“All punishment is mischief; all punishment in itself is evil.” The words of Jeremy Bentham with which, in the context of the European Commission’s involvement in the continuing tussle over the Constitutional Tribunal, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski would perhaps agree.
Since dialogue with the EU is continuing, the foreign minister said that there was no reason for Poland to be penalized. Waszczykowski had been asked by TVN to comment on reports that the Commission might as early as Wednesday adopt an opinion on the rule of law in Poland. The Polish Foreign Minister also referred in his remarks to an earlier interview by Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Law and Justice (PiS), who had told the Do Rzeczy weekly that if “push comes to shove” the Polish government could challenge the European Commission’s report on the rule of law in Poland before the European Court of Justice. Waszczykowski went on to say: “We hope that the Commission will take some time to reflect [upon its actions] and halt this procedure.”
The foreign minister’s remarks were in tune with those of deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who said that the Commission’s deputy president, Frans Timmermans, appreciated the work the government was doing to resolve the Constitutional Tribunal crisis. The two had met in Brussels in Thursday following Timmermans’s visit to Warsaw on Tuesday to meet Prime Minister Szydło who had said that she wanted a compromise solution to the crisis, and that Timmermans had agreed that the conflict “is obviously a matter that Poland must resolve on its own, internally.”
Morawiecki, who is also Poland’s Development Minister, said following the meeting that Timmermans appreciates that conversations are continuing, and that the proposals are being formulated between the two parties.” “From today’s conversation with [Timmermans], I strongly inferred that he is aware that some serious proposals are being formulated, while the details are to be rolled out over the coming days.”
So far, no serious proposals have emerged, while at the non-serious end of the spectrum has been the suggestion that the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment that the government’s changes are unconstitutional be published as document of historical interest rather than to give it binding effect as the law provides. Extraordinary – somebody must be making this up as they go along.
Be that as it may, over at their meeting in Tallinn, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Venice Commission, comprising representatives of 46 parliaments of Council of Europe member countries, is reported to have voted to prepare a report on the state of democracy in Poland, including the Constitutional Tribunal Crisis. The report is to be drawn up by the monitoring committee of the Parliamentary Assembly and two rapporteurs – from different political factions – are to be appointed in June. In March, the Venice Commission, an advisory group to the Council of Europe, had warned that the rule of law, democracy and human rights were in danger as long as Poland was embroiled in a constitutional crisis.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that according to a poll by TNS Polska 54 per cent of Poles think that the country is heading “in the wrong direction”. This is a three percentage point increase on February’s polling result. Thirty-three per cent think the political situation is improving while 17 per cent had no opinion.
And yet these shenanigans appear to be having little effect on the popularity of the government. In a survey by another polling organisation, CBOS, if a general election had been held in the second half of May, PiS would have received 36 per cent of the vote, 1.5 percentage points down on its October election share, but two point up during the month, Civic Platform, the largest opposition party 16 per cent, Nowoczesna (Modern) party 14 per cent, the remaining two parties that would enter parliament, Kukiz ’15 and the Polish People’s Party, 6 and 5 per cent support respectively.
Rather remarkably in view of recent history, only 58 per cent said they would actually vote in an election. And while apathy is a democratic right like any other, it is a high risk strategy unless one is happy to be delivered of a government no better than one deserves.