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Democratic Lessons from the EU

Highly centralized political systems in Poland and other countries create a pernicious winner-take-all dynamic and polarize debate. The European Union's governance system, by contrast, offers an appealing practical model for more decentralized democratic decision-making.

WARSAW – Criticizing European Union institutions, and demanding that they be reformed, is a popular pastime. But as the EU’s unified front in the never-ending Brexit negotiations has made clear, European institutions are remarkably effective in managing political diversity. Perverse as it may sound to some, nation-states can learn from Europe in addressing their own democratic deficits.

Such shortcomings are especially apparent in Poland, where a highly centralized political system creates a pernicious winner-take-all dynamic. Because the party in power relies on a fleeting majority, it has a strong incentive to lock in its legislative achievements through constitutional overreach. This has left the electorate highly polarized and Poland mired in an ever-deeper political crisis, owing to a lack of consensus regarding basic institutions.

Both of us are outspoken opponents of what we believe has been an unconstitutional takeover of independent institutions by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. But we also acknowledge the genuine popular support that PiS continues to enjoy.

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