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PS Say More: Sławomir Sierakowski

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This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw. Project Syndicate: Last year, you celebrated the relative victory of opposition forces in Poland’s parliamentary elections, suggesting that if they could prove themselves, they might be able to secure a victory for a common opposition candidate over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the May presidential election. Is that still likely? How do you think the COVID-19 coronavirus – which Poland’s government quickly took drastic measures to keep in check – will affect the opposition’s chances?Sławomir Sierakowski: The situation in Poland is

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This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.

Project Syndicate: Last year, you celebrated the relative victory of opposition forces in Poland’s parliamentary elections, suggesting that if they could prove themselves, they might be able to secure a victory for a common opposition candidate over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the May presidential election. Is that still likely? How do you think the COVID-19 coronavirus – which Poland’s government quickly took drastic measures to keep in check – will affect the opposition’s chances?

Sławomir Sierakowski: The situation in Poland is reminiscent of a political thriller. A pandemic is raging, a strict quarantine has been introduced, and gatherings are limited to two people. (Up to five can gather in church, reflecting Polish famous version of “ideological neutrality of the state.”) The PiS-controlled Sejm – the lower chamber of Poland’s parliament – just passed a law that will enable it to carry out its work remotely. Anyone caught breaking the rules faces heavy fines.

Meanwhile, Poland’s PiS leadership has excluded the possibility of postponing the presidential election, scheduled for May 10, which is very soon after the COVID-19 outbreak’s likely peak in Poland. This decision – which clashes with that of more than 20 other countries to postpone elections or referendums – could risk the health of thousands of voters and electoral officials. But, as the PiS’s strongman leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, well knows, it will practically guarantee victory for the PiS-backed incumbent, President Andrzej Duda.

Over the last two weeks, the opposition has effectively had little choice but to suspend its electoral campaign. By contrast, Duda has been visiting factories, posing for photos, and positioning himself as a source of stability and comfort. And Duda’s poll numbers are rising. This trend is unlikely to be reversed as long as the outbreak persists.

PS: As 2019 ended, you wrote that the European Union was “seemingly helpless and resigned in the face of its most important challenges: completing the economic and political integration of the bloc, creating a common defense policy, and even safeguarding basic standards of the rule of law.” But Europe has tended to make the most progress in times of crisis. Might the COVID-19 crisis spur action? If so, where should its leaders begin?

SS: So far, I rate the EU institutions’ response to the COVID-19 crisis very highly. In particular, it mobilized considerable funds – over €7 billion ($7.8 billion) for Poland alone – to be spent immediately on health care, as well as future epidemic prevention. In fact, the EU acted faster than many countries, including the United States, where President Donald Trump’s administration ignored warnings for months, and Poland, which is still working to pass legislation to address the looming economic crisis.

That said, I am disappointed by lack of cooperation within the eurozone, including the opposition of Germany and the Netherlands to issuing low-risk joint bonds to help revive the European economy – an approach that many prominent economists and economic journalists agree would do significant good. If the EU is to survive the current crisis – let alone make progress toward greater integration – this will need to change.

Without a mutualized debt instrument, Italy or Spain – the two countries hit hardest by COVID-19 so far – could face such sharp increases in public debt (Italy’s already exceeds 200% of GDP) that they end up leaving the eurozone, triggering the monetary union’s collapse. Such an outcome will be all the more likely if, after the pandemic subsides, northern Europe imposes austerity on the rest of the eurozone, as it did after the last crisis – a decision that triggered a deeply destabilizing populist backlash. Unless European governments make better choices this time around, the EU may well be doomed.

PS: At a time when Europe is, in your words, at risk of becoming “a satellite of the United States or of China,” the need for Europe to bolster its own security is clear. Yet you’ve expressed

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