Ruling block renews its vows

The parties that make up the PiS-United Right ruling alliance - Law and Justice (PiS) led by Jarosław Kaczyński, “Solidarity Poland led by justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro and “Agreement” led by Jarosław Gowin- have finally reached an agreement.

On Saturday the leaders of the three parties signed and presented the deal at a joint press conference. Present at the ‘ceremony’ was PM Mateusz Morawiecki who stays in his post as a result of the agreement.

Mr Kaczyński said it was a happy day for Poland that the current government was to continue. Mr Gowin said he was delighted to see the principles of pluralism would be respected while there would be better coordination of government. Mr Ziobro said he was pleased that the good work of the last five years would be continued and that the three partners to the agreement respected each other’s identities.

The devil will lie in the detail

The deal ensures that the government will be restructured and the number of ministries reduced. Mr Kaczyński is reported to be joining the government as Deputy PM responsible for coordinating national security and three key ministries: defence, justice and interior. A legislative programme has also been agreed which will include deconcentration of media ownership and measures to protect traditional family values. The parties will also have a joint position on both the animal protection legislation as well as making sure state officials are protected against prosecution for actions they took in response to the pandemic.

The agreement is more of a letter of intent than a detailed plan. It was never likely that the parties would agree here and now on the text of legislation or even a timetable for their implementation.

The crisis in four acts

The crisis within the ruling block which was finally resolved on Saturday began by an unexpected outcome in the parliamentary election. That was the first act which laid the seeds for future disagreements.

The unexpected outcome related to the fact that the PiS block’s victory was narrower than had been expected in terms of seats won in the Lower House. But that is not the real problem. What has caused friction is the fact that the largest party in the ruling block (PiS) actually lost seats at the expense of the smaller partners in “Solidarity Poland” and “Agreement”. This meant that PiS became more, rather than less, dependent on these smaller parties.

That became apparent very quickly just after the election in the autumn of 2019 when the “Agreement” party rebelled over the government’s proposal to scrap the ceiling on social security contributions. The government and PiS was forced to scrap that proposal.

The second major act was the conflict over the date of the presidential election. Jarosław Gowin was set against that election taking place in May because of the pandemic. PiS and its leader wanted the election completed as quickly as possible. In the end it was PiS which was forced to compromise and the election was held in late June.

The third act was the response Mr Kaczyński gave to Mr Ziobro’s signal that “Solidarity Poland” was ready to join PiS as a faction within it. Mr Kaczyński declined as it did not fix the problem of PiS not having a majority of its own in Parliament.

This led Mr Ziobro to attempt to make his party more visible in the ruling block. The way he did that by criticising the PM over the way the PM was handling EU matters and by proposing legislative actions PiS were not ready for, infuriated Mr Kaczyński.

The fourth act in the crisis came when Mr Ziobro’s party rebelled over animal protection legislation and forced the withdrawal of legislation that was to give state officials immunity for any acts taken in combating the pandemic. This action, and the fact that the negotiations with both Mr Ziobro’s and Mr Gowin’s party over reducing the number of ministries and a legislative programme for the next 3 years, led Mr Kaczyński to turn the tables and break off the talks. For a moment it looked as if the alliance might break up and Mr Ziobro would have to leave the government.

But since there was no alternative majority in Parliament, as the Polish People’s Party (PSL) nor the radical right “Confederation” were not willing to play ball, the only way of avoiding PiS having to form a minority government, that would inevitably lead to early elections, was to cut a deal.

The ups and downs resulting from the compromise

This is what has happened. A compromise inevitably means all sides had to reduce their appetites.

PiS have had to swallow that the number of ministries will not be reduced by as many as they might have originally intended. They have also been forced into having Mr Kaczyński join the government as Deputy MP to keep the conflicted minister Ziobro and PM Morawiecki at bay.

PM Morawiecki will now have Mr Kaczyński, his party leader, in his cabinet. Some say this will strengthen his position against Mr Ziobro as it is a signal Mr Kaczyński backs him. Others point to the fact that it shows that many inside PiSt still do not fully trust Mr Morawiecki. Despite his role in the four national election victories and his record in government, some in the party still see him as a “Johnny come lately” who was not around during their years in the wilderness as he was earning a fortune in the banking sector.

Mr Ziobro in theory has seen his power reduced, as Mr Kaczyński is now expected to be supervising his ministry as Deputy PM. He was not prepared to break the alliance apart. But in reality Mr Ziobro has seen the loyalty of his own MPs hold up and his rival for being the leader of the right in the future (PM Morawiecki) has been shown not to be strong enough to overcome him. He still has his assets in place and is very much in play for the future with several secret and not so secret admirers on the right of PiS.

Mr Gowin may be happy to be returning to government as deputy PM. He has been able to retain control of his party, though not without casualties (such as the departure from his party of Jadwiga Emilewicz). He lives to fight another day, but will be anxious that his party is now less visible than that of Mr Ziobro’s.