Anna Zalewska and Beata Szydło. Instead of addressing the school problems both are accused of doing too little too late, being aloof and disconnected. Their expected departure for the European Parliament should be viewed as removing the not-so-popular politicians before the October parliamentary elections. The only elections that PiS truly cares for.

One Poland, diversified

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As many as 62.1% of Poles and Poles believe that religion should take place in vicarage, while only 37.9% are in favour of religious education in schools. 55.9% prefer to be buried in a traditional coffin, but as many as 44.1% would choose to be cremated. As many as 54.1% think that Nobel Peace Prize for Lech Wałęsa was a misunderstanding, while only 45.9% feel proud about this fact. Only 37.6% of Poles choose tomato soup, while as much as 62.4% prefer chicken soup.

These and many other equally surprising, serious and funny findings about the Polish society come from the survey One hundred questions for the centenary of independence, which was carried out as part of the social campaign “We are different. We are Poland“. This is the first research of its kind in Poland, completely devoted to the similarities and differences among the Poles.

Many various views of Polish women and men on very different topics were examined back in December 2018. From very fundamental ones regarding the opinion on the European Union and religion to funny ones: about our everyday choices, habits or preferences. The collected results show an interesting picture of the Polish society and disrupt the stereotypical perception of dividing lines of the Polish society into two camps. This may be important information, especially in the election year, in which the subject of segmentation of recipients and positioning of the electorate will come back many times.

Jacek Santorski

Experts were invited to comment on the results of the study. As noted by social psychologist Jacek Santorski: Poles can not be simply divided into “two tribes”, as is often simplified in the narratives of publicists and politicians. The question that I propose to take is: are we dealing with a wealth of diversity or rather a “neurotic inconsistency”?

What interested the experts are some apparent contradictions from the research. It turns out that in a country where the vast majority of society declares attachment to Catholic values, as many as 74% of respondents are positive about contraception and 82% support the ‘in vitro’ method financed. At the same time, 63.6% of people think that John Paul II is a saint, 85.2% think that God exists, and 63.9% consider the most important values ​​expressed in the slogan “God, Honour, Fatherland”. There are more examples of this type of paradox. The ideas usually associated with the left-wing parties, such as ecology, also enjoy positive support of the Poles. 80.8% of them, if they had to choose between energy from wind or coal, would choose the wind, and 76.1% think that global warming is not a joke, 58% support feminism and as much as 58.4% is for the legalisation of pot.

Antoni Dudek

Professor Antoni Dudek of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University commented on the results this way: The statement that Poles differ in each case smells like a cliché. However, if we look at the detailed results of the survey, it turns out there are matters that the vast majority of us think similarly. And it is on this basis that we should uphold the Polish community.

The next element of the campaign is the on-line quiz posted on the website www.jakajestpolska.pl. Those who take part answer the same questions,
as those polled in the survey, and their answers are arranged in a way that makes the Polish flag. The flag of each of the Internet users looks different reflecting the unique results.

The results of the nationwide survey and the online quiz do not always coincide, as the results of online play change dynamically and the online survey is not representative. So far, the website has been visited by almost 130,000 people.

Complete research results: https://jakajestpolska.pl/public/100_pytan_results.pdf

The “Jaka Jest Polska” (How Poland Is) project is run by the Stefan Batory Foundation and Kultura Niepodległa. The polling was performed by the Difference agency.

Far, far away on the right side

Where the horizon ends on the far, far right side, Sunday saw two new – marginal, I hope – developments in Poland. Both in the context of the European elections.

Żółtek’s Polexit

First, another new party was created. It is called Polexit and its driver is Stanisław Żółtek, MEP, former associate of Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Mr. Żółtek is a former deputy mayor of Kraków in 1990s and a current MEP with the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Polexit will advocate for leaving the European Union altogether. Sounds similar? Remember UKIP and its difficult start?

The reason to leave the EU according to Mr. Żółtek is the recent vote in the European Parliament that links the rule of law with the distribution of the EU funds. Żółtek: “If [this] enters into force, and it is close, then we will lose our sovereignty completely, other countries will decide on our behalf. This is occupation”. Mr. Żółtek also dislikes ETS which makes the energy prices go up in Poland. He blames the EU for Poland’s increased energy prices.

The Nationalists March in Oświęcim

Second, the far-right march. 27 January is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the liberation of the largest German Nazi-era concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, located near the town of Oświęcim. 27 January 2019 there is an international commemoration led by the Polish prime minister and foreign dignitaries. The attention, however, is high-jacked by a group of radicals led by Piotr Rybak. Piotr Rybak is a convict who has burnt an effigy of a Jew awhile back. On Sunday he argues: “During the occupation years our countrymen died here for the liberty of our motherland. Today it turns out that over last 30 years the fact has been forgotten that all nations of the world, including Poles, died here.” If thus far what he says could sound reasonable, listen to the rest of his speech: “It’s time to fight against the Jewry and free Poland of it. Where are the rulers of this country? At the trough! This has to change.”

This causes an outcry in Poland and abroad. The Washington Times, the Haaretz, write their stories. In Poland the opposition (Paweł Rabiej, deputy mayor of Warsaw, Grzegorz Schetyna, PO leader, for example) accuses the ruling PiS of doing nothing, or little, to fight anti-Semitism. PiS responds that the PO is the guilty party here, as the mayor of Oświęcim is from PO and it was during PiS rule when Mr. Rybak was sentenced (that’s Jacek Sasin, deputy minister of culture and frequent media commentator, for example).

The police looks into the issue.

Chapeau bas to the interior minister Joachim Brudziński, Law and Justice (after throwing some anti-opposition comments beforehand): “I have said this before and I shall repeat once again: there will be never any OK from me for any activities affirming Nazism and anti-Semitism”.

As for Rybak, better bad press than no press.

Et alors?

It does not matter much if Żółtek runs. He’s always a candidate. Sometimes he is elected, like for the deputy mayorship in Kraków in 1990s, or as MEP in 2014. Most of the time he is not. He is not a very popular individual, unlike Mr. Korwin-Mikke. “Polexit” going solo has no chance. “Polexit” as a force within a larger, united anti-European platform on the right side of the Law and Justice, this could happen. United right, Polexit and the Rydzyk moves (or no moves) – there seems to be enough stirring on the Polish far, far right. Can someone unite them?

Brudziński and Sasin incidentally agreed that the Polish courts are politically motivated. They claim that Rybak’s sentencing took place “on this government watch”. If the courts were independent the arguments used by PiS politicians would be different. Hence, are the courts free? Earlier this month a case from the Netherlands, where a local court stopped a transfer of 11 suspects to Poland fearing they would not face a fair trial in Poland. That’s worrisome.

As for Rybak there is bad news and good news. The bad news: Rybak’s popularity re-emerged among the far-right. The good news: there is no more acquiescence for anti-Semitism. To see Law and Justice and the opposition competing for who is more against the far-right – that is how things should be. The unfortunate news is that it took Mr. Adamowicz to die for Law and Justice to be more critical of the far-right. Not self-critical, but critical. Maybe more self-aware. And viciously offensive towards the opposition – who continues to be vocal on those issues, too.

A new role for Poland in the Trump’s World

Over a few last days two simultaneous geopolitical events took place. It would be fair to treat them separately, but as they have a rare joint actor, we won’t. First, Mike Pompeo announced that there will be a Middle East conference – Iran being the most important topic – in Warsaw. This triggered an outcry in Tehran against Poland, with whom Poland has had traditionally good relations.

Second, Chinese espionage scandal took place in Poland, hitting Huawei and the Chinese diplomacy in Central Europe. This triggered anti-Chinese repercussions in Poland and Chinese criticism of Poland.

What is going on?

Iran

First the facts. In May 2018 the United States triggered a new conflict with Tehran by withdrawing from the agreement about the Iranian nuclear program supervision. The new American anti-Iranian sanctions were infuriating for the European diplomats, who continue to work on countermeasures. Yet the Europeans do not attempt to withdraw from the agreement with Iran. Mogherini in January 2019 wrote on her blog: “I confirmed the international community’s determination to preserve the deal and its implementation” and “European countries have started preparations to create a mechanism to let our firms continue their legitimate business with Iran“. A little reminder: the European top diplomat never crosses any of EU member states, Poland included.

A year ago Poland entered into a diplomatic controversy with Israel, another country it traditionally kept good relations with. In order to smooth things out, Polish diplomacy rushed to Tel Aviv and Washington. Apparently, the Americans smelled an opening on how to challenge the European unity. In May 2018, Gazeta Wyborcza reports, the minister of foreign affairs received an offer to host a conference in Warsaw about peace and security in the Middle East. Warsaw was already taken into consideration to host the Trump-Kim summit last year. Clearly, Poland under PiS is welcomed in Washington, DC, as a relative ally among allies, that is. North Korea summit took place in Singapore, now the Iran summit is taking place in Warsaw.

Back in December I have heard from multiple Poland’s MFA sources that Poland “plays to be the closest to the Americans among the Europeans without breaking the EU unity”. Iran was to be – and now is – the showcase which illustrates this new situation.

Mike_Pompeo_official_photo
Mike Pompeo. Source: Wikipedia

Poland tries to position itself as a bridge between the Europeans and the Americans on the Middle East problems. It is great to attempt it, but the problems are obvious. Iran reacted with fury: the Polish charge d’affaires was called in, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs called the event “hostile” and some unknown counter-measures have been announced. For now, the festival of Polish movies in Tehran has been cancelled. Better not to plan a trip to Iran if you are a Polish national.

The Polish diplomats play their cards… diplomatically. So closely and so privately, that the news about the Iran event came not from the host, but from the American State Secretary Mike Pompeo. As if it was the Americans, who initiated it. Oh, they are the initiators. Poles are the hosts, not the players between the Americans and the Iranians, but at best between the Americans and the Europeans. As for the Iranians the players are the UN Security Council permanent members (US, Russia, China, France and UK) as well as Germany and the EU.

The event is scheduled now for 13-14 February 2019. Some 70 delegations have been invited, but not the Iranian delegation. The question is this: Poles probably have enough credit with the Americans and the Europeans for the US-EU potential rapprochement on Iran, but will that be at the expense of the Polish relations in the Middle East?

China

The same day another news came: a Huawei employee in Warsaw and a French telecom Orange employee (a Polish national) in Warsaw were arrested on the charges of espionage. The details of the case are well covered here. What came afterwards, was interesting. The Chinese foreign office just calmly called for the investigation to be conducted “justly”. The Chinese newspaper Global Times was more outspoken: “If Poland wants to destroy its relations with China, it will lose much more, because China has trade advantage over the country” (Zhao Junjie, Chinese expert) and “is there anything worth stealing by Huawei in Poland?” (Hu Xijin, the newspaper editor).

The last question is a clear flexing of muscles. “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”, asked Stalin once, and this is the same argument. To put it bluntly: sometimes it is not about the argument of power, sometimes it is about the power of an argument. In situations like this one behind any European state there is the rest of the Union. It is the European Commission who considers steps against the United States because the US has not lifted its visa regime for some of the EU citizens. Unity is a value Europeans respect highly. There might be talk of disunity and populism, but every six months the European Council renews the Russian embargo despite individual voices contrary by some European governments. There was no major European disunity since the Iraq war; the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians were unable to break the Europeans. Minus the Brexit, that is, whoever did this deserves a credit. What can Warsaw do? For starters the Polish intelligence agency recommended to all the government officials not to use Chinese technology. Huawei faces a real threat of being banned from the Polish IT market. As small as it may be, it is a part of a larger European and trans-Atlantic cake. It may be that a Polish cough can turn into a mortal blow to the Chinese giant. Just speculating.

Western media covered the arrest and perceive the action as an element in a larger proxy war between China and the West about the technological espionage. Recently Canadian nationals were detained in China as a follow up to the espionage arrests in Canada. Huawei is probably among the most technologically advanced company in the world when it comes to the implementation of 5G. Extending their standards in Europe and the US could mean a technological edge for the Chinese company over the American companies in the future. True or not, a local Polish analyst took an interesting turn. Krzysztof Bogacki wrote an op-ed in the IT magazine “Chip” with the following quote:

“when we say ‘spying Chinese’ we should also remember about the ‘spying Americans'”.

As the American ambassador in Warsaw has a major impact on the Polish government, for the better of the companies like Uber and Discovery Communications.

There is one more angle here: for about 6 years now there is a format of cooperation between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe called “16+1”. There was some controversy about it in Western Europe; suddenly a major donor appeared in a region it was previously absent. Instead of sharing experiences of how to deal with the new Chinese presence, the approach was that the Chinese presence constituted a threat and competition to Western European businesses and model. The approach was wrong on two accounts: first, the Chinese investments are welcome anywhere, if they are genuine, and they can be genuine if the local governance system is not corrupt or prone to corruption. And second, Central Europe – the one that is in the EU, at least – is a part of the EU and there is no particular reason to see Central Europe as an area of “competition” for influence of the Chinese and the Western Europeans. This war is artificial; Central Europeans’ exposure towards the Chinese investments and political relationship is just new.

The arrest of the Chinese spies is a proof of strength of the Polish state, that is not prone to political corruption from the Chinese. Not to say there is none; clearly there are attempts. Yet the state works as well as Canada to spot the problem and deal with it.

Robert Lewandowski is a face of Huawei
Robert Lewandowski is Huawei’s Ambassador in Central-Eastern Europe, Baltic and Scandinavia

Et alors?

Why it matters? Contrary to the popular belief, the Polish state is more advanced and more nuanced that many partners give it credit for. The Polish civil society has shown that it is capable of forcing a quasi-totalitarian government to talk and make compromises. The Polish state is able to oppose to unwanted practices of a foreign power, as long as it is not an ally. And the Polish state is willing to engage in a delicate game of international diplomacy.

This “new Poland” is not what many may recognise. Yes, it has its problems and limitations. But it has its aspirations, too. Its current strengths would not be possible without the European integration: the economic growth and the security comfort allowed for maximising not only economic power, but also a diplomatic one.

Somehow today the outlook for the rest of the day is positive.

In my next blog entry this afternoon I shall follow the Brexit vote in London from the Warsaw perspective.

Paweł Adamowicz, RIP. We remember [i][i][i]