When the ruling “Law and Justice” party exchanged popular prime minister Beata Szydło for international banker Mateusz Morawiecki in December 2017, it was widely perceived as an effort to disarm growing international criticism of right-wing nationalist government in Poland and its xenophobic, authoritarian impulses. In January, leading “Law and Justice” politicians – including new prime minister, president Andrzej Duda and the head of the central bank – went to International Economic Forum in Davos, trying to improve Poland’s tarnished international image. While in Davos, PM Morawiecki gave a number of interviews to international news outlets.
He also spoke to CNN (watch the interview here).
The host asked Polish PM about Poland’s steadfast refusal to accept EU mandated quota of 6.2 thousand refugees, although Poland is a country of 40 million and benefits enormously from EU membership.
We already contribute a lot to easing tensions at the eastern flank of the European Union. (…) some people seem to forget that there is a war in Ukraine, and that there is a huge population coming from the Donbas area to Poland. These are homeless people, these are poeple whom we treat as if they were refugees.
OKO.press factcheck: False equivalence. It is misleading to compare refugees from Middle East and Africa, who come to Western Europe, to the influx of Ukrainians to Poland. Less than 0,1 percent of an estimated 1-1.5 million of Ukrainians living and working in Poland are granted formal refugee status. In 2016 only 1229 Ukrainians applied for it, and only 16 (!) were admitted refugee status (according to Polish Office for Foreigners’ Affairs data). In fact, Polish politicians – including Morawiecki himself – many times admitted that Ukrainians come to Poland mostly for work. In 2017, 88 Ukrainians were granted formal refugee status – as compared to 110 000 that came to Poland to work (and these are just the official numbers, the actual number of Ukrainian workers is much higher).
Or maybe PM Morawiecki was referring to the Polish-Belarussian border, which the government has been physically blocking since the summer of 2015, forbidding thousands of asylum-seekers, mainly from Chechnya, to apply for international protection in Poland? These actions are against Polish, European and international laws, and have been severely criticized by, amongst others, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The European Court of Human Rights issued a judgement, ordering Poland to open the border, which has been ignored by the government.
The host intervened: “If you look at the numbers, it is minuscule compared to your population” – she said.
It’s not about the numbers, its about methodology, how to best help those people (…) We have created lots of initiatives and institutions to help people in Syria, in Libya. We are increasing our efforts to be there, to cope with the problems in the place where they are.
OKO.press factcheck: Misleading statement. In December 2017, during latest government reshuffle, one of the leading “Law and Justice” politicians, Beata Kempa, was promoted to a newly created post of the “minister for humanitarian affairs”. Even if we consider it as an “institution” (although Kempa’s office has a very limited budget and staff, not really comparable to, for example, her British counterpart) it is very difficult to point out any other “institutions” created by Polish government to actually help refugees. The funds for humanitarian assistance are growing, but are still marginal to Polish budget (in 2017 it was 0,14 percent of Poland’s GDP).
In 2015 Polish government spent 12 million zlotys (about 3 million euros) on the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2016 spending grew to about 120 million zloty (about 30 million euro). In fact, it is the Polish NGOs, which spend more money on helping Syrians than the government. For example, only one NGO – Polish Humanitarian Action managed to gather from private donations 20 million euros (in the years 2014-2016). Poland until 2016 has consistently ranked last in the rankings of OECD Development Assistance Committee; we spend much less on development assistance in proportion to GDP than Slovenia or Greece. This has changed in 2016, when the total spending on humanitarian aid grew to 125 million zlotys – but this is still just 0,14 percent of Poland’s GDP (while the level recommended by the UN is 0,7 percent of GDP, and the average for OECD DAC is 0,3 percent). Poland’s spending grew mainly because of obligatory contribution to the EU Instrument for Turkey (over 100 million zlotys, or 25 million euros).
CNN host was probably aware of all of this. “Italy, as you know, is carrying a far, far bigger burden than Poland” – she said.
They have thousands and thousands of immigrants from North Africa, we have thousands of thousands from Ukraine. It’s simply a matter of perspective.
OKO.press factcheck: No, it is not “a matter of perspective”, but a matter of cold, hard facts and numbers. The situation of asylum seekers in Italy and Ukrainians working in Poland is simply incomparable. First of all, the Italian government supports asylum-seekers financially, while Ukrainian workers in Poland don’t cost Poland a penny –rather, they contribute to the economy and to GDP’s growth. It is a repetition of the main narrative line of Polish government: blurring the difference between refugees and economic immigrants.
It would be more fitting to compare the number of people applying for asylum: in 2016, in Italy it was 123 000, and in Poland it was 12 000, so ten times less. In 2017, because of government’s policies, mainly the illegal blockade of Polish-Belarussian border, the number of asylum seekers in Poland shrank further to just 5 000 people!
The host then reminded Polish PM the fact that hundreds of thousands Poles live in the UK. “The perception is that Poland wants all the benefits of the EU but you won’t take six thousand refugees” – she said.
Morawiecki replied that Poland contributes to European initiatives:
Poland was the most generous EU member contributing to so-called European Resilience initiative, which is being managed by European Investment Bank.
OKO.press factcheck: Misleading statement. Poland contributed 50 million euros to EIB programme called Economic Resilience Initiative – which is an initiative designed to support economic growth. It is supposed to help job creation and economic resilience of countries affected by the migration crisis. It is not direct humanitarian assistance! And PM Morawiecki, as an economist, should be well aware of the fact that the results of such initiatives are visible only after several years.
Apart from this, 50 million euros is a very small amount compared to the the sums spent on foreign aid by Western countries. For example, in December 2017 UK announced plan to spend 121 million pounds (140 million euro) in Sudan alone – trying to persuade Sudanese to stay in their own country.
CNN host then changed the subject and asked about the new law, which – as she said – “seems to give the government more control over the judiciary in Poland”.
Through our judicial reform we are going to make our system more independent, objective, more transparent and much more efficient and effective.
OKO.press factcheck: False. Numerous international and Polish institutions – including European Commission, European Parliament and Venice Commission – stated that changes forced by Law and Justice government in the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Council of the Judiciary are dangerous for judiciary independence in Poland. Let’s quote the statement of President of the Venice Commission from January 2017:
„Practical steps are now taken with the apparent aim to ensure that the Tribunal act in accordance with the will of the current political majority:
- The new President of the Tribunal was elected on the basis of a questionable procedure;
- The new President delegated her powers to another judge who was elected on a legal basis that had been found unconstitutional by the Tribunal;
- The Vice-President of the Tribunal was sent on a vacation he had not asked for;
- The election of three sitting judges is challenged seven years after the election.
The Venice Commission concludes: “Hitherto the Constitutional Tribunal played a crucial role to ensure respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Poland. It is alarming that it is systematically made impossible for the Tribunal to carry out this role assigned to it by the Polish Constitution”.
We will see whether the “charm offensive” of Prime Minister Morawiecki will work on the Western public opinion. OKO.press – an independent, crowd-funded, fact-checking journalism outlet – will keep checking his statements for the foreign media.