The government reshuffle may happen this week and it may affect Poland’s energy and climate policy by shifting it to a more Eurosceptic position in the era of the energy crisis – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, editor-in-chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
The government reshuffle may happen this week
According to two of our sources within the government, Mateusz Morawiecki’s cabinet may undergo a reconstruction this week. One of the changes is the resignation of the Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka, who may be replaced by the former head of the defunct Energy Ministry Krzysztof Tchórzewski, or as suggested by the Interia.pl portal Anna Moskwa, President of the Baltic Power company that is to build offshore wind farms for PKN Orlen. It is not clear whether the Ministry of Climate will see its competencies with regard to the environment transferred to reps from United Poland, who may get their own ministry that would handle, among others, waste management or forestry.
Minister Kurtyka has already received an informal farewell on radio Wnet from Piotr Naimski, the Government Plenipotentiary for Strategic Energy Infrastructure, who on October 14 stated that the departure of the head of the Climate Ministry will be a “great loss”.
The Polexit dispute and the future of the European Union
Prime Minister Matuesz Morawiecki and the president of the Law and Justice party are united in their opposition to Polexit, or Poland’s exit from the European Union, although the opposition accuses them of such a plan. At the same time, however, they oppose further integration in the formula proposed by the European Commission.
“Today we are in a very crucial moment, one might say, at a crossroads in the history of the European Union. Democracy is being tested. How far will the European nations go in this usurpation that they are carrying out, that some of the institutions of the European Union are carrying out? We are standing before two choices,” said the Prime Minister in the Sejm on October 14. “The first is that we can pretend that this is not happening, that the process of the creeping usurpation does not exist, that the foundations of a democratic state are not violated. Or we can say this: no, dear friends from Brussels, from the European Union, if you want Europe to become a stateless superstate, then ask the opinion of the peoples, societies and states of the European Union first. You didn’t ask, so you have no right to do that,” he continued.
“We say no to one European state with one headquarters in Brussels. We say no to the centralization of Brussels,” Mateusz Morawiecki stressed. “We say no to the United States of Europe, because this is another sick concept of leftist ideologues. We say no to this idea,” the Polish Prime Minister asserted.
According to him, it was the plans for deeper integration that led to Brexit. The president of the Law and Justice party Jarosław Kaczyński spoke on the RMF FM radio on 16 October in a similar vein. “I assure you that there is no plan for a Polexit,” he said. However, he warned that there was no consent to the European Union limiting sovereignty in a process understood as the transfer of more powers to Brussels. “The fact that the constitution is the supreme law is also an expression of the sovereignty of the society,” he said in reference to the judgment of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal on the superiority of national law over EU law in relation to the competences that have not been transferred to the bloc.
Energy crisis and sovereignty policy
According to journalists Agnieszka Burzyńska and Andrzej Stankiewicz, who host the podcast “After the Storm”, the government is reportedly concerned about the impact of the ubiquitous high prices caused by, among others, inflation, higher energy, gas and heat costs, on the election results in 2023. For this reason, early elections in the spring of 2022 may even be on the table.
Anonymous sources have told BiznesAlert.pl that this is why Morawiecki’s goverment has changed its narrative from being realistic about Europe to Eurosceptic (roughly speaking). Allegedly Poland will take a more hard-line approach to its relations with Brussels, with which it is already in a significant conflict. “Now what, ladies and gentlemen? Some self appointed lord almighty has said something, so we have to put up with it, shut down our power plant, our coal mines, because someone thought this would be a good idea?,” the PM was referring to the opposition’s call for Poland to comply with the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union ordering Poland to shut down the Turów mine for the duration of the Poland-Czech Republic dispute.
“When the Court of Justice orders us to do something that will cause a power tsunami, so to speak, then we should listen? Is that normal? Well, it isn’t, ladies and gentlemen. We are a sovereign state and we make decisions based on the best interests of the Polish people,” the PM strongly asserted in a speech on October 14.
Jarosław Kaczyński spoke much more calmly on the RMF FM radio, outlining the limits of the sovereignty policy of the new edition of the government of Mateusz Morawiecki. The government will not give up EU aid, but it is supposed to sharpen the course in the talks. It also intends to tackle the energy crisis with national instruments, despite discussions on EU solutions proposed by the European Commission.
“The money from the National Reconstruction Plan belongs to us. We’ll get it sooner or later. And if it is a little later, then we will be fine anyway,” Kaczyński assured on the radio. “The state income should not be restricted, and excise duty is one of the biggest sources of state income, especially the excise duty on gasoline,” said Jarosław Kaczyński on RMF FM. “The government certainly should think about it and can use various methods here, not necessarily a reduction in excise duty, that is, a reduction in tax revenues. I think something like this is going to happen, and I will support this,” Kaczyński stated.
This means that the government will not lower taxes in response to the energy crisis, because it needs funds to fulfill the promises of redistribution made in the Polish Deal. However, it may offer subsidies such as targeted compensation for energy prices for the poorest, or even more radical solutions such as the 2018 law on freezing these prices, especially if Krzysztof Tchórzewski, who was responsible for that policy, returns as the energy minister. This topic will be raised at the meeting of the Council of the European Union on 20-21 October. The Polish Prime Minister is also scheduled to address the European Parliament during that visit to Brussels.
Civil war on the horizon
The dispute in Poland is already influencing the debate on the future of European integration. The ruling of the Polish Constitutional Tribual was warmly received by Eurosceptics in western Europe like Marine Le Pen in France.
The energy crisis may cause social tensions in Europe, leading politicians to abandon the difficult reforms necessary for an effective energy transition, on the one hand, but it may also provoke a reflection on the most radical solutions in this area, such as some of the propositions included in the Fit for 55 package put forward by the European Commission.
It is also an opportunity to decide about the future of European integration. If the national states do not transfer new competences to the Commission and the European Parliament and follow the path of federalization, integration may be the victim. A similar phenomenon was seen in the history of the United States, especially during the civil war. The energy crisis in the Polish government is a manifestation of such a war on the European arena, which, unlike the 19th century conflict in America, is taking place in the form of a democratic debate. Interestingly, the Polish government’s tougher stance on European integration is also intended to prevent a civil war within the United Right (governing coalition – ed.) in the face of the fact that United Poland may be seeking cooperation with the Confederation (opposition party – ed.), making the parliamentary majority of the ruling party fragile.