Ewa Boniecka: What are the roots of your desire to remodel PSL and build a centrist political entity in cooperation with small, conservative parties such as Poland Comes First and Solidarna Polska?
Janusz Piechociński: I am disgusted with the sterility of Polish politics I have observed over the past months. Developments concerning the Smolensk disaster have been a real low point.
Janusz Piechociński wants to change both his party and Polish politics
Polish politics is in a deadlock and the wreckage of the Polish plane that crashed in Smolensk in 2010 is not just the wreckage of a machine but the wreckage of Polish politics.
The dividing line currently existing on the Polish political scene between Civic Platform and Law and Justice, leaving the rest out, should be, in my view, rejected in order to build a normal democracy and a better Poland.
And such a debate should originate from the center of the political scene, from all those people who wish to stress that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. I intend to initiate such a debate as the leader of the PSL. My proposal targeted at Poland Comes First and Solidarna Polska members, as well as other circles, is to establish a new political forum in the center of our political scene.
Does that mean that you want to build a centrist political structure including the Polish People’s Party and those small opposition parties?
I would like to underline that my initiatives are not proposals for political marriages between PSL and other parties. Our party has 117 years of political experience, and our identity as a conservative and pragmatic party is well-established. But in my view the time is right to initiate the process of remodeling PSL, so that a national centrist party of Christian Social character, like the CSU in Bavaria, may emerge. It is also the time to confront the ways of other parties functioning on the political scene, and to change the method of communication between politicians and society.
My proposals aim to replace hostility with political rivalry. Rivalry which would not rule out cooperation in such areas as combating unemployment, supporting families, improving health care or defining Poland’s role in the European Union.
There are many other serious problems in our country which need to be dealt with. And in my opinion, 2013 is a very good time for such fundamental debates, as no elections are planned for this year, while in 2014 the parties will focus on drawing up the lists of their candidates to the European Parliament.
Do members and other leaders of PSL support your proposals for remodeling the party?
The very fact that I have been elected leader of PSL and that I am the first party leader in 20 years to come from the academic community shows that my vision of transforming PSL from a mostly agrarian class-based party into a national Christian democratic party is perceived in the party as welcome and necessary.
While promoting young members of the party, I apply transparent criteria of experience in public service, excellent educational background and high ethical standards. Our new leadership wants to transform our party into a national centrist party embracing both traditional values and the drive for modernizing the country.
Polish rural areas are changing, their economic and cultural aspirations are growing, we have to win more urban voters, including entrepreneurs, academics and students. But in order to expand our voter base, we have to offer the broader political vision of a modern, conservative centrist formation.
How does Civic Platform, your coalition partner, perceive your efforts to establish cooperation with conservative opposition parties?
We are a reliable and honest coalition partner. Whatever is decided by the coalition, we implement. But in a democratic country, every politician can talk to and communicate with other politicians. Do I raise any objections when the Civic Platform leader and other party members meet and talk with other politicians?
We are often prone to forget that democracy means basing politics on rational attitudes, on good human relations and on meaningful discussions about various problems. I want to stress that my relations with Prime Minister Donald Tusk are very good, and that I value the last two months of our cooperation in the coalition very highly. We are all aware that the coalition cannot be preoccupied with itself in the face of so many problems, and that we have to act effectively and rationally.
I also wish to stress that we need to bring calm to the political scene instead of heightened tension. So, when Civic Platform’s parliamentary caucus came up with the proposal to try [Law and Justice leader] Jarosław Kaczyński and [Solidarna Polska leader] Zbigniew Ziobro before the State Tribunal, I stressed, on behalf of PSL, that I am distancing myself from such attitudes.
PSL and Civic Platform differ in their approach not only to ethical issues, but also to some economic and social matters. How do you manage to reconcile those and work together?
It is quite natural that we [PSL] approach certain ethical, social and economic issues in a different manner than Civic Platform does. At the moment however, the government is focusing on dealing with economic difficulties, and in this field, our attitudes are aligned rather closely.
While the Polish People’s Party has always promoted the idea of a social market economy and has favored imposing limits on privatization and market regulations, Civic Platform, just like some other liberal parties in Europe, is now beginning to increase the role of government in the economy – an approach adopted at a time when countries are fighting economic depression and unemployment.
Now, when the world’s economy is at a crossroads and when many previously effective market regulations have ceased to work, we have to ask ourselves, in Europe, what economic patriotism is all about. We see that various governments defend the interests of their national economies, sometimes even in an aggressive manner, as evidenced by the Italian government’s pressure exerted on Fiat in order to force the carmaker to limit the production of cars in its factory in Tychy.
Poland also has to defend its economic interests, both at home and abroad. So, I came up with the proposal to promote our economic patriotism. It has nothing to do with protectionism, which is harmful for all market players.
My intention is to offer protection to our companies abroad, support the strategies of our entrepreneurs and businesses, but also to care for foreign investors within the framework of agreements. We need to support the growth and the wise internationalization of Polish entrepreneurship.
We will be doing that within the framework of the Global Firm program – an initiative launched by the Ministry of Economy in January this year. We are not dealing with a recession in Poland yet, but the economic situation is very difficult. We are not satisfied, in economic or social terms, with an annual GDP growth rate of 1.5-2.2 percent. GDP growth below 3 percent means the majority of households will not experience any improvement in their situation.
After a period of higher economic growth, the slowdown we are currently experiencing is even more painful.
From the beginning you have opposed Poland’s acceptance of the European patent scheme. The government has recently decided not to sign the agreement. How do you feel about the decision?
I am very glad that we are not signing the European patent agreement because its consequences would be harmful to our economy. Our firms are not ready to pay for such European patents – a solution that favors the most developed countries boasting a strong, scientific base. Poland has not been able to develop such a base and the level of our investment in scientific research and in translating its findings into economic outcomes is insufficient.
Maybe in five or 10 years’ time our position concerning the European patent will be different, as we will have many successful scientists whose projects will be widely implemented in industry. A lot of time is required, however, to achieve such a position. For right now the number of Polish patents used by the industrial sector is very low. On the other hand, we have to be conscious that the Polish economy has to open to European patents in the long term, and we have to be properly prepared.
I consider the link between science and industry to be of crucial significance. I am the first minister of economy who is appointing university chancellors as members of big coal corporations’ management boards – a move aimed at boosting the coordination between academia and industry. I also intend to speed up implementation of the Innovative Development program. Too many of our patents exist on paper, and too few specific projects are ready to be implemented throughout the economy. That trend has to be reversed.
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