Tensions in the EU herald a fierce struggle over the future of Polish law


Zbigniew Ziobro did not hesitate to ask Poland’s highest court to decide whether the new EU conditioning mechanism was in accordance with the constitution of the country.

“I do not doubt it. . . is clearly in conflict, ”said Poland’s hawkish justice minister, arguing that EU rules – which make access to Brussels funding conditional on the rule of law – could be used to” blackmail “Poland.

Apart from Brussels, there was another, implicit end to Ziobro’s critique. Poland could blocked the mechanism in December 2020 by vetoing the EU budget. But in the end, Polish Prime Minister – and Ziobr’s great rival – Mateusz Morawiecki did not.

Ziobr’s double-edged salvo was symbolic hardline attitude he entered during the Polish half-decade battle with Brussels over the rule of law. But it was also an example of how relations with the EU are part of the battle for the future of the Polish right between rival groups in the conservative-nationalist ruling coalition.

For now, Poland’s right is still dominated by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, co-founder of Law and Justice (PiS) – the largest party in the ruling coalition – and considered the country’s most powerful politician. But a younger generation of politicians, including Ziobro and Morawiecki, are fighting for a position ahead of both parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to be scheduled by 2023 at the latest, and the day Kaczynski’s hegemony finally ends.

“Kaczynski’s retirement will be the beginning of the division on the right. . . and I can’t imagine Morawiecki and Ziobro on the same ship without him, ”said Wojciech Szacki, a political expert at Polityka Insight. “They have different ideas, different visions, different backgrounds, different goals, so there will basically be no peace between them.”

Morawiecki is relatively moderate. The former multi-language banker entered front policy through the Ministries of Development and Finance before Kaczynski appointed him prime minister in 2017, in part to improve relations with the EU following the shocking prime ministerial position of Beate Szydlo.

Zbigniew Ziobro, in the middle, with members of his party United Poland © Czarek Sokolowski / AP

Ziobro, on the other hand, is a hardliner. He was the Minister of Justice in the first Kaczynski government in the mid-2000s, before he was expelled from the PiS because he questioned his direction. He then founded his own party, United Poland, which has taken uncompromising stances on everything from LGBT rights to climate policy. After a period in the wild, the party became one of PiS’s two younger coalition partners before returning to power in 2015.

United Poland has only 19 deputies in Poland’s 460-seat lower house, and opinion polls rarely give it more than a few percent support. But since PiS’s second younger coalition partner – the Jaroslaw Gowin Agreement – left the government in August, depriving it of a formal majority and forcing it to merge a majority on a vote-by-vote basis, the votes of the United Poland have gained great importance.

Ziobro and his allies have targeted other EU policies that Morawiecki has embraced, including the bloc’s ambitious climate goals. One of the most explicit attacks came in December, when Janusz Kowalski, a Polish lawmaker, called on Konrad Szymanski, Europe’s minister and Morawiecki’s ally, to resign, criticizing several aspects of Poland’s relations with the EU.

Morawiecki’s allies say he has reservations about some EU actions against Poland. But they say they still hope to resolve the long-running rule of law dispute that has prompted Brussels to postpone approval billion euros in funding and claim that Ziobro’s maneuvering and attacks on the EU undermine his efforts to do so.

“He is the prime minister. . . he is eager to find a compromise. But there are some red lines that even he could not agree to, “said a person close to the government. “And of course there is a huge internal pressure, especially from the Ministry of Justice, not to help the negotiations.”

Ziobr’s supporters resent such proposals and instead argue that Poland’s mistake was not a tougher stance on Brussels.

“More and more politicians from PiS see that we were right in this debate with Morawiecki. That we should have fought harder with the EU, that Ziobro had won that debate, ”Kowalski said.

“There should have been money, and there isn’t; everything was supposed to be great, but it wasn’t. And people are wondering why? Who was right, who wasn’t? In short, we were right. ”

Glowing tensions have sparked renewed speculation about the coalition’s permanence. However, analysts are skeptical that a divorce before the 2023 election would help either side. PiS would lack a parliamentary majority without its junior coalition partner. And if the United Poland were running on its own, it is not clear that it would exceed the 5 percent threshold for representation in parliament.

“What keeps the United Poland in this is the thought that the scenario outside the alliance with the PiS is not rosy,” said Alex Szczerbiak, a professor of politics at the University of Sussex in Britain. “[Gowin’s departure] strengthens them. . . But on the other hand it is a warning of what might happen [if they fall out with PiS]. ”

In the long run, however, many observers believe the United Poland has broader ambitions. “I think Ziobro has never given up on the idea of ​​creating a party that is capable of living independently outside the PiS,” Szacki said. “He is preparing the ground for another anti-European movement when Kaczynski withdraws and the right has to start over.”


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