Warsaw mayor’s dilemma: Getting EU cash would boost the government he’s fighting

Warsaw mayor’s dilemma: Getting EU cash would boost the government he’s fighting
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 15 February 2023 13:24

Rafał Trzaskowski wants the EU to pay out pandemic relief funds, but worries about the message that would send to his country’s government.

With Poland’s elections approaching this fall, Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw and one of the leaders of the center-right Civic Platform opposition party, is in a bind.

Poland’s capital city could really use the billions in EU cash locked up in a rule-of-law dispute between the European Commission and the country’s nationalist government — but getting the money could end up helping that government.

“I’m in a schizophrenic situation as the mayor of Warsaw because I want the money from the recovery fund to come to Poland as quickly as possible, I want them to be used in Warsaw, I don’t want the people of Warsaw to be penalized by the irresponsible behavior of the government … But I also want the EU to be tough on the rule of law,” Trzaskowski told POLITICO.

The government, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, has undertaken deep reforms of the judicial system since taking power in 2015. It claims that was needed to make the system more efficient and to get rid of judges with ties to the old communist regime. But skeptics — including the Commission — saw it as an effort to put judges under tighter political control.

As a result, Brussels isn’t paying out €36 billion in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund over worries that Poland is backsliding on the bloc’s rule-of-law principles. To get the cash, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed on a series of “milestones” with the Commission, which includes rolling back some of those reforms.

“For years, the populist government PiS was trying to politicize the courts and under the pressure from the European Union, and also from the opposition, they have now begun to back down,” said Trzaskowski, who served as a member of the European Parliament with the European People’s Party from 2009 to 2013 before returning to Warsaw to briefly serve as Poland’s Europe minister.

The Polish parliament has passed a bill doing that, but on Friday President Andrzej Duda, usually a PiS ally, refused to sign the legislation, fearing it could endanger the status of judges he appointed. Instead, he sent it to be reviewed by the Constitutional Tribunal, a body that decides whether laws agree with the Polish constitution.

That’s thrown the timing of any release of funds into doubt. Law and Justice is desperate to get the money ahead of what’s likely to be a very tight parliamentary election this fall.

If Brussels does pay out, PiS could get an electoral boost that could help it win a third term in office. But it could also provide a much needed injection to continue Poland’s remarkable post-communist recovery; it’s been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies ever since the end of communist rule in 1989.

“My greatest concern is that the money which could change Poland gets to Poland as quickly as possible,” Trzaskowski said. “The plan for the reconstruction of Poland is a plan for the second wave of modernization. It really addresses the questions of fighting climate change, clean air innovation, transportation, housing for the poor, even urban planning.”

He’s hoping that some of the funds go directly to city governments; Poland’s national government has tended to penalize opposition-led cities.

Political calculations

Trzaskowski has been mayor of the country’s largest city since 2018, but he is also seen as a potential candidate for prime minister if the opposition wins this fall as he has a smaller negative electorate than Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk, the former prime minister and European Council president.

“This is not the moment to talk about personalities,” he said when asked if he sees himself as a potential prime minister. He added that whoever gets the job in the event of a PiS defeat faces “the most difficult job in Poland in the past 30 years after the populist government, with such polarized society, getting out of pandemic, with a war on our eastern border with helping refugees, energy crisis, inflation.”


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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Ensuring that victory is going to mean that opposition parties should bridge their differences and coalesce into larger electoral blocs, he said. PiS is currently polling at 36 percent in POLITICO’s poll of polls, while an alliance led by Civic Platform is at 31 percent. There is also a group of smaller opposition parties, each with 10 percent or less support.

Trzaskowski called on the the opposition “to get its act together” and join forces to defeat PiS.

“We are fighting for one list, with all the political parties retaining their independence, but my only concern is that we go into the election with as few lists as possible,” he said. “Because if it’s one or two, we can win. If it’s three, then it becomes difficult. If it’s five or six, with a d’Hondt system [of apportioning votes], then you split the vote. The conservative right will be united and that will give them the advantage under the current system.

“These are unusual times, and that’s why we should think less about competition and about our own political parties and more about collaboration, ” he said.

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