Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
On Tuesday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gave a very clear exposition of what might be termed, at least prior to Brexit, the Euro-sceptic position on European integration in what we might call the lion’s den of the European Parliament. The European Union institutions have certain defined functions but ultimately nation states remain sovereign – so there is no United States of Europe. This was the crux of his message. The response from parliamentarians, many member-states, and of course the European Commission was along expected lines – Poland is in need of being punished for standing up for her independence. The irony of course is that the very threatening response to Poland’s arguments itself confirms the truth of the exposition which Morawiecki gave.
The main news stories this week:
• Prime Minister Morawiecki defends Poland’s stance on national sovereignty in person before the European Parliament
• the European Commission threatens further action against Poland following the Trybunał Konstytucyjny ruling that articles of the European Union treaties conflict with the constitution
• Poland marks the 37th anniversary of the murder of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, and
• Hubert Hurkacz enters the top 10 of men’s tennis for the first time.
This week the ongoing conflict been the Polish government and the European Union institutions came centre stage into the public domain on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed the European Parliament during a debate on the rule of law in Poland. His address followed on directly from, and was in very direct conflict with, one by the President of the European Commission, Urzula von der Leyen.
The debate came in the aftermath of the controversy over the ruling by the Trybunał Konstytucyjny (Constitutional Tribunal) that articles of the European Union treaties are in conflict with the Polish constitution, which the government has emphasised is the primary source of law in any sovereign state. It has also pointed out that similar rulings have been made in the national courts of several other member states. In his speech to the European Parliament Morawiecki claimed that the European Union institutions have overstepped their authority. He commented that ‘EU competencies have clear boundaries, we must not remain silent when those boundaries are breached. So we are saying yes to European universalism, but we say no to European centralism’.
Von der Leyen claimed that what she termed Poland’s challenge to the supremacy of EU law called into question the very foundations of the 27-nation bloc and could not go unpunished. She outlined in a tweet that ‘We will not allow our values to be put at risk. The EU Commission will act. The options are known: infringement proceedings, the conditionality mechanism and other financial tools…and the Article 7 procedure’. There have been suggestions that the EU could seek to block EU grants and other forms of assistance to Poland in an attempt to force the country into line. As might be expected given the audience, following his address a number of parliamentarians rounded on the remarks by the Polish leader.
Morawicki Warns of ‘An Entity that Would Cease to be an Alliance of Free, Equal and Sovereign States’
Prior to the debate Morawiecki had on Monday issued a letter to fellow European Union leaders in which he wrote that ‘I wish to reassure you that Poland remains a loyal member of the EU – an organisation based on common Treaties, established by all Member States which have entrusted a number of competences to common institutions and have jointly regulated many areas of life through European law’ but added that ‘We ought to be anxious about the gradual transformation of the Union into an entity that would cease to be an alliance of free, equal and sovereign states, and instead become a single, centrally managed organism, run by institutions deprived of democratic control by the citizens of European countries’.
The Polish Ambassador to Ireland, Anna Sochańska, commented that ‘In the treaties we delegated a lot of competencies to the EU, but not everything’ adding that the Polish government is convinced of the merits of its case and ‘It will not give up’.
Duda Warns of Spectre of Armed Conflict
At a security conference in Vilnius on Wednesday President Andrzej Duda said that the spectre of armed conflict had returned to haunt the region in the wake of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014. Speaking during a two-day visit to neighbouring Lithuania Duda said that what he termed the ‘relatively new situation…calls for a novel approach to security in our region’. Duda repeated the Polish stance that the migrant crisis on the borders of Belarus is ‘an unprecedented hybrid action’ and ‘a hostile attack by the regime of Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, cynically exploiting people from the Middle East hoping for a better life in the European Union’. During the visit Duda also addressed the Lithuanian parliament.
6,000 Soldiers on Border with Belarus
On Tuesday Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that nearly 6,000 Polish troops are guarding the country’s eastern border with Belarus as part of the effort to prevent migrants being illegally sent across the common external border of the EU. Błaszczak tweeted that ‘Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border. The soldiers provide support to the Border Guard by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed’.
Kaczyński Confirms Government Reshuffle Imminent
On Wednesday Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, confirmed that a government reshuffle is imminent, telling the Gazeta Polska news weekly that ‘The changes will take place soon’ and that ‘they will be technical and coalition changes’ but adding that ‘in one case it will be an important change’.
South Korean Nuclear Energy Offer
There’s strong international competition to secure contracts as part of the Polish government’s plans to construct the country’s first nuclear power plants. This week the PAP news agency reported that Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of the South Korean majority state-owned energy giant Korea Electric Power Corporation, would make an offer to the Polish government. The report said KHNP would offer Poland ‘preferential terms’ and could start work on the project in the first quarter of next year or even earlier. U.S. and French firms are also seen as contenders for supporting the Polish government’s nuclear energy ambitions. The aim is for the first unit to be in operation by 2033 with subsequent expansion up to a total of six nuclear reactors.
Contemporary History to be Taught as Separate Subject
At a time when the teaching of history is being taken out of the educational mainstream in some countries, Poland is heading in the opposite direction. In a recent interview with the Sieci news magazine Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said that secondary school pupils will learn contemporary history as a new separate subject. He commented that it was ‘vital that students are taught the history of Poland and the world in a modern way’.
At a press conference on Tuesday Czarnek said that the details of the new subject would be released inside the next two weeks. He added that the plan is ‘in line with what our leader Jarosław Kaczyński said about the need to teach modern history in a new, cutting-edge way’. Opposition politicians voiced concerns that the new subject would teach a biased version of history in line with the ideology of the current ruling bloc, an assertion that Czarnek rejected.
Anniversary of Murder of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko
For very many Poles one of the most emotional memories of the struggle against communism is that of the death in 1984 at the hands of agents of the Communist secret police of the Solidarity supporting priest Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. On Tuesday memorial events were held across Poland to mark the 37th anniversary of the death of the priest who had drawn tens of thousands of Poles to his masses during the martial law era, where he spoke out bravely in support of freedom and human rights. Fr. Popiełuszko was beatified on June 6th, 2010.
Hurkacz Now in World Top 10 of Men’s Tennis
The 2021 success story of Polish tennis continues. Hubert Hurkacz has risen two places to a career-best world number 10 in the latest ATP rankings released on Monday. The 24-year-old Pole reached the quarter finals of the Indian Wells Open in California last week.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.