Professor Piotr Gliński, sociologist and economist, the chairman of the Program Council of Law and Justice (PiS), sat down with WBJ Observer to talk about the essence of PiS’ electoral proposals expressed in its message of “Good Changes”
Interview by Ewa Boniecka
WBJ Observer: An announcement by Law and Justice (PiS) leaders of your detailed proposals was made – rejecting the present retirement bill, raising the income tax threshold, providing additional subsidies for children – but can you elaborate on the fundamental direction of PiS’ “Good Changes” proposal for Poles?
Piotr Gliński: We are discussing some other details, but we are absolutely certain about our aims and direction of the changes and proposed solutions. First, I want point to economic changes. Such changes for Poland will mean the growth of economic performance, development based on innovation, an increase in investments and just redistribution of economic benefits. The positive economic changes will result in an increase of people’s affluence, primarily the people who live in very difficult conditions or in poverty. There are three million Poles who are economically excluded and one-third of Polish children live near poverty and are socially and culturally marginalized.
Secondly, we have to prepare our country for coping with future economic challenges which will occur after Poland stops receiving EU funds. If we don’t build the economic, social and cultural potential for development, we will face a big crisis in the future. We see what is happening in Greece, Spain and Portugal, where European funds were easily spent by politicians and are currently ending, but steps for resolving economic and social problems were not taken.
In the European Union – and in other democratic countries – there is an ongoing debate among politicians and economists about the shape of the present capitalist system, the role of the state in economic and social domains. Does PiS want to increase the role of the state in those fields?
Yes. We are for the bigger role of the state in shaping economic and social policy. Strict economic liberalism is now in decline and many economic dogma are obsolete. So in my view, the economic policy of our state should be based on an elastic approach and the use of different mechanisms for obtaining economic growth. There is no one universal doctrine which is best. During our meetings, many experts and economists, among them Nobel laureates, pointed out that for economic development, it is now necessary to exercise various mechanisms, while presenting the clear aim of state activity.
I am for the active role of the state in shaping Poland’s economic policy in order to achieve the fundamental aims proclaimed by PiS: economic growth and just redistribution of its benefits. It does not mean that the state is replacing the role of entrepreneurs. In our economic strategy, the major domain of the economy is left to the private sector. We want to introduce incentives for investment and innovation by all economic entities and the private sector will be encouraged to innovate. For instance, we will introduce the Card of Small Entrepreneurs within the framework of which the CIT tax will be lowered to 15 percent for that group.
We want to introduce a new tax code to give the taxpayer and the tax office equal rights and provide consistent interpretations of all tax matters. It will apply to all economic entities including foreign firms which function in our country and pay taxes here. We will not force our earlier proposal of introducing a third Personal Income Tax bracket after consideration that it would not be economically useful, as it would concern a small group of people. We will keep the present structure of the PIT, while raising the income tax threshold.
I want to underscore very strongly that our motion for increasing the role of the state will result in improved quality of life for all people, among them, young Poles. For example, we will introduce a special program for the provision of affordable flats for rent by involving state and local authorities in providing free land plots for construction of the buildings, hence reducing the cost of these investments. That program will also include state facilitation of cheaper credit procurement for people renting the flats.
PiS proposed a “re-polonization of the banks,” which evoked anxieties in the financial sector. What would it mean in practice?
We will introduce two sector taxes. One will apply to retail chains, the second will apply to banks. The banks operating in Poland earn a lot, the most in Europe. They have profits of PLN 16 billion each year and 70 percent of those banks are foreign- owned and not interested in supporting the development of our economy. We want to change those proportions. There are three ways to do it. First, we can establish new Polish banks. Second, we can strengthen Polish capital in the existing Polish banks. And third, we can buy some foreign banks operating in Poland. This can be done by public and private entities. I’m not using the term “re-polonization of banks,” which is in my view misleading. Our proposal means that steps would be taken leading to the strengthening of Polish banking capital and to some changes in the present banking structure.
Nonetheless, there are members of your grouping, like Jarosław Gowin, that stress the need for “economic patriotism,” while maintaining a liberal stand on the economy, is that not a contradiction?
I don’t think so. The statement “economic patriotism” referrs in some way to the policy of Kazimierz Bartel, Prime Minister in 1926-1930, when Poland was developing its industry. Now PiS, also wants to rebuild some sectors of our industry, which were neglected during eight years of Civic Platform (PO) rule. I consider it to be a scandal that only now, during the election campaign, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz announced a plan for developing Silesia, while PO’s policy ruined the mining industry. Reviving that sector is linked with Poland’s need to have a firm stand towards the EU’s climate policy and if needed, to veto some provisions that are harmful to our mining sector.
As the second fundamental issue in PiS’s “good changes” program, you underline foreign policy. Can you elaborate on this?
Poland should have a firm presence in international and European Union policy, with its own national identity. It means defending our political, economic and security interests, which the present government is not effectively doing. That weakness results in our voice being disrespected in important matters, like the exclusion of Poland from negotiations dealing with the Ukrainian crisis and aggressive Russian policy.
It seems that PO does not understand how strong the competition between EU countries is in defending their national interests. Poland’s policy in the EU should be clever and assertive, as Prime Minister Orbán is doing in many fields for Hungary. We have to promote our national interests in dealing with such countries like Germany, France and other members. It requires a firm Polish stand and Andrzej Duda shows that it’s possible. As president-elect, Duda presented to the German side four conditions which must be respected in our relations with Germany. And such a stand was accepted. We want to develop good relations with Germany, we have close economic ties with that country, but it does not mean following it in the EU from a weaker position. While at present, the Visegrad Group alone is too weak to enforce the interests of our region, our policy in the EU has to be built on various alliances, sometimes established ad hoc, depending on our interests. And we have to present such a firm and argumentative stand also towards the USA, pressing for the establishment of permanent American bases in Poland.
You want to change the structure of the ministries in Poland and reform the justice system. In what direction?
Yes, we want to change our internal structure, because at present it’s inadequate. We will liquidate the Ministry of the State Treasury and establish a Ministry of Development and a Ministry of Energy. Our justice system and legal policy are in total decline. Everybody can see it. We will return the responsibility of the state for the whole justice system, which will lead to an improvement in its functioning.
Very important are the necessary changes in supporting science and universities, to involve them in development of innovation. At present, only 0.39 percent of the GDP is devoted to science and it is crucial to raise state financial support for this, because economic, social and civilization progress is linked with the development of science. PO governments have not looked at those matters in a broader perspective.
Do you want to conduct the proclaimed changes instantly, in a revolutionary way?
Our intentions are clear: we want to change Poland, but we are aware that every revolution is bad, because it brings even unintended negative effects. We will be changing Poland step-by-step. The essential thing is that those changes should be multi-directional, not only from top to bottom. Very important is the development of civil society. We have in mind different kinds of reforms in that domain, the aim is to activate citizens, to raise the level of citizens’ consciousness and responsibility. To give people the chance to use freedom for changing Poland for the better. In such conditions, people become innovative, there is only a need to help the younger and older people to use their creativity, whether in business or for educational development. We want to help all Poles, whose activity is now blocked by overwhelming bureaucracy. I want to present to president-elect Andrzej Duda, a new idea of creating the Polish Corps of Volunteers, similar to the American Peace Corps established in the USA by President Kennedy. I think that many young Poles would like to be active in such Polish corps, helping people in our country and maybe abroad. It could be a magnificent lesson, preparing our youth for life.