Minister of Justice Ziobro becomes a threat to the government

AMPs from the opposition parties have tabled a motion in the Polish House of Representatives (Sejm) to vote no confidence in Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. The justification states that Ziobro’s “particularly harmful” policy abolished the right to an independent court and degraded the public prosecutor’s office to a “political instrument”. This approach jeopardizes billions of euros in EU funds Poland would have to get, and that in times of war and economic crisis.

Gerhard Gnauck

Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.

By blocking EU funds, Ziobro and his small party Solidarity Poland (SP) are one of the causes of the crisis. Even the Hungarian head of government Viktor Orban recognized the importance of EU funds and announced anti-corruption measures.

Poland’s government is sticking to the Minister of Justice because he secures a majority with his followers. It is the obligation of the “winners of the next parliamentary elections to hold Zbigniew Ziobro accountable for his activities”. The vote of no confidence could be voted on next Tuesday.

Indeed, Ziobro has become a key figure. His party is closely linked to the large governing party PiS Jaroslaw Kaczynski tied together. Both ran in 2015 and 2019 on a joint list and also form a joint faction. 20 of the current 228 MPs are from the Ziobro force; that counts in voting. A disproportionately large number of SP politicians were given posts as state secretaries. If one day the 73-year-old Kaczyński were to drop out, the 21-year-old Ziobro would be a conceivable candidate for leadership of the “United Right”, as the government camp likes to call itself in all internal wrangling.

Prime Minister Morawiecki praises EU billions

Ziobro has become radicalized, with European politics being an important area. He warned against expanding the EU became a “superstate”, and its supporters voted in 2021 against the EU’s own resources decision, which allowed the community to raise 750 billion euros on the capital markets after the pandemic. The SP even demanded that Poland stop paying contributions to the EU budget. So Ziobro’s tactic is to mark his position more and more clearly, but at the same time, as they say in Poland, “not to be thrown from the sleigh”.

The man who would like to throw the minister off the common sled is the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. While Ziobro, the architect of the controversial “reforms” of Poland’s judiciary, has been hardening his stance on Brussels’ rule of law requirements, Morawiecki would like some sort of compromise solution. As a former head of a major bank, Morawiecki had always praised the EU billions as a blessing for Poland and himself as the one who would land them.

Should Brussels come to the conclusion that it has to block substantial funds, it would be a personal defeat for the head of government. Only recently did an alleged email from autumn 2020 appear in which Morawiecki is said to speak plainly about Ziobro. In it, he describes a scenario for his closest employees, in which the “disloyal Ziobro” is no longer on the sled and the PiS far from the majority of seats.

But that’s not a tragedy, the email says. “ZZ (Ziobro) is cynical and ready to play against us”, also in parliamentary elections. Therefore, the PiS needs “a better and stronger Ziobro” to prevent the emergence of strong competition from the right. Ziobro’s Solidarity Poland party must be wrested from the public prosecutor’s extensive control. After that, the party’s finances would have to be checked, it is said, without specifying what that could mean; after all, that could make a good impression on “centre voters”.

Majority blames Ziobro for blocking EU funds

Currently, the battle between Warsaw and Brussels, which is accompanied by internal Polish fighting, above all over the release of funds from the Corona recovery fund, around 36 billion euros in grants and loans, and in the medium term even larger sums from the regular cohesion fund. “Milestones” must be met for the Corona Fund, including the reinstatement of suspended judges. The government is reportedly ready to make a concession to Brussels if necessary, including in the form of legislation, relying on opposition votes if necessary.

However, Ziobro is tough and openly proposing vetoes that could paralyze the EU. MEP Patryk Jaki threatened that if the head of government allowed Brussels to impose “conditions of capitulation” on him, the SP would leave the government. However, the saber-rattling also has consequences for Ziobro: awkward polls. When asked in November who was responsible for blocking EU funds, almost 27 percent of respondents referred to him. 17 percent blamed the EU, 12 percent the Polish government as a whole.

On Monday, PiS party leader Kaczyński spoke a word of power in an interview with a radio station from Breslau (Wrocław). He assured that there would be no Morawiecki vs. Ziobro vote in the Sejm. But there is “a certain tension” and the head of government has the better arguments. “The minister doesn’t see some complications.” Poland “is in certain entanglements and has to be, because we are on the world market. We are also caught up in the complications that result from our EU membership, and our people, based on their common sense, want Poland to be in the EU.” In short: Morawiecki’s line “is without alternative,” said Kaczyński.

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