Less interest in Polish internal affairs
Moreover, some government supporters even see the Trump presidency as, in some respects at least, a source of potential opportunities to actually improve relations between the USA and the current Polish administration. Mr Obama exerted both public and private behind-the-scenes pressure on Law and Justice over the constitutional tribunal crisis. For example, during the July NATO summit in an implicit criticism of the Law and Justice government Mr Obama used a joint press conference with the ruling party-backed Polish President Andrzej Duda to express his concern that ‘more work needs to be done’ to end the constitutional impasse.
Moreover, there was every reason to expect that a Hillary Clinton administration would have been an equally harsh, if not harsher, critic of the Law and Justice government on this issue. For example, during the US election campaign former President Bill Clinton, Mrs Clinton’s husband and (for obvious reasons) one of her closest political allies, attacked the Polish (and Hungarian) government for democratic backsliding referring to it as a ‘Putin-like’ dictatorship.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, is much less likely to become involved in Polish internal affairs. While Law and Justice’s US-based critics remain well-placed in the American foreign policy establishment and influential in the US opinion-forming media, they generally supported Mrs Clinton so will probably not exert such a great influence on Mr Trump.
An anti-elitist and anti-liberal zeitgeist?
More broadly, until recently Law and Justice appeared to stand outside the Western international mainstream in its rejection of the hegemonic EU liberal-left consensus on issues such as multi-culturalism and traditional family values, which it saw as potentially undermining Poland’s national identity.
However, whatever misgivings many on the Polish conservative right may have about Mr Trump’s unpredictability on international affairs and questionable personal morality, there are clear parallels between the way that his electoral success appeared to symbolise a broader popular backlash against the liberal political, economic and cultural establishment and Law and Justice’s stunning election victories last year.
The latter also reflected widespread disillusionment with what many Poles saw as the country’s out-of-touch and complacent liberal ruling elites, whom they felt were disconnected from ordinary people’s concerns, and a sense that they had not shared sufficiently in the country’s recent economic success.
In this sense, Mr Trump’s victory allows Law and Justice leaders and supporters to present the party’s domestic political success and broader critique of liberal-left elites as not simply an anomalous and isolated local Polish phenomenon. Rather, in spite of the risks and concerns that a Trump presidency may create for Polish foreign and security policy, the ruling party can now position itself as being in the vanguard of a new anti-elitist and anti-liberal zeitgeist exemplified by the US presidential election result that appears to be sweeping through the West.
Is Poland’s Law and Justice government losing momentum
Although plunged immediately into a constitutional crisis that brought it into conflict with the European Commission, one year after its decisive parliamentary election victory Poland’s right-wing ruling party retains widespread support. It has come under fire recently over appointments to state-run companies and the abortion issue but the government’s fate depends upon its ability to deliver on the socio-economic policy promises that were the key to its electoral success.
No post-election honeymoon
Last October’s parliamentary election saw a stunning victory for the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the first political grouping in post-1989 Poland to secure an outright parliamentary majority, and its deputy leader Beata Szydło became the country’s prime minister. This followed the party’s earlier success in the May 2015 presidential poll when its candidate Andrzej Duda defeated incumbent and odds-one favourite Bronisław Komorowski.
However, the new government enjoyed no post-election honeymoon and was plunged immediately into a bitter conflict over the membership and functioning of the constitutional tribunal, a powerful body that determines the constitutionality of Polish laws. The opposition and legal establishment argued that the government’s actions represented a violation of judicial independence and bundled the issue up with a number of other measures to accuse Law and Justice of undermining democracy and the rule of law.
As a consequence, thousands of Poles took part in demonstrations organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), an anti-Law and Justice civic movement.
The opposition’s narrative was picked up by the EU political establishment and Western opinion-forming media, with whom the government’s opponents enjoy strong links and many of who share their dislike of Law and Justice. In January, the European Commission initiated an unprecedented investigation under an EU monitoring mechanism to establish whether the rule of law in Poland was under ‘systemic threat’.
Then, in July it moved to the next stage of the procedure, giving the government three months to comply with its ‘rule of law recommendation’ or risk a Commission proposal that the European Council impose sanctions on Poland; in the worst-case scenario suspending the country’s voting rights. The government’s constitutional tribunal reforms were also criticised by the Venice Commission, an advisory body on constitutional matters to the Council of Europe human rights watchdog, and the European Parliament.
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