Poland: President Komorowski’s first veto

Polish president Bronisław Komorowski has issued the first veto. After having already sent one government bill to the constitutional court for review, this is the first time in that the president sends a bill for repeated consideration to parliament.

The bill in question is the ‘law on the establishment of a military aviation college’ in Dęblin which foresees the merger of two existing military universities. According to president Komorowski, the bill is not in line with the reforms introduced during the last years. In the justification for his veto, president Komorowski stressed the fact that there would be more military colleges than troop divisions. Furthermore, one of the primary aims of the college would be to attract also non-military students by offering courses unrelated to military aviation. He argued that military colleges should concentrate their efforts on providing professional education for soldiers whereas the integration of non-military courses (and students) could only in the future become an additional and less significant task of the college.

The Polish daily ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ writes that officials in the ministry of defence were ‘completely shocked’ by the president’s decision and high officials speculate that the veto was lobbied for by the ‘National Security Office’ – a body that is part of the presidential administration which has repeatedly expressed opinions challenging the proposals of the ministry of defence. In this case, however, the law is a private bill not a governmental one (which is why the government spokesperson refused any detailed comment on the matter except for declaring that the president’s arguments were very convincing).

On the one hand, the veto is surprising; not only because president Komorowski is a member of the governing Civic Platform and a long-term ally of prime minister Donald Tusk but also because he was inaugurated only seven months ago and had previously only seldom shown signs of particular activism. On the other hand, it is not. While the bill was debated in parliament, representatives of the president already declared that the president would not approve of the foreseen reforms. Furthermore, the Polish president is still formally the supreme commander of the armed forces and is traditionally consulted about appointments of high-ranking military officials and the minister of defence. Lastly, Komorowski’s previous episodes of independent action (e.g. the request for constitutional review of the bill on administration cutbacks or the invitation of gen. Jaruzelski to a meeting of the national security council) were also rather unexpected. It seems that there is a lack of communication between the presidential office and relevant political actors – something one would expect given the party affiliation of president and prime minister. Komorowski is either isolated by his own party (which is not willing to give into his demands and Komorowski therefore has to resort to the use of his prerogatives) or he has isolated himself in order to gain greater independence from the government.

As general elections approach (October/November 2011) president-government relations in Poland should become even more interesting: It is yet not clear in how far Komorowski – currently the most popular politician in Poland – will help his party in securing a (nevertheless very likely) re-election.

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