Monday, October 22, 2007

Warsaw prepares for a difficult cohabitation

Civic Platform (PO) have kicked Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski out of power – now they are getting ready to neuter his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski.

Poland’s constitution and the relationship between parliament and the presidential palace is a bit of a mess. In 1989, when they were trying to work out what a democratic constitution would look like, they took bits from American and French systems, put them together and created...a dog’s dinner.

President Lech Kaczynski is not nearly as powerful as a George W Bush, or even Nicholas Sarkozy, but neither is he as powerless or as anonymous as ....well, who is the president of Ireland or Israel?

Those two are so weak that they virtually don’t exist – wheeled out at ceremonies to shake some hands, cut some ribbon, and then wheeled back to wherever they keep them for another day – like your best table cloth and cutlery.

Lech Kaczynski cannot make laws. He can’t appoint ministers (although Lech Walesa did). But what he can do is veto laws he doesn’t like.

He didn’t veto any of his brother’s laws, naturally, but you can imagine he was up all night last night, sharpening up his veto guillotine.

He could, theoretically, cause chaos for Donald Tusk and the new government. So Donald Tusk – probably the next prime minister – has a plan.

Euro battle ground
Civic Platform are determined to get Poland into the Euro Zone and adopt the Euro as the Polish currency as fast as they can. And they want to do it without having to have a referendum.

Lech Kaczynski, like his brother Jaroslaw, has indicated that before Poland gives up the zloty the country should have a ballot. So he would probably veto any parliament vote on the matter.

Civic Platform are talking of creating a permanent anti-veto coalition within parliament, with enough votes to overturn Lech’s veto.

Yesterday’s election has made things much easier for Platform. Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) is the only Eurosceptic party left in parliament, with just 166 members of parliament out of a possible 460.

But wouldn’t it be simpler to cut the powers of the president permanently, and turn Lech Kaczynski into a toothless Irish president, or an anonymous Israeli?


rz said...

I think that abolishing the presidency is bad idea, if your only reason is that you don't like the guy in power.

The moment might come where it is your guy who can wield his Veto Powers to stop stupid laws.

beatroot said...

That is what the Senate is for.

rz said...


The link to Reuters somehow doesn't work (but maybe the problem is on my side).

YouNotSneaky! said...

Looking at that graph just reminds me for some reason how difficult of a coalition partner PSL can be, especially when they're in the minority.

michael farris said...

On the other hand, does PSL think it'll get a better deal with more early elections? They're living in Lah-lah land if they do.

On the other hand, maybe it'll be easier to scrape off some of the younger members of PiS after all...

beatroot said...

I fixed the link.

Sneaky is right about PSL. They have been in, and then left, more coalitions than I have been in pubs. They left the SLD coalition because they though the ex-commies were too economically liberal. How are they gonna get along with a bunch of Thatcherites?

Meg Q said...

"But wouldn’t it be simpler to cut the powers of the president permanently"

I believe that, in English, we call this "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

beatroot said...

No, that sounds like plastic surgery. There are lots of countries which operate perfectly well without having a vetoing pres. Think Ireland, think UK (where they have a ribbon cutting monarch). Poland does not need a political president.

Tim Harrell said...

Getting through Euro-friendly measures such as agreeing the EU treaty, accepting the European declaration on Human Rights, etc, shouldn't be too difficult as only PiS might try to block such measures so PO will muster enough support to override a veto. The same goes for the removal of troops from Iraq - a simple ad-hoc coalition on the day of the vote is all that's required (again, only PiS would oppose this).

What could be much more problematic from the standpoint of neutering the presidential veto is the economic legislation. Policies such as the flat-tax and budget cutting could be hard to get past LiD, even if PSL are happy to support them.

Someone told me that privatisation of state assets is not something Lech K would have veto power over. Can anyone confirm this?

I agree that the presidential veto seems a little odd when there is a senate in place. It's not like the US since the US doesn't have a true prime minister equivalent (therefore you need a president with some executive powers).

Either you have a presidential system where the president has power to act and to veto legislation or you have a parliamentary system whereby the president occupies a functional role. The current system in Poland certainly does like a 'misz-masz'.

zsommand said...

What do experts say about Polands €uro-zone accession? When will it happen according to them?

Anonymous said...

I doubt that Civic Platform will rush wholeheartedly into the Euro or become the yes man for European-wide initiatives that many would have them be.

German foreign policy post 1871 has always had the mainstay of forcing eastern Slavic nations to be economically dependent upon her and as European monetary policy now stands, the ECB's independance is not guaranteed nor is there any re-evaluation of the initial assessments for the basket (even though Italy and Greece confess to lying about the strength of their national currencies) or a uniform European-wide response to Sarkozy's attempted interference.

It sounds like Civic Platform want Poland to be a central version of the NL; where anglo-saxon capital and subsidiaries can be safely constructed for business to the east.

Damien Moran said...

BR, nobody answered your question, so I will.
'who is the president of Ireland or Israel?'

The president of Ireland is Mary McAleese. She is currently serving her 2nd 7 year term. She stayed on as president after 2004 because nobody bothered to challenge her.

So yes, she plays ceremonial roles.
The President of Ireland is neither the nominal nor de facto CEO of the state as executive authority is totally vested in the Government.
Indeed, I even have more powers than the president of Ireland in some regards - (s)he has to ask the permission of the government to leave the country, I don't.

Mary Robinson was her predecessor. Well-known for her subsequent UNHCR leadership.

As regards the President of Israel, well, he/she/it also, as you correctly stated plays a largely ceremonial role.

However, Moshe Katsav, the one who was just recently thrown out of office, is now infamous for being the only president of Israel and to be accused of rape. Others claim his worst sin was to be born in an Islamic country (Iran).

Earlier this year Israel's Attorney General said the likelihood of Katsav's allegation that he was the victim of a vicious plot was "fairly slim," given the "long line of women who complained against him."

In the end he plea-bargained, admitting to various counts of sexual harassment and indecent acts, got the rape charge dropped, and received a suspended sentence.

Shimon Peres replaced him and is current president.

Lech would have a hard job emulating Moshe's infamy.

I totally agree with
you that the Polish president's role should be reduced to a ceremonial one. It's very undemocratic that one person can veto a decision made by under 2/3's of elected representatives.

Anonymous said...

Descibing a mostly pro-EU party as a "bunch of Thatcherites" seems a bit inaccurate. The Iron Lady was staunchly anti-EU (with good reason IMO).

beatroot said...

Sdmitedly that is a difference. But what I mean by Thatcherite is economically liberal, socially conservative. That sums up both PO and Thatch.

Anonymous said...


You have a gross factual error. Poland currently operates under the 1997 constitution. The 1989 constitution (under which Wałęsa operated) was, in fact, giving the President a say in nomination of certain ministers (Defense, Foreign and Internal Affairs). The 1997 constitution revokes this privilege (partly due to experience with Wałęsa).

Also for the record, the majority for overturning the veto is 2/3 of votes, which translates to 306 seats. The trick is however that the constitution says 2/3 of present MPs, not of all MPs.

Next, blanket vetoing of everything is technically possible, but politically very costly. Expect fewer strategically placed vetoes.

As for doing away with presidency. An important prerogative you overlook is that instead of vetoing, the President can send the law in question for review to the Constitutional Tribunal, before it comes into force. A number of bad laws has been shot down due to this mechanism under Kwaśniewski. Pity that Lech Kaczyński instead chose rubber stamping everything, most notably leading to the lustration fiasco.

rz said...

Either you are wrong or the wikipedia entry on the Polish Presidency has to be corrected:
There it says you need only a 3/5 majority to overcome a veto (60% instead of 66%).

beatroot said...

Opamp is right pointing out that the reason Walesa did appoint ministers and present presidents cannot is due to the ammended constitution in 1997 - although I donlt think it is a gross factual error, as I did point out that Walesa did in fact appoint key ministers.

Nor does it change my main point - the presidency is an irrelevance in Poland, and should be abolished.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, my mistake -- you only need 3/5 of votes (article 122.5 of the Constitution). Which translates to 276 MPs. What in turn means that the veto can be overturned with LiD's support (assuming of course that PiS supports the President in the vote).

Anonymous said...

mmh...take a walk in the countries that change into euro their currency: prices of all the goods in italy, france, belgium, spain, raised so much in few weeks and salaries were stable..we all became poorer in one night, I wisht to Poland that you will do the european way chose by UK, taking some advantages but keeping your own currency, as you see the pound is bloody strong and their economy is the only one in old member states that is good

vale from italy

michael farris said...

Whatever the advantages of the euro may be, its biggest disadvantage is indeed the fact that (anecdotally at least) prices have quickly (and dramatically) risen in every country that has introduced it.

YouNotSneaky! said...

Whether prices would jump up or down if and when Poland adopts the euro depends on whether the zloty is currently overvalued or undervalued relative to the euro (for the early joiners it would've been under or over relative to the Deutsch Mark). Which means they probably would jump up although there are some reasons to think that it wouldn't be as much as in some previous joiners (like Italy).

In the long run though wages would (do) adjust along with prices. If you think about it, changing the name of your currency is no different then deciding whether you're going to measure distance in miles or kilometers. It's still the same distance (same relative prices). The problem here is that in general wages are more "sticky" than prices because of long term labor contracts and so on, so their adjustment lags that of prices. But past experience (for other countries, to the extent it can be generalized) is that wages adjust most of the way within 6 months or so and fully within a year. So it's a short term cost.

Another potential cost to some, and a benefit to others, is that debts and savings are not indexed to the price level. A sudden change in the value of the currency (or its expected future value) can also play havoc with banks' balance sheets making essentially solvent banks bankrupt overnight (which is essentially the story of the East Asian Financial Crises). However this usually happens when the currency is overvalued and dramatically so (and it doesn't have the backing of Europe's entire banking system behind it).

The main cost of giving up your currency and joining the Euro means that you're giving up your monetary policy and along with it the ability to use interest rates to fight recessions. Monetary policy would then be set in Frankfurt not in Warsaw, with a view towards the general situation in Europe rather than any particular country like Poland (although of course Poles would still have a say in how its conducted).

So what matters is to what extent the Polish business cycle is synchronized with the business cycle of other countries. If they move together these costs are small, if they don't then recessions can be acerbated, booms squelched or inflation boosted.

The extent to which business cycles synchronize in turn depends on things on how integrated are the labor markets between countries, how much they trade with each other and what the money and capital flows are like. The benefits of a common currency - the ease of carrying out cross-border transactions, elimination of exchange rate risk and cutting of transaction costs - also depend on the initial level of economic integration.

So. Poland should forget about the Euro and adopt the Pound.

beatroot said...

Rock on!

So why were the Greeks most pissed off about the price rises, Sneaky?

I wonder though about the effect of having so many different types of economies, at so many different stages of development, has on the 'one interest rate suits all' Central Bank. Poland needs low rates in the stage it is going through now. As soon as inflation even shows an ankle in Germany, they are going to stick them up.

YouNotSneaky! said...

"So why were the Greeks most pissed off about the price rises, Sneaky?"

Because. When prices rise it means someone is trying to rip you off. When your wages go up it's because you deserve it.

(Even if both are happening for the same reason)

beatroot said...

But did cost of labour rise faster than living costs. If they did then prices went down.