CCCU Expert Comment: The deterioration of Polish democracy

Following the announcement of Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto two bills that are part of the governments controversial plans to reform the judiciary, I wrote a brief commentary for the CCCU Expert Comment blog. You can find the whole text below:


Dr Philipp Köker explains that the President’s veto is unlikely to stop the deterioration of Poland’s democracy.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, has announced that he will veto two highly controversial bills aimed at reshaping the country’s judicial system.

At first glance, this may appear as a success for thousands of Poles who protested for weeks across the country and abroad. However, even though the president’s veto can only be overridden by a 3/5 majority in the Lower House of parliament, the veto alone is unlikely to stop the deterioration of Polish democracy.

Since taking office, the Law and Justice Party – whose leader Jarosław Kaczyński has publicly expressed his admiration for the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – has taken it upon themselves to reshape the country’s political system by bringing state media and judiciary under their control.

Shortly after their election in 2015, their government overruled nominations for five constitutional judges that had still been made by the last parliament and later refused to publish a ruling of the Constitutional Court that demanded three of these had to be sworn in by president Duda. Yet Duda, a member of Law and Justice himself, refused.

Subsequently, the government effectively cleansed state media of critical editors and journalists who the party had long accused of biased coverage.

Since then, objective coverage and commentary has been largely absent from public channels. The reform of the judiciary, already at the heart of the party’s programme during its first government in 2005-2007, is now a further step towards an ‘illiberal state’ modelled on the Hungarian example.

One of the two bills now vetoed by the president would have given the justice minister the right to fire the heads of lower courts, while the other would have allowed the government to replace all Supreme Court judges.

President Duda has been complicit in all these changes and so far failed to provide an effective check-and-balance on the government. However, presidential action was inevitable after it emerged over the weekend that the Polish Senate had passed bills in different versions than the lower chamber. Nevertheless, the veto alone is unlikely to put a halt to the Poland’s descent into illiberalism.

The president has only temporarily halted a reform that will inevitably be implemented unless other countries stand together and oppose this attack on democracy.

The EU, which has already threatened Poland with a suspension of its voting rights, will thereby play a key role. However, individual states and their parties also have an important role to play. Although the UK is headed for Brexit, Theresa May must not be indifferent to these developments – in particular because both the Conservatives as well as the DUP have a long history of cooperation with Law and Justice in the European Parliament.

Dr Philipp Köker is Senior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is an award-winning expert on presidential politics in European democracies. His new book ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ has just been published with Palgrave Macmillan.

CCCU Expert Comment: Hung parliaments are democracy in action

On Friday, 9 June, I wrote a brief commentary on the outcome of the UK General Election for the CCCU Expert Comment blog. You can find the whole text below.


Dr Philipp Köker explains why coalitions are not detrimental to democracy or strong leadership.

Theresa May’s gamble to consolidate (or even increase) her majority in the House of Commons has not paid off. Instead, the Conservatives have lost their majority and now need to find a coalition partner to continue to govern and ‘command the confidence of the House of Commons’.

Hung parliaments such as this or, more generally speaking, elections in which no party receives an absolute majority of seats are very common across democracies in Europe and beyond. Yet the subsequent governing coalitions are not just a matter of necessity, but an expression of democracy in action.

The mantra that ‘coalitions are undemocratic’ which we repeatedly heard after the 2010 election, is unheard of in other democracies and points to a questionable understanding of democracy among the British political elite. Democracy is exactly not winner takes all – majority rule, but requires compromise and cooperation to achieve the best outcome for everybody – not just for those who voted for the largest party.

Especially in the UK’s First-Past-The-Post electoral system, in which less than a third of all MPs receive an absolute majority of votes in their constituencies and many voters will never see their preferred candidate elected, a coalition government, irrespective of its composition, has the potential to increase the quality of democracy.

The inclusion of several parties increases the support base and legitimacy of the government and provides an additional mechanism of checks-and-balances, which prevents unilateral decision-making by a single leader.

Furthermore, coalitions require political parties to find new mechanism of conflict resolution and force them to consider a wider variety of viewpoints and potential solutions. Last, coalitions are not necessarily detrimental to strong leadership, but provide an opportunity to show actual leadership abilities. Nobody would question the leadership of Angela Merkel just because she has presided over coalition governments since coming to office in 2005.

Talk on Books, Impact and REF2021 at the Academic Book Week 2017

On 24 January 2017, I gave a talk on ‘Books, Impact and REF2021: ECR and University Perspectives’ in the seminar ‘Emerging Tools and Metrics in the Book Impact Space‘ organised by Springer Nature as part of the Academic Book Week 2017. Together with experts from Springer Nature, Digital Science, Altmetric, Scopus and PaperHive I discussed the future of academic books, tools to measure their impact, and innovations for open peer-review.

In particular, my presentation focused on the decline of monograph publications by Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and its causes as well as on the upcoming REF2021 and related opportunities and challenges for books as part of universities’ output and impact case study submissions.

New role: Big Data Ambassador for CCCU School of Psychology, Politics & Sociology

Big Data's definition illustrated with texts (c) Camelia Boban via wikimedia commonsStarting this January, I will serve as ‘Big Data Ambassador’ for the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University. In my role, I will help to identify existing data sets and new Big Data sources for use in teaching and research across the faculty. I will also raise awareness among staff of such possibilities and provide guidance on its use, analysis, and questions relating to ethics, data protection and storage.

Big Data is holds enormous opportunities for research and innovation in the social sciences. In my own research, together with Allan Sikk (UCL), I am for instance using data on parliamentary candidates as a new and innovative form of political data in order to better understand political and party system change.


New job: Senior Research Fellow at Canterbury Christ Church University

cccu-logo-2colourAfter seven years at University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, as MA and PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, I am leaving London and am taking up a new post as Senior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University from today. I will continue my research into presidential and party politics on collaboration with my new colleagues and also work on communicating our research to the public. More information about the department (part of the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology) can be found here – it also has an excellent research blog which is definitely worth a read and to which I will soon contribute on a regular basis.

Please note my updated contact details – emails sent to my UCL address however still reach me.