Conservative nationalist has taken a firm hold in central Europe and nowhere is this more evident than in Poland. When the Law and Justice party (PiS) won elections in 2015, few political commentators saw their reign as anything more than temporary, yet Monday saw the party win their second consecutive term, a sign that nationalist populism is alive and kicking in modern day Poland.
Not only does this wave of nationalism trouble the liberals and centrists, the party’s victory poses problems for Brussels. As a member of the European Union, Poland under the PiS government has been uncompromising and challenging, emerging as an active opponent of the democratic values which underpin the EU. European diplomats fear that PiS’s recent victory could signify a further deterioration of Poland’s semi-authoritarian rule.
New legislation tabled by the party last week, known as the “Stop Paedophilia Law”, would ban sex education and criminalise “the promotion of underage sexual activity” and teachers who defy the ban would be faced with the prospect of up to five years in prison. The party has also indicated that it intends to continue with its judicial overhaul and look into regulating the media as it does with other professions such as lawyers, provoking concern and outrage from journalists. The current government has vowed to plough ahead with its continued heavy use of coal, despite responsibilities for the planned EU target for member states, as stipulated in the Paris climate accord, which aims radically to cut global carbon emissions by 2030. It is such policies that could lead to further clashes between Brussels and Warsaw, as PiS drives further into illiberalism.
However, the recent election offers a glimmer of hope for Brussels that things could change in Poland’s political environment in the near future. Whilst the party won by a clear majority to retain its majority in the lower house, securing the party another four-year term in government, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski had not anticipated losing control of the Senate. Opposition parties won 51 seats and will be able to prevent the ruling party from rushing through laws without consulting the upper house, as has often been done during the last four years.
Despite this, the Polish government will continue to represent a crisis for the European Union. Populist Kaczynski said after the victory: “Despite being opposed by a powerful force we won, and everything indicates we will continue to win. And if it does continue, there will be good changes.” As part of the ECR group, PiS has 18 MEPs in the European Parliament. Whilst this is too low of itself to impact decision making, it is enough to be disruptive, along with the other right-wing populist parties in the EU. With the end of Brexit agreements looming, the recent events in Poland suggest that the EU might now have to prepare for yet another long and arduous confrontation.
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