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Friday, August 04, 2006

Widening the gap

At the beginning of this month the former director of EU affairs in Poland's foreign Ministry, Pawel Swieboda, caused a stir by claiming that the current government was causing Poland to lose influence in Brussels by focusing too much on internal politics. For the government, “EU affairs are a distant question,” Swieboda told the EUObserver.com website.

Later that week President Lech Kaczyński seemed to prove him at least half wrong with a sudden dive into EU political debate by voicing support for re-instituting the death penalty within the European Union. The statements have put Poland front and center on the EU's political agenda – but for all the wrong reasons. Rather than engaging the bloc, the President's proposal has widened the gap between Poland and the rest of the EU.

European Union officials took Kaczyński's suggestion as an affront of the highest order. “To suggest that [the death penalty's] reintroduction could in any sense represent a positive development would be a direct attack on our common values, which are founded on respect for the basic human dignity of every person,” said Rene van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in an open letter to President Kaczyński.

As Mr. Swieboda might have predicted, the uproar had its origins in a domestic political affair. The right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR), realizing that it has negligible support in the country heading towards this autumn's local elections, decided to set off a media storm by pledging to put a referendum on the death penalty on this fall's ballot, hoping that the resulting hoopla would help boost poll numbers.

President Kaczyński may be playing LPR's game because he fears a breakup of the coalition if he doesn't, or he may genuinely believe the EU needs to reinstate the death penalty. Either way however, he knows full well that bringing back capital punishment would fly in the face of Poland's EU accession treaty, and that with such fierce opposition within Europe, the chances the for the success of his proposal were next to nil. So he must also have known that his words could have only driven the EU and Poland farther apart.

Though it is doubtful that this will have a negative effect on Poland's robust economic growth in the short term, isolating Poland from Europe will certainly not help the country when it comes to negotiating future aid packages or tax legislation in the EU. Moreover, at a time when Poland ought to be cultivating its tourism attractiveness, the President's proposal had the effect of giving foreigners yet another reason to consider Poland backward and reactionary. And it's hard to see how that serves Poland's interests either internationally or domestically.


Blogger beatroot said...

“To suggest that [the death penalty's] reintroduction could in any sense represent a positive development would be a direct attack on our common values, which are founded on respect for the basic human dignity of every person,” said Rene van der Linden

I must say I find that a bit rich coming from someone within the Eurocrat elite. What common values? These have not been debated at all on a European level, they are just assumed. And then they write some nonsense called a 'constitution' and they can't find any consensus at all in this continent of 'common values'.

I think we should have a debate about the death penalty. In countries like the UK (capital punishment abolished in 1960s) and Poland there are still a majority of people who think hanging is a good idea.

The only way to change their minds is by having a meaningful debate.

8/05/2006 02:51:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

I certainly don't object to an EU-wide debate on the death penalty. Then I wonder, isn't that debate already being had? Plenty of EU-based organizations campaign against the death penalty in the States. There doesn't seem to be a lack of it in the everyday political debate of ordinary citizens at least, if not individual regions and countries.

Seems to me that the EU's policy generally reflects the opinion of a great majority of the citizens of the EU - but that's only my personal experience. I'd love to see some poll numbers.

The question is: Is this the right place and time for the Kaczynski's to be opening up a can of worms like capital punishment in the EU-wide arena?

8/05/2006 06:08:00 PM  

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