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.