Opposition’s 21 decentralisation demands

Local government leaders, close to the main opposition party the Civic Platform (PO), in an echo of Solidarity’s 21 demands of August 1980 have put forward a proposal for a “Self-governing Republic” with 21 demands for decentralisation of the state.

The proposal, drafted by the George Soros sponsored “Batory Foundation” aims to streamline the central state and give far more power to local governments. It was presented in detail during the Gdańsk “Festival of Freedom” held last week in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the semi-free elections of 1989 that spelled the end of communism in Poland. The concept has attracted support from leading local government figures such as Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski and Gdańsk mayor Aleksandra Dulkiewicz.

More powers

The drafters envisage local authorities having full control of health care and education (currently the schools' curriculum is set at the central level and the health service is managed by the National Health Fund (NFZ)). It is also proposed that municipalities should control local police forces. Local government would also gain the power of levying local taxes without any limits laid down by the central government, and to levy a cadaster based tax on land and property.

The central state would be further slimmed down by the property of state agencies moving to local authorities, decentralisation of funding for environmental projects and of EU funds and allowing local authorities in metropolitan areas to realise common objectives.

External supervision by a provincial prefect would disappear, as would the regional audit offices. Regional media would be placed under the control of provincial communities.

Local government influence over the central state

The authors of the proposal advocate making the Senate, the second chamber of Poland’s bicameral legislature, a chamber which would represent local government and civil society. This is aimed at ‘lifting the monopoly of political parties over legislation”.

Finally, it is also proposed that all legislation which is introduced in the Lower House and which in any way affects local government, should first be consulted with local government representative associations. Such consultation would be obligatory and the lack thereof would constitute grounds for action in the courts.

Not quite a federalist Jerusalem

The proposal falls short of recommending a federal structure for Poland with provinces as law-making bodies. But if implemented it would weaken considerably the power of the central state and increases the power of local government both at the local and central level.

The proposal has not been well received by the current ruling Law and Justice (PiS). They point to the fact that Poland is a largely mono-ethnic country in which past experiences of far-reaching decentralization have led to partition by foreign powers.

It is also questionable whether the opposition would really be willing to implement such a radical plan should it gain power. Once it had full control of the levers of power it might think again.

The Civic Platform came to prominence in Polish politics in the noughties promising radical reform such as a flat rate of PIT, CIT and VAT, abolishing the Senate and parliamentary immunity and single-member constituencies in elections to the Lower House. It did not implement any of those plans in its eight years in office between 2007 and 2015.