Ashley Fox is an MEP for South West England, and is the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs.
Poland’s recently departed government, dominated by the Civic Platform party, spent a great deal of time and effort building relations with international media such as the Economist and the Financial Times: publications that approved of its unashamedly pro-EU integrationist attitude.
Since Poland elected the Law and Justice Party (PiS), that same international media has been publishing almost daily editorials claiming that the country is lurching to the right, and seeking to destroy democracy. It is hyperbole that we have come to expect – but not on this scale, and within less than a month of the new government coming to office. PiS did not come to power as the consquence of some Pavlovian conditioning, but by winning the first outright majority since the days of communism. The Polish people made a conscious decision to put them into office.
Had the new Polish Prime Minister appointed Jeremy Corbyn as her Minister for Defence, I am pretty certain that some of these publications would have found a way of describing it as a dangerous lurch to the right. We expect it of some media – but it is disappointing to see it from a former Conservative Party adviser, who made a number of claims against PiS on this site last week without giving any of the background or context.
First, he attacked PiS’s economic policies. On this, I would agree that they would not be the right policies for the UK, but they were clearly ones that the Polish people wanted to see pursued. Poland has the advantage of having remained outside the Eurozone, and so has more flexibility to pursue its own economic platform without the straitjacket of the ECB. Poland sees its demographic situation in a very different way to the UK’s.
Walshe claims that PiS ‘sees enemies everywhere’. With friends like Garvan, is it any wonder why! But after working with senior PiS Members for six years in the European Parliament, I can tell you that they have a very similar attitude to all Polish people on international affairs. Unsurprisingly, they are very nervous about Russian aggression and German dominance in Europe. If we had their history, we would be too. In 2010, their entire elite including the President, First Lady and over 90 other senior figures died in a plane crash in a Russian forest. The investigation into it was at best completely mishandled by the Russians, and so it is not surprising that many Polish politicians will want some answers about what happened to their friends, loved ones and respected figures of their public life.
The main area of contention has been over the appointment of judges to Poland’s Constitutional Court. With the ability to strike down legislation, the make-up of the court matters, and its judges are not independent in the way we in the UK would assume. They are political appointments.
Civic Platform knew they were going to lose the country’s recent election, and thus appointed five people to the court before it took place – despite there being no vacancies. Unsurprisingly, Law and Justice overturned these appointments when they came to office. The party that acted in an underhand and undemocratic manner was Civic Platform, not Law and Justice. Furthermore, even the Constitutional Court decided that Civic Platform’s move was unconstitutional.
The assertion that they are stacking the court in their favour is nonsense. If PiS has allowed the previous government’s appointments to go through, the court would be made up entirely of Civic Platform judges, with the exception of one agrarian party appointment. Even with the changes made by PiS, the court will continue to have a heavy majority in favour of its opponents.
Garvan Walshe is right that there is growing international concern about Poland – but it is being whipped up by people like him pedalling this tripe. So please, anybody who is interested in Poland’s politics should seek to read both sides of the story, and take the time to give PiS a chance.