While Europe continues to struggle with an overwhelming influx of refugees from war-torn countries, Polish authorities have taken a hard stance against admitting migrants into the country and dream to “re-Christianize” the continent.
The recent change in the Polish right-wing government is not going to shift its policies much. New Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has replaced Beata Szydlo, is known as less of a eurosceptic. He is viewed by the international community as a more credible leader than the former prime minister was. However, experts say his stronger political image in the West does not necessarily reflect his political beliefs, which are no different from the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) conservative views.
Dreams of Re-Christianised Europe
The new prime minister has already shown his adherence to conservative values of the ruling party.
In his first interview as a designated prime minister, Mr. Morawiecki said he was dreaming of “re-Christianised Europe.” The 49-year-old Catholic father of four said it was very unfortunate that the churches were closing down in Western Europe and got converted into museums, expressing regret that Christian values were in decline.
Aleks Szczerbiak, Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex, told The Globe Post that although Mr. Morawiecki has an image of a modern, western politician, he is a quite religiously devoted figure, who believes that there is no contradiction between social and economic modernization and traditional Christian family and national values.
Mr. Szczerbiak noted that the prime minister made remarks on re-Christianization of Europe during an interview with a Catholic TV Trwam station. The channel is very popular among devoted Catholics in Poland, who make a huge percent of the ruling party Law and Justice electorate.
“These people really needed reassurance that somebody from a very different background, somebody who worked for big western banks, very technocratic figure, actually shares the same values,” Mr. Szczerbiak said.
Mariusz Antonowicz, political scientist from Vilnius University, told The Globe Post, however, that unlike previous Prime Minister Mrs. Szydlo, whose messages for the E.U. were actually targeting Poland’s internal audience, Mr. Morawiecki will probably talk less about moral degeneration of Europe and make less appeals to Western politicians to wake up spiritually.
Against Forced Multiculturalism
Even though Mr. Morawiecki’s remarks were targeting religious Poles, wider audience paid attention to them and started raising questions regarding his political stands.
Poland is one of the three Visegrad countries, which refused to take any refugees under a migrant relocation scheme agreed on by E.U. leaders in 2015. Mr. Morawiecki has already addressed the issue, saying that Poland had a right to decide whether to accept refugees or not.
According to Mr. Szczerbiak, Mr. Morawiecki holds a view that the proposed migrant relocation scheme is forcing a multicultural model on Poland. Opinion polls show that about three-quarters of Poles are against accepting refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. Many of them think that the recent migration of predominantly Muslim people to Western Europe has been a disaster.
Around 60 thousand people have marched in Warsaw recently, celebrating Poland’s Independence Day and holding such banners as “White Europe” or “Clean Blood.”
Mr. Morawiecki claims that if Poland is going to be multicultural, this is a choice that Poles need to make by themselves and it cannot be forced upon this Eastern European country of 38 million people, which is among the most ethnically homogeneous countries on the continent.
The Powerful Voice of The Church
Poland is one of the most religious countries in Europe, where nearly 95 percent of people identify as religious Catholics. It has resisted, to some extent, against the secularization that is common in large part of the continent, particularly in Western Europe but also in the former communist states.
Contrary to the vast majority of the European countries, the church remains a powerful actor in the Polish civil society, actively participating in the state’s political life. The wellspring of the ruling party’s philosophy are Catholic-Christian values. Therefore critics say that the Polish government’s political stance often coincides with the position of the church. However, Mr. Szczerbiak said that even though the church has a powerful voice, it would be wrong to think that “the ruling party follows its worlds slavishly.”
For instance, the church is much more open to the idea of Poland accepting migrants from North Africa and the Middle East. It has suggested to create humanitarian corridors and take in single mothers, children, the ill, disabled and elderly who would be under the church’s care. Meanwhile, the government has taken a much harder stance and does not agree with the church’s proposal. It has not given in to the church’s pressure to change the abortion law either.
The current abortion law allows some exceptions, while the church heavily supports the idea of a total ban on it in Poland. The new law, which was proposed last year, prohibited all forms of abortion and included prison sentences for women who have illegal abortions or criminal investigations into “suspicious” miscarriages. However, senior politicians from the Law and Justice party calculated the risk of losing support and backed away from controversial proposal due to mass protests and criticism from human rights organizations.
Unprecedented Test for New Prime Minister
On Wednesday, the European Commission decided to take an unprecedented action against the Polish government, claiming that newly-adopted laws have allowed authorities to “interfere significantly” in the judiciary. If Poland is going to continue with the reform plan, the Commission can suspend the country’s voting rights at E.U. summits.
The European Commission gave the Polish government three months to rectify court changes. However, it looks like the ruling Law and Justice Party is not going to accept the E.U.’s requirements.
“There is a typical nationalist message which is coming from the government and saying that this is a dictate of the Brussels,” Mikolaj Kunicki, a research associate at the University of Oxford, told The Globe Post. He also asserted that only after the meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr. Morawiecki in January, it will be completely clear what kind of position the new prime minister is going to take.
According to Mr. Kunicki, this delicate issue will be a tuff test for Mr. Morawiecki, which will demonstrate “to what extent this is a real change of the head of the government or whether it was just a cosmetic change.”
However, even if the Polish government does not comply with the Commission’s requirements, Article 7 might not be triggered at all, since it requires total unity among the E.U. member states.
“Poland will try to gather a coalition of states that would block a potential decision by the European Council to impose sanctions on Poland,” Mr. Antonowicz said. Hungary and Romania have already expressed their support to Warsaw.
Even though Poles do not overwhelmingly support the judiciary reforms that authorities have introduced, Mr. Szczerbiak emphasized that the majority of the Polish people see this government as the one that cares about ordinary people rather than elites.
The Law and Justice party will likely remain popular in Poland despite tensions with the E.U.