University of California, Los Angeles

“EU”-rosion in Poland by Emmanuel Iheke, Jr. @ University of California, Los Angeles

As we speak, Poland continues to take more and more steps away from the commonly held European Union tradition of democracy. This process – the erosion of democratic values and transition towards an authoritarian governmental structure – is called Democratic Erosion. This is considered a serious issue, as democracy dissipates from some of this world’s countries through gradual tactics like shifts in electoral systems, party ideologies and more. Poland, a once safe haven for the Jewish people escaping from the horrific authoritarian rule of Nazi Germany, has now shown signs of shifting their national values towards that same as their opponent of the past. Through censorship and judicial reform, the PiS government has violated key democratic values that the EU upholds such as accountability and checks and balances. The transition is happening, and if continued, will back the EU into a corner, with the only option on the table being to kick Poland out of the coalition.

There are two main indicators of a nation’s Democratic Backsliding, or erosion, that currently also characterizes Poland’s political state. First, is censorship. Citizens keeping politicians accountable is a serious democratic value. The information citizens need to cultivate their opposing stances and rebellion, if needed, come from the media (Ferraz, p.4). Media is the main provider of political information, and the Polish government has made their efforts to censor popular media sources that have voiced opposition of the government and placed the treasury minister as the manager of public television and radio broadcasters. Within 4 months of the minister’s appointment, 140 public media employees were either fired or resigned (“Poland Profile”, Freedom House). Furthermore, when this legislation was deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2016, the PiS government ignored the decision. Besides this occurrence, the PiS government has made other attempts to block opposing media sources from the government hearings on multiple occasions. The restrictions the PiS government have placed on media will allow it to not only escape accountability, but potentially restrict opposing political actors from entering the sphere of government. Today, the PiS government has dissolved the liberal actors and are composed of a vast majority of conservative delegates. This process will continue as long as the PiS government’s grip on media is not loosened. Shamefully, the emergence of censorship in Poland is gradually doing away with the freedom of the press; and soon enough this transition will constitute more oligarchy as the citizens will no longer have a way to hold the political actors accountable.

 

The system of checks and balances has been a longtime held democratic value. This system develops multiple branches of government that have the ability to check one another if one branch becomes too powerful or corrupt. Democratically stable countries like the US and England have more than one branch of government. Poland does also, however, a reported 13 laws have been passed in the last two years that have allowed the PiS government to interfere more in the composition, powers, administration, and functioning of the judiciary branch (Masters, CNN). This includes the appointments of judges that are supposed to “keep the executive branch in check”. The system of a government gradually weakening the checks and balances system in the country is called executive aggrandizement (Bermeo, p.6) . The Constitutional Court of the PiS government is supposed to deem legislation unconstitutional if they violate the democratic values the EU holds to. However, with a Constitutional Court that matches all of the political ideologies as the nationalistic party in power, there is no one to check the executive branch on new legislation. Also, without an unbiased Constitutional Court, there is no constraint on the executive branch on how they treat citizens and provide them their basic human rights in the near future. As the executive branch of the PiS government continues to aggrandize, there develops a clear comparison between Poland and any other authoritarian regime.

 

In the midst of all of Poland’s Democratic Backsliding, the EU has been scrambling to make the correct reaction to the Polish government. With the PiS government’s transitions moving towards a more nationalistic government, the EU fears Poland will influence other nations to emulate them and secede from the coalition, potentially igniting a wave of nationalism across Europe (Moskwa, Bloomberg). Poland’s refugee ban has raised many eyebrows as Interior Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak stated “In agreeing to take refugees, the [previous government] put a ticking bomb under us” (Cienski, Politico). In a push for Poland to become a nation built around Christianity, Poland has started to show genuine characteristics of a nationalistic state. Chief of the Prime Minister Cabinet Office, Elzbieta Witek, stated, “A good Christian is someone who helps, not necessarily by accepting refugees” (Cienski, Politico). This past November, over 60,000 nationalist Poles marched the streets of Warsaw preaching neo-fascist propaganda. The rising racism and xenophobia in Poland is putting a lot of pressure on the European Union. The EU looks for reciprocity in this mess, as Poland is one of the net recipients of the coalition’s aid. Poland’s violations to the EU rule of law does not reciprocate the billions of euro they receive each year from the same people they are defying. The EU also feels that if this backsliding continues, Poland can draw more support from surrounding EU nations. The European Union has for the first time ever, invoked Article 7 of its Constitution, which allows the European Parliament to punish nations in the EU that have violated democratic values and human rights (Lyman, New York Times). The world sits in suspense as the EU has given Poland three months to explain their actions. With the eminent fear of a nationalist frenzy and the lack of reciprocity from Poland’s end, the EU will soon run out of options. The only one left will be to suspend their aid and expel Poland from the European Union before it is too late.

 

Bermeo, Nancy. Journal of Democracy. Vol. 27, John Hopkins University Press, 2016. pp.5-19

 

Cienski, Jan. “Why Poland doesn’t want refugees.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 26 May 2017, www.politico.eu/article/politics-nationalism-and-religion-explain-why-poland-doesnt-want-refugees/.

 

Ferraz, Finan. “Exposing Corrupt Politicians.” Dec. 2011, pp. 1–4.

 

Lyman, Rick. “European Union Chastises Poland, and Draws a Sharp Rebuke.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Nov. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/world/europe/european-union-poland-parliament-vote.html.

 

Masters, James. “Poland faces EU punishment over judicial reforms.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 Dec. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/12/20/europe/poland-eu-punishment-judicial-reforms-intl/index.html.

 

Moskwa, Wojciech, et al. “Poland Risks Being the EU’s Rogue State.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 10 Dec. 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-10/forget-brexit-poland-risks-being-the-eu-s-real-rogue-state.

 

“Poland.” Poland | Freedom House, 19 Sept. 2017, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/poland.

5 Comments

  1. JUSTIN JOOST VAN BEURDEN

    March 15, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    I also wrote about Poland and I honestly feel you did a more thorough job explaining EU reactions than I did in my post. Having said that, there are certain details I believe need clarification. Not only is Poland a net beneficiary of EU financial aid, it is the largest beneficiary in the entire union, making PiS’s open defiance of EU even bolder (wish I would’ve mentioned this in my blog). Additionally, I think some of your sources may be slightly out of date regarding Article 7. Based on what I read, it already is too late. Hungary, with Fidesz and Orban, have allied with Poland effectively preventing the Article 7 vote from passing (it requires a unanimous vote). I think it will be interesting to see if Italy’s new populist government decides to align themselves with Hungary and Poland. If so, difficult times are ahead for the EU.

  2. ANAIS XITLALI LOPEZ

    March 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    I found your paper on the democratic erosion very insightful and felt that it did a good job of laying out the issue and the ways in which they are affecting the citizens of the country. I was shocked to read how many people have been shunned and fired in the media and how the PiS is systematically removing them through its hard censorship. It is surprising how they have been able to pass so many laws in their favor in so little time and how the checks and balances system is eroding. I find it interesting that the EU is not attempting to do more to keep the country on the democratic path given the role Poland and other countries that are turning to populism have an affect on it. I ask then how much power does the EU have over these countries? Are they, in the end, truly able to affect them and make them do what they wish? The marches that favored neo-nazism and the banning of refugees is very telling of not only Poland’s direction, but what seems to be the direction the whole world is going in. I don’t know if I agree with your claim to expel Poland from the EU given the implications that it will have on Europe and, how, it may, push Poland further into this populist and nationalist road of democratic erosion that it is going towards. It will, however, be interesting to see just how far the EU can and will go or if they, as you say, will resort to expelling Poland.

  3. AKINYELE EZANA TURNER

    March 15, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    I agree the forms of control that the Polish government has taken over it’s own people recently is more reminiscent of an authoritarian regime, than a democracy. The European Union will not tolerate further democratic backsliding and it looks like Poland is going to suffer. They won’t cease their policy reform and it will cause sanctions to be placed against them by the United Nations that will inevitably lead to conflict. Something is going to have to budge. And most likely Poland and other authoritarian regimes like them will be crushed. The mere force of the allied democratic nations will be too much for them. No nation can flourish without trade. They are currently trying to make their lands safe for economic investments, however surely no free trading company will want to align themselves with a state that is slowly but surely taking away the rights of the individual. If nothing else it shows a lack of restraint that cannot and will not be trusted to uphold the values and ideas of a democracy.

  4. ERIC RONALD SANGRET

    March 15, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I agree that we’re seeing a very drastic turn in the movement of the Polish Government toward an autocratic regime. It’s interesting how blatant and nonchalant the PiS government has been in dismantling every core tenet of a democratic nation, and surprising how quickly and easily they have been able to do it. From removing all vertical accountability by silencing the media, to removing all horizontal accountability by taking over the courts, it is clear that the PiS government is removing the people from the equation, in favor of consolidating their own power. I found your analysis of the EU perspective particularly interesting. It is clear that they consider the state of Poland a major problem, and I think the worry about nationalism spreading throughout Europe is an apt one. We’re seeing a similar thing happen in Hungary, and Populism is on the rise throughout Europe. I believe we will see greater action from the EU soon, lest they allow the situation to become out of hand. One hopes that with the rise of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy making their voices heard and protesting throughout Europe in conjunction with stronger actions from the EU, the Polish people may be able to remove the PiS party from power before they take the final steps towards authoritarianism.

  5. ISABELLA GRACE GUERRA

    March 15, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    It is pretty apparent that the current Polish government is being conducted in a way that has roots in a more authoritarian type of leadership rather than one of a democracy. The PiS’s unwillingness to stop their policy reform is ultimately going to cause them even bigger issues. Their media censorship is taking away a basic civil liberty and causing their citizens to be ill-informed about how their country is actually being run. It’s frightening how many public media employees were either fired or resigned due to this corruption. But what is even more frightening is the true loss of their Polish checks and balances system with the passage of those thirteen infringing laws. However, in recent years, the EU has taken a pretty firm stance against democratic backsliding, which could be a hopeful outlook on this current situation. Therefore, countries like Poland and those that appear to be shifting towards authoritarian practice don’t seem like they will continue on for long. It is just rather unsettling to see that the PiS was able to accomplish such depravity in such a short amount of time and with, apparently, minimal resistance. Your post was incredibly eye-opening.

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