By Olivier Bault.
Poland – Poland will soon enter a new cycle of elections that will be inaugurated in October-November with the municipal and voivodeship councils elections. There will be then the European Parliament election in 2019 followed by the elections to the Sejm (lower house) and Senate. And then, the presidential election will take place in 2020. So the Polish political parties have entered an election campaign mode with two conventions during the last week-end : the one of the party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) with its right wing allies, and the one of the liberals of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO). While the conservatives largely dominate in the opinion polls, they are stagnating since around a month after a period of time dominated by the conflicts with the European Commission, in particular about the issue of the judicial reform, as well as with Israel and Jewish organisation about the new Polish memorial law. Since February, the liberal opposition has also succeeded in taking advantage of the ”scandal”of premiums generously paid to ministers under the government of Beata Szydło. Those premiums are nothing new – they were also paid when the precedent PO-PSL coalition was ruling – and they are linked to the fact that the salaries of ministers are not very high in Poland. Some blunders in the communication – between Beata Szydło who thundered from the rostrum of the Sejm that those premiums were deserved and her successor Mateusz Morawiecki who decided at the beginning of March to suppress them and asked his ministers to forward the already received premiums to charity associations – have also contributed to this weakening of the PiS. While the party was shown between 40% and 50 % of the voting intentions in the opinion polls (depending on the polling organisation), it felt down to 30%-40 % in March-April. One opinion poll even gave a hypothetical coalition of the opposition before the right wing alliance lead by the PiS.
Intending to reverse the situation and perhaps also to punish the opposition of its hypocrisy on this matter, the MP and PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who as a matter of public knowledge is not motivated by money, has not only imposed the suppression of the premiums for the ministers without any basic salary increase but he also decided to have his parliamentary majority to vote a reduction by 20% of the salaries of deputies and senators. This was really a populist decision and he was quite clear in that : ”Vox populi, vox Dei”, this old fox of Polish politics said in a press-conference, knowing that his decision would infuriate the liberal opposition. While today the Polish deputies and senators get a salary of 10.021 zlotys per month (around € 2.400), they will only get 8017 zlotys per month (around € 1.930) before tax as basic salary in the future. Following that there was also decided to reduce the salaries of the general managers of public companies in order to respond the criticisms that accused the PiS to act like its predecessors and to provide profitable jobs to its friends.
One year ago, the PiS wanted to increase the salaries of the members of the government that had remained unchanged since Poland joined the EU 2004 while the average salary doubled in the mean time. The idea was abandoned under the pressure of opinion polls showing that 4/5 of the Poles did not wish to grant an increase to the ruling people. In Poland, the Prime Minister gets a salary of 16.000 zlotys (around € 3.900) while a simple minister gets a salary of 12.500 zlotys (around € 3.000). While the recent decisions imposed by Jarosław Kaczyński might be good for the PiS ahead of the elections, they might not be for Poland as too low salaries for parliamentarians and members of the government could incite to corruption. Some legal procedures are furthermore currently in progress against former members of the liberal governments that ruled from 2007 to 2015, among them the secretary general of the Civic Platform Stanisław Gawłowski, accused of corruption while he was Secretary of State at the Ministry of Environment.
During its convention this week-end, the PiS also announced – through Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other ministers – the new measures that will take place during the successive election campaigns : reduction of the corporate tax from 15% to 9 % for the SME’s (like in Hungary), reduction of the social contributions for the micro-companies, back-to-school bonus for families, minimum old-age pension for women who have got at least 4 children and who have not paid contributions for their pension, premiums for women who will bear a child less than 24 months after the birth of their prior one… For financing all that, the PiS counts on the good tax revenues generated by the struggle against corruption and fraud and on its good economic results : jobless rate at the lowest (6,6 % at the end of 2017), solid economic growth (4,6 % in 2017), lowering public deficits (less than 2 % of GDP in 2017) and reduction of public debt (to 48,5 % of GDP).
The Morawiecki government is furthermore looking for easing the conflict with the European Commission by adopting some amendments to its judicial reform and announced that it would respect the unfavourable judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU on the issue of cutting trees in the Forest of Białowieża that is listed on the European program Natura 2000.
The future will tell us if this strategy that very looks like the one of Viktor Orbán in Hungary will allow the PiS to repeat the electoral successes of the Fidesz. As the Polish voting system is an integrally proportional one for the elections to the Sejm (with a threshold of 5% and a bonus for the winner), a constitutional majority is however probably out of reach for the PiS and its allies.