Konstitutionella förändringar och abortlagstiftning på tapeten i Polen

Milosz Hodun, internationell sekreterare för Centerpartiets polska systerparti Nowoczesna, förklarar det rådande politiska läget i Polen.

In recent years, Poland has increasingly emerged at the centre of the conflict between liberal and nationalist EU member states. The European Budgetary Commissioner Günther Oettinger has voiced the possibility of introducing a rule of law conditionality clause into the European Structural Funds, which would give the EU the possibility of withholding funds to Member States that do not fulfil these standards. As 2.6% of the Polish GDP for the budgetary cycle 2014-2020 is made up of EU subsidies, this would be a significant economic blow to the country. As with all sanctions, the brunt of the blow risks falling on the Polish people, rather than its government. What does Nowoczesna think of this game of chicken between Warsaw and Brussels? Is it an effective strategy by the Commission, or should they act differently?

The former Polish Prime Miniter from PiS (replaced last winter) Beata Szydło said: “You (EU) have your money, we have our values”. This government is not afraid of the economic sanctions. It has already started a campaign explaining to the Polish people that the European funds are indeed money that we deserve and it is a price that Western countries pay to use (drain) our market and we wouldn't be much worse off without these funds.

The European Commission’s strategy has not been effective. Its inability to protect rule of law in Hungary made Jarosław Kaczyński belive that he won’t be stopped in his plan to fully subordinate the courts. Since 2015, the European Commission has been concerned about the independence of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and courts because of several changes in legislation. The Commission has since issued four recommendations but has not been satisfied with Poland’s response – and nothing really happened…

Poland is part of the EU. Polish people are Europeans, and feel like Europeans. We showed that in the accession referendum where vast majority said “yes!” to our membership. European values are Polish values. And the European Commission must protect European values everywhere, also in Poland. Rule of law is a key principle in democratic states that ensures the independence of the judiciary system. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union mentions respect for the rule of law as one of the values the EU is founded on. We can’t stand still and watch how PiS is taking away our values and our rights. The Commission should use all means possible to safeguard democracy and rule of law in Poland. So called Art. 7 procedure is one of them. And sanctions may be one its consequences. But the Commission should remember that it can punish the Polish government, but mustn’t punish Polish people.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of the ruling PiS party, has recently expressed that an agreement between the Polish government and the European Commission on their controversial legal reforms is close. What are your thoughts on the situation?

Jarosław Kaczyński is now playing the game inspired by Victor Orban. He changed his Prime Minister. Beata Szydło who gave a social face to the PiS party (very popular in the country) was replaced by businessman and bankster Mateusz Morawiecki. Morawiecki speaks foreign languages, is more diplomatic and has no complexes in relations with his European colleagues. He can play a more nuanced game with the European Commission, prolonging the talks and negotiations. Morawiecki, as the latest step in his PR offensive, is drawing up a “white book” which he intends to deliver to the other EU member states, explaining why Poland adopted the measures. One goal is to illustrate similarities between the Polish overhaul and existing judicial systems in other EU countries.

I believe he is ready to take one step back to take three step forwards afterwards. He will use tricks, he will promise quasi-reforms to show to the world that he is reversing the judicial reforms. This is very dangerous. And we cannot forget that these judicial reforms are not only controversial, they are anti-constitutional, anti-democratic, and they undermine the state of law in Poland. As such, they can never be accepted. It is our role as the opposition to expose the cynicism of this government. And it is the role of the Commission to protect the European values in Poland, and not to get tricked by PiS.

In the past few weeks, big protests against planned restrictions on abortion rights have been held in several Polish cities. Counter-protests calling for even stricter legislation have also taken place. Why has abortion become such a central issue for the Polish government?

Poland is home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. In Poland, the procedure is only permitted if the mother’s health is at risk, if there is a fetal abnormality, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Even then, it is difficult to find a doctor who will perform the procedure, and many Polish women cross the border to Germany or the Czech Republic to seek help. Even more use underground clinics in Poland.

Last year the government, inspired by conservative lobby groups and the Catholic church, tried to ban abortion completely. This plan was stopped by the mass protests in Warsaw and all other towns and cities. We thought the topic was closed, but it returned in January this year, again inspired by the Catholic church. In late January the Sejm (parlamentets underhus) rejected a bill that would increase women’s access to abortion, provide free and accessible contraception, offer emergency contraception without prescription, and incorporate comprehensive sex education at school. The bill had received signature support from over 400.000 people. Instead, legislation is moving forward in Poland’s parliament that would further restrict abortion rights by banning the procedure for fetuses with congenital disorders.

On March 23rd, some 50.000 people took part in the protest as part of “Black Friday” in Warsaw, but similar protests were organized all over the country. The proposal was approved by the parliamentary justice and human rights commission, but still needs to be studied by another commission before being sent to the MPs for a vote. The issue keeps coming back like a boomerang since the PiS government depends on the support of the church and radical conservative groups. And they demand stricter access to abortion. I don’t think that the majority in PiS (including the party leader) wants to change the law we have now, but they play this game to not lose the “pro life” movement. I think PiS will wait for the Constitutional Tribunal (packed by PiS supporters) to solve the problem of legality of the abortion ban so that voters will not blame them for a political decision.