Poland Is Swiftly Drifting Towards Authoritarianism And It Could Put Us All In Danger

Poland’s ruling party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has been the source of controversy in Poland and throughout Europe nearly since their arrival to power in October of 2015.

This has been driven by the party’s Euroskeptic agenda, questionable legislation, and generally hostile behavior. As a result, the strategic readiness of the entire Euro-Atlantic area is compromised due to growing fissures between European allies.

The Party’s platform in regards to Poland’s relations with other states emphasizes expansion and modernization of Poland’s military, as well as strong cooperation with the UN, NATO, and in particular the United States.

They are wary of integration with the EU than NATO, but not outright opposed like other European right-wing parties like UKIP in the United Kingdom. It should also be noted that PiS favors further centralization of Poland’s government, which is the source of PiS’s disruptive effect on alliance readiness and cohesion.

The troubles began in December, when PiS moved to replace 15 judges on the Constitutional Court, the primary check against the Parliament.

The troubles began in December, when PiS moved to replace 15 judges on the Constitutional Court, the primary check against the Parliament. This resulted in weeks of protest from concerned Poles.

Shortly after this affront to checks and balances, military police were dispatched to replace officials at a NATO Counterintelligence Center in Krakow.

This change of staff was not relayed to other members of the alliance, including Slovak officials charged with cooperatively coordinating the facility who chastised the move, though no changes were made to the Slovak staff.

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From (L to R) the Polish Flag, EU flag, and the NATO flag. Photo Credit: Pawel Kabanski/Flickr (CC by S.A.2.0)

On Jan. 7 of this year, President Andrzej Duda (who resigned from PiS after being elected last May to serve as an independent) signed into law new supreme powers for the Treasury Minister over appointments and firings from state media, as opposed to the previous system of contests hosted by the National Broadcast Council.

This was followed by further protests against the government, and the first of its kind investigation by the EU of PiS’s undemocratic legislation.  In the most extreme circumstances this can lead to Poland having its voting rights in the EU Parliament suspended.

The Polish government has responded to this inquiry with aggression at the perceived source of this hostility (Germany) with attacks.

This includes drawing allusions to Nazi Germany in both print, depicting Chancellor Angela Merkel in the garb of Adolf Hitler, and a tough letter from Poland’s Justice Minister aimed at the German EU commissioner.

“You demanded that Poland be placed under supervision. Such words, spoken by a German politician, have the worst possible connotations for Poles,” Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said in a letter to the German EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger according to the Financial Times.

This verbal jab is in spite of relations being so warm in 2014 that Germany and Poland agreed to an exchange of commanders of battalions, a German commanding a Polish unit and vice versa, in order to better understand how their allies work.

The military exchange is set to occur in mid 2016. This kind of exchange is critical to belaying atrophy in a highly critical region of NATO’s frontier. If relations deteriorate to the point that this kind of mutually beneficial cooperation is cancelled, it would be a bad signal to Euro-Atlantic security.

These continued worrying actions in affairs, both foreign and domestic, will likely only further isolate Poland from its allies, which in turn damages the readiness of the entire alliance.

While these effects are likely short-term, and may be rectified due to the popular discontent of the Polish people, and pressure from the EU, serious disagreements are a real possibility. Allied states being unwilling to train together would present a much weaker deterrent to any hypothetical Russian adventures in the Baltic Region, due to the much weaker unit cohesion.

With NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Conference coming up, frosty relations may limit the effectiveness of any measures taken at the conference. This would be in stark contrast to the highly productive 2014 Wales Conference, which established the Very High Readiness Joint Taskforce (VJTF), a multinational brigade that can be deployed within 48 hours to respond to a crisis, preceding the full force of the 40,000 man NATO Response Force (NRF).

Thus, it is in the best interest of a party that claims to value Poland’s NATO membership to repair these ties, and perhaps reevaluate how much it values NATO’s deeply entwined sister organization, the EU.

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Cover Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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About the Author
"John Massey has a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory. "

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