“The public think the politicians don’t know or care about their lives; and the politicians feel misunderstood.” The words of Tony Blair, so take them as you will, but perhaps the politicians are understood only too well, and folk have good reason for their view. Be that as it may, the Polish prime minister feels that criticism of his government’s legal reforms is due to their not being understood in western Europe.
Speaking to CNN during the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Mateusz Morawiecki said: “There is a lack of understanding [of] what is happening in Poland by our western neighbours.” Poland’s fellow EU members in western Europe were “on the right side of the Iron Curtain,” while Poland was on the wrong side and spent decades under communism.
He told CNN’s Richard Quest that the justice system was being changed to make it as efficient as those in western Europe but that the European Union Commission was seeking to “politicise” the continuing dispute with Poland over these changes. “Although Poland changed its provisions regarding [the] judiciary, the European Commission does not recognise it. I feel that some of the European Commissioners want to politicise this dispute”, Morawiecki said.
The prime minister added that although the new procedures for appointing judges is less dependent on the decisions of political bodies than hitherto, the Commission still contends that at the rule of law is under threat in Poland. Indeed, the deputy foreign minister for European affairs last month voiced surprise that notwithstanding Poland’s having complied with an ECJ ruling last year requiring it to reinstate Supreme Court judges who had been forced to retire, the EU had not withdrawn the procedure under article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union.
The Commission had begun the action against Poland in the ECJ because it argued that the changes to the appointment of judges to the Supreme court undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges.” Although it complied with the ECJ ruling – evidence, one might think, of the rule of law actually functioning – the Polish government has contended that its changes are needed to reform an inefficient and on occasion corrupt judicial system that has not fully rid itself of the taint of its communist past.
The complaint that Poland is misunderstood by non-Poles is a common one which extends beyond the political sphere. Many countries consider themselves to be exceptions and it is hardly surprising therefore, given its history, that feeling of Polish exceptionalism should be so strong. Of course, that is no excuse for Poland being given an easy ride where the EU has grounds for believing that there is a threat to fundamental EU values. Nevertheless, the de haut en bascommunications to Poland are perhaps not the most effective way of addressing a proud nation.
The Polish prime minister also had something to say about another great exercise in exceptionalism and, perhaps, misunderstanding, Brexit. When asked about the UK’s impending departure from the EU, Morawiecki said that he regretted it. He said that Poland stood united with the other EU member states on the deal the EU had negotiated with the British government. Earlier in the week Morawiecki had told the BBC that he would like to see more Poles return to Poland from the UK as Poland benefitted from strong economic growth and low unemployment. “So I would hope that many, many Poles would come back to Poland. So give us our people back.” Not, it hardly needs adding, that the British government has prevented Poles from coming or going at will, something that is unlikely to change whatever form of Brexit eventually emerges.
And should a no-deal Brexit occur, the Polish economy is ready according to deputy investment and development minister, Jerzy Kwieciński. as reported Poland’s PAP news agency, although he sees such a development as unlikely. He did say, however, that Brexit is one of Europe’s greatest economic and political challenges in 2019.
Every country is defined by its history: Poland by struggle, the United Kingdom by exceptionalism. But what the United Kingdom also had was Machiavellian pragmatism based on a rational analysis of its best interests and this seems curiously absent of late. Modern politicians seem ignorant of history – perhaps that’s why they misunderstand and are misunderstood.