Polish opposition parties unite to sign declaration on strengthening local governments

The leaders of Poland’s four main centrist and left-wing opposition parties have jointly signed a declaration pledging to grant more funding and autonomy to local governments, which they accuse the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of seeking to bring under central political control.

“Our common goal is a democratic and law-abiding Poland, based on European values, respecting the dignity of every human being, caring for the natural environment and being an important link in the international community,” begins the declaration.

“The key element of such a state is local government,” it continues, but “unfortunately in the last seven years Law and Justice has systematically and deliberately destroyed local government, just like everything that is independent.”

The agreement was signed by Donald Tusk of the centrist Civic Platform (PO), Włodzimierz Czarzasty of The Left (Lewica), Szymon Hołownia of the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz of the centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL).

The leaders pledged that, if they come to power, within a year they would implement legislation to strengthen local authorities’ powers over budgets, education and the environment, as well as create a special development fund to support rural areas.

The postulates have been put forward by the “TAK! Dla Polski” (YES! For Poland!) movement, which wants to increase local authorities’ share of income tax, decentralise control of healthcare, increase education spending and school autonomy, and strengthen the fight against air pollution, among other things.

The movement is made up of mayors from cities and towns around Poland – including Warsaw, Gdańsk, Białystok, Rzeszów, Wałbrzych and Wieliczka – as well as other local officials.

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Czarzasty noted that the declaration was a response to the centralising tendencies of PiS, which wants a country in which “everything must be decided at the headquarters of one party, no matter what sphere of life it concerns”, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Hołownia said that events of recent years – such as the pandemic and the current influx of refugees from Ukraine – have shown how effective “efficient local authorities” can be compared to the “bungling [national] government”.

Rafał Trzaskowski, who is mayor of Warsaw and deputy leader of PO, also attended today’s signing, declaring that local government has been one of the greatest successes in Poland’s post-communist history.

“Unfortunately in recent years it has been under attack, because PiS is trying to destroy all independent institutions,” he added, quoted by Interia. “They want schools that are political, centralised hospitals, to take away prerogatives and money not from us, local officials, but from Poles.”

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Tusk also hailed the broader significance of today’s declaration, noting that it once again highlights how much the opposition groups have in common. He noted that in December the same parties had also signed an agreement on restoring the rule of law after removing PiS from power.

While acknowledging that the parties come from different backgrounds and have different views, he hailed their “pragmatic” approach on “the most important matters”, where they can come to an agreement while “respecting [each others’] autonomy and independence”.

Tusk and his PO party have in recent years been strongly pushing for the opposition to form a united coalition, arguing that this is the best way to oust PiS. Other party leaders, however, have remained sceptical of the idea, instead expressing an interest in having two opposition blocs.

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Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

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