Letter from the Director:
We are so excited to welcome you to Yale Model Government Europe in Budapest. The Polish Cabinet has a large task this year, as it will be working to ease relations with the European Union. My name is Hailee Gibadlo and I am a sophomore in Morse College. I am originally from a quaint Massachusetts town known as Amesbury. This past summer I traveled outside of the United States for the first time to the Kingdom of Bhutan as a participant in a study abroad program through the School for Field Studies. My time in Budapest will be only my second time out of the U.S. and my first time in Europe!
My prospective major is ecology and evolutionary biology. Here at Yale I hold a student job in the herbarium, I am an active member of club running, and I am a member of the Yale International Relations Association (obviously!). I am also part of VARSITY (Vegan and Allergen Restricted Sweets in the Tummies of Yalies) Baking Club, which works to bake allergen friendly goodies for and with the Yale population. In my spare time you can find me scoping out the best coffee in New Haven, showing off my plant ID skills in East Rock park, or streaming Hulu for my favorite TV shows.
Cabinet/Ruling Party History
The Polish cabinet functions as an executive law-making body. The Constitution grants the parliament the power to create and implement policies important to governing the state. The instatement of the cabinet is a function of executive and legislative selection. First, the President picks a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then must choose his or her own cabinet, which then must be approved by the President. The new cabinet must then submit an agenda within two weeks after their approval and the agenda must receive a vote of confidence from the Sejm, or lower parliamentary house. If the vote of confidence is not selected, a whole new process must begin and a new Prime Minister is to be selected, this time by the Sejm. The process repeats until the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet receives a vote of confidence from the Sejm. Though, all cabinets since the 1997 Constitution have received the vote of confidence from the Sejm. However, cabinet members may removed after their instatement if they have made serious constitutional infringements. To convict a cabinet member, the endorsement of the president and 115 members of the Sejm is needed.
The current political party that holds majority in the Sejm and the Parliament is known as the Law and Justice Party (in Polish: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, abbreviated as PiS). The Law and Justice has finagled its way into the Polish government for the past three years, bringing with it its right-wing agenda. The party has existed since 2001 and was created by twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski. Both brothers have held positions in the government prior to the rise in popularity of the party. The party’s platform includes a strong nationalist movement and many controversial policies backed by the Christian members. The party is now headed by Jaroslaw, and gained majority in the year 2015. Since that time, major reforms have taken place within Polish government.
Figure 1. Protestors march in 2015 to show support for the ruling Law and Justice party following previous anti-government protests.
The Law and Justice Party came into power three years within the Polish parliament. The party has since been involved in passing or attempting to pass controversial laws that fit in with their right-wing agenda. The party has received particular support from the people despite its controversial agenda. One reason for this unparalleled support has been its campaign to align welfare with nationalism. The party instituted a program in 2016 which gives a stipend of $140 a month to parents with one or more child. As a previously communist nation, this went against the earlier claims that the Polish government could not afford social spending as widely as Western Europe during the transition to a capitalist economy. They are also supported because they use language that appeals to citizens by highlighting the need to protect the nation and values as well as the Polish families in general. Poland as a whole views Western Europe with contempt, and the party exploits this view of Western ideals as elitist, attempting to appeal to its citizens. In fact, the former Prime Minister Beata Szydlo stated that Poland does not have to have the social diversity of Western Europe, meaning they can maintain their white, Christian population, to achieve the same economic and development. Despite this nationalistic and xenophobic statement, the party continues to create a stronghold among the Polish people.
This support has allowed the Law and Justice Party’s agenda to pave new paths for Poland, despite criticism from the rest of the world, especially from the European Union. The Polish government has been under recent fire from the European Union for multiple offenses of their rule of law. Under the EU rule of law, all member countries of the EU must have a independent and unbiased justice system, including fair trials and access to justice . The previous cabinet and current President Andrej Duda had passed laws which had given the parliament more power over Poland’s judiciary.
This was denounced by the EU in 2017 as a violation of the democracy and rule of law. These changes to the Poland’s government structure pose a serious threat to justice as the ruling party officials now have more say over the judicial review process. The European Union launched an Article Seven against Poland in the EU court of law, which begins a process in which Poland’s voting rights could be suspended, although unlikely. Some the actions taken by the cabinet and President include legislation for the justice minister to be able to fire and appoint heads of court, new Constitutional Tribunal head that is a PiS member, and an overhaul of the Supreme Court passed by the President in December of 2017.
Another thing the party and recent Polish government have done is allowed for logging in their ancient Białowieża forest. The EU commission determined this violated the Party’s bloc rules because the forest is UNESCO protected and took Poland to court for it. Jan Sylsko, former environment minister, signed off on this logging. Poland argued in court that the logging was needed to control a spruce beetle outbreak, however the EU has determined Poland’s own documents show that the logging could have detrimental effects. Poland is facing upwards of a 4.3 million Euro fine from the EU for violation of this protected. The country also has stopped commercially logging within the forest but continues the right to log when fallen or broken branches are a problem.
Figure 2. A sign after the ZDF made a statement using the words “Polish death camp”.
Poland’s new nationalist uprising has also strengthened tensions with the EU and other parts of the world. In early 2018, the Polish senate passed a bill stating that anyone implicating Polish participation in the Nazi Regime of the Second World War could be prosecuted and face up to three years in prison. The President also signed off on the bill with the intention of it becoming a law. The denial of Poland’s participation in conjunct with the Nazi Regime represents the nationalist agenda and support of the Law and Justice Party. Israeli lawmakers have retorted that historical documents prove that some Polish served under the Third Reich, exposing the Polish government’s attempt to avoid blame and “rewrite history”. This newfound nationalism can also be linked to the xenophobia shown in 2015 with Poland’s refusal to take in Syrian refugees despite an agreement among the EU to relocate 16,000 refugees from Greece and Italy among the member states. Poland, Hungary, and the Czechia have refused to let in refugees despite the EU commission’s plan. In June of 2017, the EU launched a statement of infringement against the aforementioned states, but in December of 2017 decided to take the member states to the European Commision of Justice.
In a recent turn of events, some of Poland’s most controversial ministers have been replaced as of January 2018. In December of 2017, Poland received a new Prime Minister, replacing then PM Beata Szydlo with Mateusz Morawiecki, who served under Szydlo as Deputy Prime Minister. Morawiecki’s new cabinet approved in January of 2018 is allegedly less controversial than the previous one. The defense minister Antoni Macierewicz has been replaced with Mariusz Błaszczak, a close ally to the Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The former was apparently backed by the uber-Catholic and super nationalist part of the Law and Justice Party. He had also created bad relations with France because he ended a deal in which Poland was supposed to buy helicopters from Airbus. Additionally, Macierewicz sparked worry from NATO leaders when he purged Poland’s defense of its top military leaders.
Jacek Czaputowicz will replace Witold Waszczykowski, as the foreign minister. The latter is controversial for his defense of the government’s reforms to the judiciary system. Jan szyszko was replaced as environmental minister by Henryk Kowalczyk, a man with no portfolio. Szysko had allowed increase in logging in the ancient and protected Bialowieza forest which prompted the EU commission to launch the aforementioned infringement case against poland in the European Union Court of Justice. Konstanty Radziwill was outed from his position as health minister, which Łukasz Szumowski, former deputy higher education minister, will assume. Radziwill had contentious views on abortion and contraception, founded on religion.
Figure 3. Prime Minister Morawiecki and his cabinet.
The hope for this new cabinet is for the ability to make amends with the European Union. The largest problem the cabinet faces is in either defending or compromising the changes to the judiciary in the past three years. Despite the European Union’s frustration and threats to take away Poland’s voting rights; however, there has not been a fastened scramble by the new council to make amends. In March of 2018, a new National Council of the Judiciary was selected by the parliament for the first time, a council which is typically appointed by judges. This council is responsible for helping with the nomination of judges. The new reform helps to reiterate destabilising the autonomy of the judiciary.
In mid-June of 2018, the European Union held the first hearing against Poland carrying out the proceedings of article seven which they launched in 2017. The Polish Government was questioned in a three-hour session over the judiciary changes. This continuation of EU proceedings was condemned by Prime Minister Morweicki as “deplorable.” The hearing is the first step to have been taken towards the questionable new laws in Poland, which also represents the court is serious about Poland facing loss of voting rights. However, the integrity and seriousness of the case against Poland is threatened by Hungary’s claim that they would not support such a vote against Poland, which means the country is not in actual danger of losing voting rights.
Despite the changes in the cabinet and the recent hearing, Poland still continues to make contentious judicial reforms. A month after the European Union hearing, Poland’s Sejm passed a law making it easier to replace the current Supreme Court head. The law stated that supreme court judges over the age of sixty-five must retire, lowering the age from the previous retirement age of seventy. This law will oust a third of Supreme Court judges from their positions, unless granted an extension by the president, including the chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf. The retiring of these judges could be an opportunity for the PiS to replace them with party supporters in the court to continue to help the disintegration of the judiciary’s powers. However, there has been strong push-back from the EU, civic-rights protestors, and the Supreme Court itself. Not long after the law passed through the Sejm, the Supreme Court suspended the law and appealed to the European Union on whether the law was a violation of the bloc’s rule of law. In response to the new law, the European Union launched a case of infringement against Poland and gave Warsaw one month to respond, in which a failed response would take the country to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest court of law. Poland, if not stripped of voting rights, could still face large fines from the EU if found guilty by the ECJ. Poland, however, is not budging in its determination to pass the new law, as Polish deputy justice minister stated in response to the EU’s actions, “I believe we will defend out position until the end” . This ongoing stalemate between the country and the bloc continues and will develop as the year proceeds.
Although reforms to the judiciary continue to be unconciliatory, the recent Holocaust Law, passed on February of 2018, has seen a recent change of heart by the parliament. In June of 2018, months after the contested law made its way into the Polish rulebook, the government rebuked, amending the law to not include criminal punishments for people who violated it. Despite continuing the judicial crusade, these reforms, passed by the Senate and signed by President Duda, offer a conciliatory move. Israel was pleased with reform, as the law previously ruined years of peace with the nation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel welcomed the move and said he was satisfied that Poland decided to revoke upon a move that “caused a storm and consternation in Israel and among the international community”. The revoking of the controversial parts of the law represents an image-saving move from Warsaw, which was under criticism by not only the EU but by the rest of the world as well.
Despite showing a change of heart for the Holocaust Law, Poland’s ruling party still has yet to take a conciliatory stance on the topic of Syrian Refugees. Soon after Morawiecki become the new Prime Minister, he announced that Poland would still not rebuke on its position from 2015, denying the entrance of Syrian Refugees. This denial of refuge aligns with the Poland’s newfound nationalism augmented by the Law and Justice Party’s agenda. It also reflects that although Morawiecki is a less contended character than the previous Prime Minister, he still is PiS supporter and boasts the party’s agenda. As the EU remains pre-occupied by Poland’s justice system reforms, there is no new develops in their decision to sue Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for failing to comply with refugee quotas.
Over the next few months, Poland’s cases with the European Union will continue to develop. Progress will either be made in the European Court or by Poland’s parliament, and the situation between the country and the bloc will continue to evolve. It is your job to follow these recent developments and work together as cabinet to either defend Poland’s new judiciary or make changes to appease the European Union.
Questions to Consider
What is your position in the Polish Cabinet and who do you represent?
What is your cabinet member’s position on the previous topics?
II. Your goal is to appease the European Union, in spite the current nationalist movement that surging through Poland. How might this be achieved to appease the EU whilst not losing support of the Polish population? Is there a middle-ground approach?
III. Consider the constructions to the current justice system. What laws have been passed and what laws are in the process of being passed? What laws have caused the most serious reactions from the EU? How might these be amended?
VI. Consider how Poland is important to the EU. They are threatening to take away voting rights or place embargoes on Poland. How might this not be a good idea for the EU? How can you build your case against moving through with the considerably threatening actions the EU wishes to take?
Suggestions for further research
As developments come about over the ensuing months, it is good to stay updated about the current situations between Poland and the EU. If a new topic of interest arises, there may be time during the conference to touch on it. However, for your research, try to focus the bulk of it on developments and the history of the judicial reforms in Poland. Also, continue to check reliable news outlets for updates on both cases involving refugees and the judicial system launched by the EU against Poland. A list of reliable sources are as follows:
New York Times:The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
BBC: BBC - Homepage
Council on Foreign Relations: Council on Foreign Relations