The head of Poland's governing party wants 'less centralism' within the EU
Germany's leading newspaper, BILD, has published an exclusive interview with Jarosław Kaczyński, head of the Polish governing party and a very influential politician in Europe.
Publishing Director BILD, Kai Diekmann and chief reporter Hans-Jörg Vehlewald met with Kaczyński in Warsaw.
BILD: Mr. Kaczynski, Poland has a President, and Poland has a Prime Minister – but you count as the true ruler of the country. Is that correct?
Jarosław Kaczynski: There is no “ruler” in our country. Poland is a democracy. Our Prime Minister leads the government; the President is fulfilling his tasks. But there is a little bit left for the party leader.
Why don’t you run for Prime Minister yourself – the office you already held from 2006-2007?
The party leadership decided on Beata Szydlo. I subordinated myself to that decision. And it was the right one, because we came into power, after all.
You do not only count as Poland’s true ruler, but also as a dark power that wants to conquer the entire country …
Unfortunately, manipulation and defamation are part of the bad manners that have been prevailing in Poland’s politics for ten years now. Even back then the opposition used its freedom in order to accuse us of striving for a dictatorship. There were strikes and rallies against our government that were supported by many media. In the end, we offered to hold reelections, and we lost. This has got nothing to do with a “dictatorship”. Not back then, and not today. I no longer take such false accusations seriously.
The way you treat the media and the independent constitutional court is heavily criticized in Poland, but also abroad. The President of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz, even accuses you of a “coup”. Do you enjoy the role of Europe’s bogeyman?
I do not enjoy it, but it amuses me, as this criticism has nothing to do with the current state of our country. The accusation that our democracy is in danger applies, if at all, to the time of our predecessor government under Prime Minister Tusk. Back then, his party seized control over all political positions in the country. My party was systematically fought against, excluded, and ignored, also by the judiciary and the media. But no word came from Mr. Schulz and others in Brussels.
It sometimes seems as if your role models for the buildup of a new Poland are politicians like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Turkey’s President Erdogan or even Vladimir Putin …
Wait a second! There might be many similarities between Erdogan and Putin. We can see that in the current developments, unfortunately. But Viktor Orban seriously does not fit in that list. Or could you imagine banners on the Red Square in Moscow saying: “We are ashamed because of Putin”? There were such banners in Budapest. A single party is ruling in Hungary, but democracy and the freedom of speech are still in place. I could also ask you: is Bavaria a democracy? The CSU has been ruling there for ages. So you could also ask: was Franz-Josef Strauß a democrat?
In the West, there were media reports about the mayor of Warsaw. She is concerned that, after the Pope’s visit to Krakow in late July, there will be a wave of arrests against critics and oppositionists. Is there anything true about these rumours?
My dear editors, I can assure you that these rumours are not true. In Poland, nobody is arrested or persecuted for political reasons. This rumour also belongs to the category of manipulation and defamation.
But it’s a fact that the EU Commission officially launched a rule of law proceeding against Poland at the beginning of the year – because of the government curtailing the constitutional court’s rights. Are you not concerned about your voting rights in the EU?
These proceedings take place entirely outside of the EU treaties. This is nothing but some fun work for entertaining the EU Commission and its officials. Even the legal advisors of the European Council think this proceeding goes beyond the treaties. But we still remain in dialogue with the Commission. By the way, our dialogue partner is EU Commissioner Timmermans from the Netherlands – a country that does not even have a constitutional court! It’s absurd. Our position therefore remains clear: Poland is a sovereign state. We want the same rights as all other EU countries. Nothing more, but nothing less, either.
What are the values that still tie Poland to the EU today? Where do you see the differences with Brussels?
Primarily, Warsaw and Brussels share the central basic values of the EU: human dignity, democracy, and the religious freedom of every single human being. We believe in these values. There is also the buildup of a market economy and a system that gives every member state the opportunity to catch up economically with other countries. Poland does not want to remain a net recipient of EU subsidies forever. On the contrary: we want the right to develop in a fair market, and by this right, we want to one day catch up with Germany in terms of welfare and economic power. This will not take 100 years! And then many Poles who emigrated will be able to return home.
And what separates the EU from Poland these days?
I do not want to talk of dividing lines. We Poles are and will remain convinced Europeans. For us, Europe is a community of the diversity of nations. No mishmash. The diversity of our cultures is Europe’s greatest asset. We have to preserve this asset. And any political intervention that reduces this diversity is a loss to Europe.
Great Britain’s Brexit referendum shocked Europe. Is such a referendum also conceivable in Poland?
No! That would make no sense. 90 percent of the citizens would be against an exit. With respect to Great Britain, I have a dream, by the way: that the Brits will see that the EU is changing, and change their minds. And then remain in the EU or return to the EU. I am not giving up hope.
It is not only Brexit that shakes the EU, but also the turmoil in Turkey and Russia’s war against Ukraine. Wouldn’t Europe have to close ranks much more in this difficult situation?
If what you’re saying is that Europe should become a federal state, I ask you, being Germans: are you willing to pay social benefits for all EU citizens? Does Germany also want to take on the debts of all other EU states? For this is the truth: there cannot be a federal state of Europe without all citizens receiving the same benefits and rights.
The question is therefore rather: how do we optimise Europe? How do we make sure that the rules we gave ourselves will also be followed? How do we jointly fight bureaucracy and over-regulation? Brexit was not a historical accident, after all. It taught us where the EU’s real problems lie. And if we do not solve them, we will not prevent the anti-European currents in many EU countries, but rather encourage them.
So your solution is: less Europe. No common currency, no EU army, no single EU government?
More or less Europe – that’s the wrong alternative! What we need is less centralism. The EU treaties clearly promote an alliance of national states that, as far as possible, maintain their own responsibilities. There is no mention of a centralized state of Europe in the treaties. The EU Commission’s politicking, however, is proof of a certain allergy against this principle of national states and national responsibilities.
Concerning the common currency: today, the euro is not worth it for Poland. The reason why we survived the financial and economic crisis quite well is that we have a national currency. This will not change in the near future.
In a BILD interview from ten years ago, you emphasized that Germans and Poles have to be good neighbours – in their own and in Europe’s interest. Today, in Warsaw there is often talk of a “German diktat” within Europe …
Gentlemen, let’s be honest: there is talk of that not only in Poland, but in the whole of Europe. There are historic examples where a soft domination of certain states worked well. For instance the US, who dominated the Western alliance after World War II – with a giant army, an enormous population, and its globally superior economic power. This role is quite different for Germany today. The Germans are indeed the economically and politically strongest power in Europe. But their superiority does not equal the past and present superiority of the Americans. Germany’s potential makes up about 20% of the EU’s overall economic power, including Great Britain. The German army is by no means strong enough to guarantee the security of the EU’s two endangered flanks – in the east and in the south. So all that remains for Germany is partnerships with its neighbours and other EU member states. Germany should stick to that role. I think that Chancellor Merkel would perfectly agree with this.
Germany as the leading power in Europe – so far, this role was rather imposed on the Germans, for instance in the euro debts crisis, in the Ukraine conflict …
You must be joking! Who lent the Greeks the most money? It was German banks, and for a long time, they were profiting from it quite nicely. And concerning Ukraine: back then, Poland also offered to negotiate at the crisis summit. Germany declined this offer with thanks. This is why we stepped back and did not mention the topic again.
Our peoples share a sorrowful history. How important is Germany for Poland today?
I would say: our history does not connect us, it rather divides us. What connects us are our neighbourhood and an enormous economic exchange of, by now, 100 billion euros per year. For Germany, Poland is now a more important trade partner than Russia. With respect to history, our peoples will require more time for the wounds to heal. But it is also important to stick to the truth in accounting for the past. This is not compatible with, for instance, TV movies such as “Our mothers, our fathers” that try to partly shift the liability for Nazi crimes to us Poles. This film told fairy tales about antisemitism in the Polish Home Army, instead of showing how gruesome the German occupation was and how heroic those people were who fought against it. We have to object to this. We do not want to deepen historical divides, but this truth – which is difficult and still unknown to the Germans – has to enter the general awareness. To but it briefly, we want a good neighbourly relationship. But it has to be based on truth and mutual respect.
Good neighbourly relations, however, also entail sharing burdens. What would have to happen for Poland to also take in Syrian refugees?
I cannot imagine any situation in which this would happen. Poland has already taken in over one million Ukrainians, and also approximately 100,000 Belarusians, and tens of thousands of Chechens. At the moment, Poland would also be willing to financially partake in sheltering refugees near their home countries. I would like to hear from Chancellor Merkel what she was thinking when opening the borders. I cannot imagine at all what it was.
Ten years ago – back then you were Poland’s Prime Minister – you visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Would you vote for Ms. Merkel if you were a German citizen?
As a Pole, I can only repeat what my, unfortunately deceased, brother Lech always said: Angela Merkel is the best solution for Poland. And I believe he was right. I do not have the right to vote in Germany. From a Polish perspective, I say: it would be good if Ms. Merkel were reelected.