Ewa Boniecka: PJN is outside parliament, the party has weak support in opinion polls and you are now working in business. How do you see the future of your party and the prospects for your return to national politics?
Paweł Poncyljusz: I am successfully working in business, but the fact is that I am the vice chairman of PJN and I remain involved in its activities and problems. That’s why I feel responsible for the future of my party and I am interested in returning to national politics.
Courtesy of Paweł Poncyljusz
But today I am setting a high bar for such a return. When I observe my colleagues, who wander through parliamentary corridors with their heads lowered, I see that those who are in opposition can do very little, while those from the governing coalition have to ask their leaders for permission to do anything – and usually to no avail. I don’t want to return to that kind of politics. Members of parliament have little influence on political events, and perhaps only when one of them shouts at another in front of a camera, does he get his 15 minutes of fame.
For me politics means having a say on how things are run in the country. I could return to politics but only if I knew that my experience, qualifications and my professional approach towards politics would be valued and I could contribute to dealing with the important problems of Poles. However, if it meant wandering through the corridors of parliament without any opportunity to act, I am not interested. Besides, the world outside the Sejm looks quite interesting from my present perspective.
While you feel responsible for the future of your party and the obligation towards people who voted for PJN, what could you do to gain more political influence and more followers for PJN?
However critical I am of the present performance of the parliament, politics is done in the Sejm, so I want PJN to be there, because it would give us a mandate to act on the national political scene. Our party has experienced serious difficulties, but we managed to keep our human capital and political identity, so I think that the worst is behind us. Since establishing PJN in December 2010, we were very much engaged in organizing our structures and promoting our program and a few months later, in the 2011 parliamentary elections, voters gave us 2.19 percent support.
Then we went through a phase of internal splits. In a party outside parliament the only members who remain are those who really want to be there and who identify with our moderately conservative program.
We realized that in the process of building our party we underestimated one thing: the financial aspect, which is of predominant importance in the functioning of parties in Poland. Parties that get subsidies from the budget can spend money on billboards and advertisements spreading their slogans around and using them to hide the real problems in the country and society.
We didn’t have subsidies or financial assets, but it seemed to us that by hard organizational work, through a close relationship with the voters, and by talking about the serious problems in our country, we would convince people that there is an alternative to [ruling party] Civic Platform and [largest opposition party] Law and Justice, and to vote for us. But we became squeezed somewhere between those two parties and the emotions they spread around the Smolensk plane crash were dominating political life.
But now the situation is changing. People are disillusioned towards both of these parties. They’ve had enough of their battles and are now looking for some fresh air on the political scene. I believe this gives PJN a new political opportunity and I wish that most of those people, who in 2011 supported Civic Platform and Law and Justice, and now no longer trust them, are willing to support PJN.
How does PJN want to reach voters?
First of all, we are a party of regular people, not populists trying to distort reality. We communicate with voters in an honest way in a language free of aggression and personal abuses towards opponents. As a moderate right-wing party we support the free market economy while having a conservative approach to such ethical matters as civil unions and in vitro fertilization, and to relations between the church and state.
We are in favor of a meaningful role of the state in social and education policy. We stress the importance of a pro-family policy and of granting financial aid to parents for raising children, which is the most efficient way to use the funds at hand and increase Poland's alarmingly low birth rate.
We point to the fact that the present political debate in Poland is avoiding serious economic problems: the government isn’t trying to reduce bureaucratic barriers for business, simplify the tax structure or make it more transparent and predictable for companies and citizens.
PJN wants to reach middle-class voters not only in big cities but also the growing number of entrepreneurs and professionals living and working in smaller cities. Our offer is addressed to active people, with reasonable, conservative, yet open minds, who care for serious politics, the future of their families and the future of the country.
Janusz Piechociński, the new leader of junior coalition partner the Polish People’s Party (PSL), proposed building a centrist conservative party, based on a remodeled PSL and he invited PJN and Solidarity Poland to cooperate. How do you see it?
The leader of Solidarity Poland, Zbigniew Ziobro, rejected that invitation, so there is no issue now. Besides, I don’t think that his party fits the idea of a conservative centrist party we wanted to build. I accept Janusz Piechociński’s invitation to talk about that project and I think that in many domains PJN could find common ground with PSL. For instance, when I look at the work of labor and social policy minister from PSL, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, I think that he is the one person in the government who understands the problems of family policy. PJN was talking about the need for family policy long ago, when Donald Tusk and Jarosław Kaczynski weren’t even interested in it. Now politicians can’t stop talking about it.
As far as economic policy is concerned, PJN was talking about VAT accounting on fiscal principles during the 2011 electoral campaign. At the time our proposal was laughed at and dismissed with comments like “we cannot afford it.” Only when the previous PSL leader and former Minister of Economy Waldemar Pawlak put the matter on the edge of a knife, did Jacek Rostowski, current minister of economy, agree to the VAT reform which has been in force since January 1 of this year.
PJN and PSL have common views on many economic and social problems, on energy policy, including the development of renewable energy sources and providing tax facilities for small private investors in that sector. We share the same conservative attitudes towards ethical issues.
I am telling you about these matters to show that PJN’s cooperation with PSL in building a centrist conservative party is doable. We differ in such issues as agricultural policy, but a healthy debate about such problems is possible. The most important thing is that we are on board with building a new centrist conservative forum for cooperation.
But PJN is an opposition party, while PSL is a member of the governing coalition. Aren’t
these circumstances unusual for building a new party?
For now we are talking about opening a discussion about important problems in the country and I don’t see anything unusual about it. In the present political situation in Poland, where the ruling party and the main opposition party are constantly criticizing each other and can’t communicate about the problems, I think that building a new political platform it is not only possible but necessary.
The leader of PSL wants to remodel his party, open it to voters living in cities and build a strong conservative centrist forum for cooperation. PJN and some other conservative centrist political groups are willing to break the current deadlock on our political scene. The present dilemma in our political life is that if you disapprove of [Prime Minister] Donald Tusk, then you have to vote for [Law and Justice leader] Jarosław Kaczyński or the other way around. The whole debate surrounds these two leaders.
PJN doesn’t want to be on either side, but to carry out a policy of healthy dialogue about important matters in Poland with those parties that are open to discussion. And that is what Janusz Piechociński is proposing and what I am accepting. The opening of our dialogue doesn’t change the fact that PSL is in government and PJN is in opposition – we are not entering into a political marriage.
Let’s talk about details. Do you believe that PSL will agree to form a new centrist Christian social party and if PJN joins in, what would it mean in practice?
It is a matter of future development and it is something our parties have to talk about. I believe in remodeling PSL. I think that Janusz Piechociński realizes that support for PSL has continuously been falling over the past few years as is the number of people living in the countryside. Since the whole agricultural sector in Poland is undergoing changes, the political expectations and preferences of people living in rural areas are much more complex than they used to be. These people are now concerned with economic policy for the whole country.
Mr Piechociński has been examining the transformation of agrarian parties in Western Europe. Those parties reestablished themselves as national Christian social conservative parties and are now big political players. However, I think the road that PSL and PJN will have to travel before forming a centrist conservative party with a Christian social character is quite long indeed.
What steps do you think are necessary to get there?
The first step will be a series of direct discussions about our programs and positions on central national issues and on our role in the European Union. If we find some common ground we can take the next step – cooperation in the elections to the European Parliament. Where this cooperation will lead, I do not know now. It could lead to, for instance, establishing a common list [of candidates] while keeping our parties separate. The final step would be the formation of a new party.
In Mr Piechociński’s proposal it is clear that the core of such a party would be the remodeled PSL, with that party’s green four-leaf clover as a logo and only a slightly modified name. Is PJN as such willing to disappear and become part of this new party?
The new party will rest on two pillars: peasant roots and middle-class aspirations, with Christian values and centrist conservative views, so PJN will contribute its values to the party. The matter of the logo will be a matter of discussion. In my opinion, it could be the green four-leaf clover.
But in my view the logo is really not a central issue. We have to see the formation of the new centrist party as an important step in our policy, as creating a strong alternative to existing parties. It is not a revolutionary move, rather opening a door to better politics and the chance for Poles to choose a party which responds to their needs.
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