This has been not a usual voting season because this year marks the 30th anniversary of the elections, which had determined the framework of the still ongoing conflict between the main forces sitting at the Round Table. Some argue that it is a geriatric dispute and will disappear with the dying out of the main actors. We disagree with this thesis because their successor-facsimiles are popping all the time.

To stop this process, we need to change the repertoire: we need to redefine the conflict because that is going to determine whether Poland will survive as a state and whether Poles will have something to propose to the world.

Old Story

We all crave for parties to seriously take care of the country’s when they are in control. Regardless of the political option with which we sympathise, there is a collective feeling that we have met a dead end; low indicators of trust in state institutions prove this. The law and our freedoms depend on this trust, not the parties.

Indexes of trust in the reformed state institutions are taking a nose-dive, but politicians do not even show a shadow of initiative to do something about it. The rulers happily take advantage of the edge they have over their rivals, casting everything they have with their people. Meanwhile, the opposition promises to defend the corrupt institutions but does not show how it is going to rebuild them. It is high time that we ourselves – regardless of party interests – propose ways to repair the state.

Despite mutual allegations, there is a cross-party agreement when it comes to the sovereignty and pride of the state. In most other cases, let’s return power to the hands of Poles. Let us build a future on what we cac succeed in and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Thirty years after the success of Solidarity, we need an idea that meets current challenges. The most important of them is polarisation, which renders impossible any agreement on long-term plans.

Just think about how governance looks like today. The only way to determine the country’s course is for the complete take over of the Sejm, Senate and office of the president by one party. Then taking control of state-owned companies with local paratroopers sent from the headquarters. We have observed the deplorable effects of this strategy, and we are afraid that we will see this even more if the rules of the game do not change.

Well Done Is Better Than Well Said

Why has the center delegated more and more tasks to the local government for years? Because it knows that they can find practical solutions. However, it is shameful that the authorities are imposing more and more tasks on local governments forgetting to give finances for their implementation.

The government could be effective, but it is not. After winning the election, it distributes favours however it sees fit, but it is not capable of systematically building a better state.

The consequence of polarisation is the progressive centralisation of the state since those who fight in a faction must be constantly cohesive. Facing the same problem, Hungarians, Italians and the French are struggling, seeking formulas to decentralise their countries. We believe where they struggle, we could succeed as Poles have often proven that they can amaze the world with success in forging original political culture.

Łódź Fabryczna railway station

The export product of Polish democracy is self-government, which enjoys consistently high, over 60%, support from the people. We are a common-sense, practical nation; we trust what we have influence on.

Self-government, decentralisation and a greater role of citizens in the decision-making process are a genuine form of empowerment. One of the most important reasons for the phenomenon of populism, which is so much talked about today, is people feeling of lack of influence over power. We should learn from this.

Concentric Rings

We live in a globalised world. Whether we like it or not, many matters must be resolved at the international level; and here the efficient diplomacy of nation-states counts. But as the decisions in various matters move away from the citizens, the principle of subsidiarity, the decentralisation, acquires a new meaning.

We believe that those who, like us, struggle with the same problems, can find the best ways to solve them. This is why the issues that can be managed at the local community level should not be handled by the center. The progressive phenomenon of concentration of power increases the risk of populism. Unpaid promises offer citizens who perceive lack of agency, a false vision of the chief, guardian and father of the nation in one.

We have been dealing with self-government for years and we can see that citizens can force the authorities to introduce solutions that have worked in other cities, urban or rural communes. Local governments have lots to be proud of. They implement modern projects: museums, concert halls, public utility buildings, and in small municipalities – often thanks to the cooperation of local governments of various levels – there are fantastic sports facilities, well-maintained schools and vibrant culture houses.

So too, cities have increasingly taken on key roles in the development of the region and plan with neighbouring communes and districts how to ensure cohesion at the regional level. This is happening in self-governing Poland, and it is not taking place in Warsaw’s central offices.

A distant centre can’t see the problems

What determines the wealth of citizens, a functioning state and good public services are wisely designed institutions. Let’s create them from scratch – based on what works, and therefore on the local government, including the voivodeship.

When it was decided a few years ago that European subsidies for development would flow not through the centre but through the provincial government, many experts said that it would not work and the money would go to waste. This was not the case. In its interim evaluation, the European Commission awarded the voivodeship self-governments with high evaluations in the scope of public funds management from the EU.

Podkarpackie Region

Ignoring differences in the development needs of the regions is one of the sins of centralism. Few realise that the Podkarpackie region is thriving. To a large extent, this region makes its own development dependent on the government’s decision: from redirecting additional funds for investments from the EU to cooperation with LOT.

From the point of view of Warsaw, hardly anyone thinks about the breakthrough in the development of Podkarpacie could be a cooperation with neighbouring Slovakia. The infrastructure development and promotion of the voivodeship would have been even better if the local government could assess its own needs without looking at the center and passengers for its airport in Rzeszów, attracting trade and services from its southern neighbors instead.

Another example would be the dilemmas of provinces of western Poland. Educated employees of these regions are tempted by better and better job offers from the German Länder. Local governments in this part of the country have noticed the problem and are trying to find a way to remedy it because their taxpayers depend on their budgets for public services.

It is impossible to address these challenges from the central level since there one can only coordinate between the provinces, and this is why we need more efficient regions.

Think globally, manage locally

Let’s return to the idea of ​​Poland after 30 years of freedom. It is no coincidence that local governments can get along on such an important anniversary, and the government and the opposition do not. Poland wants and can cooperate, even if Warsaw can not organise a Remembrance Policy.

In the last year – the century of regaining independence – the most beautiful moments were experienced locally while the great quarrel on the priority in the celebrations arose at the central level.

Logo of the 100th Anniversary of Poland Regaining Indepenence

In Warsaw, the struggle lasts for everything and nothing. Our disputes should be fast, but not encompass every detail.

It is absurd to generalise the discussion about Poland to the decision of the capital city authorities to protect children from hatred. For such decisions, every community in the country has its president and mayor, who often has democratic legitimacy in the form of cast votes than a member of parliament.

Self-government will never be flawless. To be mistaken is a human characteristic but is it not less expensive and easier to fix local errors?

History teaches that centralised states stopped developing or even began collapsing. Perhaps we are wrong in the details of our diagnosis, perhaps self-management is not the answer to our problems. If someone has a better idea, let him show it.

We want political parties to talk about real and precise problems; about the provincial card with rights and obligations towards citizens, about strengthening regional self-government, about a limited government, yet strengthened in matters of defence and foreign policy, as well as clearly defined powers of the president.

These are the proposals of the Incubator of the Social Contract, a nationwide association of over 100 local government officials, experts and entrepreneurs, under which program documents for “Decentralised Poland” (ZdecentralizowanaRP.pl) have been created for over a year. We believe in the successes of Poland as a national community, and we believe that by following this path, we will rebuild our potential.

 

This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight.

Wojciech Przybylski and Anna Wojciuk

Scenarios for cohesive growth

As of 2019 the negotiations about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will enter a critical moment. In the face of an imminent Brexit and the fallout from global turmoil, the EU has to reflect on its guiding principles and take decisions to fulfil the promise of a united Europe.

Download the report in PDF

The Visegrad/Insight is the main platform of debate and analysis on Central Europe. This report has been developed in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Launched on 1 October 2019 at the European #Futures Forum in Brussels.