Opposition considers federalising Poland

A group of experts close to the main opposition Civic Platform (PO) is reported to be considering giving regions huge powers which would effectively mean the end of Poland being a unitary state.

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A group of experts which includes the chief of staff of the former President Bronisław Komorowski and a senior academic lawyer from the Central European University in Budapest have prepared a draft of a programme proposal titled “A Grand Civic Poland”.

The authors of the draft propose far-reaching changes in the way Poland is structured and governed. They would involve constitutional changes giving far greater powers to local government at the provincial level and the courts.

The core thinking behind the proposal is to strip away the power of the central government and to shift it to the provinces. This deep decentralisation should also cover legislative matters such as same-sex marriage and allow regions to pursue their own health and education policies. The provinces are to be financed through taxes on individual and corporate income which would cease to be the domain of the central state.

The reform would also involve, making the existing second chamber of Parliament, the Senate, a body made up of provincial local government officials, thereby giving the provincial authorities a strong position in affecting national legislation.

The programme envisages reducing the number of ministries with the dissolution of ministries such as education, higher education, economy, labour, agriculture and sport. The judicial system is also to be decentralised with far greater powers going to courts at the provincial level.

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Constitutional change required

The authors of this reform proposal acknowledge that some changes to the constitution would be required that would move Poland away from being a unitary state. They propose that the existing 16 provinces become a part of the constitution with their powers specified. Currently, the constitution leaves the shape of local government to legislation.

Civic Platform not ready to own the proposal

Jan Grabiec MP, the PO’s press spokesman played down any links between the PO and the document. He said the party had not commissioned this document and stated that “the party has a programme for local government which is rather different from the one proposed by these experts.

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Ruling party will be against

The decentralisation which is proposed will not be supported by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). PiS is a party which has always been committed to Poland remaining a unitary state.

PiS is also sensitive to Poland’s history. Poland lost its independence in the eighteenth century partly as a result of too much local autonomy of its noblemen. The partition happened because neighbouring powers saw Poland internally weakened and took advantage.

Today’s Poland is a largely mono-ethnic country. The only region in which there is a larger national minority is Opole (Germans) and the only one with any ambitions for regional autonomy is Upper Silesia. The Polish state has been anxious that any such moves could open a can of worms over the territorial post-war settlement that took land away from Germany in compensation for lands lost to the USSR.

The chances of the proposal ever coming into force are not great. Even if the PO puts it forward and actually wins an election it would require a ⅔ majority in Parliament to secure the necessary constitutional changes. Given that the opposition has just suffered a big defeat in the European elections, this does not seem likely.