Poland’s Incoming Prime Minister: ‘My Dream Is to Re-Christianize the EU’

Updated on
  • Morawiecki vows to help western EU states with ‘proper values’
  • Lawmakers pass judicial bills EU sees as undermining democracy

Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland.

Photographer: NurPhoto/NurPhoto

Poland’s incoming prime minister threw down the gauntlet with the European Union, offering to "help the West with proper values" after his allies advanced a judicial overhaul that the bloc has criticized as democratic backsliding.

Premier-designate Mateusz Morawiecki, tapped to replace Beata Szydlo halfway through the government’s term, rejected threats by EU leaders who have warned that Poland may lose out on the aid that drives its economic growth if it didn’t uphold the rule of law. His comments followed a heated parliamentary debate in which the ruling Law & Justice party approved draft laws to revamp the Supreme Court and overhaul a panel that appoints judges despite warnings from EU officials that the measures may trigger sanctions.

While Morawiecki a western-educated finance minister, has impressed foreign investors as the steward of the EU’s largest eastern economy, he made clear his allegiance is with his conservative party and its vision of returning Poland -- and the rest of Europe -- to its traditional Christian roots. In his first interview since being named prime minister on Friday, he lauded his "great, proud nation" and said it would not submit to "blackmail" from other European leaders.

“My dream is to re-Christianize the EU," Morawiecki told Catholic channel TV Trwam in an interview conducted by a journalist who was also a priest. When asked about the risk that the EU may cut Polish aid, he recalled former French President Francois Hollande saying “I do remember one former president telling us earlier this year ‘you have values, we have funds.’ Well, I would love to help the West with proper values."

Morawiecki spoke hours after the lower house approved legislation that would force two fifths of the Supreme Court’s justices into retirement and give politicians more power in selecting judges and the heads of courts. The votes, which send the bills to the Senate, followed an animated session in parliament in which opposition lawmakers chanted “dictatorship, dictatorship” and compared the measures to actions taken by Nazis in the 1930s to cement their grip on power.

Judicial Battle

The draft laws bring closer to conclusion a months-long battle by Law & Justice party to take control over a system that it says is run by a “self-serving clique of judges.” At the same time, the legislative push -- a do-over after an earlier attempt triggered national protests and a presidential veto -- ignores warnings from the EU that it may impose sanctions on member states who fail to uphold its values.

Mateusz Morawiecki

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The cumulative effect of the reforms “puts at serious risk the independence of all parts of the Polish judiciary,” the Venice Commission, a democracy watchdog for the Council of Europe human rights group, said in a statement on Friday.

Because of the court overhaul, the EU’s executive, the European Commission, is conducting the first-ever probe into whether a member is upholding the bloc’s democratic values. And while Law & Justice has portrayed the government reshuffle as a way to improve communication with Brussels, the passage of the draft laws on Friday will undermine any chances of quickly repairing frayed ties.

“Any hope for a reset in Poland’s relations with the EU will probably be dashed by the passage of the judiciary reforms,” said James Sawyer, an analyst at the consultancy Eurasia Group.

Under Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who holds the power behind the government and was decisive in replacing Szydlo, the party has followed in the footsteps of regional peer Hungary. It’s there that Prime Minister Viktor Orban pledged earlier this decade to transform his country, which is also an EU member, into an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia and Turkey.

Economic Steward

As part of that, Morawiecki, 49, has sought to carve out a bigger role for the government in business. This is crucial to his party’s drive to centralize power and steer Poland away from a model based on foreign investment and EU integration that dominated its post-Communist transformation. He has also helped find funding for new welfare spending on families with children, boosting Law & Justice’s support among voters in the country of 38 million people.

At the same time, he’s narrowed the budget deficit, an important benchmark for foreign institutional investors who hold 202 billion zloty ($57 billion) of the government’s local-currency bonds. The government didn’t immediately make clear whether he would be replaced or keep the finance portfolio.

"The assessment of the economic policy by Morawiecki remains generally positive among foreign investors," ING Bank Slaski analysts, led by Rafal Benecki, said in a note.

The zloty gained 0.3 percent to 4.197 per euro as of 8:28 p.m. in Warsaw, extending this year’s advance at 4.9 percent, the best performance among emerging-market currencies following the Czech koruna.

President Andrzej Duda formally nominated Morawiecki as prime minister on Friday and said he hoped the new government can be sworn and win a vote of confidence in parliament next week.

— With assistance by Piotr Bujnicki

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