Radiography of Law and Justice (PiS), a formation that has dominated Poland for more than five years and leads the challenge to the EU from within
To understand the five-year electoral success of the Conservatives of Law and Justice (PiS), whose founder Jarosław Kaczyński has turned himself into a self-appointed guarantor of the Catholic values of European civilization, one must look at how they have dealt with coal mining, key in the recent history of the country and that has the hours counted by the European energy and economic transformation.
In 2020, President Andrzej Duda (PiS) was re-elected with a tighter than expected result -51.2% – against Rafał Trzaskowski, current mayor of Warsaw and candidate of the main opposition force, the central liberal party Plataforma Cívica (PO), “In campaign, Duda assured that they would not close the mines, that there would be coal for 200 more years,” the Polish Social Democratic MEP Lukasz Kohut, a native of the mining heart of the country, Silesia, tells ABC. However, “after the elections, Duda began to hint that maybe there was not so much coal and that there would have to be a roadmap to close the mines,” he adds. The country’s main energy source, coal is responsible for up to 70 percent of the country’s electricity, but where the price of electricity remains stable at least on the Polish bills. Warsaw maintains a double standard: it protects the mining sector and the interests of the most powerful union, Solidarność, and at the same time needs to promote imports of Russian coal, cheaper than the national one.
Polish sovereignty is key in the Law and Justice discourse. Last week marked a milestone in the history of confrontations with Brussels with the ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court, with which it considered unconstitutional some articles of the European treaties. Kaczynski himself has celebrated the opinion of the court, a body branded by the opposition as a puppet of Law and Justice after the “illegal” appointment according to the European Court of Human Rights of related judges, in which he questioned one of the basic pillars of the European project : the primacy of community law.
Days before the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court, several regions of the country, which in 2019 had proclaimed themselves free of the ‘LGTB ideology’, had reversed their statements due to the possibility of running out of their corresponding part of the React party. EU (Recovery Aid for Cohesion and Territories of Europe), a package of additional cohesion funds for which Poland has received a total of more than 1.5 billion euros.
In the background, Brussels is fine-tuning its new conditionality mechanism for the rule of law, a tool that may mark relations with Warsaw in the coming months.
LGTB Free Zones
The rivals of Law and Justice highlight the conservatism of the party, but above all its economic populism and its ability to retain the vote, especially in rural or less populated areas, with identity issues such as the fight against the ‘LGTB ideology’, liberalism of the West and Muslim immigration. If it has to face Brussels for this, it will, and except for the issue of ‘LGTB free zones’, it has not suffered major defeats thanks to the unanimity rule in the Council and the loyalty of its partners in the Visegrad, especially that of the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban. This week, the front of this group and its associates have suffered two important defeats: that of Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the Czech legislatures, and on the same day the resignation of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (an ally of the Visegrad group on key issues such as the migration), peppered with corruption.
In each election, the electoral map shows a fragmented country: western regions and large urban centers tend to bet more on liberal options, while eastern and rural areas, generally poorer and closer to conservative values, represent PiS’s main voting granaries and parties even further to its right.
Thousands of young Poles -from the liberal centers of the main cities- yearn to go out to study abroad, not so much because of their future work but because of their personal situation. Asked by this newspaper, Kasia, Paulina and Arnold, young people from one of the most cosmopolitan Polish capitals, Katowice (in Upper Silesia), are clear when asked about what the EU means to them: «If we weren’t in the EU , Poland would follow in the footsteps of its neighbors in the Russian environment: Belarus and Ukraine. We would be much more behind.
Catholicism and Family
Catholicism represents an important part of the national identity in Poland, and the PiS has been able to capitalize on that Catholic vote. Poles continue to regard the Catholic Church as a symbol of the struggle for independence from the communist regime. “The alliance between PiS and the Catholic Church has dominated the political agenda in recent years and leads policies towards conservatism and opposing external pressures from the EU”, researchers James F. Downes assess in an article on the Culturico portal and Horace Wong.
Another of the star measures, the Family 500 plus program, in force since 2016 and that since the 2019 amendment, parents can receive monthly income of PLN 500.00 (about 120 euros) for each child, which was intended to boost the birth rate and reduce child poverty by improving the living conditions of large families. According to data from the Szczecin public university, throughout Poland, the program covered 55% of all children under 18 years of age in 2017. Among the drawbacks, these policies “can cause women to stay at home instead of going to work,” criticizes the opposition deputy of the Lower House of the Polish Parliament (Sejm), Monika Rosa.
Support to the EU
Despite the constant clashes between Warsaw and Brussels, the Polish population proudly declares itself pro-European or at least overwhelmingly support its membership of the EU. Nor does Warsaw promote a ‘Polexit’ to the United Kingdom, but rather wants to be at mass and ringing: it wants to continue in the EU because it is the wish of more than 80 percent of Poles, but they want to ignore the sentences Europeans on the judiciary.
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe (around 5 percent) and as a pole of attraction for multinationals, the country has made rapid progress since joining the EU 17 years ago. European funds have improved infrastructure and are helping the country’s restructuring. In mining areas where steel mills and farms have become obsolete, the bulk of the money to search for a ‘plan b’ also comes from Europe.