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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 29, 2009
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President Vs. Premier
April 29, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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A bill that spells out what powers President Lech Kaczyński and Prime Minister Donald Tusk have in foreign policy was April 23 submitted to parliament, aiming to end a bitter power struggle between the pair that has embarrassed Poles and dented the country’s image abroad.

Lower house Speaker Bronisław Komorowski of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party said the document he had handed to caucuses was a preliminary draft and only once examined and possibly amended could it be formally submitted as a bill.

The draft aims to spell out the rules under which state bodies work with one another, primarily on matters related to Poland’s EU membership.

The draft specifies that the government is responsible for deciding Polish policy on issues linked to EU membership, including economic and monetary union. The prime minister defines the details of the policy, which remains a state secret until it is presented at an EU summit or meeting.

Moreover, on the prime minister’s request, the government “authorizes a state body to take part in a meeting of an EU institution.” An inseparable part of the authorization is a stance on issues which are to be raised at such a meeting. The authorization is a somewhat vague concept, however. Caucuses in the lower house have received two versions of the draft. Under one of them, the prime minister can entitle “bodies of the executive authority” to represent Poland in EU institutions, while the other one replaces “the executive authority” with “the state.” The difference, Komorowski said, had resulted from the work of a team of lawyers, some of whom said the phrase “bodies of the executive authority” would make it more difficult to accuse the draft of being unconstitutional, that is, accusations of attempts at restricting the powers of the president.

PO and its junior coalition partner, the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), want the draft prepared by Komorowski to be submitted following an agreement of all caucuses. The opposition, however, is critical and intends to check whether the draft is constitutional.

Komorowski discussed his draft April 21 with the heads of the PO and PSL caucuses, Zbigniew Chlebowski and Stanisław Żelichowski. He is also planning to meet with the caucuses of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party and left wing groupings, but the dates of the meetings have not been revealed yet.

According to Chlebowski, the draft bill will set out the rules for cooperation between the most important state institutions and it does not discriminate against any state body. “This draft does not bind anybody’s hands, be it the president, the upper and lower houses of parliament or the government,” Chlebowski said.

The proposed bill also forces the government to formulate concrete policy stances before every EU summit. Chlebowski added the draft did not apply to issues such as the president’s meetings with the heads of other states and taking part in EU summits. Over the past couple of months, the latter has been a particularly touchy subject in relations between the government and the president. It led to a series of embarrassing clashes over use of the official government plane and the number of chairs for the Polish delegation at a Brussels summit.

“This draft bill does not decide if the president can fly to Brussels or not, or if he should take with him a chair from his palace to the summit,” Chlebowski said. “The president will be free to do as he pleases.” Chlebowski also said that under the constitution, Polish foreign policy was exercised by the government and the president was supposed to work with the government. According to Chlebowski, the draft bill strictly adheres to this principle.

PiS members disagree. “When I read this draft, I can see the Speaker [Komorowski] would like to alter the constitution,” said PiS deputy Karol Karski. “Under the constitution, the president is the highest authority in the state as far as external relations are concerned and it is hard to expect him to act bound by any other state organ.” Karski says the chances of the draft making it through parliament are practically zero, because the bill’s entry into force would mean “blatant disregard for the constitution.” According to Karski, Komorowski’s initiative is part of a policy of “stirring up a conflict with the president.” He added that PO has adopted such a policy hoping to dent the popularity of President Kaczyński.

Lower house deputy speaker Jerzy Szmajdziński of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has said his caucus would examine whether the draft was constitutional. Szmajdziński added that Poland needed to have a single, common foreign policy that should never be the “object of instructions, imperatives, prohibitions and other restrictions.”
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