The coronavirus epidemic has exposed the “weakness of the EU” and the “the importance of nation states”, said Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, in an interview with conservative newspaper Gazeta Polska.
Kaczyński, who holds no formal state office but is Poland’s de facto leader, said that the current crisis reinforced the need for “serious reform” of the EU. He also argued that Brussels has no competence to interfere in Poland’s domestic judicial affairs.
“Deep reform of the EU”
“I am sure that the current crisis caused by the pandemic will make many people aware of EU’s weaknesses and remind them of the importance of nation states,” Kaczyński told Gazeta Polska. “If we are to draw any conclusion from the current situation, they are very clear: the EU requires serious reforms and changes.”
He went on to outline his vision of the EU as an organisation of nation states modelled on the United Nations, with each member giving up their sovereignty only to a very limited extent, apart from in economic relations. “No one should have the right to interfere” in countries’ internal affairs, said Kaczyński.
His remarks echo previous statements by leading figures in PiS and among its allies, who have criticised the EU’s response to the epidemic and stressed the importance of nation states.
“Unfortunately, the EU has not given a single euro cent to fight the coronavirus,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in parliament in late March. “In difficult times like this, it is nation states that are most important.”
Poland has been left “alone, completely without external help” during the pandemic, said President Andrzej Duda, also in March. Last week, he added that, after the crisis has passed, there is the “need for deep reforms” of the EU, in order to make the “voice of nation states stronger”.
In 2018, Duda called the EU an “imaginary community which is of little relevance to Poles”, telling Brussels to “leave us in peace and let us fix Poland”.
"Brussels helpless against the epidemic" headlined Polish state TV news, a government mouthpiece, which once again used the coronavirus crisis to attack the EU.
The report noted that China, Cuba, the US and "even Russia" are sending help to Italy, but the EU is "not effective". pic.twitter.com/PI1sCnRi92
— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) March 26, 2020
“No EU competence in judicial matters”
In the latest interview, Kaczynski also hit out at Brussels for its response to the Polish government’s overhaul of the judicial. “The EU definitely does not have competence in judicial matters,” argued the PiS chairman.
His remarks follow a ruling last week by the Court of Justice of the European Union that ordered Poland to provisionally suspend the new disciplinary regime for judges implemented by PiS. In response, a Polish deputy justice minister attacked the EU for “violating Poland’s sovereignty” in an area where it has “no competence”.
The Polish government has so far not indicated that it will comply with the ruling. Instead, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that the judgement “raises serious legal doubts” and may violate Poland’s constitution. He wants the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to have the “last word” in “resolving the dispute”.
In January, following criticism from Brussels of Warsaw’s latest moves to introduce tougher disciplinary measures against judges, President Duda condemned the “attacks from abroad” by those who are trying “to impose a system on us in foreign languages”.
“Opposition do not accept democracy”
In his conversation with Gazeta Polska, Kaczyński also repeated his longstanding criticism of Poland’s opposition and the “post-communist order” it represents
PiS and its leader have argued that, after 1989, Poland did not become truly independent. Instead, the communist elites and some elements among the opposition to them came to an arrangement that benefited both sides but left Poland not truly free.
“Our current policy is aimed at changing the post-communist order in Poland, and the beneficiaries of this system are fighting to maintain their influence and do not recognise us,” Kaczyński told Gazeta Polska.
Polish democracy is “defective…because we lack opposition of a normal character”, said the PiS chairman. The opposition “do not accept democracy”, they are “unable to accept the consequences of electoral decisions”, they are “not mature enough for democracy”.
Kaczyński’s own party has been accused by both the domestic opposition and international organisations of repeatedly violating democratic principles since returning to power in 2015, through its efforts to overhaul the judicial, create a more “national” media, and take greater control over civil society.
Last week, representatives of the EU and OSCE, as well as Poland’s own electoral commission, expressed concern at the Polish government’s plans to press ahead with presidential elections scheduled in May amid the coronavirus epidemic, warning that they may not meet international standards.
During PiS’s period in office, Poland has dropped six places in the Economist’s Democracy Index, which now classifies Poland as a “flawed democracy”. It has recorded similar falls in other global rankings of freedom, including those compiled by the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation
Main image credit: Jakub Porzycki/Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.