Poland is a country located in the region of Eastern Europe. Poland took a dramatic step to the right through the 2015 elections, when the National Conservative Party Law and Justice (PiS) gained its own majority. PiS governments have provoked strong reactions both in Poland and within the EU with legislative changes that critics believe threaten democracy by limiting the free media and limiting legal security. But the country’s economy is doing well and PiS’s family-oriented welfare policy has support.
Polish politics has long been divided between the liberal middle party Citizens’ Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS). Both parties have their background in the trade union and democracy movement Solidarity, which played a central role in Poland’s liberation from communism in the late 1980s (see Modern History). PO had government power between 2007 and 2015, but lost in popularity even though it had led Poland to economic progress. Catholic voters in rural and eastern Poland did not feel that development had benefited them.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Poland, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
A first message about the swing of opinion came in the presidential election in the spring of 2015 when PiS candidate Andrzej Duda unexpectedly defeated incumbent Liberal head of state Bronisław Komorowski. Duda, who was legal adviser to President Lech Kaczyński (see Modern History), sees himself as his political heir. After Kaczyński’s death in a 2010 plane crash, Duda was a Member of the European Parliament and a European Parliamentarian. Duda was relatively unknown to a wider public before being named Pi’s presidential candidate, but in the electoral movement he was heard for his message of increased social benefits. His victory was also a result of the Poles’ longing for change, after eight years with PO in office.
The end of the parliamentary elections in October of that year gave PiS greater power than any Polish government has had since the fall of communism in 1989. No party had since been able to rule completely without the support of others. Since PiS won 235 of the 460 seats, the party was able to form government on its own. PO became the largest opposition party with 138 seats. A further three parties managed the five percent block to the Sejm, but for the first time the Left became completely without representation in Parliament.
Conservative PiS government
PiS Deputy Chairman Beata Szydło was appointed Prime Minister. In her government, the post of defense minister went to Antoni Macierewicz, who accused Russia of being behind the air crash in Smolensk 2010. However, as Poland’s real power ruler, as was later PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński (brother of the late former president Lech Kaczyński, a people-elected office and thus not answering to the Polish people.
Pi’s big election victory was considered to be due to the fact that the former PO government failed to distribute strong economic growth evenly among the residents. The PO government was also criticized for making huge concessions to the EU and the promise to welcome refugees from Syria. PiS has strong support from the population for not allowing refugees at all.
PiS, which is far to the right in social and family law matters, promised to increase the state control of the economy, tax the banks harder, invest more in health care and stop further privatization of public assets.
As a result of the election loss, PO’s leader Ewa Kopacz resigned. She was replaced by former Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna. He left for the 2019 elections for Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska as prime ministerial candidate.
A number of disputed laws
The PiS government from 2015 shocked the domestic opposition and a large part of Western Europe’s political leaders by quickly enforcing laws that were criticized for being authoritarian and threatening democracy. Above all, the controversy has been about the government’s attempt to take control of the Constitutional Court by changing its composition and rules for decision-making so that the Court would have very limited opportunities to oppose the Government. The Constitutional Court has ruled that the law contravenes the Constitution of Poland, and the Venice Commission (constitutional experts affiliated to the Council of Europe) said in a 2016 report that the amendments to the Constitutional Court violate the rule of law and threaten democracy. The criticism of the European Parliament has also been sharp.
Despite both domestic and international criticism, laws were passed that gave the Ministry of Justice control over the National Prosecutor’s Office, and made it easier for police and intelligence services to monitor Internet traffic.
The PiS government also replaced the heads of the intelligence service and counter-espionage and passed a law that gave the government control over the state-owned public service media, which would be transformed into “national cultural institutions”. The Minister of Finance was given the right to hand-pick the senior media executives. A large number of employees were dismissed or resigned in protest.
Resistance to the PiS government
Shortly after the PiS government took office, the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) was formed to share information and organize government-critical demonstrations via the Internet. In 2016, a series of opposition parties, including the Modern, the Polish Peasant Party and the Democratic Left Alliance, joined forces in an alliance aimed at protecting the rule of law. The Alliance was named “Freedom, Equality and Democracy”.
A citizen initiative to almost completely ban abortion received government and Catholic church support in 2016, but the proposal was withdrawn following vigorous popular protests. Also, a law to restrict media access to Parliament and ban photography inside the sejm was withdrawn following protests.
Polish lawyers, authorities and professional organizations, like the EU and the Council of Europe, have accused the Polish government of undermining the rule of law. The government’s controversial decision has been met by repeated demonstrations in Warsaw and other major cities.
Poland, which had previously been considered a constructive partner in EU cooperation, positioned itself after the turn of government in 2015 among the handful of countries in Eastern Europe that most clearly expressed skepticism about the EU. Not least, the PiS government expressed reluctance to share the burden of the influx of refugees from the Middle East, among others. Contradictions with the EU, including the Constitutional Court and the government’s actions against the judiciary, have since then been a sequel, which has also led to formal warnings against Poland from the EU. In 2020, Poland, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, was convicted in the European Court of Justice for its refusal to distribute refugees between EU member states (see Calendar).
The PiS government has also directed its ambitions towards the business community by placing party loyal people in a wide range of corporate boards.
Sharp action from the EU
In December 2017, Prime Minister Szydło submitted her resignation application since it became clear that she had lost confidence in her own party. PiS replaced her with EU-skeptical Economy and Development Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who would prioritize improving the country’s economy and merging Poland’s relations with the EU and the US. PiS also assumed that Morawiecki would be able to attract mid-voters in the 2019 elections. The government’s political program was fixed even after the change of prime minister’s post.
On December 20, 2017, the European Commission activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, which means that a Member State loses its voting rights in the Union’s decision-making institutions. The reason was the changes in the judicial system adopted by the Polish parliament. While the government felt that the reforms were needed to clear out old judges and jurists from the communist era and counter corruption, the EU felt that they were limiting the independence of the judiciary and demanding that Poland refrain from implementing the reforms. In the spring, Parliament voted in favor of some changes to the judicial reform (see Calendar).
In an effort to appease the EU, Prime Minister Morawiecki made a comprehensive government transformation in 2018. New Foreign Minister became the center politician Jacek Czaputowicz and the post of Defense Minister was taken over by Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.
With local elections held in 2018, signs that more liberal forces could be on the rise again. PiS won the countryside, but the opposition took home the cities, all the big and many medium and small. Before the 2019 elections (first to the European Parliament, then to the Sejm), the opposition, both liberal middle parties as well as the left and the extreme right, gathered for election alliances. Voter turnout was the highest since the fall of communism. The left again took its place in the sejm, which now also contains an alliance that stands farther to the right than the government.
The Senate election became a hardship for PiS, who lost his majority in the House. But PiS promises of, among other things, increased pensions and lower taxes for young workers are popular and have contributed to strong voter support for the government, which continues to control the lower house. PiS has also replaced a finance minister who wanted to limit welfare promises in order to hold back on state spending.
The Corona pandemic has led the government, like many other countries, to pledge support to crisis-prone industries. In addition, strict measures have been taken to prevent the spread of infection. Despite the presidential election announced in May, the government wants to carry it out.
In February 2018, a law was passed which makes it punishable to accuse the Polish state of being guilty or complicit in the Holocaust and to call the Nazi death camps on German-occupied Polish land for Polish. The law was later mitigated so that imprisonment and fines were removed, but it led to questions not least in Israel.
Follow the ongoing developments in the Calendar.
Law and justice – fate issue for Poland. World Politics Day Issues # 9 2018
Milk in Jarosław Kaczyński’s Cup After Election Victory – Article in UI’s online magazine The Foreign Magazine (2019-11-05)
FACTS – POLITICS
Rzeczpospolita Polska / Republic of Poland
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Andrzej Duda (2015–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (2017–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Law and Justice 235, Citizens Coalition (KO) 134, Left 49, Kukiz’15 / Polish Peasant Party (PSL) 30, Confederation 11, German Minority 1 (2019)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Law and Justice 235, Citizens’ Platform (PO) 138, Kukiz’15 42, Moderna 28, Polish Peasant Party (PSL) 16, German minority 1 (2015)
55% in the 2015 presidential election, 62% in the 2019 parliamentary elections
presidential elections 2020, parliamentary elections 2023