Research studies

Poland: The PiS Ruling Party and Erosion of Pluralism and The Rule of Law


 Prepared by the researcher  : Muhammad Fawzi Ali – Assistant Professor – Ain Shams University – Cairo, Egyp

Democratic Arab Center



Poland has long been considered a stable democracy and has survived the budget and fiscal crisis in the EU relatively unscathed. Since 2015, however, a government has been in office that limits the separation of powers and implements a conservative-national social and redistributive economic model. The article describes the government’s political goals and measures, the resulting conflicts and the reasons why it was nevertheless re-elected in 2019.

  1. Introduction

The year 1989 is still a turning point for the development of democracy in Poland; not only because the country then finally broke away from socialism, but also because today’s political upheavals result in part from the different assessments of these events. The Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), which has been in power since 2015, has repeatedly emphasized that only when it took office would the political change be complete. Although its catchphrase of the “Fourth Republic”[1] shaped its first term of government from 2005 to 2007, it is still concerned about interpreting the past.

   Due to this relevance of history, the PiS also focused more strongly on the rebirth of the nation state in November 1918 (Loew 2018) at the 2018/2019 commemorations than on the memory of the round table at which the Polish Communist Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PVAP) and the opposition trade union Solidarność negotiated the system change. Poland was the first country in Central and Eastern Europe where such talks took place and which ushered in further democratization (Castle and Taras 2002).

   Poland’s economic restructuring took the form of harsh “shock therapy”, with which the Finance Minister at the time, Leszek Balcerowicz, was able to reduce the high level of foreign debt, the budget deficit and inflation, and stimulate economic growth. While there was agreement on this stability-oriented path for a long time, the drafting of a new constitution only succeeded in stages. In 1992 the Parliament (Sejm) passed an interim constitution which continued the changes of 1989/1990, and in 1997 an entirely new constitution. Legitimated by a referendum, it strengthened the government vis-à-vis the president and the principles of the rule of law, political pluralism and territorial self-government (Matthes 1999, pp. 94–99). At the same time, Poland has been reorienting itself in terms of foreign policy since the early 1990s. The country joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. The referendum on EU accession resulted in approval of 77.45% of those eligible to vote. Polish politicians took on leadership roles in the EU: Jerzy Buzek as President of the European Parliament in 2009 and Donald Tusk as President of the European Council in 2014.

   Despite this positive development, politics and society have been polarized for a long time. After several metamorphoses of the post-Solidarność parties, the PiS competes in particular with the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO). The first governing coalition of the PiS was characterized by internal disputes and amateurish administration. The PO won early elections in autumn 2007 and led Poland for eight years with the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL). It regained confidence and steered the country through the EU fiscal crisis (Matthes 2016). However, not all population groups benefited to the same extent from the good economic situation. The PiS built its election campaign on this in 2015 and became the strongest party after Andrzej Duda had already unexpectedly been elected President for the PiS. For the first time in Poland’s democratic history, the result of the parliamentary elections made it possible to govern without a coalition partner (Markowski 2016).[2] The PiS government was able to renew its mandate in the parliamentary elections of 2019 (Garsztecki 2019).

   Following Hungary’s example, the PiS implemented a redistributive economic and social policy and began curtailing all cultural and media pluralism and the autonomy of the judiciary. This program, which the government describes as a “good change”, provoked strong protests in the country, and the EU formulated recommendations to uphold the rule of law. After the PiS ignored them, Poland has been under Article 7 of the EU Treaty since December 2017, and in the extensive literature on dismantling democracy, Poland is now being discussed as one of the examples. The following sections explain the specific areas in which the democratic deficits are evident and why its economic and social policies continue to make the PiS attractive to many Poles, despite the conflicts with the EU.

   The PiS government curtailed the powers of the highest courts just as quickly. Although their constitutional role was not touched, their composition and competencies were, so that they can no longer act independently. First, the government merged the office of Attorney General with that of the Minister of Justice and gave him/her extensive powers. He/she can determine both the internal organization of courts and which judges take on which cases. A dispute then broke out between the government, president and constitutional court as to whether it was legal for the outgoing parliament to elect five new judges. President Duda refused to appoint them, and the new parliament elected five new judges. As this dispute continued to smolder, a government law changed the voting modalities in the Constitutional Court: two-thirds instead of a simple majority and a higher quorum. The constitutional court then defended itself with interpretations of the legality of these laws, which the president did not publish, however, so that the decisions would not become final. When the term of office of its President Andrzej Rzepliński expired in December 2016, the Constitutional Court was finally disempowered (Czarny 2018). After the rule of law proceedings initiated by the EU Commission in response to these events were unsuccessful, it initiated Art. 7 proceedings against Poland in December 2017.

  1. Democracy

2.1. Conversion of the Media System

Previous governments had already influenced the public service media and the Broadcasting Council (Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji, KRRiT) as their steering body, but this time the interventions were particularly comprehensive and took place immediately after the PiS took office. It exchanged the members of the KRRiT, the new ones were handpicked and appointed by the Minister of Finance. In June 2016, the government also established a National Media Council (Rada Mediów Narodowych) superordinate to the KRRiT, which took over the duties of finance minister. It consists of three MPs from the PiS and two from the PO and Kukiz15, the largest opposition groups at the time. As a result, around 225 journalists lost their jobs over the course of 2016; some were fired, others resigned in protest. In the meantime, public service media report exclusively in the interests of the government. Only private media try to ensure diversity of opinion, although the KRRiT hinders their work by imposing fines for allegedly partisan reporting. These are sometimes withdrawn, but only after protests. Newspapers and other media that do not report on behalf of the government have been publicly defamed and lost revenue because of fewer advertisers (Chapman 2017). In its 2019 election program, the PiS promised further restrictions on private media (Majcherek 2020, p. 4).

2.2. Rule of Law

The PiS government curtailed the powers of the highest courts just as quickly. Although their constitutional role was not touched, their composition and competencies were, so that they can no longer act independently. First, the government merged the office of Attorney General with that of the Minister of Justice and gave him/her extensive powers. He/she can determine both the internal organization of courts and which judges take on which cases. A dispute then broke out between the government, president and constitutional court as to whether it was legal for the outgoing parliament to elect five new judges. President Duda refused to appoint them, and the new parliament elected five new judges. As this dispute continued to smolder, a government law changed the voting modalities in the Constitutional Court: two-thirds instead of a simple majority and a higher quorum. The constitutional court then defended itself with interpretations of the legality of these laws, which the president did not publish, however, so that the decisions would not become final. When the term of office of its President Andrzej Rzepliński expired in December 2016, the Constitutional Court was finally disempowered (Czarny 2018). After the rule of law proceedings initiated by the EU Commission in response to these events were unsuccessful, it initiated Art. 7 proceedings against Poland in December 2017.

   This measure did not prevent the Polish government from subjecting other institutions to political control over the course of 2017 and 2018, It disempowered the National Judicial Council (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa), a self-governing body of judges, which i.a. proposes them for appointment, the Supreme Court and the ordinary courts. After a change in the law, its judges were to retire earlier, which would have enabled the government to fill around 40% of all judicial positions (Sadurski 2018). A veto that President Duda had in the meantime led to further restrictions, as his bill put two new chambers before the Supreme Court. These can order disciplinary proceedings against judges and the review of past cases (Bucholc and Komornik 2018; Davies 2018). After public protests, complaints from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, judges’ associations and the Polish Commissioner for Citizens’ Rights, the parliamentary majority only marginally changed the laws, which is why the European Commission opened two infringement procedures. The European Court of Justice ruled in June and November 2019 that the pension rules violate EU law. The Polish government reluctantly accepted the verdict, but then increasingly used the Disciplinary Chamber to regulate judges (Pech 2020).[3] The fact that the government was not concerned with factual reforms is shown, among other things, by the media campaign, which it at least tolerated, which was intended to destroy the professional reputation of the judges with huge, discrediting posters and activities on social media (Amnesty International 2019).

2.3. Suffrage

In early 2018, the government amended the electoral law, affecting the constitutional right to free and fair elections. First, it abolished the postal vote introduced in 2014, it was only open to people with disabilities, second, it modified the composition and tasks of the National Electoral Commission (Państwowa Komisja Wyborcza, PKW) and the National Elections Office (Krajowe Biuro Wyborcze, KBW), effective from 2019. Of the nine judges who make up the PKW, seven will in future be appointed by Parliament and two by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. Previously, each court, including the Supreme Court, could appoint three judges. The Minister of the Interior proposes the 100 commissioners of the KBW, who conduct the elections on site, as well as three candidates for their leadership, which the PKW decides on. Their election in 2018 fell on Magdalena Pietrzak, the former deputy director of the department for parliamentary affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office. PKW also controls the finances of political parties, but its new composition makes it less independent. Third, the PiS changed the electoral law for regional elections. The term of office of the mayors newly elected in autumn 2018 will be limited to two terms in future, with which the government wants to hit the opposition, which traditionally does better in the cities than in the country (BS 2020, pp. 7-8; Wójcik and Wiatrowski 2020).

   In the spring of 2020, a political and constitutional dispute arose over the conduct of the presidential elections under Corona conditions. Due to favorable election forecasts, the PiS wanted to stick to the original date of May 10 and drafted a law to exclusively use the abolished postal vote. However, the Senate, the second chamber, rejected this. After further protests and debates, the government pushed through a legally questionable summary procedure to postpone the elections to June 28 and to allow voting at the polling station and by postal vote. While the act of voting as such was in accordance with the rules and in line with the pandemic, the opposition was clearly disadvantaged in the election campaign. Due to its brevity and the dominance of the PiS in the public service media, it could present itself less extensively. Andrzej Duda won the runoff on July 12 with 51.03%, while his challenger Rafał Trzaskowski (PO) scored a respectable win with 48.97%. The Chamber of the Supreme Court, which is made up of pro-government judges and responsible for elections, rejected complaints about the legality of the elections (Vashchanka 2020; Vetter 2020; Majcherek 2020).

2.4. Governance and Administration

The government, led by Beata Szydło and then Mateusz Morawiecki since 2015, has repeatedly publicly professed democratic principles, but its policies cast doubt on these declarations. Parliamentary practices were ignored and the opposition discredited, with political projects being worked out quickly and as parliamentary drafts. The sufficient parliamentary majority made it possible to pass the bills quickly.[4] Since the October 2019 election, this was initially the case, as the PiS coalition in the Sejm had the same number of seats (235 out of 460) as in the previous legislative period, but it no longer has a majority since one of the small parties left the government in August 2021. In the Senate, the opposition won a slim majority of one vote, but its veto only has a suspensive effect.

   Informal coordination mechanisms continue to play an important role, with PiS boss Jarosław Kaczyński being the main decision-maker and the ministers’ standing heavily dependent on their relationships with him. However, there were now frequent disputes with Ministers Zbiegniew Ziobro (Justice, SP) and Jarosław Gowin (formerly Education and Science, Porozumienie). This affected the image of unity that the government was happy to project to the outside world, so Kaczyński decided in October 2020 to take on the post of Deputy Prime Minister and assign Gowin to the Ministry of Labour. In relation to the political opposition or social groups, such as feminists or religious minorities, the government continued to be very polarizing, especially during the 2019 election campaign (BS 2020, p. 27; Garsztecki 2019, p. 3, Markowski 2020).

   The government maintains a very instrumental relationship with the administration. The head of the Central Anti-Corruption Office (Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne, CBA) was replaced in 2015 and the then CBA director Paweł Wojtunik had to give way to a PiS confidant, while his previously convicted predecessor Mariusz Kamiński[5] was appointed Poland’s intelligence chief. The Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has repeatedly called for more independence for the leadership of the CBA (GRECO 2018). In the public service, too, management personnel were replaced on a large scale and in December 2015 the requirement for open advertisements for the recruitment of senior civil servants was abolished. As a result, by the end of 2017, 3,197 positions had been filled for purely political reasons, and the administration is more politicized than at any time since the end of communist rule (Mazur et al. 2018, p. 79). Furthermore, the government shifted the financial burden onto the municipalities by changing the law, but at the same time restricted their opportunities to collect more taxes. Their lower functionality proved to be extremely problematic in the corona pandemic, because e.g., Health authorities have far too few staff (Majcherek 2020; Hassel 2020a).

2.5. Abortion Law and Politics of Memory

With the help of the church and an initiative for life, PiS tried several times to tighten the already very strict abortion law. Due to massive public protests, the government had to withdraw the first attempt in winter 2016. Tens of thousands of women, sometimes as many as 100,000 to 150,000, mostly dressed in black, took to the streets. These “black protests” were organized again in 2018 when a citizens’ initiative supported by the Polish bishops submitted a new bill. This aimed to ban irreversible and serious harm to the fetus, one of the most legal reasons for abortion, which accounts for 97% of cases. The women’s movement in Poland gained a lot of support through its actions, and the government let the project peter out. However, it did not try to reduce the intensity of the conflict, claiming that the protests were organized from abroad (Gwiazda 2019). A new attempt to implement the same plan in October 2020 via a ruling by the constitutional court caused the protests to flare up again. This time, they expressed an even more fundamental dissatisfaction with the government’s actions. Nevertheless, the government published the judgment in January 2021, putting the change into effect (Hassel 2020b).[6]

   Dealing with history is similarly polarizing. First, the PiS used the Institute for National Remembrance (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, IPN), which manages the archives of the communist secret service and has made them accessible to those affected since 2000, to discredit political opponents. It defended the judicial reforms, arguing that institutions must continue to be rid of people with a communist past, and accused former President and Solidarność leader Lech Wałęsa of having been an informer for the secret police. However, public interest in these files has always been relatively low (BS 2020, pp. 31-32). Second, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Piotr Gliński, promotes a distinctly nationalist narrative of Polish history. He merged the new Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk with the Museum of Westerplatte in April 2017 in order to put the Polish army and the resistance movement in the foreground over the suffering of other groups of victims. This led to legal and political conflicts, including the dismissal of the founding director, Paweł Machcewicz. Gliński also appointed PiS representatives to school inspectorates and ensured that patriotic values ​​were better reflected in curricula (Kaluza 2018; Wójcik and Wiatrowski 2020).

2.6. Resonance in Politics and Society

Despite social protests and existing dissatisfaction with the government, the PiS has remained the strongest force in polls and in elections since 2015 (Markowski 2020). The opposition parties tried to tackle this with various strategies: for the 2019 European elections as a broad alliance Koalicija Europejska (European Coalition) and, when that did not help, in the parliamentary elections with three politically differentiated blocks: PO and Modern (Nowoczesna,.N) as a citizens’ coalition (Koalicija Obywatelska), the League of the Democratic Left (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratiecznej, SLD) and Wiosnia (Spring) as SLD, and the rural-conservative PSL with Kukiz15 as Koalicjia Polska. Only the left-wing parties were able to increase their share of the vote and thus made it back into parliament, as did the far-right Confederation (Konfederacja Wolność i Niepodległość, KON), a merger of the parties Korwin and National Movement (Ruch Narodowy, RN) (Garsztecki 2019).[7]

   The mobilization of voters was successful in the super election year 2019/2020: While the turnout in 2015 was 50.92%, in 2019 61.74% took part in the parliamentary elections. Voter loyalty to parties has also generally increased over the years, but only 1% of the population is a member of a party. Despite the otherwise traditional electoral fatigue in Poland, approval of democratic norms and procedures is consistently high at 60-70%, up from 73% in mid-2020. 64% of respondents, the highest since 1992, said it made a difference whether the political system was democratic or not. This general support for democracy depends to some extent on party preference.[8] 49% were satisfied with the concrete performance of democracy and 44% are dissatisfied (CBOS 2020a).

   Across the broad NGO landscape,[9] a social movement emerged in November 2015 that for some time led the anti-government protests. The Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Democracji, KOD), founded by Maciej Kieslowski, has also received a lot of international attention (Karolewski 2016). In the meantime, the movement has lost momentum. Associations of judges and human rights organizations are also campaigning against the dismantling of the rule of law (Matthes 2021). The unions, on the other hand, are divided. While Solidarność is close to the PiS, the competing trade union OPZZ, e.g., during the teachers’ strike in April 2019, positioned itself clearly against the government. The Catholic Church, the most influential interest group,[10] maintains its current proximity to the government. According to Article 25 paragraph 2 of the 1997 constitution, church and state are separated, but because the Catholic Church has always seen itself as protecting Poland from external or internal enemies, church representatives have always made socio-political statements, e.g., on abortion or with election recommendations. In return, PiS uses the church or relies on religious values ​​to legitimize certain political decisions. There are also church representatives who are critical of the government and advocate taking in refugees or continuing reconciliation with Germany (Mechtenberg 2018).

  1. Economic Transformation

3.1. Economic Development

The conservative social policy of the PiS government goes hand in hand with an understanding of economic policy that gives the state a strong steering function and is more demand-oriented. So far, the PiS has benefited from the course set by the previous governments and a strong domestic market, which supports solid economic growth, which was around 4.2% in 2018. Unemployment fell from 5.6% in 2016 to 3.7% in 2018 and the inflation rate was around 1.7%. The banking system is profitable, liquid and one of the best performing in Europe[11] and the National Bank made a positive contribution to Poland’s good economic performance due to its conservative and risk-averse investment policy, even during the European financial crisis (BS 2020, p. 18).

   However, the government’s social policy measures are causing public debt to rise. While it was 50.5% in 2014, it rose to 53% of GDP by the end of 2018. Due to the corona-related restrictions, the EU is forecasting falling growth and an increase in the inflation rate and debt in Poland (BS 2020, p. 18; European Commission 2020, p. 135). Despite the good economic situation, the government does not want to join the euro. Its main argument is concern about rising prices and that it can no longer use the instrument of currency devaluation (BS 2020, pp. 19-20).

3.2. Repolonization of The Economy

The private sector is a powerful driver of economic development and contributes two-thirds of GDP. Its employment share is over 70%, in the public sector it has fallen to 23.5%. However, despite general openness to foreign capital, the Polish government launched a “repolonization” campaign. Changes in property rights, especially for EU foreigners, have not yet taken place, but the PiS has reduced the proportion of foreign banks. In 2017, only 54.5% of banks were foreign-owned, instead of the previous 60%. State-controlled companies bought UniCredit’s stake in Bank Pekao S.A. and Raiffeisen’s stake in its Polish subsidiary, Raiffeisen Bank Polska. These measures, along with attempts to push back foreign media companies, are now weakening Poland’s competitiveness. In times of the corona pandemic and the EU budget dispute, this becomes even more of a problem. In addition, foreign investors are increasingly expressing concerns about the institutional functioning of the economic system because the judicial system offers less legal certainty (BS 2020, pp. 18-22).

   Brexit is also proving disadvantageous, as the UK has the second highest rate of foreign remittances from Poles working there and the country is the second most important market for exports (6.4%), after Germany with 27.1%. While Poland has entered new, dynamic markets such as China, which is now the second most important import partner with 11.6%, and reduced its current account deficit, the EU still accounts for 79% of exports and 64% of imports. Trade relations with Eastern Europe deteriorated due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the foreign trade deficit was EUR 3.2 billion in 2018 (BS 2020, p. 18).

3.3. Social Inequality and Social Policy

Poland’s strong economic performance has reduced social inequalities since the early 2000s. This is due to previous governments’ successful reduction of regional disparities using EU structural funds, as well as rising levels of education and falling unemployment. The Gini coefficient showed a relatively high level of equality in 2019 with a value of 28.5. The proportion of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion is also declining (18.2%), with Poland showing better conditions than the EU average, and only 3.6% of the population are considered to be severely materially disadvantaged (Eurostat 2020a , 2020b). Nevertheless, a central factor in explaining the PiS election victory in 2015 was that it struck a chord with the population with its focus on social policy. Immediately after taking office, the government raised the minimum wage and, in April 2016, kept one of its campaign promises and increased the family allowance to 500 zloty for the birth of a second child. The estimated cost was PLN 22.9 billion (approx. EUR 5.3 billion or 1.3% of GDP), but 77% of Poles welcomed this measure. In spring 2019, the measure was extended to the first child, regardless of income (Garsztecki 2019, p. 2). At the same time, unemployed youth and single mothers remain the most vulnerable to poverty and women face discrimination in the labor market because, despite equal access to education, men and women do not have the same level of employment. The proportion of women in the labor force remains unchanged at 45%, putting Poland in the fourth lowest position in the EU. There are still too few childcare facilities (BS 2020, p. 21).

   Lowering the retirement age in November 2017, a controversial issue in the 2015 election campaign, back to 60 for women and 65 for men, also received widespread support, although this decision places a strain on the state budget given demographic changes and a shrinking labor force. Discussions in the government about reorganizing the previous three-pillar system are continuing. In 2019, new voluntary components of a company pension scheme were introduced, as well as freebies such as a 13th pension or an increase in the minimum wage. The “mieszkanie+” social housing program, on the other hand, failed (Riedel 2018; Owczarek 2019). The inefficient healthcare system, which is characterized by poor access for patients and low salaries for staff, is also unreformed, leading to frequent protests by medical staff (BS 2020, p. 21).

   These deficiencies in the healthcare system were particularly evident during the second wave of corona, which hit Poland hard in autumn 2020, in contrast to spring. With only 238 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants, hospitals that are poorly equipped with ventilators and intensive care beds and have insufficiently trained staff, Poland is poorly able to care for the increasing number of sick people (Hassel 2020a). The government’s crisis management gives the population a correspondingly worse rating than in spring: while 70% were still positive in May, only 38% did so in October. Also, only 30 instead of 39% believe that the economic consequences for companies will be sufficiently cushioned (CBOS 2020d).

  1. European Integration

Poland’s current role in the EU is ambivalent. On the one hand, the PiS is less hostile to the EU than in its first term in 2005-2007 and some members of its government have international experience. In addition, the PiS needs strong economic growth for its expansive social policy, which depends to a large extent on international and European support in the form of investments and structural funds.[12] On the other hand, the government sent a clear symbolic signal when Morawiecki’s predecessor, Beata Szydło, hung down the European flag that usually flies in the background at press conferences (O’Neal 2017, p. 33), and in several policy areas, the PiS does not shy away from conflicts with its European partners.

   Poland, for example, refuses European measures against climate change, for an energy union and in the area of migration. Since the country obtains 80% of its electricity from hard coal, this branch of industry is also of great political importance for every government. Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic, lost another infringement procedure in the area of migration policy in April 2020. The government had rejected the distribution of refugees that had been agreed in the European Council in 2015.

   When it came to the rule of law, the PiS government partially bowed to the ECJ judgments, but insisted that the EU had no regulatory competence in the judiciary and at the same time tried to circumvent the judgments with new legislation (Pech 2020). While it is unlikely that the Article 7 procedure will be voted on in the European Council due to the announced Hungarian veto, Rule of Law Commissioner Věra Jourová followed the issue further. The new rule of law clause that the EU Parliament introduced into the budget was initially vetoed by Poland and Hungary in November 2020, but it then came into force (Beisel et al. 2020).

   Within the EU, the current government is not only close to Hungary, but Poland has traditionally had good relations with Great Britain and the PiS MEPs in the European Parliament form a faction with the British Conservatives. Losing a major EU member as a partner will not only have economic, but also political consequences for Poland. The fact that Poland is not part of the euro zone also limits its influence in the EU. The close relations with Hungary and the Visegrád cooperation are not a serious alternative to gain more attention in the EU. In addition, the Hungarian Prime Minister does not always prove to be reliable, since Orbán, for example, voted with the other EU states and against Poland in 2017 for the re-election of Donald Tusk as Council President. His pro-Russia course is also met with resistance in Poland.

   Despite the PiS government’s integration-skeptical policies, the Polish population’s approval of EU membership is unbroken. More than 80% are in favor of this, in February 2020 it was even 89% of Poles (CBOS 2020e, p. 1).

  1. Conclusion

The parliamentary elections of October 2019 revealed a paradox: As the survey data shows, a large proportion of PiS voters also want good relations with the EU and democratic values ​​and practices are important to them. Despite this, the PiS’s redistributive social policy still seems to be more relevant to them than protecting the rule of law or accepting different opinions and lifestyles. In the presidential election campaign, challenger Trzaskowski vehemently assured that the PO would not touch the family allowance. The arguments of the PiS, which drastically portrayed the renewed dismantling of the welfare state as a threatening scenario if the liberals returned to power, caught on nonetheless. This is also due to the one-sided reporting by the public media. Polish society is still largely pluralistic, but it must be worrying that the polarization between town and country, or eastern and western parts of the country, persists, especially in the perception of politics. The PiS voters of 2019 differed from the PO voters even more clearly than in 2015 in terms of age, level of education and place of residence (Markowski 2020), and the opposition was unable to develop any effective recipes against this intra-societal and political divergence.


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[1] The PiS thus proclaimed a fundamental turning point compared to the period since 1989, which was referred to as the Third Republic. The periods between 1569 and 1795 (Polish-Lithuanian noble republic) are considered the First Republic and 1918-1939 the Second Republic.

[2] PiS, however, competed as an electoral alliance with two smaller parties, Understanding (Porozumienie) and Solidarity Poland (Solidarna Polska).

[3] Since October 2019, the third infringement procedure against the disciplinary chamber has been before the ECJ and in April 2020 the Commission initiated a fourth procedure on a law that reprimands the judges.

[4] In 2016, 46% of all bills had their second reading immediately after the first reading and the second reading was immediately followed by the third reading in 85% of all cases. The Senate and President also waved bills through faster: in 2016, 67% of all bills passed without amendment by the Senate, compared to 42% in 2010 and 30% in 2005. In 2016, the president needed an average of 11 days to sign a law, but 19 days in 2010 and 25 days in 2000 (Borski 2018, pp. 58–59).

[5] Kamiński had had a political rival of the PiS persecuted and was therefore sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of office in early 2015, but was later pardoned by President Duda.

[6] The ruling party lost a lot of support and slipped by 10 percentage points to around 30% (Hassel 2020).

[7] As early as 2015, the RN sent five MPs to parliament on the Kukiz15 list. Another far-right party is the National Rebirth of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski, NOP), with ties to the hooligan scene. Amongst other things, it organizes Demonstrations marking Polish Independence Day on November 11th. On the occasion of Poland’s 100th anniversary, the government tried to monopolize the marches by leading the procession. This only partially worked, however, as the far-right continued to wave their flags and shout slogans.

[8] When asked if it would be acceptable for a government to become more undemocratic, 70% of KO voters and 69% of Left voters said no; Supporters of PSL and Kukiz15 only 47% and those of PiS 50% (CBOS 2020a, p. 7).

[9] Approximately 43% of Poles (and rising) are involved in civil society organizations, others practice voluntary social activities more with family and friends (CBOS 2020b).

[10] Around 83% of the population declare themselves Catholic and 47% attend religious services regularly (CBOS 2020c).

[11] According to the World Bank, the share of non-performing loans fell to 3.9% in 2017, slightly above the EU average of 3.7%. The banks’ equity ratio rose to 10.0% by 2017 and is above the euro area average of 8.1% (BS 2020, p. 18).

[12] Poland is the largest recipient of EU Structural Funds in the period 2014-2020 with total amounts of EUR 106 billion (PLN 441 billion), including cohesion and common agricultural policies (BS 2020, p. 32).

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