Brexit is looming on the European Parliament. A few days ago the EP’s research service published a simulation showing how the Parliament changes on 1 February 2020, the day EU shrinks to 27 member states.
The main consequence for the delicate balance in the fragmented Parliament is the end of the minimal centre-left majority in the EP. The S&D-RE-Greens-GUE majority in the Parliament of 751 MEPs is just 376. Now in the re-calibrated Parliament this majority shrinks to a minority of 351 out of 705 MEPs.
It may not matter as much to the daily politics of the European Parliament as majorities are formed on ad hoc basis between the seven political groups. But the tiny centre-left majority was clearly in the back on the minds of the European decision makers over the past months: from the election of Mr Sassoli as the Parliament’s president and re-election of Emily O’Reilly as European Ombudsman to the EPP’s internal sentiment that the “left” had an alternative to the “grand coalition” and hence could be outvoted. Also, the cordon sanitaire against the PiS politicians was possible mainly because of the left-wing pressure.
Now the S&D is no longer in the driving seat choosing the majorities in the Strasbourg hemicycle. The “grand coalition” behind the von der Leyen Commission remains dominant and the three elements of it, EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, have no more reasons to double-guess their coalition partners.
Unless new developments, naturally, take place. In the next weeks or months the probable departure of the Fidesz MEPs from the EPP and their potential alliance with the ECR would bring new dynamics on the right-side of the Parliament.
Fidesz has 12 MEPs and the 13th Hungarian EPP MEP is György Hölvényi, a member of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, a satellite party of Fidesz. Hence there is a slim chance for Mr Hölvényi to remain in the EPP.
Still, 12 or 13 Hungarians is a major force. Hungarians joining the ECR (62 MEPs post-Brexit) would push the group’s size above the Greens (66 MEPs post-Brexit) putting the new ECR on a virtual parity with the Salvini-Le Pen group Identity and Democracy (ID, 76 MEPs post-Brexit).
This could be the new dynamics interesting to watch: between the EPP (187 MEPs post-Brexit, 174 without Fidesz), ECR and ID, as the border lines between the three groups are not set in stone. Not too long time ago Alternative for Germany (now an important member of ID) collaborated with ECR and Law and Justice tested waters to join the EPP. Between ID and ECR there is a competition for who is the “opposition” to the European mainstream. Inclusion of Fidesz into ECR provides this group a new momentum.
A year ago the main fear of pro-European forces was an influx into the Parliament of anti-Europeans who would dominate the landscape. This has not happened, but a tactical alliance between Fidesz, ECR and ID would bring them to over 150 MEPs. Such a united front of the “opposition” remains and will remain for the rest of the term a nightmare for many of the pro-European MEPs.
When the Council of the EU votes on energy transformation, environmental protection or transport, the PiS government is usually in the minority.
The Eternal Question
Since joining of the EU, Poland is facing the question of its own position in the Union. The question is linked to its size: Poland is the smallest among the so-called “big states”, being demographically e.g. 54% smaller than Germany. At the same time, it is almost four times more populous than the group of numerous EU countries with a population of around 10 million. For example, Poland’s population is larger than the other nine countries that joined the EU fifteen years earlier. The economic potential undermines Poland’s stronger position by the fact that the Polish economy measured at constant prices is comparable in size to the economies of less populated countries of Western (Belgium) or Northern Europe (Sweden).
However, the status of Poland is determined not only by statistics. Over the past several years, Poles – its officials, as well as leading politicians – have learned to use their own advantages and play disadvantages effectively to pursue national interests. “At the dawn of accession, the Spaniards taught us that one should not be ashamed of being poor,” is one of the many lessons of Polish diplomacy testifying to the strategy for Poland’s presence in the EU.
This strategy was based on a delicate balance. Being the smallest of the big and the largest of the small, the Polish EU strategy included incorporating the Central and Eastern European perspective in its own political relations with large partners such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Hence, French President Sarkozy spoke in the middle of 2000s about the need to create a G-6, a group of six major EU countries. Today certain European politicians have similar ideas, including the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who talks about the weaknesses of the Franco-German leadership in Europe and the need to include Italy, Spain and Poland in it.
This delicate balance was an effective approach. One of the leading European think tanks ECFR, placed Poland as the fourth, equal to Italy, among the most influential EU country. A richer Poland has negotiated more funds for its own cohesion policy for the years 2014–20 from a smaller EU budget than in the previous budgeting period. Over the past fifteen years, Poland has not only made up for economic development (from 47 per cent of the EU average GDP per capita in 2004 to 71 per cent in 2018), but also gained many political advantages. Successful negotiations led to a new political opening towards Eastern Europe (Eastern Partnership), and two Poles took key positions in the EU: Jerzy Buzek presided over the European Parliament (2009–11), and Donald Tusk was the European Council president (2014–19) .
The 2015 Change
This strategy was abandoned by the government elected in 2015. The curent Polish government treats the Union as a purely external issue, of foreign policy, so it does not understand the involvement of EU institutions in the issues of legal system reforms in Poland. Since the dismantling of independent judicial institutions, as well as the civil service or independent journalism in public media, Poland’s position in the EU has deteriorated rapidly. In the national debate, the PiS government accuses the opposition of turning the European partners hostile, and that the European institutions are acting in bad faith and want to harm “good” reform for ideological reasons.
Meanwhile, there are objective reasons for launching the infringement procedures. The government under the direction of Mateusz Morawiecki is trying to promote its own version of “Europe of Nations”. These arguments boil down to undermining the independence of the EU institutions from the national governments. The Prime Minister said in the European Parliament that “respecting […] national identities is the foundation for trust in the Union. … every country in the Union has the right to shape its legal system in accordance with its traditions.”
There are many examples of progressing marginalization.
First, votes in the EU Council. The data collected by VoteWatch.eu shows that the Polish government is increasingly losing votes in the Council. By the end of the PO-PSL (EPP) coalition’s government, the rate of losing votes was at 3.1 per cent, placing Poland at comparable levels of Austria and Germany. From PiS’s rise to power in November 2015 to the end of 2018, this ratio increased to 6.6 per cent, and Poland fell to the second to last place. Only the Brexit’s UK achieves worse indicators.
This should be read as the growing incompetence of PiS politicians to substantively resolve controversial issues. Sometimes voting is used in a populist narrative in the country – with the directive on copyright in the digital single market, the Polish government voted against knowing that it is in a minority. The ruling party used a populist argument in the campaign to the European Parliament and to the Polish Sejm: “that’s why we opposed the EU regulations regarding […] censorship on the Internet (ACTA 2).”
Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the PiS government was in a minority in 19 votes, which are most often related to the topics of energy transformation, environmental protection, and transport. Those files concern legislation which was processed mostly in the ENVI (5) and TRAN (4) committees of the European Parliament, while in the Council the most problematic files were addressed by the General Affairs Council (8 files).
Second, the issue of differentiation of levels of integration. Poland has always been against structural divisions between member states, and deeper integration meant deepening of Poland’s involvement in European structures. However, since 2015 Poland has not participated in any new enhanced cooperation. No attempt was made to join the new ones (European Public Prosecutor’s Office, recognition of divorce and separation documents). During this period, Poland also did not join any of the previously initiated forms of enhanced cooperation.
In 2017, the government joined the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which brings together all EU countries except for Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom. In 2019, as part of defence cooperation, Poland participated in 10 projects, while France in 31, Italy in 25, Germany in 16, and Spain in 24. This shows Poland’s position among countries of medium potential – Czechia participates in 9, Hungary in 10, and Slovakia in 6 PESCO projects (out of 47 possible). Moreover, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania have been leading at least one of the projects since 2018. The first project with Poland as a leader was accepted only in November 2019 (The Military Medical Training Center).
The European elections have also accelerated the marginalization of PiS politicians in the European Parliament. The PiS MEPs are with the ECR. This it the sixth largest political group. Before the elections, the ECR was the third force in Parliament. A sanitary cordon against the PiS candidates was applied during the election of the leaders of the new European Parliament: the PiS candidates for the chairmanship of the employment committee (EMPL) and for the vice president of the Parliament failed in voting.
Today’s Poland is at one of the last places in the EU in terms of commitment to European integration and is not particularly interested in deepening the EU in new areas. Thus – standing still – Poland is moving away from other European countries.
The weakening of Poland’s position is not insignificant. The Polish success is the success of the most important European integration process of the 21st century: the unification of Eastern and Western Europe. The Polish failures are a symbol of the failure for the entire region.
At one point this summer Ursula von der Leyen said her Commission will be “geopolitical”, as opposed to the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker.
There was no meaning to the adjective back then. There is little meaning to it today. Still, the adjective is growing on the Commission.
First foreign trip of the new President: Ethiopia. To mark the European strategic interest in the continent. But as the EU fights it’s own war on global relevance between US and China, it needs to chose its battles carefully. Africa will be an interesting field to watch.
The challenges are many for the Commission and the whole of Europe. The most important is unity. Brexit et al. do not help. Donald Tusk, the ex-EUCO boss and new head of the EPP says that the fight to preserve or protect the EU’s unity was a constant battle over the past five years. Little changed.
Provided unity is preserved, the outside world is as scary as promising. The same story, but changing. Terrorist threats, trade wars, migration flows, climate crisis, populist leaders and all the other challenges out there are met with business opportunities as new technologies come to the market, new greening of the economy constitutes a major push for innovation in Europe and new trade agreements open new markets.
Will fears dominate hopes? First days tell little of the future, but for the ball to be moved to the external field EU and its Commission needs to play bold and safe at the same time. Not to be reactive but proactive. To look for opportunities where others don’t.
EU is not and won’t be a security power. It’s magic is located elsewhere. Preservation of and expansion of the multilateral system is what EU wants. The not-so-secret weapon of the Union is the strength of its single market. Expansion and deepening into the digital single market will be matched with re-calibrating it on the sustainability tracks.
The more-secret-but-not-totally-unknown EU magic is its regulatory power. It may have lost the 5G battle to the Chinese and the Americans but the other two are nowhere close to the regulatory might of the EU.
Yes, the EU is the soft power. In the times of nationalism and populism and climate change it has been doing surprisingly well, despite the fall backs along the way.
At the end of the day what may determine our future is our free will and determination. I do not know if the Commission has it. But I hope the basic fact that 202 million people voted for this thing back in May means something.
“The EPP is dead”! Did Viktor Orbán plan a hostile take-over of the party? What are the plans for the future? Welcome to rainy Zagreb, where the European People’s Party holds its congress 2019. Hashtag #EPPZagreb
The Croatian capital is cold and rainy this time of the year. Grim are the moods in the great hall of Arena Zagreb, covered with great speeches on the main stage. Angela Merkel comes, her star shines among the 2000+ delegates, yet you can sense the deadline to her rule in Berlin. There are more people of a decaying glory here, and a few upcoming stars, too. Ursula von der Leyen is relaxed and multilingual. Sebastian Kurz is glowing. Donald Tusk is elected new leader. This is a grand theatre and the main play is to put a good face on a bad game.
Elections won, but…
Every five years since 2009 there are fewer EPP MEPs sitting in the Strasbourg hemicycle. Non only since last May there are only 182 MEPs affiliated with the EPP. The party lost a ruling majority in the Parliament alongside the Social-Democrats. For decades the two, EPP and S&D provided for a stable majority. “It takes two to tango”, but how to learn the dance with a third, or a fourth partner?
The electoral crisis is clear and debated behind the scenes. There is another crisis underneath: the identity challenge. In a moment of weakness one MEP cries, “The EPP is dead“, and asks not to be named.
Feet of clay
The EPP is still the largest political group in the European Parliament, but the future is not looking easy. “If you win the elections, you can’t say you lose,” soberly reminds me the Irish MEP Sean Kelly quoting the EPP leaders, new and old, Tusk and Daul. Michael Gahler, a German MEP, also praises his home party: “We retained political leadership on the European level. Where are the Socialists and the Liberals in their positioning?”
Mr Gahler is not alone, many people here think that the EPP is the best organized party in Europe. Over 2,000 delegates come to Zagreb to discuss new leaders, but also to debate and decide the agenda. Issues such as the climate and technological challenges, enlargement, international policy in Eastern Europe, transatlantic relations and the situation in the Middle East – all of these are important matters for the oldest European political party.
But what does the EPP want to be in the third decade of the 21st century? How to regain voters? It must have been difficult to swallow that Europeans like to vote in European elections, but not as much for the EPP. “We are not popular with the voters“, complains one EPP staffer, as if it was the voter who was the problem. Ideas are welcomed.
How to simultaneously and effectively resist populism of the far right, but also the internal populism from the Hungarian party Fidesz, is the unanswered question here in Zagreb. The Slovenian Janez Janša, former prime minister, says simply: “Punishing the most successful party in the group would not make any sense“. Last spring Fidesz scored 53 percent in Hungary.
The electoral result of other EPP parties outside Hungary is not as positive. “Populism destroys us from the right and the left,” tells me the leading Bavarian MEP Monika Hohlmeier, member of the Parliament since 2009. Not only the EPP members’ share of the Strasbourg chamber has fallen from 36 percent to 24 percent in the same decade, the number of EPP members of the European Council is down from 12 to 9.
What is more, the internal dynamics is shifting, too. As of May, the majority of EPP MEPs are Central European politicians. In countries such as Italy and France, local EPP parties suffered heavy defeats. In Zagreb Silvio Berlusconi walks surrounded by a smaller crowd of journalists, an echo of old glory. The French party was relegated to the third position. In both populous countries the extreme right populists replaced the EPP parties as the main right-wing force in the national public space.
The EPP’s nightmare is this: in Germany the AfD is gaining ground, in Spain the extreme VOX party is fast catching up with the centre-right, and it is possible that in Poland the Civic Platform (PO) – the party of Donald Tusk – will fight the newly united Left to maintain the position of the main opposition party. A few years down the line the EPP members could be relegated to no. 3 or worse in all of the most populous EU member states.
Orbán’s hostile takeover?
How to effectively respond to the challenges of a changing world? Last spring seven EPP members demanded to remove Fidesz from the EPP. Hungarians were suspended and were not invited to the meetup in Croatia. The only Hungarians in the Arena are the Hungarian journalists investigating when the throwing out will happen, if ever.
In Zagreb, one could hear the whisper of Orbán’s intent to make a “hostile takeover” of the EPP from the centre-right and turn the party into a right-wing nationalist family. The attempted hostile takeover failed, Fidesz is suspended. Clearly the Hungarian ideas of illiberal democracy run in opposition to the core values of the modern EPP. In such an orbanesque version, the People’s Party could accommodate the Matteo Salvini’s La Lega and the Polish Law and Justice (PiS).
However, the Fidesz affair weakens the EPP. There are also those, like Janša, who believe that there should be room for the Hungarian party. But for the Hungarians to be unsuspended, they would have to undo many of their changes. There is also the fear that the Fidesz exit from the EPP could have followers. One EPP member protests: “I absolutely do not believe this. This is a rumour spread by the Orbán supporters. There will be no domino effect“. Hence many delegates do not mind the suspension. A report on what to do with Fidesz may be done in December or maybe in the new year. Donald Tusk says the issue should be solved by the end of January 2020.
There is a wide consensus to reject populism. But there is no consensus on what to offer in return. How to effectively talk to Europeans and address their worries? “We must remain a people’s party,” says new Slovak MEP Vladimír Bilčík. “People demand answers here and now, and the answers to these challenges can only be European,” he continues. Bilčík is a politician with a profile comparable to the Croatian prime minister and host of the summit, Andrej Plenković. Both are in their 40-ties and are building their political position with a strong belief and ownership for the European project. “We are the responsible ones. Everything we propose is put into practice” Sean Kelly adds on this point.
Plans for the future
A sense of responsibility, rejection of populism and building an effective offer for Europeans, this is the plan for the future. The EPP wants to fight back for European values like never before. Especially for the rule of law. One MEP asked to be anonymous when he says: “Fidesz is a virus“.
Climate change is also important. It is impossible to escape from the feeling, however, confirmed by many interlocutors, that the EPP is defensive on the topic. The credibility on the climate issues lies with the Green parties, and to a lesser degree, with the Social-Democrats. In Zagreb the EPP is discussing how to balance the greening of the economy with the jobs and the economic performance. They seek for a golden snitch instead of promoting green innovation, some younger and some more liberal MEPs complain. In this political debate over the greening of the economy the EPP frequently accuse the European Greens of political populism, even if Joseph Daul, the outgoing party leader, says he supports to declare the climate crisis an emergency. Many more conservative EPPers do not like to talk climate, instead some prefer to talk sustainability.
Bilčík and Plenković see the issue of greening of politics in their home countries differently. Bilčík speaks bluntly about his party SPOLU in Slovakia, an EPP member, “We are the Greens of Slovakia“.
New kind of leadership
Against this picture Donald Tusk takes over the leadership of the party. Professor Steven van Hecke of the University of Leuven explains what just happened this way: “It is discontinuity, because this is the first [presidency] from the Central European country, not from the traditional Christian democratic power bases of Western Europe. But it is a continuity, because those power bases do not exist any more since May 2019. The strongholds of EPP are in Central and Eastern Europe, so in that way it is not a coincidence“. This explains the context of the Tusk’s ascent to the EPP power, but “why him”? Professor van Hecke continues: “The former president of the European Council has the authority. He will be more political and the litmus test is Fidesz“.
New stars and parameters of success
In the ocean of sorrow not everything is only negative. The recent successes of the EPP members in Greece (winning against the populist left) and Austria (successfully fighting the populist extreme right) promote the figures of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and former/future Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “The future belongs to them” can be heard when a crowd gathers around Kurz, the “right-wing conqueror”, who, between successive selfies with youth activists and subsequent interviews, tries to rebuild his position in the EPP. Earlier this year Mr Kurz gave up power as a result of a corruption scandal of his far right coalition partner, held the elections and won them decisevely. Mr Kurz is only 33 years old.
Retiring Joseph Daul (72), as well as Donald Tusk who replaces him in a few days, speak of rejuvenation of the EPP leadership. When the important words of the new leader on the defence of European values are spoken on the main stage, one of the EPP activists asserts on a side: “Tusk is a defender of these values” and adds that the success of the new leadership will be measured based on two criteria. First, he expects Fidesz to be removed from the EPP. Second, how aggressively the new EPP leadership will be seeking for new directions for the party and building a “positive agenda”.
Earlier version of this article was published in Polish on Onet.pl
Today there were hearings in the European Parliament. Extra hearings following the rejection of the initial candidates for Commissioners from Romania, Hungary and France.
The replacement candidates who did well are the two: Adina-Ioana Vălean of Romania, who is scheduled to be the Commissioner for transport, and Thierry Breton of France, who will be responsible for the internal market. All provided the von der Leyen Commission gets a green light from the European Parliament.
The Breton’s acceptance is a turn-around of the Social-Democrats. Clearly the new President’s magic worked out well with the left-wingers. Yesterday President von der Leyen announced re-branding some of the portfolios in her College:
protecting our European Way of Life is changed to promoting our European Way of Life
the jobs portfolio will include social rights
fisheries to be added to the environment and the oceans
Well played, Ms Ursula.
Still, there is a problem with the Hungarian candidate. Olivér Várhelyi is invited back to communicate with the foreign affairs committee (AFET). By Monday we shall know if there is another meeting necessary. First, Mr Várhelyi is asked to provide written answers.
Apparently, as Politico reports, Mr Várhelyi problems was to convince his interlocutors that he will be independent from the national governments. In particular, one was worrisome: Budapest.
The last missing puzzle is the British Commissioner. The British PermRep, or Ambassador to the EU, has sent a letter last night (13 November) saying that London will not send a Commissioner before the elections in the UK. The vote is scheduled for 12 December.
Can the Commission be voted without the British Commissioner? That’s the question without an answer for the moment. Clearly the lawyers at the Berlaymont have something to work on in the upcoming days.
For the von der Leyen Commission to take office, the entire College needs to be approved by the Parliament. This vote is now tentatively scheduled for the last week of November.
For the new European Commission to take office – initially scheduled for 1 November – we are still missing four confirmations and a final confirmation vote in the European Parliament.
Three Commissioners-candidates were rejected earlier by the European Parliament. The French Sylvie Goulard was denied after her hearing. The Romanian Rovana Plumb and the Hungarian László Trócsányi were stopped even before the hearing begun; they were found to have a conflict of interest.
The three capitals were requested to send new candidates. The Romanian candidate was “in limbo” due to a difficult political situation in Bucharest. Finally a new PM Ludovic Orban nominatedAdina-Ioana Vălean after consulting Ursula von der Leyen.
The Hungarians downgraded their candidate from a high-profile Trócsányi to the civil servant level, Olivér Várhelyi. Both Várhelyi and Vălean should be acceptable during the next line of hearings in the Parliament.
Worse for von der Leyen, the delicate gender balance of the initial college (13-14) is now shifting to 12-15; even a female British commissioner would not improve the situation much (13-15).
Boris Johnson was asked by Ursula to propose a British nominee as soon as possible. Will he comply? Clearly there should be a British Commissioner in a European Commission if the rule of one Commissioner per member state was to be respected. As long as Brexit has not happened there is room for a British Commissioner in the Commission, Juncker or von der Leyen.
But there is no new Commission without a final OK from the European Parliament to the entire college. The timetable is that next week there should be the missing hearings, and should everything go smoothly, the Commission vote could be scheduled still in November.
Ursula von der Leyen hopes for her College to begin on 1 December.
Almost two weeks after the Polish general elections the politics in Warsaw is fourfold. There is a fight for the control over the Senate where the united opposition parties snatched a tiny majority (51-49) over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). PiS challenges outcome in six districts with limited chances of success.
The other three processes include the negotiations over the new government as PiS needs to negotiate with its junior coalition partners the details of the organisation of the next government.
The opposition main party Civic Platform (PO) is soul-searching and looking for – possibly – a new leader at their January congress when Grzegorz Schetyna is expected to fight for his re-election as the chairman of the PO.
The fourth is the campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for next spring, most likely in May. President Duda is already campaigning. The opposition is pondering its options and candidates. Most likely there will be 3 candidates for the centrist PO, the conservative democrats of PSL and the Left. The PSL’s and Left’s candidates are semi-obvious: Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and Robert Biedroń MEP, respectively. The PO candidate is “in the talks”, as the strongest options are now Donald Tusk and Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.
In the letter Mr Kaczyński writes to the PiS voters thanking for their support: “to you, who have supported ours during the electoral campaign I would like to express additional signs of gratitude“.
Mr Kaczyński writes about dreams and aspirations: “By voting for Law and Justice you have supported Poland Plus, that is our native version of a welfare state. You have chosen the model of development of our Fatherland, the purpose of which is to ensure that in the not too distant future all Poles can enjoy the same level and quality of life as the inhabitants of the wealthiest European nations.”
He continues: “By standing in favour of Poland Plus, you stood by the great support programs that the Polish families waited for 30 years” and he enlists the 500+ programme of child support, 300+ programme of school support, 13th and 14th payment to the pensioners, the increase of the minimal wage and reduction of the retirement age. “By voting against Poland Minus you have said ‘no’ to the politics of bad governing and inability, the politics of a repeated ‘there is no money and there won’t be any‘”, Mr Kaczyński writes.
By voting the PiS candidates, Mr Kaczyński writes, “you have voted for the Poland of dignified life” and uses adjectives like “solidary” and “just“. Poles have voted “forPoland guided in internal and foreign policy by our raison d’etat and our interests. For Poland, a community of proud Poles boasting about the heritage of their ancestors, nourishing our Christian identity and values fundamental in our cultural circle“, he adds.
Mr Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS omnipotent chairman who rules the party single handedly. He listens and cooperates with his peers, yet he is the ultimate decision-maker.
He seems to write, “Poland is me” like Luis XIV used to say about his state. What does he mean by “our”, is it Polish or PiS’, or – is it the same, in his and Law and Justice, mind?
In his letter to the voters after the vote he continues to divide the nation and the political class into Poland Plus and Poland Minus. “We are better” he seems to argue, not “our offer is better”. “We are better” as humans, “Poland is us”, because our values are “our”, and “our” stands at the same time for Law and Justice and Poland.
Mr Kaczyński argued, upon news that PiS lost the Senate, that maybe there was a way to converse with people who think differently. Some secret negotiations may or may not have taken place with the PSL. But in this letter it is clear that Mr Kaczyński is not about governing. It is about ruling. His letter is judgmental, he argues that only PiS advocates for “justice”, “solidarity” and “dignified lives”, as if the party had a monopoly on the vocabulary that caries heavy emotional and evaluative meaning.
“Poland Plus” and “Poland Minus”, which side are you on? Choose.
Law and Justice four years in power is not one sided litany of negative and wrong policies. It took for years for PiS to convince itself to invest into solar and wind power. By now, year-to-year, the solar panels installations increased in Poland by 100%. A happy minister says Poland may soon overcome sunny Italy in amount of solar panels. Great, you – PiS – learn, you converge to the current global and European standards. Too slow, but you actually seem to turn the ship around over the past four years. And hopefully into the future 4 years the decarbonisation policy will take off fully.
Redistributive policies are hammered in Poland by the liberals, but the social policies work. Not only they buy PiS voters; they elevate some impoverished families and create opportunities for the excluded parts of the society. But PiS social policies are not perfect either. The policies are frequently missing the objectives as the 500+ or the 300+ often go to families who simply do not need that kind of support. Hence the social aspect of the policy is positive, but the demographic aspect is lagging behind. PiS talks of “13th and 14th” pension, but those programmes were only fractions of pensions, not a full 13th or 14th one.
The world is not perfect. The world is not 0-1. The world is not “+” vs “-“. Poland is not “Poland Plus” vs “Poland Minus”. There is one Poland that requires certain stability, progress, unity and… safety. Instead the most powerful man in the country offers divisions where he could offer unity. He could try to comprehend “the other side” rather than to demonise it, or degrade it by calling it “minus”. It is not US v THEM.
Mr Kaczyński has a history of demonising minorities, ethnic, sexual and other, as well as opposition parties. He does not like to talk to people who think differently. He does not like to travel outside of the country. There are many things he does not like. Where is all this hate coming from?
There is a village called Poland somewhere in Kiribati. It is on an atoll island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. Other villages on the island: Paris, London and Banana. There is one church in Poland.
In our Poland there are some 10 000 churches.
It is a Rainbow Friday in Poland today. Another “culture war”, as PiS likes to talk about it.
In a form of a letter, let me try to cover the ongoing political issues related to the European Union. You are free to ask and to comment. You are free to disagree.
Today is the last day of the old world. Today is the first day of the new world. Obviously. So, what’s new?
I am reading that Croatia is reading itself to join the Schengen. How wonderful to enlarge the passport-free to the Croat paradise and integrate the 28th EU country one step more. Did you know, Croatia is the next most likely – if anybody – to join also the Eurozone within the next 4 years? Truly, this is the wunderkid in the EU corridors of power.
I still cannot get over the Macron veto over the EU enlargement to North Macedonia and Albania. The French President is so wonderfully pro-European. Defending the European interest is his objective. Why is he risking the delicate peace in the Balkans over some French stubbornness like this? Sometimes you have to prove you are European, not only talk about it. Fingers crossed for Slovenians not to derail the Croat hopes.
Brexit is eyebrow rising. Prime minister Johnson is Mr Jackal and Dr House at the same time. Clock is ticking, British media are ecstatic, the British Parliament is more fun to watch than the Late Show with Colbert. Most likely Brexit will be delayed again, 5 minutes before midnight. Next?
The US President who truly does not like Europe. Exhibit one: the Kurds and the broken alliance over… what exactly? Is Turkey still in NATO? What is NATO? Some strategists in Moscow and Beijing must be laughing at how fast the American leadership in the world is shrinking.
Exhibit two: US just introduced sanctions against the EU. Allies?
The world is not getting safer when the Germans are planning their security with Russians and the Turks, is it? Well, Mr Trump, counting your days in office for America’s and Europe’s sake. Meanwhile good news come from Canada where Mr Trudeau survived the vote and will continue his government. And from Israel where the populist Netanyahu gave up on forming government.
I do not care if the government is liberal, green, social-democratic or conservative. I care if it is democratic. I am allergic to populism.
In Spain riots. Or, in Catalonia riots. These days even how you write is political. And this issue is for the locals to work out. An interesting thing I have heard the other day and could not verify: that about 7% of Spain is already a desert and the desertification continues and that the Catalan independence move is effectively linked to the distribution of water on the Iberian peninsula. Interesting theory. Greta?
Funny how the liberal media fast forget about difficult places hoping they will self-regulate. Well, they don’t and they come back to you twice worse. Exhibit one: Italy. Ever since Mr Salvini is out of government we hear less of Italy. Peace.
Exhibit two: Poland. Before the elections there was some buzz. There were articles about the country. There was interest. Now it is somehow limited. And imagine this: since yesterday night there is the battle over the Senate. You may remember that last week Law and Justice won the Sejm, but the opposition won the Senate. Well, yesterday the ruling party decided to appeal to the court over a recount in 6 districts where the opposition candidates won. In a normal situation you’d think “recount”, what’s wrong with that? Yes, that is the democratic impulse. But it turns out the recount is going to be managed without a public scrutiny by a chamber of the Supreme Court that was created anew by PiS. There are serious doubts over its independence or the validity of the appointment. One of the ECJ cases against Poland on the rule of law situation is about the National Council of the Judiciary (politically appointed, hence judicial independence compromised?). It was the new NCJ which chose the Supreme Court’s new chamber composition. The chamber’s name is Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs… we’ll see about the judges true independence. Still, no scrutiny?
Mr Schetyna, the leader of the opposition says he wants an international supervision over the recount.
Democracy is a funny system, where some decisions hung on a undemocratically elected official decision. Thinking Poland? Think Florida 2000. Think Boris Johnson. Not voted by the British Parliament. Appointed.
More Polish news: remember the K Towers? The “independent” prosecution just decided there is no case. PiS promised transparency of spouses tax returns before the elections last week. Yesterday the country’s president Andrzej Duda just took the issue for a legal check by the Constitutional Tribunal. When the obvious problems with the law were pointed out by the opposition MPs during the adoption of the act, the ruling politicians rejected every argument. Now they are proven right. But we are a week after elections. Nobody will remember little lies, right?
There is an Austrian angle to the K Towers affair. I guess we will see how that goes in due time.
It seems the influence inside the Law and Justice is changing post-elections. Jarosław Gowin and Zbigniew Ziobro are up (each gentleman has 18 MPs within the ruling majority) and Tadeusz Rydzyk is down. Mr Rydzyk runs his right-wing Catholic media empire based around the Radio Maryja. Listenership of the radio is record-low and now Mr Rydzyk lost two of his prominent MPs, who failed to be re-elected from the PiS lists.
In Switzerland the Greens are making headlines after a major increase of public support. Do you know that 3 Greens made it to the Sejm last Sunday? This is truly good news. With the return of the Left into the Sejm the number of MPs who are responding to the urgency of climate crisis is on a massive increase in Poland. Since this is a long-haul fight, we are in it to win it, right? As Greta says, however, this is also a race against time.
We are absurdly beautiful and warm October in Warsaw. It is 22 October and it is 22 degrees outside. Enjoy the climate change!
The dream for today: a moratorium in Poland for new coal-based power plants. Please someone take this issue to advocate in the discourse! The next battle on the issue is the new power plant in Ostrołęka, north of Warsaw. It is being built, to be based on coal. There are problems with financing of the power plant. Hopefully the power plant is there but not using coal as its resource material.
What is amazing is how this country changes bottom up, not top down. The turnout last week was 61%, the highest in 30 years! In Warsaw the turnout was 77% The highest in the country. Over 1 million people voted in the city. First time ever, too.
The bottom-up civil society organised a protest in my home district yesterday: because of a car crash in which one person died. Clearly changes are necessary in the way roads are build and drivers drive. Now people protest demanding it.
Bottom-up energy: in the first 9 months of 2019 the amount of micro-installed solar panels in Poland increased by 96%! Their power making capacity increased by 100%. Good news. There is also something new on my street, for the electronic waste.
This blog is called “Political Europe” for it shall focus on the new upcoming Commission’s theme, being “geopolitical”. The Commission is late on arrival as 1 November as its commencement date has been thrown by the window by the assertive and somehow unpredictable new European Parliament.
Yes, it was Juncker’s theme, political Commission. As opposed to the administrative one before, I guess. Why? Because of the political mandate the Commission receives from the general public. The general public of some 512 million Europeans chose the European Parliament and the Parliament will chose our Commission.
“Our Commission”, so someone should scrutinize it, right? Here I am and here’s the blog. About the political developments in Europe where I am. Where am I? Who am I? Those who read this blog since the beginning of 2019 may know, it was focused on the European elections. The elections are gone. Next elections will take place in 2024. It seems far away. It is not. I shall do what I can to share information from my Europe and see how the Commission, if the Commission responds.
I am also an affiliate of Team Europe, a group of experts of the European Commission based in Warsaw. I am not paid by the Commission, I am not a Commission employee or representative. Team Europe-Warsaw takes me places like corridors of power in Brussels, but also schools and universities all around Europe. I have been privileged to talk with all kind of groups of Europeans in all corners of our Europe, also when I worked with the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. That’s the past, as I worked there over 7 years ago.
Today I travel to villages and towns and cities on invitation, mostly. This year alone (thus far) I am grateful for the opportunities to talk with the citizens of Douchy-les-Mines (France), Bruxelles, Tallinn, Belgrade, and in Poland: Wejherowo, Słupsk, Kołobrzeg, Ciechocinek, Kwidzyn, Dzierzgoń, Morąg and Biesal, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Załuski and Bończa, Katowice, Tomaszowice, Wrocław and Warsaw. Wherever I go I learn from the people I meet as much as I hope they find interesting what I have to say.
Until the end of the year I know I am speaking in Brussels a few times, as well as in Biecz and Nieporęt in Poland.
Thanks to all those who keep on inviting me.
If you’d like to hear me speak, contact me. I receive some spectacular feedback knowing that those who did not enjoy me speak won’t say it out loud. But it is nice when a group of 60 teenagers (16-17 year olds) listens to you and no mobile phone is in use for good 40 minutes. Another testimonial: “this was the most insightful presentation we have had in 7 years. Thanks” from people dealing with EU affairs.
I love those feedbacks for they show me that there is something I know others don’t and they prove people want to listen.
I also write and talk on the media, sometimes. This year alone Onet.pl and Euractiv.com published a number of my opinion articles. I invite you to read my opinion piece about the Polish elections of 13 October published with the Balkan Insight and on Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel published by Euractiv.com.
Larger reports were published in Madrid by Real Instituto Elcano and in Prague by Europeum.
More from me to come. Please contact me if you’d like to cooperate, either by contributing to the blog “Political Europe“, co-creating it, or in any other matter.
Just four days after the parliamentary elections in Poland and the new political reality in Warsaw is slowly settling in. What do we know?
A New PM in sight– unlikely
Mateusz Morawiecki was or is the candidate for the Prime Minister job. But before this question is answered by the PiS chair, Jarosław Kaczyński, he needs to appease his coalition partners.
As a surprise as it may sound the position of the PiS chair is… reduced after the victorious win on Sunday. Almost 44% is less that 45% PiS had in the European elections earlier this year, some critics indicate. More importantly, Mr Kaczyński’s coalition partners within the larger PiS family are empowered following the Sunday vote.
There are two of them. One is Mr Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister. He has 17-18 MPs in the new Sejm. Apparently he is in negotiation for an upgrade (vice-PM?), even if he denies it publicly. Also, his party, Solidary Poland, PiS’s ally, would like to see a new ministry allocation. Most importantly, however, there is a conflict between Mr Ziobro and Mr Morawiecki. The media report that Mr Ziobro would like to see Mr Morawiecki go.
The other PiS coalition partner is Mr Jarosław Gowin of the Agreement (Porozumienie) Party. He also has about 18 MPs and has been a vice-PM and science minister in the outgoing government. His party is considered a more centrist-leaning in the larger pool of PiS universe. Mr Gowin’s ministers talk decarbonisation and focus on the economy, rather than social giveaways or justice reforms. They still vote in line, though.
However, Mr Gowin was Mr Tusk’s justice minister… with 18 MPs he could sway the majority towards the opposition. However unlikely, the political arithmetic gives Mr Gowin an upper hand in his negotiations with the PiS leadership. Could be that the new foreign minister is an affiliate of Mr Gowin. It seems the days of Mr Czaputowicz, the foreign minister, are numbered.
Luring the Senators
“The loss of the Senate is not a grave thing” is the message of the PiS Chairman to the party. Yet, on Sunday night he proclaimes “we deserve more”. As unnecessary as the loss of the Senate might be, it gives a hope to the opposition, and is a signal that there is a way to defeat Law and Justice machinery: with a unity of the opposition.
Before this happens PiS does its bit to try to convince any two Senators elected within the larger diverse opposition to change affiliations and chose the Speaker of the Senate who is either a PiS Senator or a moderate. What PiS wants to avoid is a strong and skilful Speaker who could play the power game with the ruling party.
Jan Grodzki is one of the opposition Senators and a doctor. He says he was offered to be a health minister in the new government. He declined.
Over the past years Law and Justice was ruling with a machine. The Parliament was adopting laws in no time. This shall change now. The opposition-controlled Senate should increase transparency of the law making.
The opposition leaders are quick to denounce PiS attempts to lure in any of their Senators. But they quickly enter into a fight over the consultation process on whom to chose as the next Speaker. Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz of PSL has 3 Senators. He rebukes the Civic Coalition (KO)’s attempt to elect Bogdan Borusewicz, who was the Senate’s Speaker before (2005-2015), without prior conversation. The Left (Lewica) and the Independent Senators are invited in this discussion, too. After all, together they form a 51 majority in the Senate.
Towards the Presidential Elections
Everybody agrees: the day the Sejm and the Senate are elected marks the beginning of the next campaign. The opinion polls are there, the opinions are there, the speculations are out there, too.
For months people were speculating who can match up Andrzej Duda, the PiS-affiliate President of the Republic. Mr Duda runs a rather successful term in terms of his popularity. Still, the opposition is empowered by the Senate vote: united they believe to stand a chance.
But who should be the person to unite the opposition? For months it seems it has to be Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. After last Sunday it does not necessarily have to be him.
Mr Tusk weighs in. He says that it is crucial to elect a President whose veto can stop detrimental policies of Law and Justice. He urges all the opposition forces to unite behind a candidate who has the best shot: “it is absolutely a strategic matter”.
Who has the best shot? Mr Tusk says it is important to chose the person wisely, not fast. Majority of commentators in Poland disagree: the sooner there is a good candidate, the better.
There is a new frontrunner. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska was the Civic Coalition candidate for prime ministership and lost the moment PiS was re-elected. But her individual result is astounding. Over 400,000 votes in Warsaw was the best individual result last Sunday. The polls are in favour: she polls even with Mr Duda. Mr Tusk also polls even with Mr Duda.
Effectiveness matters. Mr Tusk agrees that he does not have to be the candidate. Gazeta Wyborcza writes that Ms Kidawa-Błońska candidacy is the Civic Coalition’s leader Grzegorz Schetyna master plan.
Yes, the ruling party came first to the Sejm with the result similar to the exit poll and the late poll: 43.76%. At least this is the result from 99% precincts. PiS will form a government and rule like they did so far… this is the message of last night.
It is not as simple. The Senate results make things a bit difficult for Law and Justice with their “revolution”. Apparently sticking together (KO+Left+KP) brought a result in which 51 Senators will affiliate with the opposition parties (43 for KO, 2 for the Left, 3 for KP and 3 Independents) and 49 with the ruling block (48 for PiS, 1 Independent).
What does it change? It depends. PiS is known for not liking to share the power. By not controlling the Senate it will not be able to change laws automatically and over night. The Senate is also necessary for confirmations and appointments as well as ruling with referenda. A minimal thing this may mean that the legislative process will be a month long instead of one night.
The next Senate Speaker will be a high profile person; nominally second in the state after the President.
Yet, there is a different development possible. Last year in regional elections in Upper Silesia (Katowice region) the opposition won by one seat. The same happened in Mazovia (Warsaw region). In Upper Silesia the ruling party was able to attract one of the opposition counsellors to switch affiliations. In Mazovia, however, this proved impossible.
So yesterday Poles went to the polls. And yes they did. Big numbers, some 61% (estimated) of the electorate showed up. The celebration of democracy continues.
As the results come in and they are distorted after 25% and 42% of the vote, I prefer to present the “late poll” result, which is almost identical with the exit poll from last night.
Law and Justice (PiS) wins with 43.6% of the vote. It shall translate itself into 239 seats according to the polling institution. 239 is a majority of seats in the Sejm composed of 460 MPs. As those are still estimates some scientists pulled different figures out of this poll suggesting PiS dominance to be slightly reduced, ranging from 227 to 231.
Law and Justice will continue to rule alone. Mateusz Morawiecki will continue to be PM. PiS had a number of controversial policy programme items including the judiciary reform, the media law and the cooperation with the local authorities. Yet the most important of the campaign promises were on the social policy: the minimal wage at a Western European standard by 2023.
The opposition lost and is weakened. It was virtually a concerto to listen to all the commentators singing the same tune last night, and it may continue well into the weeks ahead, that Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform (PO) and main architect of the Civic Coalition, should be the person to hold accountable for the performance. It does not help the PO that majority of their voters vote them out of opposition to the ruling party. The positive offer was lacking in the campaign. The narrative remains reactive to the PiS narrative. The voters prefer the original and the new. Marketing 101.
The Left is back. A coalition of three partners who present themselves as three musketeers. They promise a lot, actually underperformed against the opinion polls, and risk divisions. The three leaders say they shall remain united.
PSL, the farmers party and their partners, is deeply relieved. PiS has targetted its audience in its campaign. Today, almost half of PiS voters are based in the rural areas of the country. Traditionally this is where PSL was strong. Eradication of PSL could serve the PiS increased popularity. This did not happen also thanks to the brilliant campaign rhetoric of the young PSL leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz. His star will continue to shine among the opposition politicians.
The alt-right is back. The Confederacy is a mosaic of far rights, nationalists, monarchists, libertarians and other movements. Will they stay united or disintegrate into individual atoms orbiting around Law and Justice? As long as Mr Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a vocal critic of the PiS rule in the Sejm it might actually be prevented from happening.
The Sejm’s new dynamics
The new Sejm will see a new balance to the public discourse in Poland. The dark ages of a debate between an EPP member PO and the ruling Law and Justice is largely behind us. Even with the PiS domination the renewed presence of the Left offers a fresh start. Among the key vocal debaters is Adrian Zandberg, one of the three co-leaders.
As the Left will check the redistribution policies of the government and will check the liberal values of the PO, the Confederacy will check the liberal economic offer of the PO and the conservative values of PiS. An interesting interplay, in which PSL does present itself as the “middle ground”.
If this was a game of thrones and the winter is coming, there are the Greens who arrive on the Polish political scene. Elected with the Civic Coalition the Green MPs will have, for the first time in history of the Sejm, a real chance of advocating the climate crisis, which may be global, but is also a local affair in Poland.
The Morning Questions
There are many questions, but let me ponder two. First, the future of the Senate is important. First indicators show that the upper chamber will be divided between PiS and the opposition. As the results are coming in and many races are tight, it is impossible to give the answer which way the Senate will go. The Senate elections is not proportionate, there are 100 seats and 100 electoral districts and the winner takes all.
Second, Donald Tusk’s future. The star of Mr Schetyna may be in decline, but is it also the case of Mr Tusk, whose term ends in December? Clearly the opposition will seek a unifier candidate for the next battle: for the country presidency, scheduled for late spring next year.
Today Poles go to the polls to elect new Sejm of 460 MPs and 100 Senators.
As the first exit polls come out, Law and Justice is the clear winner with 43.6% of the vote. The centrist Civic Coalition (KO) is second with 27.4% of the vote. The Left’s back in the Polish Parliament with 11.9%. The conservative Polish Coalition (KP) wins 9.6% of the estimated votes, and the alter-right Confederacy wins 6.4% of the vote.
The “but” is there as it is unclear at now if PiS wins the majority of the seats in both of the houses of the Parliament. The results are too tight to call it a clear win for either PiS (43.6%) or the collective opposition (KO, Left, KP, 48.9%), which was united in the Senate elections.
Jarosław Kaczyński talks about an upcoming reflection of what happened today. He notices millions opposed to his policies. He says “we got many votes. We deserve more”. He talks of credibility and keeping a given word that are crucial for this support. The next four years, even if PiS continues to rule, “will be more difficult”, says the PiS leader.
Grzegorz Schetyna of the Civic Coalition still waits for the Senate votes, but tonight he claims “there will be no Budapest in Warsaw”. A few years ago PiS was promising to recreate the Orban rule in Poland.
Robert Biedron, MEP and one of co-leaders of the Left: “we are back” in the Sejm. Adrian Zandberg, another co-leader of the Left, continues: “Jarosław Kaczyński has a problem because there will be a brave opposition. This is the first step towards a left-wing government.”
The Polish Coalition and PSL’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz is relieved as his party was hanging in the air for weeks. Almost 10% is a good result, that WKK sums up: “this is a strong mandate of confidence for a rational centre”.
One of many Confederates, Janusz Korwin-Mikke says to wait. Back in May they had 6% in the exit polls. Their final results was under 5%. Will it be the same today?
In four days Poles will chose their Parliament. There are 460 seats in the Sejm and 100 Senate seats to grab. Five electoral committees are competing for the votes: Law and Justice (PiS) is the ruling party, the Civic Coalition (KO) is the centrist opposition, the Left is the progressive coalition, the Polish Coalition (KP) is the centre-right coalition and the Confederacy is on the alternative right flank.
Wałęsa’s blows the KO’s chances
Since Sunday, 6 October, the campaign enters into its final week. On Sunday Lech Wałęsa, the legendary leader of the Solidarność trade union in 1980s and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate attends the final gathering of the Civic Coalition. From the stage Mr Wałęsa describes Kornel Morawiecki, who just died a few days go, as:
Lech Wałęsa on Kornel Morawiecki
Kornel Morawiecki (1930-2019) was an opposition activist during the Communism, who founded the Fighting Solidarity back in 1982. He was an MP 2015-19, and most importantly, his son is Mateusz Morawiecki, the Prime Minister and PiS golden boy.
Mr Morawiecki’s funeral is a state event. It takes place on Saturday. The KO’s final convention was initially scheduled for the same day. Out of respect to the PM’s father the event is postponed to Sunday. During the KO event speakers are respectful. Until Mr Wałęsa speaks.
Since the speech Mr Wałęsa witnesses a heavy criticism for being insensitive. Naturally he is criticised by the PiS supporters. Yet equally heavy criticism comes to him from the opposition forces.
It does not matter for the former President. He is known for believing he is always right. Still, under the heavy KO criticism on Tuesday Mr Wałęsa changes his mind. He no longer supports the KO. As of now he supports the centre-right Polish Coalition (KP). The KP is surprised, they say they did not seek Mr Wałęsa’s endorsement.
Biedroń’s a saviour, again
“Biedroń saves a kid from fire”, scream the headlines. Robert Biedroń is a co-leader of the Left coalition, alongside two other parties. Mr Biedroń’s original party is Wiosna (Spring), founded earlier this year. With Wiosna Mr Biedroń is elected MEP. Now, he campaigns for the entire Left, and for his life partner, who is a candidate for the Sejm in Wrocław.
Monday, 7 October, Mr Biedroń drives towards Warsaw. He sees an accident: a car is in flames on a side road. He stops to help. With his fire extinguisher he fights the flames before the fire brigade comes. They will praise him for it later. In the car there is a family with a 2 year old baby, the father takes them out of the dangerous car, looks for a good refuge for the kid… in Mr Biedroń’s car.
Mr Biedroń after the incident congratulates the fire brigade and says there is nothing heroic about his actions. Still, the attention this news gives him and the Left a few days before the vote, is invaluable.
Tuesday, 8 October, the TVN debate takes place. One of two TV debates these elections, it is poorly attended. Jarosław Kaczyński does not engage in debates since 2010. This was last time he was debating his opponents. He lost. Today his party is too powerful. There is nothing in a debate for him to win. There is too much in a debate for him to lose.
Hence PiS sends a no-name to the debate. Marcin Horała, a 38-year old MP tries to convey the party message: that the rules of the debate are unfair as he is “attacked” by the other four committees. He calls them “anti-PiS”. As one of the commentators will point out after the debate: to include Mr Horała in a debate is pointless, as his words are meaningless for the direction or the policy of the party. He does not call the shots in the party.
The KO sends a mid-ranking MP, too. Izabela Leszczyna is the only woman in the room. But if the KO wanted to send a lady, why didn’t they send the candidate for Prime Minister, Ms Kidawa-Błońska?
Or maybe the largest parties did not care about the debate as much as the smaller committees. Maybe it was an opportunity to promote the future frontrunners? To increase the chances of Ms Leszczyna to be elected and Mr Horała to become a minister?
The other committees send more relevant people. The Left’s Adrian Zandberg is one of the co-leaders of the progressive coalition. The KP’s key member, the PSL’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz came to the TV studio. The Confederacy’s Krzysztof Bosak is a leading face of his coalition.
And… they all did a pretty decent job. The conversation was on climate, energy, rule of law and economy, health care and the social policy. But it mattered not as much what they said: the true decision-makers were not in the room.
That is, unless Mr Zandberg and Mr Kosianiak-Kamysz play important roles next week.
PiS minister dies
Jan Szyszko dies on 9 October. On 8 October he speaks in a debate in Pruszków, just outside of Warsaw. There he voices his opposition to building new nurseries. According to the ex-minister the crèche system as the “heritage of the old system, Communism, and of the Civic Platform”. He conveys a traditionalist message that women’s place is not necessarily at work. “It is about the demographic security of our country”, he claims. The Polish society is ageing. He’d like his family to take care of him when he is older.
This will never come. Mr Szyszko, former environmental minister in three governments (1997-99, Buzek’s government, 2005-7, Kaczyński’s government, and 2015-18, Szydło/Morawiecki’s governments) dies unexpectedly at the age of 75. He will be remembered internationally as the black character in the Białowieża primeval forest battle. Locally in Warsaw he will be remembered for his opposition to the construction of the Warsaw’s Eastern road bypass. The road has been in planning for some twenty years.
With Jan Szyszko and Kornel Morawiecki gone in one week there is a strong signal of a generational transition in the Polish politics. The question is hanging about the future PiS leadership as Jarosław Kaczyński (70 years old) hints these could be his last general elections.
It is only Wednesday. Four more days until the big day.
Janusz Wojciechowski will be Ursula’s von der Leyen’s Commissioner for Agriculture, after all.
The Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament just heard the Polish politician for the second time today. After the second hearing was held with Mr Wojciechowski speaking at ease in his native language, the coordinators unanimously agreed to give him a green light.
The EPP coordinator Herbert Dorfmann said after the hearing: “he was much more committed. He was much more prepared. […] It was a completely different performance”.
The Wojciechowski confirmation was pending for a week. The next Commission’s still pending Commissioner is Sylvie Goulard (France). The details about the hearings of new Hungarian and Romanian Commissioners are unknown.
The entire College of Commissioners is to be voted through on 23 October in Strasbourg.
The 1 October Wojciechowski hearing is poor. Even when the chair of the AGRI committee asks for the MEPs to applaud the Commissioner-designate it is lukewarm, at best.
Mr Wojciechowski’s performance is the poorest of all the Commissioners heard to date.
It did not matter he is a PiS affiliate. It did not matter he had OLAF problems. Mr Weber of EPP is asking about Sylvie Goulard: “Why can’t you continue to be a French minister but can become a European commissioner?”. Nobody has to play that tune against Mr Wojciechowski.
Here’s the recap of the hearing:
Even those who wished Mr Wojciechowski well acknowledge that his showing is poor. Herbert Dorfmann, EPP coordinator at AGRI: “performance of the Commissioner-designate Wojciechowski was very weak. He did not answer concretely to a lot of questions. Some answers were […] really strange. […] Very strange ideas about animal welfare, on the green deal, on the CAP reform, which is on the table”. Full video is twitted by EPP:
Jarosław Kalinowski, an MEP with EPP and a fellow Pole wished Mr Wojciechowski well. His hearing reaction: “I am disappointed, I’d prefer for it to look better. I really hoped it would be better”.
So there is no cordon sanitaire against Mr Wojciechowski. It was just a poor performance.
Rzeczpospolita: Wojciechowski to be changed
The day after Rzeczpospolita, a conservative daily, has some breaking news: the Wojciechowski hearing was so poor that the written questions asked of the Commissioner-designate, is just a pro-forma. In fact by Monday it shall be official: the Parliament would like the Polish candidate to be replaced.
Every major news outlet reprints the news.
Asked, the government of Law and Justice (PiS) confirmed they do not foresee a replacement. A number of PiS politicians, including the government spokesperson Piotr Müller and deputy foreign minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk confirmed there will be no replacement.
Until Monday, that is. On Monday the AGRI committee and involved ENVI (environment and public health) MEPs will decide to give or not a second chance to Mr Wojciechowski.
The parliamentary elections in Poland are taking place 13 October. PiS rural campaign thus far was based on the promise of equalising payments to Polish farms with the Western European payments and Mr Wojciechowski was to guarantee that to happen. Should he be removed from the Commission college that argument might be shaky.
Ever since the replacement of the next Polish Commissioner, Mr Wojciechowski has kept a low profile trying to avoid the temper of the gods of the European Parliament who are on the hunt in this years hearings. Today he takes the centre stage; will he pass the Parliamentary hearing?
Janusz Wojciechowski is a 64 year old former Member of the European Parliament 2004-2016, a lawyer by profession, and most recently a member of the European Court of Auditors (2016-2019). His auditing experience goes back to his times as the President of the Supreme Audit Office of Poland (NIK), 1995-2001. He is an experienced politician, who has kept a low profile throughout his career. Controversial due to his political affiliation to Law and Justice (PiS) and prior transfer from the Polish People’s Party (PSL) to PiS in 2006. PSL is a member of the EPP; PiS dominates the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
The 2016 ECA nomination did not go smoothly in the European Parliament. Mr Wojciechowski lost an EP vote, nevertheless the Council proceeded with his nomination disregarding the Parliament’s opinion.
What will happen today?
Ahead of the hearing scheduled for this afternoon there are two competing narratives. In Warsaw many are hopeful: OLAF just terminated a case against Mr Wojciechowski and the same JURI committee in the European Parliament that has twice vetoed the candidats from Hungary and Romania has cleared Mr Wojciechowski of any conflict of interests.
Even the centrist media in Poland report that because the Hungarian and the Romanian politicians have been rejected in the Parliament the chances of Mr Wojciechowski are better.
It is because the media, the commentators and the politicians believe that the Parliament requires sacrifices.
Meanwhile the atmosphere in Brussels is different than five, ten and fifteen years ago. The Parliament does not need to mark its political position against the Council or the Commission. The Parliament is angry. The Parliament is angry with the Commission-President for how she managed the vetting process of her Commissioners. The Commission’s response is weak by the EP standards: the von der Leyen transition team is small.
The Parliament is angry with the Council for how the member states dealt with the Spitzenkandidat system back in July. The Parliament wants to be at the centre of European political debate; hence the hearings this time are not a theatre. The hearings are the real vetting process. The Parliament has tools to use and shall not shy to use them. Or, will it?
The Parliamentary anger goes so far that this morning the Brussels media report that Sylvie Goulard could be scarified over her financial misbehaviour in the European Parliament. The normally neutral Parliament Magazine reports that Mr Wojciechowski has to pay back 11,243 Euros to the coffers of the European Parliament over his financial misbehaviour years ago.
If Ms Goulard is vulnerable, so is Mr Wojciechowski. Maybe even more so if we take into account that Mr Wojciechowski is supposed to be a long-time auditor at NIK and recently at ECA. There is a saying: “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot”. Voila.
And on top of things, Mr Wojciechowski is a representative of the unpopular current Polish government. Ms Goulard has Mr Macron to cover her back.
On a positive note, Mr Wojciechowski seems to have support of the Polish EPP Members. The EPP is crucial to maintain his confirmation chances alive in the Parliament.
The second to last element in the process of establishing the new European leadership is about to take place. The show will begin as each of the individual Commissioners-nominees will face the European Parliament committee or committees. In the committees public hearings are scheduled.
Here is the itinerary of the upcoming shows:
30 September: Commissioners Sefcovic, Hogan and Gabriel as a starter. Do not expect any major fireworks, all Commissioners are returning to the College, so they should know what to expect and how to swim through the murky waters of EP hearings peacefully.
1 October: the day to watch. There are 6 scheduled hearings of first timers: Schmit, Urpilainen, Wojciechowski, Johansson, Trocsanyi and Kyriakides. These people are so new that the EU services are unsure if the Cypriot Commissioner-nominee is Ms Kyriakidou or Ms Kyriakides. Even her Wikipedia page is unsure. One of the first issues to be addressed.
The hearings to watch are that of Mr Wojciechowski (14:30, AGRI committee) and of Mr Trocsanyi (18:30, AFET committee). Both have a potential to be explosive, as both nominees come from countries against which the Article 7 procedure has been initiated. On top of that there is a pending OLAF case against Mr Wojciechowski and Mr Trocsanyi is a former Justice minister in the Orban government, making him directly linked with the Hungarian rule of law situation.
2 October: Another set of first timers, including Reynders, Plumb, Dalli, Goulard, Ferreira and Lenarcic. Of them the most controversial could be hearings of Ms Goulard due to her recent financial misbehaviour. Also Ms Plumb is a candidate for some serious grilling due to her past in Romania. Mr Reynders is under a police investigation, which is not a particularly happy start for someone who should be dealing with the rule of law. The leadership of S&D has already voiced their concerns on the matter.
3 October: a combination of a returning Commissioner (Hahn) and first timers: Gentiloni, Simson, Sinkevicius, Schinas and Suica. On this day expect fireworks during the Gentiloni hearing (an Italian responsible for Italian debt management… conflict of interest?), the Sinkevicius hearing might be entertaining, as Mr Sinkevicius is to be the first European Commissioner born in 1990s. A millennial in the College. Let’s see what it truly means.
A conflict is already playing out about the Schinas portfolio. Clearly it will culminate during the hearing. “The European Way of Life” and migration portfolio prove to be highly controversial for many in the European Parliament, especially the S&D. On the other hand EPP defends the structure of the portfolio as it is.
7 October: two hearings of two vice-presidents: Ms Jourova and Mr Borrell. All could go well, depending on how Ms Jourova answers the questions related to rule of law of the government which has nominated her in the first place (Czechia). Still, she is a returning and experienced Commissioner. As for Mr Borrell the only issue of concern is his age (72) and the job of the High Representative is a job of three people. Can he manage? The former EP President is also known for his undiplomatic language.
8 October: the heavy weights, or – executive vice-presidents: Mr Timmermans, Ms Vestager and Mr Dombrovskis. S&D has some issues with the “executive status” of Mr Dombrovskis. The ECR has issues with Mr Timmermans. The Parliament might be questioning Ms Vestager on the potential review of the competition policy.
And then we will know if Ms von der Layen needs to make some corrections in the College composition.
The last element is the final approval of the entire College. Then the political part is over and only ceremonial elements remain: to swear in the Commissioners and to formally take the positions on 1 November, or soon after.
There might be also a last minute injection of one more Commissioner: if Brexit is delayed again the UK government has a right to nominate a Commissioner (to be heard and given responsibilities by the President, accordingly).
Ursula von der Leyen is proud. Her College is gender almost-balanced. There are 27 members, 14 men and 13 women. There were never as many ladies in the European Commission college.
Yet, is this truly her College? Yes, she asked for female candidates. She also asked for two candidates to chose from. In the past presidents Barroso and Juncker were able to change individual candidates in order to increase “the female quota”. This time round there was no need to increase the number of ladies – hence this time round there was no questions about replacement.
But why there was no question “where is the second candidate” from Ms von der Leyen to the governments, including the one in Paris? Only Bucharest sent two candidates to chose from.
Instead there were some secret negotiations between Madame La Presidente with the national leaders about the portfolios and the names. At the end of the day we got this:
On the basis of this graph we can work out what Ms von der Leyen has been talking with the national leaders about: how to accommodate their desires.
This is the main problem of the incoming college: will it truly be interested in pursuing the European interest – otherwise known as “mission impossible”? Or will the job be to manage the desires of the member states?
In the graph there are 27 names. The President and three Executive Vice-Presidents look like a true political leadership between the new, yet a national heavyweight of von der Leyen, and politically experienced, competent and embattled Timmermans and Vestager. The fourth is a secret-weapon-come-handy: a former Latvian PM who proved to be an effective Commissioner. One lobbyist opinion of him I have heard this month: “He gets things done”.
Still, the liberal Vestager and the social-democrat Timmermans are said not to be in the seventh heaven as apparently there were expectations there would be three people in the leadership representing three main parties of this “ruling coalition” between the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe. Instead Mr Dombrovskis “represents” the EPP and the President is somehow above the party petty politics.
Mr Dombrovskis represents also the Central and Eastern Europeans. This is a regional perspective on the College, which nominally should not be. The treaties are silent about a geographical balance in the College as long as there are as many members of the College as there are member states.
This Council-like perspective (geographical, “Central and Eastern European”) is worrisome. The Commission should be, as the treaties say, “completely independent”, which means that “the members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity”.
NO INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT
Mr Dombrovskis, however, is not a problem. He is a proven solid Commissioner who is able to think independently and be effective. Much could be expected of him.
The real worry is elsewhere. Is this a Ursula von der Leyen Commission or a member states Commission? Is this a patchwork of national interests-Commission, a mini-European Council, or is there a chance to turn this group of accidental people into a collective, European team?
Jean-Claude Juncker talked his Commission was “political”, meaning his. The President is responsible for activities of all the Commissioners, for their views, for what they say and how they perform. This is why the President has the power to fire a Commissioner. Ursula von der Layen says hers is the “geopolitical Commission”. For now, the adjective needs filling in with a meaning.
At the same time I hear among the Commission services people that all is “in the mission letter”. Yes, there are the mission letters that the President has addressed to all the Commissioners.
Yet somehow many people do not rest assured. Hopefully “not yet”, but worrisomely it seems the next College might migrate away from the Union interest into some sort of a coalition of national interests. This would be very worrisome.
This is an accusation that Eurosceptics like the Polish government’s Law and Justice (PiS) politicians have had against the Commission for years: that it represents the interests of a few, largest and most relevant nations.
On the other hand, in the past the services people were also kept out of the loop at this time in the process. The process is political and the Commission needs to go through a delicate process of being chosen. Once the confirmation is there, life should be normal, again.
Below the Executives: the Others
Below the Executives there are the 23 “other Commissioners”. Some of them will be very relevant, among them Phil Hogan responsible for trade, Paolo Gentiloni responsible for economy, and Kadri Simson for energy. There is also the VP/High Representative Josep Borrell, as well as the Sylvie Goulard’s portfolio internal market and a few others.
Still, the distance between the Executives and the Others seems relevant for the years to come. By the same token, Señor Borrell aside, all other VPs are rather equivalent to a “minister without a dossier” status, as they shall not have Commission services directly under their command. Unless their theme becomes relevant and uncontested, they risk marginalisation. Take VP Jourova, whose task includes one of the hottest potatoes in town, the rule of law. Yet there is also the Commissioner-to-be Reynders (Justice) and the legacy of another College member, Frans Timmermans.
This makes a lot of people of the opposition and judges in Poland worried that the rule of law, instead of gaining momentum, risks actually to be relegated from the list of political priorities. I do not share the worries, instead I do expect new synergies. Those sceptical should remember that it was not Mr Timmermans who led a ride against the PiS government (this is how he is portrayed by the ruling party in Warsaw), but it was a Commission-led process in which Mr Timmermans found a political role. As long as the rule of law issues do not go away, they shall continue to be addressed. And should the Commission fail in the task, the Parliament is there to remind the College about its role.
The Parliament Hearings
The hearings will begin on 30 September. There are two issues at hand right now. First is the empty discussion about the title of a portfolio for Mr Schinas, “Protecting Our European Way of Life”. I view the discussion empty because however relevant it may sound for the left-wing politicians, shouldn’t more relevant be what the Commissioner-to-be plans are for how he wants to protect the European way of life? What his approach to migration will actually be?
And the job title should be a secondary, not a primary issue for the criticism.
The second is looking for a new “victim” the European Parliament can reject. In 2004, 2009 and 2014 there were victims of excessive self-belief and ignorance. This time there might be a political game involved, too. The strongest candidate to be a victim ahead of the hearings is Mr Trócsányi (to be heard on 1 October, 18:30), a Hungarian candidate for the portfolio of Neighbourhood and Enlargement. His main vulnerability on paper is that he was Mr Viktor Orban’s justice minister, overseeing all the judicial reforms undermining the rule of law in the country.
Left-leaning commentators and politicians already ask if Mr Trócsányi shares the EU values and how he envisages to promote the EU value of rule of law in EU neighbourhood and in Eastern Europe.
Hungary is in the procedure of Article 7 of the Union Treaties accused of violation of Union values.
Another potential “victim” of the hearings might be the Romanian candidate Rovana Plumb. There is a corruption scandal allegations against her going back to 2017.
Financial problems are also with the French and Belgian candidates. Yet, the podium of the “weakest links” belongs to the Polish candidate Janusz Wojciechowski.
Mr Wojciechowski’s weakest points are two: first, he is a PiS candidate. All PiS candidates seem to lose in a political vote this Parliament: Ms Szydło, former PM, failed twice to be elected chairwoman of the EMPL (employment) parliamentary committee, and Mr Krasnodębski, a former EP VP, lost his seat to an unattached countercandidate.
The other weakness of Mr Wojciechowski are his financial problems, which are examined by the anti-money-laundering agency OLAF. To have an OLAF case pending – and the news broke earlier this month – is rather disqualifying in its own right. For now the official Commission response? “Innocent before proven guilty”. PiS members applaud.
Still he has some chances. First of all, Mr Wojciechowski was not in the PiS government (like the Hungarian candidate). Instead he has hid himself in the Court of Auditors as a member of the Court. Even though he lost an opinion vote in the Parliament, the Council confirmed him to the position. In the Court he worked also on agricultural issues. And the portfolio is a perfect match for the Warsaw government: agriculture is relevant in Poland politically, and the issue no. 1 is to equalize the payments between Eastern and Western EU farmers. A Polish agricultural Commissioner could have an ambitious and realistic goal. A surprising, win-win in sight?
Another window for Mr Wojciechowski is the committee. AGRI is not as party political as some other committees and it is presided over by a German EPP politician. The EPP is known not to share the “cordon sanitaire” against the Law and Justice politicians.
We shall know more after his performance in the committee on 1 October 14:30.
But if the European Parliament truly wants to have something to say politically this season, there should be blood this October.
It is 14 September. In a month, on 13 October, Poles will go to the polls to chose their parliament. The Sejm has 460 members and there are 100 Senators. Who will rule Poland for the next four years? What are different political actors fighting for in this elections?
The stakes could not be higher. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) fights to continue to rule alone. The party received 37.6% and a majority in the Sejm last time round. This was possible as the Left failed to meet the 8% threshold for coalitions. The last time turnout was only 51%.
Since Law and Justice took over the government the politics became highly controversial. The opposition accuses the ruling party and the President Andrzej Duda of breaking the Constitution, compromising the independence of judiciary, partisan take over of the public administration and turning the public TV into a propaganda machine propagating hate speech and smear campaigns. At the same time the quality of public education and public healthcare decreases under the PiS rule.
With the use of public money and private money of state-controlled companies the Law and Justice rules with a tactics of carrots and sticks. It introduces massive social policies like the 500 zł payment per child per month. It’s latest reform included payments for all the children, including the first ones. PiS increased the minimal wage from 1750 zł (in 2015) to 2250 zł (in 2019), which is an increase of 29%. In the same period the inflation was minimal. The minimal pension increased by 25% and in 2019 the pensioners received a 13th pension just before the EU vote.
PiS does not rule with a Marianne Williamson’s love message. Au contraire, the politicians of Law and Justice engage in smear campaigns against their opponents, be it political or societal. It is a distant memory today that the 2015 PiS scare tactics against the imaginary migrants coming to Poland was an important element of the victorious campaign. Over the years there were smear campaigns and vilifying against feminists and what PiS calls “gender ideology”, against the judges (with the latest instalment of the Piebiak affair), the handicapped persons, the teachers, the paramedics, the entire opposition, green activists, bikers, vegans and the LGBT community.
Law and Justice does not reach out to the other side. It does not have to. It has a propaganda machine (TV station), where a few days ago in one of the regional studios the PiS rule was debated. Invited guests: PiS politicians only.
PiS has its allies, most notably the Catholic bishops, some of whom have been exposed earlier this year as covering up the paedophilia cases. “The Church is under attack” and PiS is its prime defender.
Among the clergy is Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs his small media empire based on Radio Maryja and receives major subsidies from the state.
Another ally is the legendary Solidarność trade union, which won PiS for their motion to close down shops on Sundays. Ever since this motion was adopted, Solidarność in PiS’ debt. The move, however, remains highly controversial with the general public.
PiS runs to win. It wants to maintain its 230+ seats in the Sejm. It wants to control the Senate. It dreams to reach the 2/3 majority to change the constitution, yet it’s 2015/16 taking over the Constitutional Tribunal has effectively subjected the Tribunal to the political will of the ruling party. As the constitutional majority might be desired, it is not necessary to control the “eradication of post-Communism”, to use the PiS leader’s words.
The Opposition fight for the Senate
In the process PiS win is largely expected (the party is polling 40-45%). The opposition is divided. There are three groups running parallel campaigns: the centrist Citizen Coalition (KO) is the biggest of them, the Left is on the one side of the KO, while on the other is the conservative Polish Coalition (KP) composed of mainly the farmers party PSL, as well as the remnants of anti-system Kukiz’15 and a few liberals of the ALDE member Democratic Party.
The three coalitions agreed to support a team of 99 candidates for the Senate. In the European elections earlier this year they realised that going together they were an easy target for PiS, who was able to play out the internal divisions of the opposition. Then, they hoped to run on a pro-European platform against a Euro-sceptic Law and Justice. PiS adjusted its message, put EU flags everywhere during the campaign, moved the debate to other issues divisive for the opposition and, won.
This time round KO, the Left and KP run separately. Their messages and stakes vary individually. The KO fights PiS and hopes for a majority in the new Sejm of KO-Left-KP. In this process the leader of the KO changed, surprisingly. Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform the party and the entire Coalition announced that the KO candidate for the prime ministership is not him, but Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. The move was a surprise for PiS. The public took the decision with a relief, energising the KO campaign. Ms Kidawa-Błońska is a politician who has not been as vilified by PiS as often as others. Her message is to take a step back from hostilities in the public discourse. KO polls at 22-27%.
The Left coalition is a group of three leaders: Robert Biedroń, MEP and leader of the new party Spring, Włodzimierz Czarzasty of the traditional left-winger SLD and Adrian Zandberg of the Varoufakis-leaning party Razem (Together). Unlike 2015 this time the threshold the Left is facing is 5%. The Left’s fight is to return to the Sejm, from which they have been absent for four years. The Left polls at 11-14%.
Incidentally the next Sejm can see also first Green MPs as the Green politicians are running from the KO list.
The Polish Coalition’s stakes is survival. If PSL fails to enter the Sejm this will be the next step in PiS successful campaign to replace PSL in the Polish countryside. Kukiz’15 failed to win a seat in regional elections in 2018 and in the European elections 2019. Hence Paweł Kukiz decision to enter this coalition. The KP polls at 5-6%.
Collectively the united Opposition knows that it will be difficult to stop PiS from winning the Sejm. They know, however, that the fight for the Senate is open. As there are 100 electoral districts for the Senate and “the winner takes it all” it helps that in 99 of them there is one candidate supported by all three opposition forces. They hope for well over 50 mandates.
In some districts there are independent candidates, too, so the vote is not PiS-Opposition always.
The other opposition
The Confederacy of ex-MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is also in the mix. Their message is anti-system and openly adversary towards minorities and foreigners. This far-right group polls at up to 6%.
PiS Electoral Offer: minimal wage at 900 Euro
Knowing that PiS carrots and sticks approach works, in this campaign the ruling party politicians demonise LGBT people, portray themselves as defenders of a traditional family, and have a new social offer.
Jarosław Kaczyński says that PiS will raise the minimal wage from the current 2250 zł to 4000 zł (equivalent of 900 Euro in today’s money) by the end of next parliamentary term. The country debates now how realistic his plans are for the state budget and for the economy, over all. Will this move force the companies to modernise? Will it mean that Poles move to the grey economy? What about inflation? Etc. The Polish average salary in 2019 is about 1,150 Euro, yet the median salary is at 980 Euro, and the dominant salary at 580 Euro (current minimal wage, 2250 zł is about 520 Euro).
The political wars are best for politicians and political commentators. The society is interested in something else.
As divided the Poles might seem between the Law and Justice and the opposition, there is a general agreement on what the Polish society next goal is. This goal is taking the society out of a transition fatigue, many argue the society was caught up with in the first half of the current decade (Tusk II government and its famous inertia). PiS divisive rule has mobilised a society on both sides of the public discourse to realise who they are and what they want.
In the process PiS kills the political inertia. Poles broke the national records in regional elections last year as well as this year’s European vote. The October 2019 turnout should be significantly higher that 51% four years ago.
So, what do Poles want?
The Poles want their welfare state. PiS is the first party to realise this dream and tries to make it happen. The PiS rule thus far was concentrated on assisting the groups underprivileged in transformation since 1989: undereducated, less mobile, workers in smaller towns, unemployed, technologically and territorially marginalised, and the farmers.
PiS might be blind, or slow to realise that the underprivileged are also the women on the labour market, the handicapped and their families, and other groups who have taken to the streets in recent years. Yet for time being the focus is on forging this new welfare state. Not for everybody, but definitely for “the Polish family”. And it works, at least at the level of public support.
This is why PiS is popular. PiS aspires to the inner dreams of Poles and tells them “it can happen”. PiS also says: “the alien, the different, the migrant, the non-believer is a threat to you, to the Church, to Poland. You are a Polish family and you are who and what we worship”.
A populist is a politician who does not recognise the power of nuance. Who says “good” and “bad” without seeing the details. As much as this can be understood in a campaign mode, it is unacceptable in governance. PiS is a populist party.
But the populist party argues the same way as the European Commission: for the ex-post legitimacy. What does it mean? “We deliver”, says PiS.
Will they deliver the 900 Euro minimal wage, 13th and 14th pension, as scheduled?
Or, will they fail to see the detail? Economy might be growing, but the inflation of daily products is noticeable in recent weeks. Education is a key for economic growth, too. Instead of improving the quality of schooling, schools are now politically indoctrinated and mid-schools operate in logistical chaos. Healthcare waits to be financed. And there is all this rule of law debacle, the issue which is minor for the elections, but a major issue to rule the country effectively in the future.
It is evening, 19 August 2019. Another sunny, hot day. The climate change shows its positive side for holiday-makers, as there are thousands of people on the sunny sandy beaches over the southern Baltic coast and thousands more hike the hills and mountains of south Poland. 30 degrees in the shade, and the political campaign ahead of the 13 October elections is only about to begin.
With high temperatures storms are expected. The big storm will hit the popular Giewont mountain in the High Tatras in a few days. 4 people will die and 150 further will suffer. This will be the largest tragedy in the Tatras in the recorded history. Here’s a recorded lightening of 22 August.
The lazy summer day ends at 6 PM on 19 August. Onet.pl, the largest online news portal in Poland, publishes an investigation story that will be read over 40 million times in the next seven days.
It is a story that makes people drop their jaws. Remember Cambridge Analytica? Go and see the Great Hack on Netflix. The Onet.pl story is the Polish equivalent.
Poland is a country where the political discourse has been poisoned with hatred for awhile now. The deep divisions have led both sides of the political argument to far-reaching accusations of lies and misinformation. There were victims, like the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, brutally murdered in January.
Onet.pl reveals that the deputy minister of justice, a judge Łukasz Piebiak, is running a coordinated hate speech group that chooses as its targets judges opposed to the judicial reforms introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Once again: a deputy justice minister was involved in preparing smear campaigns against people who were in disagreement with them. Onet.pl talks to a woman, Little Emi, who shares stories how things were done. She shares WhatsApp conversations with the journalists, where the minister is seen as giving instructions, rewards, sharing burden with Emi, who is the executioner of the hate campaign.
Among the victims are some 20 judges, including judge Krystian Markiewicz, who leads the work of an independent association of lawyers “Iustitia”, and Małgorzata Gersdorf, head of the Supreme Court.
Over the next days it becomes public that there was a WhatApp group where coordinating action took place. The group’s name: “Kasta”, or “The Cast”.
The Gang Talk
Emi: Good morning Minister. Is the information useful? What should we do with it?
Piebiak: I have received the material some time ago, but I had no idea how to use it, so I didn’t use it. If you have ideas, that’s splendid!
Emilia: I have the following idea. Send it anonymously to all the branches of Iustitia. And to the addressee. The newspapers are off as we have no proof. I have a phone number to the husband of the mistress. We could use one of the Internet gates or a sim card, but I do not have one and I do not have anyone to register it with. I can talk to R. [a tv journalist of a pro-government TVP]. Maybe he can go through it but there is no source and proof. It doesn’t look good. What do you think? And more generally, will it help us?
Piebiak: I think it will help us. It is important to drive over Iustitia, we have to deal with them. People will talk, and Markiewicz will go down a little bit knowing what we have on him. Maybe Kuba [another Ministry of Justice employee] has ideas how to disseminate it without any traces?
Piebiak: The journalist and the material would be great, but I am not sure if there is such a courageous person.
Emilia: I think Kuba is a little afraid. Those are his ex-pals, you know. Ok. I will do what I can.
Piebiak: Thank you.
Emilia: I’ll talk to the journalists and will send the papers around. Anonymously, by email. And by post. The one problem is I do not have the addresses and the emails. I will do everything as I can, as always. I cannot guarantee the final outcome, but I will try. I hope I will not go to jail for this.
Piebiak: We do not put people in jail for doing good.
Minister Piebiak resigns. Other justices involved resign or are fired from the Ministry of Justice. The ruling party says that all that scandal is a proof that the judicial system in Poland is degenerate and that Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of the PiS judicial reforms, did not know a thing about the hate group.
The judges come to the streets to demand Mr Ziobro’s resignation. Either he did know and is complicit. Or he did not know and is an ignorant. In either way, there is a political responsibility for the ministry one runs.
Over the summer a suicide of Dawid Kostecki, a criminal who was once a boxing champion, draws more questions than answers. Mr Kostecki’s suicide is questioned, and his testimony was instrumental in another of Law and Justice scandals. Mr Ziobro oversees the entire justice system and safety of prisoners is his political responsibility, too.
Will the people care? The elections are in little over a month and a half. The first opinion poll suggests that PiS enjoys its dominant position, regardless of the scandals. Majority of the public would like to see Mr Ziobro go, but they will not punish the entire party for one person’s mistakes, clearly.
The nightmares of many became a reality. Hate speech is procured in Poland, not only in the churches by priests talking about the LGBT community. Hate speech is crafted and targeted against individuals who are on the opposing side. It is not only a group. It is an individual. Be warned, for you can be next. Is this an EU member state or Russia? Clearly there is no one who can prosecute this situation properly, because the Ministry of Hate is the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor is the Justice Minister and all the prosecutors below Mr Ziobro fear him for he has a history of rewarding the loyal and punish the insubordinate.
In a country without an effective independent prosecution, in a country with a paralysed justice system, the public loves the government of Mr Morawiecki because of the economy and social give aways.
PiS may well win the elections in October as all the scandals make the party even more scandal-proof. But the question is not on who wins. The question is about the low standards of public life. Can we go lower? Yes we can. Expect the worst, work for the better, dream for the best.
Krzysztof Szczerski announces he will not be a Commissioner in the Ursula von der Leyen Commission. The reason for his resignation is the portfolio. He was offered the agriculture dossier. “In politics one has to be honest. If there is an option to have an agriculture commissioner for Poland, and I have never dealt with agriculture, I think it is honest to withdraw and give the position to someone who is competent”, said Mr Szczerski on Monday, 26 August 2019.
The new candidate for the Agricultural Commissioner is Janusz Wojciechowski, a member of the European Court of Auditors, a long-time MEP (2004-2016). Mr Wojciechowski at one point was a leader of the Polish People’s Party, the agrarian force in Polish politics. He has joined the Law and Justice (PiS) in 2010.
Meanwhile back to Mr Szczerski’s book…
Mr Szczerski analyses in his 2017 book European Utopia the key political trends that have been unfolding in the European Union since the economic crisis in its variety of angles.
For Mr Szczerski the key processes are: first, the increased competition within the EU and globally. This is a competition between states and regions, as well as economic sectors. Second, the hegemony in Europe of certain larger states. And third, the progressing disintegration with the concentration of the policy around the Eurozone (sic!), which Mr Szczerski calls “super-euro”. This includes the early 2010s discussions about the so-called “economic governance” of the Eurozone.
Mr Szczerski argues he is supportive of the “common European good”, which is threatened by those three parallelly advancing processes. “There are symptoms of the birth of the competition-dominating system in the European Union, in which some countries of a reduced political and economic clout remain permanently on a side of a mainstream politics“.
The warning of Mr Szczerski is that domination of the big changes the rules of the intergovernmental play with EU cohesion and EU equality being compromised. “Poland, the PiS Europeanist writes, has every right to keep its currency if it considers that it is beneficialfor the countryand with keeping the złoty there should be no limitations of the EU membership rights”.
The process of growing dominationis related to the re-nationalisation of policies, that is protection of national interests and interests of national actors from competition of other countries, including protection from EU rules, for example, the competition policy rules.
What is progress?
Mr Szczerski loves semantics. He dwells on differentiation between the single and internal market, but when it comes to the EU treaties preamble talk of an economic and social progress, Mr Szczerski adds “whatever that means“.
The EU treaties, according to Mr Szczerski, are a solid ground for developing a social model of a welfare state, not the liberal vision of the Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech. Mr Szczerski sees a conflict here: “rather, it is a vision close to leftist sensitivity which recognizes the welfare state’s social model as part of European identity and heritage, trying to appropriate social sensitivity, whose roots lie in the Christian canon of values and the concept of social order“. Mr Szczerski is back to his identity politics, as presented beforetwice.
Mr Szczerski proves that in fact, the EU is a leftist project, since it aims to sustain the welfare state, supports redistribution, and praises an open society. He calls the left-wing values “pseudo-values” like the European social model, focus on the citizen, human development, etc. He concludes, those pseudo-values “which serve creation of a utopian European society“.
Europe’s economic integration
Mr Szczerski rightly historically argues there were three components necessary in the development of the European economic unity: internal market, unified external trade policy and a system of regulatory institutions.
The second element, the trade policy, is not that controversial. The problems are elsewhere. Especially in the understanding of a single market. Mr Szczerski: “when two Europeans say ‘market’, it does not mean they think the same thing” and argues differences between the internal, common, single and free market. Internal market implies protectionism and protective barriers against imported goods. Commonmarket follows the logic of removal of obstacles between EU nations. Single market is about a supranational regulation including political strategies and standard-setting norms. Free market is, according to the author, a key term, yet forgotten and marginalised to a sectoral meaning of liberalisation of economic exchange.
All this meander of understandings of a market boils down to two approaches: you create a market by taking down obstacles to trade, or by building up a cohesive market. Mr Szczerski argues, that a diversified European market needs different approaches. There are weaker states and weaker economies in the EU. “Such a ‘free’ market led to bankruptcy of the Gdańsk Shipyard in Poland, because the state was not allowed – in the name of the free market – to intervene or help the periodically weakened corporation“.
The first approach is deregulation, Thatcher-like. The second approach is regulatory. In the multi-levelled governance of the Union, Mr Szczerski concludes that the EU has a tendency to create new institutions (agencies), when “more could be achieved with cooperation of national actors”
The chapter “Power and market” is concluded by a critical statement about the European federalists who, according to the author, fail. They tend to continue to argue for “more Europe”, even if the societies tend to reject the federalist offers. Mr Szczerski offers four pre-conditions, “four elements” of the EU integration process:
The will of member states to fulfil obligations and to respect the rule of equality of member states in the Union;
The capacity of the European Commission to prepare concrete coordination proposals according to the regulatory scheme;
The position of the European Parliament, which tends to politicise the economic governance of the EU;
The will of the Europeans, who tend to support a closer economic coordination.
And, there should never be “no alternative” solutions. There are always alternatives, writes the ex-Commissioner-candidate.
First of all, the position of an agricultural commissioner was offered to Mr Szczerski, not to Poland. Maybe it was offered precisely in order for Mr Szczerski to withdraw? I hope this issue is further investigated with Ms von der Leyen in the future.
Will it be easy for Mr Wojciechowski? It remains to be seen. No PiS candidate will have it easy in the European Parliament. Apparently Mr Wojciechowski confirmation for the Court of Auditors back in 2016 was not smooth, and the Parliament did not recommend him; except for the final decision was with the Council.
As for the book, I largely agree with Mr Szczerski economic and political analysis, except for the obvious: Mr Szczerski asks for values which are there, or if they once were there and are no longer there, it is not that those values can be reinstalled with an institutional change. If there is an undertone, according to which Poland is not respected today in the EU, it is not because of the Franco-German domination in the Union. Just look to Cyprus for the EU policy on Turkey. Just look to Ireland for the EU policy on Brexit. The Polish government can learn a lot not only from the larger nations of the Union. Actually it can learn a lot also from the smaller and more effective nations out there.
There are reasons why Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia adopted the euro as their currency.
PiS problems in the Union, in the Council and the Parliament, are not coming out of disrespect for Poland. They come from the alienation and disrespect this party and its members have for their European partners. Mr Szczerski writes “progress, whatever that means” dismissively. He argues the EU is left-leaning. But he cannot – or does not want to – see all the elements of the right-wing in the system. Mr Szczerski accuses the EU of exactly the opposite of what the French far-left is accusing it of not being. According to them, the EU is a liberal instrument of globalisation dismantling the French welfare.
So, what is the EU? As Mr Szczerski argues, a left-liberal conspiracy, or as Mr Melanchon? The latter argued earlier this year there is a Macron-Orban axis and a German CDU diktat that should be removed….
Maybe, only maybe the EU is a compromise? An inclusive compromise of those who can identify themselves in the final product. All views contributing are welcome from the start, and – according to the latest figures it takes 20 months on average to legislate in the Union – over the next following year and half a compromise is gradually worked out. Across the political views, across the national and sectoral interests, respecting the European interest as proposed by the Commission.
And as such a compromise you can either identify yourself in it, especially if you are a stateman, or you chose not to do this, and to argue that the entire project is hostile, has been hijacked by the other side.
Maybe the Gdańsk shipyard bankruptcy was a mistake. Maybe the Commission should be more accommodating. I don’t know. But I do know that the Polish government was able to save the Polish air carrier LOT when it had its difficult days, with the support of the European Commission. During the same period the Hungarian air carrier Malev went out of the market. So maybe, just maybe, not all is down to the good and the bad, but also to the skills of national negotiators? Mr Orban government was unable to save the airline. Mr Tusk was able to save the Polish airline. All Italian governments were able to argue in defence of Alitalia.
I love that Mr Szczerski finally acknowledges the Europeans are a force in the European decision making. It is an obvious that those four elements (Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and the Citizens) have to converge for anything like re-writing of EU treaties to happen. But sometimes it is a relief just to have a confirmation that we walk the same planet. At least sometimes.
Mr Szczerski asks a genuinely good question: “what can we teach our friends from other Union states, especially those of its core” and gives three answers.
Poland defends Europe
First, the Polish political choices have impacted not only the fate of Poland, but also, “the shape of Europe“. In this perspective Mr Szczerski draws attention to the 1683 Vienna siege and asks “what would happen if the Polish king Jan III Sobieski would not decide to go to rescue Vienna in 1683 from an Islamic onslaught“?
The other examples used refer to the Polish defence of Europe against the Tatars in 1241 and the Soviets in 1920. Mr Szczerski concludes: “We need to remind the Western countries […] what has been the role played by Poland on our continent“.
There are two reflections of the author in this context. First, “a good policy is the one which allows for making choices which do not incapacitate us“. Second, “Poland is the country which over the centuries in reality has made fundamental choices alone for itself as well as for the whole of Europe“. Surely, there were mistakes along the way, too, admits Mr Szczerski. There is an important warning: “when Poland was deprived of the choice by the external powers, or it has deprived itself of the choice, or when it has led an unthinking or a subordinate policy vis-a-vis other capitals, it would lose its resources and its own subjectivity. Europe would lose out too, as it would lead to much greater crises later, on a continental scale“.
Poland’s sovereign choice is one of the very important stabilising elements of our continent.
Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia 2017
Free Poland = Free Europe
The second historical conclusion of Mr Szczerski is that the history of Poland is the history of freedom. “Poland was free when freedom ruled Europe“, and subordination of Poland effectively means a domination of larger nations. When Poland was not free, in late 18th and 19th centuries, many others suffered, writes the Commissioner-appointee, including the Belgians and the Italians.
The Polish freedom is linked with the European freedom, but one should not “confuse freedom with frolics and lawlessness“.
Lesson number three relates to historical identity. “Polish history is a history of a community connected by culture, identity, values and traditions originating from the Christian fundament“.
Mr Szczerski writes that today’s Europe “has a fundamental problem with its own identity, its own civilisation, when it turns itself into a post-cultural, post-civilizational or post-identity conglomerate of some undefined forces and processes“. If Europe is truly lost, it can survive only if one relates to the identity. In fact, Mr Szczerski argues, a community can survive only when “the community roots are deeper than just ad hoc business, political identity, economic wealth or opportunistic choices of being politically correct. Only deep roots give a guarantee of long lasting.”
There are three elements Mr Szczerski would like to upload as Polish experiences into the European political dimension: the issue of choice, the issue of freedom and the issue of a culture based on centuries-old values. “If those three things we could merge today for the sake of Europe, it would truly become a different political community“.
I truly agree with the sentiment of Mr Szczerski when it comes to freedom: what freedom is and what freedom is not and that the value of freedom is important to Poles. Freedom, however, is not only a freedom of a nation from a foreign oppression. Individual freedoms matter! Personal freedoms are relevant. The European and, wider, the Western thinking about liberties has massively advanced since 1945. Today human rights are part of the Western understanding of freedom.
In a way it is amazing how simplistic the historical analysis of Mr Szczerski is. It does not include the centuries old tradition of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation. In fact, the fact that some 97% of citizens of Poland are “ethnic Poles” is a historical anomaly for Poland. Poles do not have a concept of an ethnic Pole like many other European nations do. Poles are those who speak the language, said the 1931 census. It was a linguistic category, not an ethnic one.
I am missing also the reference to the Second World War. There would be no European Union without the War. In Poland the WWII is considered “the War” and not to draw lessons from it seems to be a major omission. The War changed Poland: its borders were moved, its citizens were killed or relocated. It’s cities were deplored and the country was in ruins. All that was locked under a Communist freezer; the historical debates only resurface post-1989. As the War’s fallout all the minorities disappeared. A third of Polish citizens before the War was not “Polish”, but Ukrainian, German, Jewish, Dutch, Scottish, Czech, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Russian, Armenian or another. Poland was a melting pot the same way the Austro-Hungarian empire was a melting pot of nations. It was not a paradise, there were many problems of the day, but the multi-culti was the norm. The mono-culti is an abnormality, for Poland, too, Mr Szczerski.
I am also missing nuance in Mr Szczerski analysis. As much as Poland cherishes its freedom many Poles tend to forget that our freedom is not exactly someone else’s freedom. See Lithuanians for it, and their experience, their reading of what a “free Poland” means: occupation and often a forced Polonisation. Yes, Poles were subjects to Germanisation under Bismarck, but similar processes took place against other nations. When General Żeligowski entered Vilnius in 1920 what exactly did his army mean by “freedom”? Or, was it more politics with fait accompli as the international politics of the day were still largely based on rude power?
Maybe this is why Europeans decided to draw a line making a distinction and a decision: we focus on the future, because the past can divide us as easily as before? We need to build trust between Europeans before we build fences between us.
I do not share Mr Szczerski reflection that Europe’s doomed because it lost its identity. Who am I to tell others they lost their identity?
I do agree, however, that the political community of Europe is something important. It should be built and developed further, in a constructive way, even if the Commissioner-to-be does not like the approach.
I hope for his perspective to be included in the European political discourse. It is an important input, but to preclude it is the only one correct is too much, it is presumptive, and as such, offensive to others.
An open, tolerant, culturally and religiously diverse Poland is the true nature of this smiling country. Not the grey mono-religious and a righteous perspective of some Poles. In order to be inclusive I shall say that both versions, or all versions of a complex and multi-dimentional Poland should be included in the statement of Mr Szczerski: “More of Poland means more of Europe“.
Poland is in the middle of the national political campaign. The ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), enjoys a 40-45% support, has chosen its lists of candidates for the Sejm who are spread around the country campaigning. In the meantime the opposition parties only finish up deciding their lists of candidates. Their campaign is rather reactive to the PiS campaign. They are about two weeks behind the ruling party.
As for the main topic of the campaign, it seems PiS is able to close the flights scandal of the ex-Speaker of the Sejm with no major loss of the public support. The PiS campaign is largely focused on defending the national values. Apparently the Church and the Polish moral values are under threat.
Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, sums best his and his party position on the LGBT rights. On Sunday Mr Kaczyński at a local rally in Zbuczyn, Eastern Poland, is asked what he intends to do about the so-called equality parades. Equality parades are Polish equivalent of the gay prides elsewhere. On Saturday another march takes place in Płock, a city of 120 thousand people. In early July there are riots in Białystok with far right hooligans attacking the equality parade. Mr Kaczyński response leaves some people jaws-dropped while others hear confirmation of their deepest fears:
You know, the problem is, if it was up to me, it would be simple. My late brother, a Varsovian, when he was a mayor of Warsaw, he banned it. But here it is about the EU rules. They will repeal our bans. The courts will also repeal, because the courts are completely influenced by this ideology. This has to be done differently, calmly limit it. In such a way that it does not destroy the Polish culture or damage the Polish Church. And we will fight for it
Jarosław Kaczyński, 11 August 2019
Why are my jaws dropped? According to the most powerful person in Poland:
Human rights are irrelevant.
Rights of people belonging to minorities are irrelevant.
Right to protest should be limited.
There is a Polish national Church.
This Polish Church is under attack from the LGBT ideology.
Independent judiciary is a threat. It is influenced by the LGBT ideology.
There is a conspiracy between the EU and LGBT and the judiciary against the Polish culture and the Polish Church.
Mayor Lech Kaczyński banned the Warsaw Equality Parade in 2005 and that was a good thing. Quick fact check: Poland was an EU member already. EU laws applied. Polish Constitutional applied – on the basis of the Polish Constitution that ban was considered unlawful in 2006. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (not an EU body) considered the ban illegal in 2007.
The cover up of paedophilia among the Polish priests is not an issue worth paying attention to.
Jarosław Kaczyński has a history of anti-LGBT statements. He seems to believe there is an LGBT ideology and he calls it evil.
This is scary for LGBT people, for an average hooligan does not distinguish the nuance between the “LGBT ideology” and “LGBT affirmation”, and for an average hooligan a gay person is gay. Not Polish, not Catholic. A threat to the national culture and national religion. The Polish leader is feeding the violent radicals who take to the streets against the minority that is demonised. The minority which without the PiS demonisation already witnesses a mountain to climb to be a contributing member of the society. One study has shown that 70% of Polish LGBT youth has suicidal thoughts and half – suffers of depression.
Krzysztof Szczerski is a candidate for the position of a Commissioner in the College of Ursula von der Leyen. Earlier this week there was a meeting between the nominee and the Commission President. The only relevant information Mr Szczerski shared after the meeting is that he has signalled his interest in an economic portfolio. No decision has been taken.
Divided Europe forgets its roots
Back to his 2017 book “European Utopia” where Mr Szczerski explores the roots of the European Crisis. He offers an interesting and original take on what the European Union is. It is a practical-spiritual integration that has been based on practical cooperation and Christian values. Mr Szczerski argues that the integration has an original flaw in its construction: the limitation of the integration to a few Western European countries and the approbation of “the brutal and unnatural division of Europe into two hostile parts“, with the Central and Eastern European part of the continent left behind the Iron Curtain. “When one side of a plant is permanently in the shade, while the other side has access to the light, both of them grow in an unnatural way – one is poor, the other one extensively exuberant – the entire system loses its harmony“. Mr Szczerski empathically remarks “both sides of the Iron Curtain were victims of the division (…) since both parts were separated from each other“.
This unnatural situation results with the Eastern Europe economically underdeveloped and Western Europe alienated. The year 1989 and the new opening is not “optimally used” for reunification of the divided continent, according to Mr Szczerski. The stereotypes of Central and Eastern Europeans among the Western European political elites dominate the approach. In consequence, “they strived for simple domination over the backward Eastern countries and their economies. This was called the need of westernisation of the Central and Eastern Europe, what effectively was to be a repetition of the East German take over by West Germany“. That process has an important side-effect: “the contempt for the Eastern Germans, the Ossi“, among the Western Germans.
The spiritual element evaporates over the years: “Western Europe that we’ve met in 1989 was becoming a different continent, in which the public life was based on new, fully secularised rules“.
The Western European material domination over Central Europe results in unnatural relationship, in which the “external domination, for example in terms of owning business, or the unfavourable conditions (for us) of the opening of our national markets for Western corporations, which had very strong bargaining positions. This frequently led to market disorders, and in some areas even to practical elimination of home companies“. Mr Szczerski contradicts this reality with early days of integration: “the inivial historical project assumed respect” no matter if the country was Luxembourg or France. “Then, the base of relations between the integrating states were the Christian values“. In 1989 and today it is no longer the case.
Mr Szczerski concludes this part of history: “even if according to me the European integration has never taken the optimal developmental shape, the presence of Poland in this process is essential“.
Poland needs free and stable Europe of equal states and free nations.
Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia, 2017
Mr Szczerski’s key disillusionment is in the reality of the year 1989. This is when “the chance to rebuild the true European unity was lost“, because the West forgets its Christian values. There is a general happiness that dictators of Eastern Europe are gone, but there as an accompanying fear. The West is worried about the “backwardness” of the new democracies and their alleged nationalism and social conservatism. There are also the material worries of “flooding of the West with hordes of hungry workers (better version) or simply – thieves (worse version)“.
The Western fear results, according to Mr Szczerski, with a policy of re-education: “immediate buying out of the media and giving them a liberal-left profile as well as creation and financing of all sorts of foundations and educational centres of so-called new elites. Education obviously in one binding meaning of political correctness“.
Mr Szczerski says that the Central Europeans are considered “barbarians” and this is so unfair “when Europe is currently flooded with a true uncontrolled wave of migrants that is endangering its security, and caused by the very same politicians of the same countries who used to scare their citizens with Poles or Hungarians“.
I wonder if according to Mr Szczerski the 2015 and later waves of migrants pouring into Europe constitute a “flood of barbarians”, since he uses the term.
In his analysis of Western Europe losing touch with its own religious past Mr Szczerski turns to the social turmoil of 1968: Europe “turned more and more, for a long time, and especially since the social revolution of 1968, to the left. The turn was exacerbated in many Western European countries after the government positions were filled by politicians, who once were the revolted ‘children’ actively participating in the 1967-68 student protests“.
The 1968 revolution was not a generational conflict, it was a “clash of ways of life and a vision of social peace“.
The constructivist virus
Mr Szczerski is not a fan of social constructivism. In short, this approach mean that societies are social constructs, not a result of long historical processes. The Commissioner-to-be writes it this way: “so you can imagine creation of a multi-culti society and accordingly, systematically make it real and develop through children education, adult propaganda, through correctly chosen instruments of mixing human groups“. According to Mr Szczerski this is an EU policy: “step by step complete rebuilding of the social environment of the European policy” and many Europeans are terrified as they are “unable to identify themselves in this modern reality” and argues for return to roots.
The only way forward, writes Mr Szczerski, “to reintegrate Europe […] is a return to the source of our identity, to the core of European culture, distorted by the constructivist projects (like the gender ideology[…]).”
Krzysztof Szczerski says that social constructivism is used in European policy to create “a new economy” which rejects the free market economy. The free market approach Mr Szczerski supports is effectively deregulation and removal of market obstacles and creation of incentives for economic exchange.
Yet, Mr Szczerski argues, with time this original free market approach was compromised with the regulatory framework. The most relevant elements, that is the “financial mechanisms supporting the poorest EU regions (structural funds) and extended protection of competitiveness preventing monopolies” are supported by Mr Szczerski. However, the “constructivist virus” entered the free market, and “single market” is on the increase: “the more regulated the market, the more room for corruption and competition manipulation. A true competition is gone. This is one of the reasons for stagnation“. He notes cynically, “for the bureaucratic regulatory mind there are no cordons“.
The economic integration is “in the phase of advanced constructivism“. Mr Szczerski is not a fan of the Eurozone: “Project Euro […] has no basis in the economic reality” and “the Eurozone is condemned for permanent instability that can be mitigated, but not liquidated“.
According to Mr Szczerski the Eurozone is impossible, hence the ECB “has to take decisions serving the interests of a few at the same time trying to hurt the others as little as possible. The strongest come out of the process as winners“, hence the Eurozone is based “at the expense” of the needs of the economies outside of the decision-making centre.
His idea for renewal of Europe is to create a common, not single market. Deregulation is the key in this process.
As for the Eurozone, Mr Szczerski would like to keep the zone open, “but not mandatory, as it is today de facto. Maybe even gentle ways of leaving the Eurozone by some countries should be considered.“
Mr Szczerski says that Eurozone own budget is “the easiest way to a Europe of two speeds, hence practically, to final break off of the community“. The alternative is “to subject oneself to the euro hegemony and related regulations that are not beneficiary for countries like Poland“. In other words, Euro accession.
It is an interesting way of looking at the way European integration between the Western and Eastern parts was truly an expansion. 12 countries joined the Union in 2004. The Union that pre-existed for a number of years. It has been a long Polish belief that even if this was an accession, what really happened in 2004 was a reunification of Europe.
The debate on accession or reunification is relevant in the context of ownership for the project, if not for what Mr Szczerski argues – economic advantages of certain economies. Poles do not share the ownership for the European project, at least Mr Szczerski clearly does not. It is important to point out that Mr Szczerski in his analysis finds only problems (secularism) in Western Europe and no problem in Central and Eastern Europe (the shaded part of the plant) were analysed between 1945 and 1989. As if those societies did not undergo any relevant evolution in their own right.
I agree with Mr Szczerski that there are many Western Europeans who are sceptical of the Eastern Europeans. Isn’t this our task to eradicate the sentiment? Over the years there are fewer of them. Elections of Jerzy Buzek (EP President, 2009) or of Donald Tusk (European Council President, 2014) help the process. If the sceptics are back on the increase – maybe it is because of the policies of governments like the one Mr Szczerski is backing. Still, over the years the fears and scepticism are rather going away, and it is the Poles and Romanians, who en masse travel abroad for work, who create new opinions about our nations among other Europeans. The most important quantification in this regard is that there is no one “Poland”, “Romania” or “France” and in each and every society there are different people of different skills and qualities.
And this is a constructivist approach, too: we are constructing the perception of the Poles and of Poland. A complete rejection of constructivism is a rejection of the European integration at its core. The very Christian first leaders, Fathers of European integration who Mr Szczerski values so much, were not only deeply rooted in their religion, nation-states, but they knew that the future is in the hands of men. Robert Schuman in his Declaration writes: “Europe will not be made all at once“. Be made. “It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity“. Built.
Supranational character of the Union is from the start, not from after 1968.
Regulatory approach of the Union is from the start (regulate the coal and steel market), not from after 1968.
Over-regulation is a good objective; PM Cameron of UK and PM Rutte of the Netherlands even performed audits seeking similar results “what should be deregulated at the EU level from the national perspective”. Outcome of those reports were unimpressive for the populists.
It is easy, overly easy, populist maybe even, to argue that “Europe over-regulates” for each time it regulates it does so with the countries on board. And the citizens.
Maybe this is the problem: Mr Szczerski portrays himself as a political conservative thinker and politician who would like to associate himself with the likes of Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer, but the policies of his government and his political party are not only conservative, but also populist. They seek enemy, they need enemy to thrive and build support. They criticise constructivism in Europe, yet they do the same in Poland – use constructivism to raise a new generation of Poles deeply rooted in history and national narrative – this is, after all, the objective of the Law and Justice educational reform. A constructivist approach.
It is worrisome Mr Szczerski, the Commissioner-to-be does not knowthe difference between de iure and de facto. Poland is under obligation de iure to join the Eurozone, not de facto.
Clearly Mr Szczerski does not recognise the benefits of the Eurozone membership for the smaller nations. Maybe the Baltics’ and the Slovaks’ arguments and advice should be revisited as I am sure they had their reasons to take a decision “contrary to their national interests”, according to Mr Szczerski.
And this simplification… all of the West is liberal and left-leaning, all of Poland is socially conservative… Those presumptions are simple speaking, wrong.
I do agree that there are three ways forward for Poland: in the Eurozone, with the EU broken from inside by the Eurozone budget, or by muddling through as today. There is a chance for this choice to be relegated to irrelevant, but it would require for a series of bold decisions to be made. The true question is not how to avoid forcing Poland into the Eurozone but how to maximize the benefits of Eurozone accession for economic growth and political security.
Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński just resigned.
And you could have thought it is another hot and lazy day in Warsaw’s politics. You couldn’t be more wrong. Ever since the President announced the national elections are to take place on 13 October, the political scene needs to be contained.
As I wrote yesterday, the October elections are for Law and Justice (PiS) to lose. What started as a summer silly news, Mr Kuchciński used governmental planes for private purpose, led to his resignation from office.
I wrote contained on purpose. Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński is the second most important figure in the country. The media, starting from the privately owned Radio Zet, started to inform about the abuse of public office in late July.
It is important to remember that Radio Zet is a privately owned medium. Earlier this year the previous owner, a Czech billionaire, Daniel Křetínský, sold the radio station, one of the most profitable Polish media, and a PiS-backed investor was in the running. Today many PiS politicians talk of a need to “re-polonise the media” following the elections, and to “break out the monopolies”. So it happens that in a consortium that bought Radio Zet is Agora, a major Polish media holding, whose crown medium is the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza opposed to the government.
When PiS took over the state owned media in 2015 all the investigative journalism left the state television TVP and the Polish Radio. Even some individual reporters were fired for asking wrong questions to the ruling party politicians.
Without Radio Zet investigation the story might have broken anyway, but without Radio Zet being independent from Law and Justice it would not break the news mid-summer.
Law and Justice has a problem
The problem is not that Mr Kuchciński with his flights with family and party colleagues and their families completely disregard the rules. Jarosław Kaczyński at a press conference today says:
Mr Speaker did not break the law, he did not violate the existing practices, but since you the media and a large part of the society are of a different opinion we have no choice. The Speaker’s decision is linked with our motto “Listen to the Poles, serve Poland”. Since we promised to increase the standards of public service, we have to listen to the Poles.
Jarosław Kaczyński, 8 August 2019, on Marek Kuchciński resignation
The real problem is different. Elections are in sight and “listening to the Poles” probably was confused with “listening to the polls”. Law and Justice enjoys a stable 40-45% public support. Result like this should deliver a continuation of governance for the next four years. Contain the problem.
Law and Justice has been successful in playing down all the scandals thus far, like the two towers scandal back in the spring. The Kuchciński Air, as the scandal has been labelled is different and dangerous. How PiS comes untouched so far? Judiciary issues are not understood by the PiS electorate. The climate issues are increasingly popular, but the party is able to adapt; there is an attempt by the Morawiecki government to actually comply with the national target for renewable energy production by 2020. The economy has been roaring, the salaries have been rising fast, and – there are the social payments for children, 13th pension for the retirees, first child payments, taxes reductions, etc.
There is a cynical, but widely accepted summary of how PiS is able to maintain high support: “Everybody steals. At least PiS shares with others”.
The Kuchciński Air scandal is dangerous for one reason: PiS is the party of the average Pole, the Pole of a small town, who works, who is a family man, who is not especially well educated, but who is moderately religious and definitely feels strong about Poland – that it needs to be respected, cannot be discriminated against, and its national sport teams should win: if you wear an eagle on your t-shirt you are proud.
That “average PiS voter” is represented by the average Poles who are PiS MPs, PiS ministers and PiS leaders. If you are coming out of the people, if you are the average Poland, and if the average Poland entrusts you, you need to be careful with the Kuchciński Air. No average Pole has a plane at their service. No average Poles has an aspiration to have a plane. This is beyond imagination of an average Pole. You may be out of touch with me, the average Pole might be telling the ruling party.
That’s the risk. That’s the problem that needs to be contained.
The new problem? The Kuchciński situation has been developing since 25 July. It was not contained then and today the Speaker resigns. But the hungry media prey on the weak and unlike hyenas will not likely be redirected to the flights of ex-PM Donald Tusk. During Mr Kaczyński press conference today the list of Tusk trips was distributed.
The media are targetting PiS not because they are anti-PiS. It’s because PiS is in power. Media hold the power accountable and the news that there are 29 other PiS politicians who used the planes for wrong purposes (effectively as taxis) is more likely to be exploited in the weeks to come.
“Air Kuchciński” can turn into “Air PiS” and continue to be the problem. Or maybe it will not be the case and PiS, once again, will prove to be successful in controlling the media agenda.
The fight is on. Deadline of this race is on 13 October.
On 13 October the Polish citizens are going to vote in national elections – the decision has been announced by the country’s President Andrzej Duda. The opposition parties are divided and unhappy with the choice of the earliest possible date. The ruling Law and Justice advocated for the elections to be organised as early as possible.
On 13 October Poles will chose 460 members of the Sejm, the lower chamber, and 100 senators of the Senate. The Sejm MPs are elected proportionally in 41 electoral districts. The Senators are elected in 100 electoral districts: the winner of each district takes the seat.
Unlike in the European elections in May, the opposition is not going in one united block. It is divided into three fractions. Here are the most important actors competing for the votes in October 2019:
Law and Justice (PiS) is the ruling party since 2015. Under the leadership of Jarosław Kaczyński, a former PM (2006-7), the party maintains a high public support. In 2015 PiS received 37.6% of votes and 235 seats (out of 460) in the Sejm allowing for the establishment of a first one-party government in Poland since 1989. PiS also had 61 senators (out of 100) back in 2015.
The Civic Coalition (KO) is a coalition between the Civic Platform (PO) and the liberal .Modern party (.N). Among other members of the coalition are the left-leaning Polish Initiative of Barbara Nowacka and the Green Party. In 2018, when the KO was established in a similar shape the coalition was able to face off PiS. In the regional elections the KO obtained some 27% of votes and PiS – 34%, but more importantly its candidates carried all of the bigger cities. The KO leader is Grzegorz Schetyna. The KO attracted a number of prominent former SLD politicians to join the coalition as well as an ex-PiS minister, Paweł Kowal.
The Left is an alliance of three political forces: the S&D members – SLD and Wiosna (Spring) and the third is the far left wing party Razem (Together). The Left is led by Włodzimierz Czarzasty (SLD, 40% of candidates), Robert Biedroń (Wiosna, 40% of candidates) and Adrian Zandberg (Razem, 20%). SLD obtained about 7% of the vote during the 2018 regional elections.
The Polish Coalition is a coalition led by the Polish People’s Party (PSL) and it’s leader is Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz. There were tensions between the PO and PSL as during the European elections campaign the PSL has been accused by Law and Justice of supporting anti-Church politicians and being pro-LGBT. In order to prevent those accusations the PSL decided to abort the European Coalition. On another hand, PiS successfully divided the opposition forces.
It may be that Paweł Kukiz of Kukiz’15 will campaign alongside PSL. Some more conservative PO politicians joined the Polish Coalition, too, alongside prominent liberal conservatives known from their days in the European Parliament: Jacek Protasiewicz and Michał Kamiński. PSL obtained about 12% of the regional vote last year, but the party traditionally performs much better in a local and regional vote than in a national or a European one.
The far right Confederacy will run in one block. Mr Korwin-Mikke is among better known politicians of the Confederacy, now registered as a party (previously it was registered as an electoral committee only). Confederacy fell short of 5% threshold in the May European elections.
Poland lives in a permanent campaign. Not only since October 2018 the October 2019 elections is a third time Poles are going to the polls, but the ruling party has run a number of anti- campaigns over the years. The 2019 anti-campaign is the anti-LGBT campaign.
The Opposition says it will unite behind 100 candidates for the Senate.
The opinion polls indicate that the upcoming election is for the Law and Justice to lose. The party enjoys about 45% support, KO – 30%, the Left – 11%, the Polish Coalition – 9% and the Confederacy – 4%.
The summer politics are dominated by the Białystok riots, when the far-right hooligans attacked a peaceful LGBT Equality Parade. The country united in condemnation of the violence, but many PiS supporters as well as Church officials continue to instigate against the LGBT people.
The second summer topic is the Sejm’s Speaker, Marek Kuchciński, who has extensively abused the government planes to travel with family between Warsaw and his home district. This story is largely humoristic and the Sejm’s Speaker is a subject of memes. Here’s Poland’s No. 1 meme of today:
But the summer campaigns are not as relevant. The real campaign will begin after 18 August and over the next two months it shall be an intensive drive. Or, a flight, if you’d like.
Krzysztof Szczerski, the Commissioner-nominee for the Ursula von der Leyen Commission, published a book in 2017 entitled “European Utopia“. I am reading it for you. Today’s part: “Europe without a soul is dead“.
According to Mr Szczerski the European identity is based on Christianity. He seeks a special role for the Poles: “we have a special role to play and we should not run away from it or abandon it due to political correctness or fear generated by the media“.
“Many countries await for us, for the fatherland of saint John Paul II, to lead the way. The way leading to a spiritual unity, to respect of fatherlands and tradition. We are predestined to play the role not only because we gave the great son of our nation John Paul II, the saint pope, to the world“, writes the Commissioner-to-be in 2017, “we are predestined because of our geographical location and our territorial and demographic potential“.
Mr Szczerski refers to the Polish in-built dilemma: it is a much smaller country than the larger nations in the EU, but it is equally much bigger than the mid-sized nations of the EU: “We do not threaten anybody: we can’t dominate the small, we can’t knock down the big. Nobody should be afraid of us. This is our great asset“.
He cherishes the European identity based on diversity, but rejects the Brussels bureaucracy attempts to replace it: “One should not be told that the Brussels bureaucracy, due to its international, or, better said, cosmopolitan character, is able to replace the true European identity“.
“The Noah’s days” means a situation in which life goes as usual, but there is a major event in sight only Noah knows about and is preparing for. The biblical Noah was preparing for the biblical Flood. Mr Szczerski writes: “Europe we got used to know might truly disappear flooded by mighty waves“, and continues: “[Europe] may disappear if it continues to deliver ‘the European utopia’ over the real needs of nations and the continent’s nations“.
Europe needs renewal. The rules of this renewal should be: “freedom of nations, equality of states, unity of the continent and a base in its centuries-developed identity“.
There is a special role for Poland in this “Europe of the future“. Why? “Poles, in their majority, are a nation who is at the same time attached to its sovereignty and understands the value of having their own state, and at the same time support the membership in the European family“. Mr Szczerski rejects the opposition between “integrationists” and “souverenists“. “It is not true, that if you are a supporter of the integration you have to sign up to the camp advocating the European utopia, which preaches that national state is evil and should be abolished and replaced by a European federal superstate. This vision is one of the most dangerous concepts of the European utopia.”
Mr Szczerski rightly concludes, “it is possible to maintain independence, that is self-reliance and subjectivity, while being part of a common Europe“. Only that, he argues, “this Europe needs to act differently and leave the road of a dangerous utopia, and our state needs to be more effective, more honest and positioned to service the needs of citizens“.
Mr Szczerski writes of the Poland-led coalition, “community of aspirations” between the Baltic, Adriatic and the Black seas. This is a group of nations “who still wants”, as they seek to catch up the economic development from the old days Communist past. The group is composed of nations who are competitive, ambitious and fight hidden protectionism. Many people have left the region, but as the process is negative, at the same time “it shows the dynamics of our, Central and Eastern European societies“. The same applies to CEE scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers.
This dynamism is not in contradiction to traditional values. “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“, argues Mr Szczerski and attacks: “different actors have thrown enormous resources and measures trying to impose a model of modernization by eradication, suggesting this is the common and biding trend, some sort of ‘social physics law’ that should not be debated. In order to be modern one needs to be a multicultural, atheist, devoid of family ties and a very morally loose society“. Mr Szczerski claims that this approach has “almost entire media dominance” to promote such behaviour. He is proud that “most Poles are not convinced” and “their European utopia loses with the Polish attachment to traditions and values” to conclude “our social model is the future of Europe, if it chooses to survive“.
Europe must feel internally strong with its civilisation and its dynamism. Like Poland does.
Krzysztof Szczerski, “The European Utopia”, 2017
I agree with Mr Szczerski that there is no contradiction between being pro-European and being a proud citizen of Poland. One does not exclude the other. But I do not see the Brussels-imposed unilateralism that Mr Szczerski calls “European utopia”. I do not see the multicultural imposition of values such as openness and inclusiveness at the expense of traditional values.
Quite to the contrary, the diverse Europe embraces traditions. Europe cherishes and supports cultural events and traditions. Europe respects the member states’ individuality and uniqueness.
I also agree when Mr Szczerski writes, “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“. But there is a contradiction in what Mr Szczerski is arguing: on the one hand he advocates for the diversity, but at the same time he seeks for a promotion of traditional Christian values in places where those values are no longer relevant. Why is it not fair to promote atheist values in Poland while it is fair and desired to promote religious values outside of Poland?
He plays into the Polish tradition of seeing Poland as a country with a special historical mission. Poles are taught to believe that about four hundred years ago Poland was the ultimate defender of Christendom against the Ottoman invasion. Again it defended the free world against the Soviet invasion in 1920. This perspective has a name: it’s called “messianism”.
Does Europe need a messiah as a Commissioner?
I may be short-sighted and not see the upcoming Flood. Yet, somehow I cannot escape a thought that if Europe was doomed it was not because of its (lack of) religiosity, but because of climate change.
Mr Szczerski rightly points to the threats of a European super-state, as advocated by some. Ulrike Guerot wrote a book about it: Why Europe Must Become a Republic! A Political Utopia, and the two use the same word. Ms Guerot argues in favour of a European superstate. Mr Szczerski is fundamentally opposed. The two agree: this is a utopia, a dream, NOT a reality. It is strange that Ms Guerot is not quoted once in Mr Szczerski book. What an omission!
Mr Szczerski is not trying to distinguish between the European federalists, some of whom advocate for a European state, and the majority of European federalists, who simply stand by the “ever closer Union”. Here’s a link to what the mainstream European federalists think: they advocate for a Federal Political Union, not a state. They seek policy integration in fiscal and economic policies, in justice and home, migration and asylum policies, in completing the single market. More on the European Federalists here.
I am unsure if this “community of aspirations” truly exits. To put all the countries known as “the new member states” is a risky business. They are as diverse as they come. Estonia and Czechia are among the most secular and least religious nations in Europe. Hungarians are angry with their neighbours, Czechs and Slovaks are not depopulating, unlike Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic nations. Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are in the Eurozone, and Bulgaria and Croatia would like to join it. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia remain outside of the Schengen system. On top, Etc. Etc. Etc.
What does exist is the Three Seas Initiative, since 2016. It is a useful instrument complementary to the European policy of the 12 states. It is political, diplomatic and no alternative to the EU. Clearly the 12 participating EU nations (CEE and Austria) have certain joint interests steaming from the geographical closeness. It is positive Jean-Claude Juncker attended two of those summits. It is important to know that the Americans (Donald Trump attended once) and the Chinese (present at the initial event in Dubrovnik in 2016) are also watching.
Still, as much as the Three Seas Initiative is there, I am quite sure this is not an alternative to the European Union. It could be a useful complementation of the EU membership.
As regards the clash of values in Poland today, between the traditional values and more liberal values, in relation to the role of women, LGBT rights, equality, discrimination, place of religion in the society, etc. this is not some sort of a liberal, conspiracy imposed clash. This conflict is domestic and is serious. It is between various groups of Poles who think differently. Should the religiousness in Poland be on a decrease (it is not) it is not because of some external-led campaign. There is no such campaign. The diversity of Poles is growing. Simply there are people asking for their rights to be respected by the ruling party which stigmatises minorities by instigating the public majority against them.
And no, majority of the media is not anti-traditional. It so happens, Mr Szczerski, that when Law and Justice overtakes a certain medium (TVP, Polish Radio), its viewership or listenership or readership radically decreases. It does not mean that liberals have an upper hand. It means the liberal media are more popular to read, listen to and watch.
In 2017 Krzysztof Szczerski publishes his monumental book on Europe. It is called “European Utopia” and is not popular with the academics or the public in Poland, but is an important manifestation of the views of the leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician. Some even consider him an ideologue of the PiS Europe standing.
The book begins with a Prologue, “Noah’s Days”. According to the author Europe today is a witness of a major change that not everybody is able to see. Mr Szczerski writes: “Before our eyes a certain pattern of the European states integration comes to an end; and rather its formula that has dominated the community policy at the highest point of integration. This highest phase I consider wrong and this is why I am not worried about its end. I would like, however, for us to understand the sense of the end of this period of integration, and use the opportunity of a wave of changes correctly for Poland’s benefit, our neighbours and the whole of Europe. We can impact the shape of European policy so that this policy regains once lost impetus and attractiveness for its citizens“.
Mr Szczerski embraces diversity, but warns: “the European integration retreats on all fronts, and the political elites of the European core have no answer, and what is more, they deepen the crises with some of their decisions and create new causes of crises“. The key problem is that “Brussels is detached from the life of an average European as never before, and at the same time it tries to interfere into the daily lives of a European citizen with its decisions“. Mr Szczerski calls it a European paradox.
At the same time, Mr Szczerski’s Europe is “a voluntary community created by free nations and equal states” where the EU institutions “should play only the servant’s role to member states“. The author likes the subsidiarity principle, that is the “foundation of the system” of the EU.
“The European policy begins with democratic governments of member states and they are the source of original validity; only with the agreement of those national communities the supranational institutions and policies can function. Never other way round. The EU institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament can never be the source of their own power and decision-making empowerment. They cannot create new power out of nothing, that is with their own decisions or own competence-demanding actions. This is why the Commission cannot one day announce, according to the spirit of the Union treaties, that it has a right to dictate internal decisions on, for example, the constitutional judiciary in one of its member states, since no state has ever transferred such competences“.
It is the states who are at the source of all decision making. The competences can be uploaded bottom up by states, never other way round. “Today many issues in the European Union are topsy-turvy. There is a chaos in which every institution tries to cut out competences for itself and claims a right to decide for others. The Union political system is the victim of the process, as it becomes illogical, or senseless“. Mr Szczerski claims that the effect is the following: “citizens feel oppressed by the power they cannot impact” and the next stage is coming: “This situation is unsustainable. The social reaction is coming and it can put an end to the united Europe“.
How to recover the stability? A new point of balance is necessary. A balance between “the unilateralism wave” and “the needs of maintaining of the integrated area“. “The European nations want to control their fate and their future, do not want to be steered top down by some international hipper-bureaucracy“, but he agrees that they need to act within a general agreement on a “unity of European interest“.
“Unilateralism” according to the writer, is a “superior ideology, that requires to be respected and renounce own objectives and even believes“. This is why there is a growing opposition to this “unilateralism”, “to take back control“.
Fighting “unilateralism” needs to be done delicately, because even if “universalism can be dangerous” one should not give in to all those “who complain about Brussels. Europe shattered and divided becomes easier prey for external empires” and concludes: “it is not in the Polish interest to divide Europe“.
At the same time, there is a bigger challenge than disintegration: it is marginalisation of Poland within the EU. The risk of becoming an exploited periphery is rejected by Krzysztof Szczerski: “The scenario in which the Union disintegrates completely is very bad. The scenario in which the Union persists, but Poland and our region is relegated to a ‘grey zone’, outside of integration, is dramatic“.
Mr Szczerski concludes this part: “our task is to save Poland and Europe from the bad scenarios, which means we need to present a project to combine a greater subjectivity of European nations and states with maintaining their community above borders“.
How to square the circle? Europe today needs to regain its spiritual base. “Policy is an expression of identity, realisation of values, that are common“.
Mr Szczerski describes European Union in a over-simplistic way. He argues Europe has no values and this is why it is doomed. He says Brussels over-regulates and imposes. He says Europe can only work with consent of member states.
Mr Szczerski does not recognise that the Treaties are precisely drafted with a list of competences granted, delegated, by the nations, states to the EU level. This is a done deal. As if he was to rediscover a wheel. This has been done long time ago, Mr Commissioner-to-be.
As for values, the European values are also included in the treaties. They include the rule of law. Hence the activity of rule of law defence of the Union is not an interference, but a defence of EU values.
I am missing at least three elements, from the start. First, it is the fact that the Union is a unique political system in the world that escapes a simple classification of an “international organisation”. For once, there is a tremendous jurisprudence of the Court of Justice that no other “international” court has. This political system is alive, hence dynamic, hence there is room for interpretation and re-interpretation. This is what makes it fit for purpose today: its elasticity.
Second missing element is the European citizen as a subject of a European policy. For Mr Szczerski citizens are national, hence the states are in the centre of power. Yet it is the citizen who makes the whole difference. As every European citizen, each of the 513 million this year until UK leaves, can take the issue to the Court of Justice, can elect the European Parliament, is represented in the Strasbourg chamber and indirectly, chooses the European Commission, he or she is at the bottom of the ladder, alongside the states.
This is what makes the EU stand on a double legitimacy: it is the European citizens who elect the Parliament and the national democratically elected governments. The source of legitimacy is double, and no one power can claim “exclusive right”, as Mr Szczerski does for the states.
That is, of course, as long as we do not change the treaties, one could think, as the EU competences are written down in the treaties and every treaty change requires all member states national ratifications. Yet even here there is a trace of the second source of democratic legitimacy: the Parliament’s role in the redrafting of EU treaties is the strongest ever – for once it has to approve the change alongside the states. It chooses the way the treaty is negotiated (convention or not), too.
To disregard the citizen is a grave omission.
Third is the globalisation. Completely not referenced yet, one cannot fully grasp the counter-reaction in democratic nations in Europe or in a wider world without referencing the globalisation processes. The emergence of global markets and global companies, who dictate and demand, who control and are, effectively, undemocratic actors in the democratic arena with states and the EU institutions, is a major reason why so many Europeans feel disenfranchised. EU has a dilemma in this regard: at the same time it is viewed as the “last resort of defence” against global companies, and as an vehicle for globalisation, hence a threat as it pushes a liberalisation agenda with free trade agreements.
The real imposition of the Commission is towards smaller “partner” nations, not towards the member states. The difference of power between Cyprus, that dictates EU policy towards Turkey, and Lebanon is staggering. France has a smaller population than Vietnam. There are more people in Ethiopia than Germany. Individually all European states are small. Poland does not think it is small. Mr Szczerski does not think Poland is small at all.
I shall continue with the second part of Noah’s Days tomorrow.
Ursula von der Leyen has a busy summer. She is touring the EU capitals searching for her Commissioners. By now she’s been in Paris, Warsaw, Rome and Budapest, among other capital cities. In Warsaw she found her Polish Commissioner.
On her visit to Warsaw on 25 July Ursula von der Leyen underlines that there is a need for a revival of the Weimar triangle (France-Germany-Poland), without calling it such. Ms von der Leyen: “Poland is an important EU member state. (…) It was very important for me to come to Warsaw after Berlin and Paris”.
Her visit is a reaching out to the Polish and Hungarian governments, what the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) calls “an attempt to take Warsaw and Budapest out of isolation in the EU” (4 Aug). This move is an important opening and is welcomed in Warsaw. Suddeutsche Zeitung speculates that in a gesture to the two governments Frans Timmermans will no longer deal with the rule of law topic.
Ms von der Leyen wants a gender parity. This is why observers like me expected Mr Morawiecki, the Polish PM, to offer a female candidate as a future commissioner.
The Commissioner, potentially
Instead, she is offered Krzysztof Szczerski, the chief of the President Andrzej Duda chancellery.
Krzysztof Szczerski’s candidacy is a surprise move in Poland. Maybe it is a part of a power play within the Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling party? Gazeta Wyborcza wonders “why PiS puts forward a candidate everybody knows will be rejected?”. After all, the government of Morawiecki has been signalling for months they are interested in an economic portfolio. Mr Szczerski is not known for his economic experience; he mostly focuses on international affairs (once a deputy FM, advises President Duda on international affairs, and served on foreign affairs and EU affairs committees in the Polish parliament, the Sejm).
Most recently, Mr Szczerski was unsuccessfully promoted as a candidate for NATO Deputy Secretary General. Because of his foreign affairs and security specialisation the media are speculating he’s been already denied a security portfolio in the next Commission (RMF FM radio, 1 Aug).
Witold Gadomski, a liberal commentator for Gazeta Wyborcza, speculates that maybe the PiS mission in the Commission is to balance out Mr Timmermans? Maybe it is a misunderstanding (29 July)? Maybe he is sent as a candidate “to lose”? As GW reports, Law and Justice politicians are also unsure as why Mr Szczerski is sent to Brussels. Agata Kondzińska of GW reports that PiS is expecting for Mr Szczerski to be rejected in the European Parliament (2 Aug), and as the man of President Duda, his loss may create a positive turn for Law and Justice: back to Eurosceptic rhetoric just weeks ahead of the October elections (“Europe is truly against us” kind of narrative) and a space for someone else… who knows, maybe even PM Morawiecki himself?
Well, before September hearings happen, Mr Morawiecki is “certain Mr Szczerski will do brilliantly in the Parliamentary proceedings”, according to his interview in Radio Gdańsk (29 July). Mr Morawiecki on Szczerski: “he’s an excellent candidate”.
The speculators are sleepwalking. No one truly is “in the know” except for the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński and the prime minister, maybe.
The questions ahead
First we will need to wait for Ms von der Leyen to receive all 26 candidates. Britain is not sending a Commissioner, since Mr Johnson, the new British PM, is committed to Brexit by 31 October.
She promised a gender parity. In a Commission of 27, what’s a parity? 13-14 this way or another, most likely. She also mentioned she will send candidates back on this principle, the gender category. So, Ms von der Leyen might be sending back Mr Szczerski should she be short of female candidates.
If not, the next question is the portfolio for Mr Szczerski. Who knows, maybe he receives an economic portfolio, after all. All is discretion of Ursula von der Leyen and the secret negotiations of any government with the Commission President need to be put aside.
The Parliamentary hearings follow next. And this is the biggest challenge for Mr Szczerski, or, truly, any Warsaw government appointee.
Mr Szczerski on Europe in 2012
In the next few blog posts I shall introduce Mr Szczerski views on Europe with his own words.
For example, in 2012 Mr Szczerski wrote an article for Rzeczpospolita. In it, he asks “What Europe without the Union?” and how to prepare Poland for it. Second, he asks a question, “where to set limits, beyond which further membership in the Union will be inconsistent with our raison d’être?”
He writes: “I do not recommend to leave the Union today and immediately. I do recommend to begin a strategic debate about our ability to act and grow if the developments in Europe lead in the disintegration direction; and if the membership conditions and limitations related to it began to outweigh the positive elements”.
Mr Szczerski in 2012 accuses the ruling government of Civic Platform (PO) and the Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the time of “unconditional acceptance” of EU and of being “intellectually unable to work out an alternative plan”.
Mr Szczerski rejects then a simple division between Eurosceptics and Euro-enthusiasts and calls for a rational approach. He rejects the notion that EU will never cease to exist. Alternative options need to be analysed always using one objective: “the optimisation of benefits and minimisation of losses for the Polish national interest”. Mr Szczerski rejects the PO’s policy of “gradual deepening of Polish EU membership” asking “what if this process becomes dangerous?”
It should be understood that the 2012 narrative is different from 2019. Seven years ago the EU Commissioner-nominee was worry of Brexit (scheduled to happen on 31 Oct), inability to support the “countries of the South” (did not happen, yet there are persistent questions as regards Italy) and should Poland “stick to the core of the EU with France and Germany”?
If that debate is a bit old, the following statements still resonate today.
We must prepare ourselves for a situation in which the integration processes not only do not slow down, but, on the contrary, are accelerated. This may happen by taking a direction towards a close political and tax union, and that is established in the way of a pan-European referendum, as German politicians have recently proposed. The development of integration may go towards the increased centralisation of a separate “central belt” comprising the most developed regions of Europe with the other areas being relegated to the periphery states and maintained as a back-up and reservoir of land and human resources. Finally, integration can go radically in the direction of coordination of foreign and security policy, by centralising it, and thus subordinating the behaviour of member states in the international arena with guidelines from the Brussels headquarters, for example with the policy in Eastern Europe or the USA. Then the question arises: what is our, Polish, border of consent for the further development of European integration? Exceeding what “red line” will be unacceptable to us and we will have to say: no, in such a union it is not worth it! What elements should be in that balance of profits and losses, after all it is not only about the financial transfers, after all, membership is not a matter of “Brussels sprout squeezing”, but something much more serious. One can imagine a situation in which Poland should refuse to participate in the further deepening of integration for political reasons. We can not be stuck in the bookshelves and woe to how much money we will not get, if we leave the Union. We must be ready for a scenario in which we do not convert everything into “lost euros”, but we shall decide so in the name of the raison d’état and not the “dough”.
Krzysztof Szczerski, 2012
The last element of Mr Szczerski argument of 2012 is relevant today, too. He asks, “what if the European policy in following regulations does not include our needs” to the extent “the very EU membership becomes a burden for Poland rather that a source of growth”? Mr Szczerski argues “we do not know the real effects of the EU cohesion funds” and talks of “long-term effects” such as local government debt, wrongly invested sources and “most of structural funds money goes in the form of payments of executive contracts to net paying countries”. Maybe the transfers of resources from Western Europe to Poland and the free movement of people are more important than the budgetary support, Mr Szczerski ponders.
The next element in the balance of membership Mr Szczerski is seeking are “the costs of membership in areas where we are unable to secure our national interests”, for example the Polish ship-building industry. Another case is the climate policy, which “will finish off our economy from the other end of the same sharp stick”. This is when a question arises:
Does membership in such a union still make sense?
Krzysztof Szczerski, 2012
He says he asks those questions not because he wishes bad to the European Union, but because he wishes well Poland.
It is important to know what the views of future commissioners are.
It is important, because already some media are praising Mr Szczerski as a “good candidate” (Thomas Gutschker, FAS, 4 Aug).
Before anybody can say Mr Szczerski is a good candidate, his views need to be well known across Europe. I hope this blog will help in this process.
For this purpose I shall be reading and translating parts of Mr Szczerski 2017 book “European Utopia” – “Utopia Europejska” in the upcoming days and weeks.
Mr Szczerski is an important person and should not be rejected out of his Law and Justice affiliation. His 2012 analysis is just and important, even if one disagrees with the questions he asks. Those questions are defensive. The 2012 article signals once again what the EU is for PiS politicians at best: an economic opportunity. Not just the budgetary transfers, but the overall regulatory scheme.
What Mr Szczerski did not internalise back in 2012 is the co-responsibility for the success of the European project. As a European Commissioner he needs to fight for the European interests, not only the Polish one. As a European Commissioner he needs to seek for synergies between the national interests and the European one, not exploit differences between them. As a European Commissioner he is not a representative of a national government, but a part of a large and powerful executive in its own right.
I can only hope for Ms von der Leyen and the European Parliament to seek to make sure that by 2019 Mr Szczerski is able to serve as the European Commissioner.
I do not hope for him to be rejected – I hope before such a decision is taken he needs to be known. I hope he is not rejected by the European Left because of his affiliation to the Law and Justice. I hope – should he be rejected – is for the right reasons. For now the jury should be out listening to the upcoming hearing of Mr Szczerski.
There are 20 Committees in the European Parliament and 2 sub-Committees. There are 51 MEPs elected in Poland. Who sits where? Here is the list of all the MEPs elected in Poland who are either full members or substitutes in the Committees:
The Polish MEPs are marginalised. Not only there is no committee chair elected from Poland, the distribution of Polish MEPs is poor.
The most powerful committees are those engaged in policy-making or foreign policy. This is why committees such as ENVI, ITRE and AFET are the biggest. Also important topics are covered in LIBE, ECON and IMCO committees. Occassionally the TRAN, REGI and CULT, as well as INTA, JURI and EMPL can be relevant. BUDG, AGRI and PECH are thematic. The rest is largely second-class. The only committee that stands out is AFCO, that deals with issues such as Brexit, rules of procedure of the Parliament or the future of Europe questions.
And how Poles look like against the relevant committees? Here’s the share of the members and substitutes in the most and least popular committees among the Polish MEPs:
1. FEMM 10.4% – no legislation 2. SEDE 10.3% – no legislation 3. CONT 8.8% – no legislation and 20. AFCO 3.6% (2 MEPs) 21. AGRI 3.2% (3 MEPs) 22. PECH 1.8% (1 MEP)
Among the key committees, ITRE dominates (7.6%), while AFET (7%) and ENVI (6%) are covered at a corresponding level. The key LIBE (6%), JURI (6.2%) lose in popularity to IMCO (7.8%).
It is surprising that only 3 MEPs chose the agricultural committee. Poland is EU’s second largest resource of farmers (after Romania). The Polish farmers, however, are going to be underrepresented in the foreseeable future.
Many countries have already appointed next Commissioners. There is a deficit of women. The Polish Commissioner is still missing. For the time being the list is closed. By the time Ursula von der Leyen comes to Warsaw the decision is most likely going to be announced later this week.
The issue is reported in today’s Rzeczpospolita, a newspaper independent of, but close to the government.
I wrote about Jadwiga Emilewicz, Konrad Szymański and Jerzy Kwieciński before. Lately I have urged not to forget Adam Bielan MEP. Ryszard Czarnecki MEP, whom I have mentioned before, is considered again, according to the newspaper. Now it turns out there are two more names.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP and Krzysztof Szczerski complete the list.
Mr Saryusz-Wolski is a controversial figure for his 2017 transfer from the EPP, where he was a leading figure, to the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Today he is an MEP with the ECR. He has long European experience, as a person who once led the work of Poland’s EU accession, helped to establish the College of Europe Natolin campus in Warsaw, where he served as a vice-rector, was secretary of state for EU affairs in the Jerzy Buzek government and MEP since 2004.
Any other year he would be considered an excellent candidate, except for his departure from the EPP back in 2017, when he was made a counter-candidate against Donald Tusk for the presidency of the European Council, made any support for him from the EPP a sort of mission impossible.
Should Mr Saryusz-Wolski be appointed by the Polish government, expect an interesting hearing in the European Parliament. “Interesting” in every sense of the word.
Mr Szczerski, on the other hand, is less known to the European crowd. Lately he has been the head of the Chancellery of President of the Republic Andrzej Duda seeking an international position. He has been named a candidate for the NATO Deputy Secretary General, which was awarded to the Romanian candidate Mr Mircea Geoană.
Since Mr Szczerski is a front-person of the President, he is most likely included on this list pro-forma, so that one of the pre-candidates was a President affiliate.
His chances are limited also by his strong Eurosceptic positions as a PiS politician in the past. Often he argues for re-Christianisation of Europe, would like to distribute “Catholic passports” to the Polish migrants in Western European countries and sees Poland as a “saviour” of Europe.
What the PiS party wants
Rzeczpospolita quotes a PiS politician say: “After the last top jobs rearrangement we do not have too many bridgeheads at the top of the EU. The von der Leyen team will be the most political Commission in the history of integration. We need a political Commissioner who will defend the Polish interests in all areas”. According to this logic Mr Bielan, Mr Szymański or Mr Szczerski would be the best options.
What Ursula wants
What the Parliament does not want
Anti-Europeans: Mr Saryusz Wolski is on a no-go list for the EPP. Mr Czarnecki offended a fellow MEP with a unparliamentary language, for which he lost his job as a Parliament VP. Mr Szczerski is not as known yet, but should he become a Commissioner-candidate more of his past quotes on Europe and Christianity and teachers will soon resurface.
If logic was to preserve, the best chances are with Ms Emilewicz or Mr Kwieciński. Could well be that Mr Szymański marries the two approaches: on the one hand he is a technocrat, and on another a prominent minister and a PiS partisan. Considered a moderate in his own party, he’d be a perfect fit, except for two factors: he is not a woman and…
The decision is between the Prime Minister Morawiecki, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and, apparently, President Duda contributes to the reflection.
So the bottom line is this: Emilewicz, Kwieciński, Szymański or Bielan?
In the European Elections 46% Poles took part, which is an astounding increase with the previous European votes in 2004, 2009 and 2014 (all with 20-25% participation level).
In October 2018 during the local and regional elections some 55% Poles went to the polls. This was the best turn out in local and regional elections ever.
Poles go to the polls. Will the October 2019 national elections bring a new record in the participation level, too? The current record is 63%, when the Communism has fallen in 1989 elections.
The wider question is, what is the state of democracy in Poland? Clearly there are heated political debates in the country that bring emotional engagement to new levels. Entitlements are debated and defended. Rights are offended and disrespected.
Last June the Warsaw gay pride attracted a 45,000-strong anti-government manifestation. This was the largest gay pride in Poland in history.
On Saturday, 20 June, in the NE Polish city of Białystok, a first gay pride is ever organised. A 1,000 strong crowd is overpowered by right-wing hooligans and other radical groups. The left-wing journalists of OKO.press are present. Their story is dramatic. Read it in full in Polish here.
The police is accused by the hooligans and the gay pride participants alike. The hooligans are surprised the police is arresting them. They feel empowered. Still, 20 people are arrested. But before that happens some pride participants are beaten up. There is a police helicopter involved in the monitoring of the march.
There are many proofs of violence on the social media. I shall share one such video, which is disturbing. A peaceful person who is coming to the gay pride is attacked by hooligans:
The hooligans try to block the march. The pride has to re-route to avoid the blockages. Instead of a celebration of diversity many people end up in hell. Someone comments “I feel like at war”. People who march hear offensive comments and bricks are thrown in their, and the police, direction. The gay pride response: “Come with us”.
The Białystok pride is a clear manifestation of two sides of Poland. One is the open, tolerant, diverse, modern. Another is regressive, aggressive, offensive, with a clear world view that Poland is a place for Poles alone, family consists of a mother and a father, and everybody should go to Church. There is no room for any differentiation from “the norm”.
Both groups feel threatened. The anti-diversity campaign of Law and Justice brought the party victory in the May elections. In it, the LGBT community is demonised. Ahead of the October elections, the party continues to play the same tone.
Will the anti-gay propaganda machine reach its limits?
We are the island of freedom. We need to reject the offensive of evil.
Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, in Katowice, 6 July 2019
Summer likes strange news. The homophobic news from Poland hit front pages of many Western media. No different is with the latest Gazeta Polska campaign, to distribute homophobic stickers.
Gazeta Polska is a small paper with a circulation of about 13,000 copies. Major state corporations support the publication with commercials. The links between the GP and the ruling party are close and well known.
Since PiS scares the general ignorant public with LGBT telling people that gays are “perverts and degenerates” (MP Stanisław Pięta). The fake news that “40% of gays are paedophiles” is taking Poland by storm after two months ago half of the Polish public saw a terrific documentary about the Catholic Church cover-up of the paedophile priests.
Today, PiS and the far-right are putting the two together.
Often it is difficult to distinguish PiS from the far right.
One case when it is possible to distinguish PiS from the far right is the GP anti-gay stickers propaganda case. The US Ambassador, Trump appointee and a colourful diplomat, Georgette Mosbacher twittes in Polish “I am disappointed and concerned that certain groups use stickers to promote hatred and intolerance. We respect freedom of speech, but we must stand together on the side of values such as diversity and tolerance.”
Here when the Trump US government intervenes in the Polish domestic affairs, some of PiS politicians retract. Piotr Muller, the government spokesperson speaks against the anti-gay stickers.
Also, the Interior Minister Elżbieta Witek defends the police defending the gay pride on twitter without calling it “gay pride”: “The officers ensure security regardless of the banners, worldview and beliefs of the citizens. Officers operate on the basis and within the limits of applicable law.”
The End of One Pole
With the heated debates Poles are discovering the obvious: there is no one Pole with identical features. Poles are as diverse as every other nation. What is truly new is that many Poles are nostalgic of old times when life was simpler. Then, the government was promoting a narrative of one Poland inhabited by one nation, with one language and one religion.
PiS will defend the nostalgic, simplistic view. The opposition will dwell on the diversity. This is the outlook for the October elections.
Since the Opposition likes diversity, it chooses to go not in one block, but instead in three blocks. More on them in the upcoming weeks.
New Democratic Instruments
One debate within the Opposition is how party democracy should look like.
The European Coalition that was formed ahead of the 26 May vote was decided behind closed doors in negotiations between party leaders. There were many disappointed ahead of the vote and disenfranchised after the vote.
The soul searching among the Civic Platform (PO), the biggest of all Opposition parties, was an important process, that nevertheless did not lead to increased democratisation of the Opposition lists. What PO learned is that it needs to run a campaign among the people, not only on the web.
Still, the heart of the Polish Opposition is not with the PO. The true heart is with the civil society organisations that organised and led the anti-government protests since 2015: the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP), Free Courts (Wolne Sądy), the Women’s Strike (OSK) among many others.
In the context of the European vote the Citizens of Poland organised a series of citizen panels between the citizens and democratic candidates for the European Parliament. Over all there were 19 panels organised in 6 regions (out of 13 total). 36 candidates participated in the panels.
The panels gave recommendations on who was the best prepared to serve as a Member of the European Parliament.
This was the first attempt of its kind in the context of European vote in Poland.
Today, Citizens of Poland campaign for further democratization – greater involvement of the citizens – in the life of Opposition parties. Since coalitions are to be drafting its candidates for MP positions in the next Sejm, Citizens of Poland would prefer for those candidates to be selected in a primary way. “Do not make contracts in closed offices. Break with the tradition of a political trading behind closed doors away from the media and the public opinion. This style of politics […] discredits democracy in the eyes of citizens”, writes Paweł Kasprzak in Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading liberal journal, 5 July.
Idealists as they are, Citizens of Poland’s idea is not shared by the political parties.
Law and Justice has pulled back another ‘softer’ instrument of citizens participation: voting by proxy for people who are abroad has been disallowed since 2018.
Many expect a clash. A clash of society groups. Diversity v homogeneity, small towns v big cities, Church-goers v Church-visitors, believers in open Poland v believers that Poland is under threat.
The turnout will be high. Emotions will fly high. Some sociologists say there may be 4 million new voters compared with the European elections.
Many of the Opposition folks talk of “the last chance” of a democratic Poland. Should PiS continue to rule, they say, PiS will solidify its power, begin a new fight against the last bastion of the Opposition in the cities and regional governments. PiS will rule for many, many years to come.
PiS says to stay calm. PiS runs a campaign to receive a new mandate to change the country. PiS is certain of a win, especially since the Opposition is divided into three camps. The only unknown is the degree of its win.
Should PiS truly win in October it may well be that a new wave of Polish citizens may chose to leave the country. As a participant in the gay pride in Białystok remarked: “As of today I think it is time to think about leaving”.
The thing is that if the current debates and controversies were to be sidelined, there are other groups to be demonised by the PiS machinery.
Law and Justice has a very difficult period in the new European Parliament. It comes into the chamber as the winner of the Polish vote. Since, there are problems. First small, then big.
The first small problem is the fact that the group of PiS, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is relegated from the 3rd position in the last Parliament to no. 6 in the new one.
The serious problems come when PiS does not see it coming. Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a former vice-president of the Parliament, is expected an easy win, as part of a wider agreement with appointments of the Parliament’s leadership. And he loses to Fabio Castaldo in the final round. This is an unexpected blow, maybe a signal of even bigger problems on the horizon.
0:1 to the European Parliament.
The day after, Karol Karski, a returning Questor, is re-elected to the same position. 1:1, Law and Justice scores.
The following week the parliamentary committees begin to organise themselves. ECR is entitled to two chairmanships. First goes smoothly, as a Belgian NVA politician Mr van Overtveldt is elected by acclamation into the chairmanship of the budgets committee. Then, Beata Szydło, a MEP who is a former PM and elected with over 500,000 votes, is put as a candidate for the chairwomanship of the employment committee.
The candidacy of Szydło is a subject of a successful cordon sanitaire by the left-wing groups in the Parliament. She is rejected once. And second time. 3:1 to the European Parliament.
In the end, PiS gives in. Ms Szydło candidacy is withdrawn. A Slovak MEP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová is elected chair of EMPL.
The next fight
The position of PiS in the European Parliament is bad. The Polish governmental party enjoys widespread support in Poland, respect in the Council since it runs a government, but in the European Parliament those rules do not apply.
And the biggest fights of all comes soon. It is the fight for the confirmation of whoever is the candidate for the European Commissioner from Poland.
There is a speculation about the portfolio I am not going to exploit. Let’s just say there are many wishes and options. Until Ms von der Leyen does not work out a proposed new College, the issue is largely speculative.
In Poland there are two open questions. First, who will take the appointment decision. Will it be the leader of the ruling party Jarosław Kaczyński, or the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki?
Second, who will be the nominee? I have speculated on the names beforetwice. The star of Ms Szydło is so low now that the chances for her to pass through the EP hearings seem limited. The ideas for Mr Brudziński, Mr Czarnecki or Mr Poręba might be too partisan to swallow, and the chances for ladies are greater anyway. Ms Fotyga is out of the contention, too, due to personal reasons.
Hence there are four names left in the game.
The best chances today are with Jadwiga Emilewicz. A 44 year old minister of entrepreneurship is also known for not exactly being ‘the best friend of coal’. In the last period she has been talking of a just transition. Here is what she has to say about the coal-dependence of Poland:
Our energy core is based on coal, but it was not our choice.
Jadwiga Emilewicz, Minister of Entrepreneurship of Poland, 19 June 2019
The second option is Konrad Szymański, the Europe minister and a long term MEP (2004-2014), who is considered a moderate among the PiS politicians.
The third option is Jerzy Kwieciński, the investment and economic development minister.
Those are three names mentioned by Mr Krasnodębski a few days ago in an interview for Rzeczpospolita. Mr Krasnodębski did not say that the list is closed at this stage. Among other options one should not rule out Adam Bielan MEP, who is a returning MEP and a close affiliate of the PiS leader who at the same time has decent relations in the EP and in the Commission. Mr Bielan would probably survive the EP hearings.
Since there is only one woman in the set-up as Ms Szydło and Ms Fotyga are not considered at the time being, the odds are quite decent with Ms Emilewicz.
In the chaos of transition between the Parliaments and the Commissions there are some surprise stories, twists and attempted shortcuts. There are unintended consequences and parallel processes that impact one another. Here’s one such story.
26 May, the end of European elections. Among new MEPs are two ex-Commissioners, Andrus Ansip and Corina Creţu.
2 June, President Jean-Claude Juncker says there is no need for a replacement of outgoing Commissioners Ansip and Creţu and that the Commission can cope with fewer members. He says that for the remaining of his College (4 months) there is no need for new people to join the team. Also, it would cost money.
Following his announcement, Mr Juncker proceeds with an adequate proposal for the Council. Clearly the news of savings in EU budget and the ‘no need’ argument are not received in Tallinn and Bucharest. This is a matter of principle. Back in 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the very first formal decision of the European Council was to make sure that the “one state = one commissioner” principle is respected.
1 July, the Estonian and Romanian governments propose new EU Commissioners, Kadri Simson from Estonia and Ioan Mircea Pașcu from Romania. Clearly this is a defeat for President Juncker.
Yet Mr Juncker is not ready to give in.
9 July, there is a re-arrangement in the Commission structure. There are 26 Commissioners, including the President and 5 Vice-Presidents. There are no Romanian and Estonian Commissioners.
Incidentally, the Juncker Commission started with 7 Vice-Presidents. After losing Kristalina Georgieva in 2016 and now Mr Ansip, the number of “vices” goes down significantly.
The new incoming Commissioners-nominees, before they become Commissioners, have to be approved by the European Parliament.
12 July, Ms Simson and Mr Mircea Pașcu, nominated against the better judgement of Mr Juncker, receive no portfolio from their boss. This creates a problem for the parliamentary hearings, which normally are organised by the committee or committees thematically responsible for the same portfolio as the Commissioner-nominee.
15 July, the EMPL committee fails to chose its leader for the second time.
In the absence of portfolios, the issue of hearings is delegated to the Conference of Committee Chairs (or, CCC) of the European Parliament. The problem here is, however, that it cannot meet or take any decisions until all EP committees are fully constituted.
So the future of Ms Kadri and Mr Mircea Pașcu depends on the ability of the EMPL committee to elect its chair. This is the unintended consequence. Their political position depends on the simple question: will ECR change a candidate? Should the ECR group continue to push for Ms Szydło, they may face a fierce opposition. Should the ECR group change a candidate, they could be endorsed by an acclamation, like the other ECR committee chair, Mr Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR/NVA) who is leading the work of the Budgets Committee (BUDG).
Should this problem be solved, the next one will be with the CCC to decide what to do about the hearings.
If the situation is not solved by the end of next week, the issue will return in September, to coincide with the other hearings of the new European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, who, by then, will present a full College. Each one of these people will face the European Parliament.
How strange does it look for Mr Mircea Pașcu to be a Commissioner for just a few weeks? At least Ms Simson is supposed to be Commissioner for the entire term of the Ursula von der Leyen College.
It is difficult to escape a thought that being a Commissioner just for a few months simply pays so well: 22,367 Euro a month.
In a positive – and unintended – twist, it is a good delay to delay the process of appointments of two new Commissioners. Juncker is right: it is a nonsensical to appoint someone just for a few weeks. It is a waste of public money (Juncker talks of 1 million Euro savings, including the Commissioner and their cabinets members salaries, other allowances, etc.).
Thank you PiS for pushing for Ms Szydło and everybody else for blocking her. Isn’t this ironic?
Ursula speaks. It is Tuesday, 16 July, Strasbourg’s big chamber. It is early morning and people are coming in. All the MEPs are invited. Most of them arrive. They take seats, they nod and clap occasionally, they welcome into their new house a very new person, Ursula von der Leyen, who claims to be European at her heart. Will she convince the “House of Europeans” to support her?
It is the speech of her lifetime. But at the same time she is an enigma. The European citizens do not particularly know her yet. Who is she? She did not stand in the European elections. Yes, she is a mother of seven, herself born in Brussels, a doctor and a German politician. But “who is she and, will she be good”?
MEPs in the debate that follows mention the 200 million of citizens who voted in the European elections. Many say that there is the disconnect between her, the candidate, and the elections. That the link that was supposed to be there, is missing.
Many speak “on her behalf”. The European Council did. Individual member states’ leaders did. They spoke of deals, they spoke of secured arrangements. The leaders of political groups issue their demands, securities, guarantees. In all this European politicking of the last month one thing is missing: a Commission President candidate who is a leader, a driver of the process, a political actor.
One of the group leaders comments after von der Leyen’s speech: the learning curve of Europe is steep. Yes, it is steep. But, hey, she has Europe in her guts, she says.
And oh, boy, she delivers. She starts slow, with lukewarm greetings in the room. She talks the green agenda. She wants to be credible and to open up to the continent’s biggest challenge: the climate change. She wants to turn the challenge into an opportunity.
She mentions the obvious and the important: she is an embodiment of the feminist politics. “The fathers and mothers” of European integration include Simone Veil, who was the president, la présidente of the European Parliament 40 years ago. “Thanks to all the women before me” we have the Europe of today: of peace, of unity and of values.
When she says that for her children generation, “Europe is a home” she hits all the right buttons for all the federalists in the house. She may, however, soon discover that general federalism may not be enough. Still, it is honey for the pro-Europeans’ hearts.
She speaks clearly from the heart. Yes, she speaks issues, but she shares personal stories, too. She talks of her father, who worked in the Hallstein Commission in the 1960s. This is why she was born in Brussels. She talks of a refugee she welcomed in her house a few years back. Today he is a young man, a community leader who is fluent in German, English and his native Arabic. One day he wants to go home.
You cannot deny her standing on the migration issues. Her credibility cannot be greater on Europe and migration as she is a living proof on both. Those values are real. The problems may begin elsewhere.
The climate. Ursula von der Leyen speaks of challenges of globalisation, digitalisation and the climate change. “The citizens feel them in daily life” and “none of the challenges will go away”.
She embraces multilateralism, rules and fair trade. In doing so the climate challenges and goals will need to be scaled up. The current goals are not sufficient. She supports cutting CO2 emissions by 50%, “maybe 55%” by 2030 and reaching the carbon neutrality by 2050. Ursula calls it “the Green deal for Europe” and promises a European Climate Law for 2050.
We have to do it the European Way
Ursula von der Leyen, Strasbourg, 16 July 2019
Sustainability is important, so a trillion Euro in a decade should be spend on appropriate investments. In the process the European Investment Bank will be turned into a climate bank. Economic activities generating CO2, like aviation and the maritime sector, shall be included in the CO2 emissions cuts. “Emissions must to have a price”. She talks carbon leakage – to make sure that the European production does not migrate away due to the increased costs of emissions. She talks carbon taxes.
For the underprivileged in the transition process there needs to be a transition fund, Just Transition Fund and I hesitate if it is a name already…
When von der Leyen finishes to talk climate it is clear: she says bye-bye to the support of the ECR and reaches out to the Greens, who said “no” last week. But she also reaches out beyond the Greens to the Social-democrats to secure their support.
Social Market Economy
The economy. This is where the economic talk turns to “social market economy”. This is a message mostly towards the S&D and Ms von der Leyen’s home group, the EPP. She says the tech giants need to pay their share. She opts for a “fairer, more equal Union” and that “the fight for fairness never stops”. To which later on the S&D leader will ask for more details.
Ursula von der Leyen talks minimal wage that allows for a decent life. She supports insurance against unemployment, and echoes the EP’s call to triple the spending on Erasmus. She wants to work on the Social Pillar, especially on children education and children healthcare. Women’s rights are important; the Commission President candidate would like the EU to adhere to the Istanbul Convention on action against violence against women and domestic violence.
Women are so important and make half of the society. Hence half of the College of Commissioners shall be female. If member states do not send female candidates, the Commission President candidate says she is ready to send them back home to achieve full parity.
The European Rule of Law
Third, the rule of law. “There will never be a compromise when it comes to respect of the rule of law”, says Ursula von der Leyen and receives stronger support than before. Over last ten days there were suspicions (expectations) towards certain deals she may make with the ECR group in exchange of their support for her. Today ECR later will express their disappointment and the left wing groups’ welcome of her position. Her strong stance may bring her support from some disenfranchised EPP members, too.
Her take on the rule of law is to support a new EU-wide rule of law mechanism, to be complimentary with existing procedures. Interestingly, the candidate talks about the Commission to be “independent” guardian of the treaties: “Lady Justice is blind”.
Credible she is, will she be able to deliver? This was the issue that has shaken the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker. The reasons are the deep divisions between member states. “We need empathy and decisive action”, says Ursula von der Leyen, but “there are the legitimate concerns for many”. How to square a circle?
Clearly the candidate supports the ambitious agenda, but the problems with ambition in this area are not in the Parliament, but with the Council and its member states.
The Foreign Affairs
“The world needs more Europe”, says the candidate. It may well be true, but how to deliver? Ms von der Leyen supports transatlantic relations and NATO, but does not mention United States, United Nations or enlargement. She does not talk Russia nor China. She talks European defence.
She does talk Brexit. “We regret it and we respect it” and offers a possible extension of the 31 October date, if necessary. “The United Kingdom will remain our partner, our ally and our friend”, overstates the candidate. Let us see how the relations look like with the incoming new British PM.
The candidate was not a Spitzen-candidate. Clearly this generates a new source of a democratic deficit. There is a new ditch that needs to be addressed. There are three elements on how to further democratize the Union.
First is the new Conference on the Future of Europe that shall begin in 2020, and run until 2022. This is a promise delivery for the Renew Europe group.
Second is the promise to work on making the Spitzen-candidate a reality “next time around” in 2024, on its visibility and on transnational lists (idea popular in the European Parliament, most recently promoted by the French President Emmanuel Macron).
Third is the idea of giving the Strasbourg chamber a right of legislative initiative. This would effectively mean that should the European Parliament adopt a legislative resolution the issue will be dealt with politically in the Commission.
“Europe is not about war any more”, as our Europe “has grown up, has matured”, claims Ursula von der Leyen. The European Union is like a marriage, in which we argue, disagree, and reconcile. The candidate finishes with “I call on all Europeans to play their parts”, “Long live Europe” and “Vive l’Europe”.
The EPP and Renew Europe give her a standing ovation. Clearly the two groups are in her camp. This is, however, not enough.
Manfred Weber of the EPP says he expects the Social-democrats to deliver on the package, that includes a S&D President of the Parliament and High Representative.
Iratxe Garcia of the S&D quotes Willy Brandt from forty year before, who regretted that the European democracy was moving so slowly. Half of the people watching is wondering: “she is about to agree with Brandt and accept the slow progress, or will she deny the step-by-step progress and demand a jump into the unknown?”. At one point Ms Garcia mentions that S&D does not want a constitutional crisis. The group decision will be taken this afternoon.
The Greens are confused. They said “no” last week, but clearly today’s speech “is a step forward”, says the co-chair of the group Philippe Lamberts. He is still critical on many details, but the confusion among the group leadership is clear. The Green group’s meeting would be interesting to follow, as many individual Green MEPs could actually support the candidate von der Leyen.
The ID is against, naturally.
Mr Farage is offensive, naturally.
The ECR group is disappointed. Clearly the candidate was reaching out to them in recent days. On Sunday CDU representatives met the Polish ruling party PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński to talk support, but all this has failed on Monday night when Beata Szydło was defeated second time. Her candidacy for EMPL chairwomanship was rejected 19 to 34. In a few days Ms Szydło support has diminished instead of increasing (first vote was 21:27).
Don’t expect the ECR to support Ms von der Leyen.
GUE/NGL also expressed a negative position.
Will she pass? The decision is with the S&D. The reaching out has been made. It was a good speech. With it Ursula von der Leyen has solidified the centrist, pro-European majority. Now this majority should deliver with the evening vote in a few hours.
Another pro-S&D move is the departure of the Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr, announced this morning.
If Ms von der Leyen is confirmed she is voted by the EPP-RE-S&D majority with some individual MEPs breaking the ranks, such as the German SPD, the most outspoken critic of the candidate from within the S&D, and some other incidental support (for example, the individual Greens or M5S, who are independent).
Will she? The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels decision-making and journalistic circles claims:
The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels French decision making and journalistic circles likes the speech, too and asks a question about the Greens being on the same page as the ID, which suggests he would like the Greens to reconsider:
I’d say, Brussels/Strasbourg is ready to say “yes” to Ms von der Leyen. So, what say you, European Parliament?
10 July 2019. Meeting of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in Brussels. Main theme: meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The meeting is closed, after the meeting there is a statement that the EPP “fully” supports von der Leyen. After meeting the candidate, Manfred Weber, the EPP leader, leads the internal discussion about the political situation in the European Parliament. He talks about cooperation with ECR, which comprises the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Mr Weber expresses the need to “stand by” ECR candidates for the positions in the Parliament, most notably for Ms Beata Szydło, who is a candidate for chairwoman of the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL).
The Weber’s speech is met with said enthusiasm of Fidesz, the Hungarian governmental party whose politicians sit with the EPP. Fidesz and PiS have the same problem: they are accused of rule of law violation in Hungary and Poland, respectively. The EU treaties’ Article 7 procedure has been launched against both states.
Due to the rule of law situation Fidesz faces EPP exclusion, though this issue is no longer on top of the EPP agenda (at least until November). The agenda is currently dominated by the left-leaning groups in the Parliament.
I talk with a lamenting EPP MEP who says that Weber words of “standing by” were deeply disappointing. Another EPP MEP tells me about a nuance: Weber words were about “standing by the d’Hondt method of distribution of seats”. A person close to Mr Weber tells me that he would defend the GUE candidates too, in light of an upcoming cordon sanitaire against the Polish ECR candidates.
Still, it hurts to hear the positive conciliatory words about a candidate, Ms Szydło, whose government was deeply unpopular with the Polish EPP MEPs for actions such as violating Polish constitution and disempowering the Polish Constitutional Tribunal by not publishing its verdicts, overseeing the removing EU flags from governmental buildings, etc. Now she is a candidate for the EMPL chair and Mr Weber says that EPP should “stand by”.
Mr Radan Kanev, a EPP MEP from Bulgaria, speaks to a sister blog. He says “This is causing tensions among the Polish MEPs who are part of the European People’s Party, but also among other colleagues. It is quite obvious that there is tension even when it comes to personal contacts between MEPs”.
What does it mean for Ursula von der Leyen?
Mr Weber’s commitment to d’Hondt is not only a commitment to high political standards. This is him trying to extend the chances for Ms von der Leyen on the Tuesday late confirmation vote. She needs over 374 votes, since some of MEPs did not take their mandates (Catalans) and a Danish new MEP Jeppe Kofod has been appointed a new foreign minister in Denmark.
Does this mean Mr Weber abandoned his narrative from a few weeks ago? In the campaign ahead of 26 May, he said that if he became the president of the Commission, he would not like to cooperate with PiS. Swedish or Dutch MEPs said that Fidesz’s presence in the EPP deprives them of votes in their countries. From within Mr Weber’s entourage I hear that “there is a difference between campaigning for yourselves and for von der Leyen”. The Commission President vote is nevertheless related to the votes of last week.
Six groups agreed on the cordon sanitaire for the candidates of the far-right parties grouped in Identity and Democracy (ID). Weber apparently was asking other groups to make sure if someone else was “still problematic” ahead of the vote. Apparently the Greens, RE, GUE and S&D said nothing, apart from ID there was no other problematic chair. Then on Tuesday, 9 July Dacian Ciolos, the leader of RE, tweets:
Hence the Weber words of “standing by” are related to the d’Hondt and not joining the Renew Europe and others in voting down the PiS and Fidesz candidates. Sometimes the “defence” is successful as three PiS committee vice-chairs are voted through. The most visibly, however, the PiS chairwoman candidate is defeated.
Following this defeat and the previous week’s EP vice-presidency defeat of Mr Krasnodębski, Law and Justice is offended. They send signals they will not vote for von der Leyen despite PM Morawiecki’s support for the German candidate at the beginning of the month. PiS is disillusioned, cornered and does not want to engage to build trust with other groups. To the extend that the CDU sends emissaries to Poland to talk directly to the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński on Sunday, 14 July, as the PiS chairman revealed.
Mr Weber’s job is to guarantee a safe passage for Ms von der Leyen. The two are ready to go the whole distance. Ms von der Leyen did not meet the ID group, even if the support of La Lega is not completely out of question (Mr Conte voted ‘yes’ for von der Leyen in the European Council). Yet Ms von der Leyen met with M5S, the Five Star Movement, which seats with the non-attached members:
Win-win or lose-lose?
It may well be that some EPP MEPs, including certain Polish MEPs, will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because of her and Mr Weber reaching out to ECR.
It may well be that ECR MEPs will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because they’ve been humiliated twice in the European Parliament over last two weeks.
Or, it may well be that both Polish EPP MEPs and Polish ECR MEPs vote for Ms von der Leyen. This could be possible if by tomorrow Ms von der Leyen strongly holds the ground on the rule of law defence against the governments in Warsaw and Budapest, and at the same time there is a deal that in the following week Ms Szydło is voted through at the next EMPL meeting.
I worry, however, that CDU representatives could not guarantee to Ms Jarosław Kaczyński that Ms Szydło is voted through in EMPL by the end of next week. Maybe a compromise agreement was found for another ECR candidate in the committee?
The European Parliament has 20 standing committees and two subcommittees. On Wednesday, 10 July, most of them chose their chair people. And as in many member states, the chairs traditionally are distributed among all of the political groups.
Since last week, the list has been circulated with potential sets of heads of committees. According to one scenario, the European People’s Party (EPP) is to have 7 committee chairs, Social Democrats 5, centrists from Renew Europe 3, two committees are to be assigned to the Greens, the European Conservatives and Reformists and the Identity and Democracy group (ID), one chair for the left-wing GUE/NGL.
Since the defeat of Zdzisław Krasnodębski last week, it is obvious that the centrist groups plan to establish a cordon sanitaire around the ID candidates and preventing the far-right politicians from taking leadership positions. Still, if the defeat of MEP Krasnodębski is a surprise, this week it is evident that there is a special situation with two governmental parties with the rule of law situation in their own country: Hungarian Fidesz and Polish Law and Justice (PiS) are deeply unpopular.
On Wednesday morning, a full list of candidates’ names is distributed in the Parliament. According to it, ex-PM Beata Szydło (PiS/ECR) is to assume the position of the chair of the employment committee (EMPL) and a series of other Polish politicians are taking up the job of vice-chairs: Witold Waszczykowski (PiS/ECR) in the foreign affairs committee (AFET), Janusz Lewandowski (PO/EPP) in the budget committee (BUDG), Róża Thun (PO/EPP) in the internal market committee (IMCO), and MEP Krasnodębski (PiS/ECR) – in the industry, energy and research committee (ITRE). Robert Biedroń (Wiosna/S&D) is to be the new vice-chair of the committee on women’s rights and equality (FEMM), Krzysztof Hetman (PSL/EPP), and finally Ryszard Czarnecki (PiS/ECR) is to be a vice-chair the petitions committee (PETI).
The left-wing groups and centrists group, but not the EPP, decide to put a cordon sanitaire around the ID candidates, but also PiS and Fidesz. The confrontation takes place at the first meetings of the committees. There is a situation in the EMPL committee. In all other committees ID politicians are effectively blocked. But Fidesz and PiS politicians are elected vice-chairs despite an attempted cordon sanitaire.
This is a test of power for the left wing coalition and for the PiS politicians led by Ms Beata Szydło, who face a certain unknown: you do not know how many opponents there are and who are they?
TheEMPL Committee Chair
There are 55 members of the EMPL committee: 13 are with the EPP, 10 with the S&D, eight are centrists with RE, there are five Greens and as many non-attached members. There are only four ECR MEPs, including Beata Szydło and Elżbieta Rafalska. There are more members of the far right – six, and four MEPs from the leftist GUE. It is obvious that the only chance for Beata Szydło to assume the position of the chair of the committee is the respect for the political agreement between all groups.
The meeting begins. MEP Rafalska presents the candidate Beata Szydło. She talks about how the government of Prime Minister Szydło was effective in leading the social dialogue, that social dialogue is essential for settling conflicts. Prime Minister Szydło asks for the opportunity to present herself. The opportunity is granted; MEP Szydło talks about Poland, that her government eliminated poverty in Poland and reduced the unemployment of Polish citizens.
Beata Szydło is the only candidate for the chair position. The politics begins. MEP Gabriele Bischoff (S&D) asks for a secret ballot. MEP David Casa (EPP) opposes. The observers know what is coming: the confrontation is approaching. With a secret vote a cordon sanitaire is the first step. This is happening in other committees, too. Bischoff’s motion is supported by the centrist MEP Dragoș Pîslaru, and then the temporary chair of the meeting states that the rules of the Parliament say that if there are 11 signatures supporting the secret vote, the vote is secret. There are more than 11 signatures, so the matter is clear. Voting is secret.
The result of the vote: 21 votes in green for “yes” to Beata Szydło. 27 votes in red for “no”. The candidacy is gone. The meeting is adjourned; the next will be organized on 24 July.
Who voted for Szydło and who voted against? By coincidence the EMPL membership for S&D, RE, Greens and the GUE adds up to 27. Is this the same twenty-seven? We will never know. The vote is secret.
The European People’s Party supported Beata Szydło and did not join the cordon sanitaire. But in today’s Parliament the small majority of the four left winning groups, if they act together, prevails.
After the last week’s defeat of MEP Krasnodębski, the Wednesday rejection of Beata Szydło for the post of chairwoman of one of the EP committees is a signal of the massive image problem this party has in the European Union. While listening to the parliamentary committee meetings, one can be dissonant: the politicians of Law and Justice try to present themselves in a positive light, but in the Polish language; other politicians who spoke all communicated in English, although none of them were chosen in the UK or Ireland. One of the left wing MEPs described Szydło’s candidacy as a “provocation” towards the left parties.
The other ECR candidate was approved as a chair of the budget committee by acclamation.
This is the second humiliation of PiS in the European Parliament within two weeks. Will the party be able to change its strategy and be successful not only in Poland, but also in the EU? If that happens, it would be for the benefit of PiS, the ECR and for all of Poland.
There are 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. Elected in three rounds on Wednesday, here they are:
The natural thing for the European Parliament in choosing its vice-president is to do so by a consensus between the political groups. Except for, there is no consensus in this new European Parliament.
There are two important factors. First, the far-right Identity and Democracy Group is hostile to the European integration and as such, other political groups have proposed to employ the ‘cordon sanitaire’ principle in order to prevent the ID politicians from obtaining senior positions in the European Parliament. For more on the cordon sanitaire read on Euractiv here.
Hence the ID candidates for the vice-presidency, Laura Huhtasaari and Mara Bizzotto are voted down. Ms Bizzotto is the group’s only candidate by the time the second vote is to take place. In the first vote 11 vice-presidents were elected.
Second, the large pool of the non-inscrits, or the non attached members. The Brexiteers and the Italian M5S do not belong to any of the groups, hence they are not bound by any political agreements. They freeride. The candidacy of the Italian MEP Fabio Castaldo is announced – to be a candidate you need support of any of 38 MEPs.
The 14th Vice-President
By the time the second vote takes place, there are three slots and five candidates: three of the smaller groups, Greens, GUE and ECR, and two ‘anti-system’ candidates, of ID and a non-attached MEP. It is clear who should win.
The outcome of the second vote is positive for the Green MEP Mr Kolaja and for the GUE MEP Mr Papadimoulis, but not for Mr Krasnodębski of ECR, who already in the second vote scores fewer votes (261) than Mr Castaldo (283). Still with Ms Bizzotto on the ballot (142) there is a need for the third vote.
Then the third vote takes place. The choice is clear, between Mr Krasnodębski of ECR and Mr Castaldo of non-attached. Only 350 MEPs vote, which already indicates that the result might be distorted. And they are!
Who is absent? The EPP, with less than 50% of its members actually taking the task of voting. The other groups’ participation is fine, between 65% and 82%. Why is EPP absent? Ursula von der Leyen is in town meeting the Parliament’s biggest group.
The outcome of the vote is devastating for the ECR candidate: 248 for the Five Star MEP and only 85 for the PiS MEP.
The fallout of the loss
Mr Krasnodębski is disillusioned. He tweets “This is how the rules and commitments are respected in the EP”:
Other PiS MEPs are even more critical. MEP Mazurek writes that the parliamentary democracy rules were broken. She continues that it is a payback for the European Council meeting.
She alludes that the EP Left did not vote for Mr Krasnodębski because of PiS allegedly shooting down the candidacy of Mr Timmermans for the European Commission Presidency. Mr Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, deputy Foreign Minister continues along those lines the next day: “the results of this vote and in general the European Parliament votes are a sort of reflection of not fully satisfied moods of certain member states”.
For Mr Czarnecki MEP this is an anti-Polish vote as he uses a strong word of “revenge” for the last European Council. Mr Czarnecki was once a VP but lost his seat because of his non-parliamentary talk last term. Mr Krasnodębski replaced him.
Is Mr Krasnodębski loss due to others disrespect of the rules?
Three factors come in for his loss. First is the evening meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and the European People’s Party. This is why so few EPP politicians are actually in the room. Do they make a difference? Clearly, with them around Mr Krasnodębski was only 20 votes short of Mr Castaldo in the second round. Without them Mr Castaldo is the winner.
Second, where is the ID? The far-right keeps on putting empty votes into the voting booths. Their votes do not count, hence there is no support for Mr Krasnodębski. Without the ID presence the Parliament is not divided evenly right and left, there is a strong left-wing majority. With the EPP largely absent, the effect is even stronger. Suddenly it is easier for the non-attached coming from a political party which tried to join the GUE, ALDE and ECR over last months.
In the choice between two former vice-presidents Mr Castaldo has the upper hand. His way to this vice-presidency goes through years of coming out of a cordon sanitaire of the last Parliament. Back in 2014 the EFDD, the then-group of Mr Castaldo, is subject of a cordon sanitaire of the mainstream groups. Fabio Castaldo takes a low profile, commits himself to work in his committees, where he takes shadow rapporteurships seriously and is even entrusted with a report: on Tunisia, in the Foreign Affairs committee, in 2016. Quite an achievement. On that basis Mr Castaldo competes in November 2017 in a by-election to fill in the empty seat of the Vice President of the European Parliament. He wins against the German liberal candidate Ms Gesine Meissner 325 to 238.
Mr Castaldo is known in the Parliament and liked in the chamber, despite his lack of a political affiliation. He is able to win support of various groups and other nationalities than his own. Clearly the personality matters also in July 2019.
Third is the fact that 61% of MEPs are new to the chamber. Before the votes begin Ms Neena Gill, a Social-Democrat from the UK, asks, “We should have an opportunity to know who the vice-president candidates are. Could we at least have a short statement from them as to why they are standing? I know the candidates from my group but I don’t know all the candidates from the other groups.” This proves impossible as the Conference of Presidents decided against presentation of such candidacies, responds the new President Sassoli. Watch this interaction here.
What does it tell us? Many MEPs receive a voting list with all the candidates and their affiliations. No information about who they are and what do they stand for. Hence the information about Mr Krasnodębski is simply his name, group affiliation (ECR) and the country he is from (Poland). Pretty much everybody knows that all ECR members from Poland are Polish ruling party MEPs, Law and Justice (PiS).
Hence the choice MEPs have is simple: for Mr nice guy from an unpopular party, but largely not a threat, or for Mr who is a representative of an effectively anti-European ruling party back home. And the left-wing leaning House made the choice.
European Parliament is not the representation of states. It is the representation of the people, of the citizens of the European Union. When will the Law and Justice politicians learn this obvious fact?
The European Council did not elect the President of the European Parliament. The European Parliament did. In fact, the EP chose a different person that the European Council hoped for. A signal that the appointment of Ms von der Leyen may not be as smooth?
Hence Law and Justice is wrong when they link the results of the last European Council and the Castaldo vote. They should link the performance of Law and Justice in the Warsaw government with the popularity of Law and Justice candidates. They should link the popularity of PiS with the PiS performance in the European Parliament. On the very first day of the new Parliament two PiS politicians provoked others by sitting during the Ode to Joy performance.
The pro-Castaldo vote is not an anti-Polish vote. It is an anti-Law and Justice vote. Clearly it is useful to invest into good working relationships across political parties. Timing of the vote, the negative perception of PiS inside the Parliament and the positive offer of Mr Castaldo resulted with the outcome.
Mr Castaldo is the 14th Vice-President of the European Parliament and Mr Krasnodębski is not. A consolation prize for PiS and a proof the ECR is not a subject of the cordon sanitaire? Mr Karol Karski, a fellow Pole from ECR, is the Parliament’s Questor.
The next day starts with the big news of yesterday: Ursula is the new Queen of Europe. Yikes! In Poland the debate is if this is a true win for the Polish government or not so much. Let us put this empty debate aside. Not relevant for the future if you sell something as a success or not. The true question is that this new Commission will enjoy trust of the Warsaw government, at least at first, and how will this play out with the rule of law debate and the energy/climate transition, especially in the looming context of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework? Those are the questions for the future.
The question of the day is the next President of the European Parliament. Early afternoon, after the second ballot, the EP publishes a very unimpressive info:
Is 345 a majority of 751? Clearly not, but there is a twist in the definition of absolute majority for the Presidency of the European Parliament. The rules say clearly that the winner is the candidate who obtains ‘absolute majority of the votes cast‘. Since there are 667 votes cast, the 345 votes for Mr Sassoli is enough.
David Sassoli is the new President of the European Parliament. MEP since 2009, a journalist before that, recently one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament.
In his inaugural address Mr Sassoli draws attention to the important link for the institution, the link between the European Parliament and the European Citizen. “We are different, not better or worse” and all of 512 million of us are equal. He talks about the EU agenda and challenges of social equality, climate change and digital transformation. He warns of the fear of nationalism and says, “we are all children or grandchildren of historical events” that collectively had a strong desire for freedom.
Mr Sassoli quotes Jean Monnet’s “Nothing lasts without institutions” words and proclaims himself a defender of the European Parliament powers vis-a-vis other institutions.
The European Parliament is a house with 40% women and 63% first-time elected MEPs. The debate that takes place following Mr Sassoli’s election already indicates the direction of the future EP dynamics: internal divisions, fighting the Council and its member states and cautious majority formation. Ms Ska Keller of the Greens demands protection of the MEP who is barred from taking the mandate (bad states!), Mr Marco Zanni of far-right Identity and Democracy is worried that other groups will not allow for ID to take leadership of two committees. Politico is already reporting about the plot to stop the ID taking over the AGRI (Agriculture) and JURI (Legal Affairs) committees calling it “cordon sanitaire” of the far-right.
Mr Ciolos of RE ponders the question of “backroom deals” that others are also referring to. What did they all have in mind? Probably the yesterday last moment secret arrangements of new European leaders with the biggest star of Ms Ursula von der Leyen.
There is one element that is difficult to miss: the amount of people who speak Italian! And it turns out they all are Italian. The only person who does not speak her first language is Ms Ska Keller. Congratulations. Others speak their first ethnic tongues. The Italian outgoing President of the Parliament Tajani passes the baton to a new Italian President of the Parliament Sassoli. Following that two of the group leaders speak Italian, the ID and ECR, as both gentlemen are Italian. Mr Raffaelle Fitto is co-chair, to be precise. Tutta l’Europa parla italiano!
The Vice Presidents
There are 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. In the first round 11 are chosen, and here is the top 7 Vice-Presidents with the highest support. Among them two names stand out: Ms Mairead McGuinness has been a VP already and in the election process she voiced an ambition to become the leader of the institution. Clearly this was not possible today, but as the most popular VP in 2.5 years time… Ms McGuiness is Irish and sits with the EPP.
The second name worth mentioning is Ms Ewa Kopacz, who just arrived in the European Parliament and already changes a position. A little over a month ago Ms Kopacz was catapulted from the national politics into the European sphere and appointed a deputy head of the EPP. Ms Kopacz is a former Speaker of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and one of many former Polish Prime Ministers in the Strasbourg chamber (2014-15). Since the Polish is the second-biggest national delegation inside the EPP, and the Germans keep the position of the group leader (Mr Weber’s consolation prize), there might be an appetites for another change of jobs 2.5 years down the line.
This is the package negotiated by the European Council. No place for Mr Weber. No place for Mr Timmermans. Why?
The European People’s Party got stubborn in their demands for an EPP politician on top of the next European Commission. If Weber was not acceptable for others, than a new name was chosen. By the one and only, dame of European politics Angela Merkel. She truly is a king and queen maker, if this is not derailed (see below).
With Mr Macron on board (Lagarde!), Mr Sanchez got what he wanted from the start (Borrell!), and the EPP happy too there is a relieve in the European Council and dissatisfaction elsewhere. It matters that Mr Timmermans and Mr Rutte (PM of the Netherlands) come from different political families; Mr Rutte did not defend Mr Timmermans as a Dutch candidate.
The liberals and centrists of the European Council wanted the leadership of EUCO, and this is what they got. Read the small print: Mr Charles Michel is the only one ELECTED today. All the other ones are nominees and a proposal.
Hence the ball moves to the European Parliament. This is what the S&D communicated soon after the EUCO decision:
Yes, the European Council did not elect the next European Commission President. The European Council proposed a candidate that will or not be elected by the European Parliament.
Welcome to Strasbourg.
The Parliament is welcoming. It has postponed its deadline for candidates for the presidency of the House to give the European Council more time that it clearly needed. But the outcome of it is unclear.
Will Ms von der Leyen reach the 375 mark? Let’s see what happens. To throw the Spitzenkandidaten system under the bus the way the European Council did at the end of the day is a blow to the European Parliament firmly believing in the process. Hence the decision of the Social Democrats to be sceptical. Also since they were so close just 48 hours before…
As S&D has every right to be disappointed, the question is if there will be a majority in the Parliament able to defend the European Parliament’s future of the Spitzenkandidaten system. Mr Weber said at the EPP meeting tonight: “Macron and Orban killed the Spitzenkandidaten system”. Can it be revived?
The Greens’ are growing their dissatisfaction, too. Bas Eickhout, a leading EP Green tweeted:
Fan fact, the EUCO decision was not unanimous. Germany abstained… Quite a dame Angela Merkel abstaining from voting for a German CDU minister. Or, is she making a statement saying “I win a small war but I might be losing a big war on Spitzen-candidates and I want to remind you that this war is not over quite yet”?
The Polish take
The Poles are ecstatic. Last time the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) politicians were happy about EU? Never. Last time the PiS politicians were as supportive of an EU federalist politician? Never. They are simply happy Mr Timmermans is not the Commission President.
Where is an Eastern European? Absent. Some say this could be compensated at the level of the vice-presidents of the Commission, which is a weak compensation. Ms Merkel is better at the press conference: “There is a prospect of an Eastern European for Parliament president”. There is one at the moment, but it is 8:30 PM and there is still time for new ideas. For the moment Mr Jan Zahradil is ECR’s candidate for the EP’s top job. Was this Merkel’s endorsement for Zahradil? Somehow I am sceptical.
This is a good deal. Two women, all federalists, all competent people. 27 votes in favour of Ms von der Leyen with 0 against and 1 friendly abstention.
This is a bad deal. This is a deal disrespectful of the Parliament’s Spitzen-candidates system. The candidate was not presented in the campaign. Citizens have a right to feel cheated, as the next Commission President is supposed to be running on an increased legitimacy given by the citizens to the Union during the elections process. Instead the President-candidate runs on the European Council legitimacy. For now, that is.
Yes, Ms von der Leyen, maybe we should call her UVDL for short, is a President-candidate for now. She will be President-elect when she receives 375 votes or more in the European Parliament. She will be President once her College is approved later this year.
This process brings me with a few reflections. First, the partypolitics dominates the European political stage much more than national interests or institutional arrangements, for now at least. This is a sign of maturing of the system.
Second, there is a need to rethink the Spitzenkandidaten process ahead of 2024 and 2029. Clearly the 2009/2010, 2014 and 2019 experiences are rich to draw conclusions from.
Third, it is a pity that the Central Europeans are nowhere to be seen. This solution is a proof that CEE countries, especially Poland and Italy lose power and influence. Mr Morawiecki at the press conference said he was confident that the region will be well represented. But how?
He also supported de-politicisation of the Commission, presented himself as a part of a compromise. This is a positive step in associating Law and Justice for being co-responsible for the European Union and its independent institutions in the future. The vote for UVDL is an investment into building trust of countries like Poland, but also Hungary and Italy.
But Mateusz Morawiecki would not be himself if he did not attack Mr Timmermans again calling him a radical candidate of the extreme left. Personal attacks like this make heroes, do not bury enemies. The popularity of Martin Schulz was built on an offence against him by Mr Berlusconi back in 2003.
Fourth, what will be the role of the conservative, very conservative or sovereignist commissioners arriving from Poland, Italy and Hungary in the new Commission? Prime Minister Conte just said Italy will have a vice-president of the Commission responsible for the competition portfolio. Let’s see how this goes in due time, especially since it is to be La Lega’s candidate. Interesting.
Fifth, something for tomorrow: who will be the next President of the Parliament?
Once we know this we can ponder on how Ms Ursula can get her 375 yeses in the Strasbourg chamber.
If you follow the top-jobs debate in the European Union you may know about the stalemate since 26 May. The stalemate is political and institutional. It is institutional between the European Council and the European Parliament, who says that the next European Commission President should come from among the Spitzen-candidates. The views in the European Council are not as narrow.
The political stalemate is between all the political groups, now 7, who emerged post-elections. The outcome is inconclusive in the sense that it is obvious what is necessary: the conservatives of the EPP, the progressives of the S&D and centrists of the RE need to agree on a deal. Not in the Parliament, but in the European Council, that is prone to national, not party political, thinking.
Hence the situation. For weeks Mr Manfred Weber has been saying: as a candidate of the European People’s Party that came first in the European Parliament, I should be the next Commission President. Simple and flat.
Over the past weeks, however, Mr Frans Timmermans has build a much bigger coalition behind him. The progressive coalition backing Mr Timmermans enjoys support of the social-democrats, the centrists/liberals of the European Council as well as Mr Tsipras of Greece, whose Syriza’s MEPs seat with the far-left group GUE/NGL. In the European Parliament, the latest figures suggest a slim majority for the progressive candidate without the EPP onboard: the 26 June figures suggest that 154 S&D MEPs with 108 RE MEPs, 75 Green MEPs and 41 GUE/NGL should be enough: 378 MEPs out of 751.
Mr Emmanuel Macron of France said two things from the start: a non to Mr Weber and a non to the Spitzen-candidates system. If he was to be limited to only one non it would be a non à Monsieur Weber.
Ms Angela Merkel of Germany said two things from the start: a ja to Mr Weber and a ja to the Spitzen-candidates system. If she was to be limited to only one ja it would be a ja zum Spitzenkandidaten-System.
It was only natural for Mr Donald Tusk of no country to seek that opportunity to negotiate a deal between the two. At first, he was taken by a surprise in Osaka. He thought that the Spitzenkandidaten system was dead as during the last European Council there was no agreement on any of the candidates. Now, they are back, or at least one of them. Mr Timmermans, in a package deal. Backed by Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Incidentally – or not – those are the three countries that are the largest states in the hands of each of the families – Ms Merkel and EPP, Mr Macron and RE, Mr Sanchez and S&D. The Netherlands is the home country of Mr Timmermans.
So voila, Mr Timmermans as part of the Osaka compromise reached on the margins of the last G-20 summit. The deal includes the party-politics compromise package for Mr Weber: the 5-year long presidency of the European Parliament, EUCO presidency for the Renew Europe and the High Representative to the EPP.
30 June: V-4 is back!
Or so it seemed. Before the Parliament could reject that idea over its first session beginning tomorrow – for who should lead them to be decided behind close doors in Japan – the Sunday European Council says no!
Yes, there are 22 more voting members of the European Council beyond the ones who went to Osaka: leaders of Germany, France, Italy and the UK are the full members of the G-20 club and leaders of the Netherlands and Spain were among the invited guests.
The European Council members were not exactly “happy” with the package presented to them as the Osaka compromise. The two critical angles were relevant. One is party political. The other is regional, hence, a traditional European Council-politicking.
The party political ‘surprise’ is major. It is the EPP European Council members who say to Ms Merkel you do not represent us; it is the PMs of Latvia and Croatia who are the EPP representatives. The EPP EUCO members of Croatia, Ireland, Bulgaria and Hungary are on the record as being critical of the Osaka compromise. After all, should we stick to the leading candidates, shouldn’t we back Mr Weber? And if we were to bury the Spitzen-system and look beyond it, shouldn’t we be looking at other EPP candidates?
The real question for the EPP is this: what is more important to you, the temporary political gain (an EPP politician as Commission President) or a longer term contribution to the system that is genuinely democratic, creates a lasting impact? Instinctively quite a few of the EPP leaders reacted critically, but will their criticism hold long enough?
The national political surprise is partly surprising. When five years ago Mr Jean-Claude Juncker was voted against the judgment of the leaders of the UK and Hungary, Brussels shrugged. There was a major majority behind the new Commission President anyway and that was what mattered.
Hence it is no surprise to count out today the governments of UK (Brexit), Italy (dominated by far-right), Poland (ECR) and Hungary (not quite in line with EPP). That’s four out of 28. One needs 21 voting EUCO members to appoint a candidate for the new Commission President. The ‘surprise’ is the Sunday Visegrad-Four statement against Mr Timmermans is shared by the nominally liberal PM of Czechia Andrej Babiš and Peter Pellegrini of Slovakia, who is nominally a S&D member (like Mr Timmermans). They both are saying ‘ne‘and ‘nie‘ to the Dutch politician.
Therefore Sunday ends with a combination of de-franchised EPP EUCO members who feel partisan to the idea that Mr Weber candidacy should be abandoned and a regional Central European negative sentiment to Mr Timmermans’ candidacy (Mr Morawiecki, Poland’s PM: “Mr Timmermans is divisive” towards Central Europe) could kill the Dutch Social-Democrat candidacy.
If you do not sleep your ability to stand ground becomes limited. What if you are jet-lagged on top of this fatigue?
What seems like the next move is to see who is against the Franco-German offer and work on them one-by-one. Hence the long night bilateral meetings run by Mr Tusk. The purpose is to work on the sceptics and convince them, one by one, to build a majority and a wider consensus.
The goal is to avoid voting. Probably very few people expect there will be no vote at the end of the road. But the purpose is not to have a consensus, but to seek one. The greater the majority behind the new Commission President the greater his legitimacy to work “on behalf of the Union”. Therefore it is not a question how to reach 21, the question is to squeeze the maximum amount of leaders behind the chosen one.
Two new developments take place. First, Mr Pellegrini of Slovakia faces an increased pressure to break off the V-4 opposition and, a Social-Democrat to a Social-Democrat, support Mr Timmermans. Will he stand the ground? If so, with whom, his political family or his regional allies?
Second, the Polish and Italian Prime Minister (Mr Giuseppe Conte) ask for a secret ballot. The Polish leader most likely counts on more leaders to be secretly against Mr Timmermans than openly against him in the European Council. The Italian leader most likely hopes he can secretly vote in favour of the candidate without bearing the political consequences of the vote back home.
Most importantly, the breakfast. Clearly a sort of compromise is in the air. All the media reporting overnight are positive that the negotiations have shifted from who should be the Commission President to what’s the packeged deal for everybody else. Everybody else, meaning, the Social-Democrats winning the main prize cannot claim any other of the top jobs.
At the morning it seems that the Osaka agreement S&D for Commission President, RE for EUCO President and EPP for the Parliament and the High Representative will be shifter around.
It seems that the EPP criticism brings back the issue of EUCO Presidency for the EPP together with the EP’s half term, this way RE could potentially seek positions at the top of the Parliament in two-and-half years and the High Representative. “The Liberals are uncompromising for this post”, says the EPP EUCO member from Bulgaria, Mr Boyko Borissov.
Still, the name of Ms Kristalina Georgieva is circulated as the most likely replacement of Mr Tusk. As a Bulgarian, a World Bank CEO and a former vice-president of the European Commission, Ms Georgieva ticks a lot of boxes: a woman, an Eastern-European, and an EPP politician. The fact she has never been elected to any office? Not a EUCO problem. The fact she was never a EUCO member? Oh wait, really? She is still largely trusted, served 6 years on the European Commission as a Commissioner and Vice-President of the College before taking a job at the World Bank. Back in 2014 she was tipped as a potential High Representative. She is a popular candidate, despite never having served on the European Council. However, Mr Borissov says in a conference post-summit that she is not interested in the job: “the only suitable job for her is Commission President”
It looks like EPP might secure one more job, something of a consolation prize for Mr Weber: presidency of the Parliament. This might be a smart move to calm the nerves of the conservative bench-sitters of the EPP, ECR and ID to win at least the Weber-supporters for the Osaka compromise.
One of the outstanding questions is can EUCO secure Mr Weber a 5 year long presidency? Clearly this is something for Mr Weber to fight for. Clearly this is something that Mr Guy Verhofstadt has an eye for, too.
Second of the outstanding questions is the future High Representative. The person should be a liberal (or EPP), and there is the outgoing Belgian available and willing, apparently. Mr Charles Michel lost the national elections recently and looks for a new job. Clearly two liberal Belgians is not too much for Europe if one is a Flemish and another a Walloon, is it?
Hence the looking for a lady-liberal candidate is still on. Keep your eyes open. The name of Ms Margrethe Vestager comes to mind, except for her the package deal foresees a “First Vice Presidency” of the European Commission. The job Mr Timmermans had in the Juncker Commission.
This is when the EUCO meeting is suspended. I guess not enough sleep and more work for those national leaders back home. The meeting is scheduled to re-start tomorrow, 11 AM.
Zero. There is no deal under all of the deal is made, goes a popular Brussels saying. Hence Mr Timmermans cannot catch up on the sleep just yet. When the national leaders are exposed to today’s national criticism back home there might be new dynamics in the Europa building tomorrow. Expect more fuss than normally in Bratislava, Berlin and Rome. In Berlin Merkel might prevail, after all she runs a coalition government with SPD. In Bratislava Mr Pellegrini has some explanation to do. In Rome Mr Conte will be told what to do.
Are the V-4 leaders disruptors in the EU system of governing vetoing one EUCO after another? Is the European stardom of Angela Merkel gone?
One. Clearly Mr Weber is too conservative for the progressives. A different EPP candidate could be acceptable, says Mr Macron.
Two. Clearly there is a problem in the EPP. Mr Vladimír Bilčík, a newly elected MEP from Slovakia tells this blog, “The priority of EPP has been the Commission Presidency. EPP has the highest number of MEPs in the house. Period.” The European People’s Party is no longer a simple extension of the German CDU and should not be treated as such. Germans are important, but there is no room for a single-hand rule. Probably Mr Weber, whose political experience is largely based in the EP, knows this better than Ms Merkel…
Three. Merkel is weak in Germany, Merkel is weak in Europe. There is a time clicking on the powers of the German Chancellor. The longest serving member of the institution, she looks into the legacy. This is why the Spitzen-system is more important than the fate of Mr Weber. The looking tired (lack of sleep, jet-lag) Angela Merkel at the Monday midday press conference says that EUCO seeks “the highest possible consensus” as 21 is not enough a figure.
Four, will the Franco-German solutions work? Mr Macron did not want Mr Weber. Ms Merkel did want to save the process. They made a deal and Mr Tusk tries to deliver. Still, there are reservations. Mr Conte of Italy says at his press briefing: “We were 10-11 countries that expressed doubts on this method”. He is also disillusioned about the Spitzen-process: “Italy has nothing against Timmermans, I consider him a valuable person and of great experience,” Conte said. “However, if he’s proposed through this method, I’m forced to indicate a reserve on his name.” See how the summit unfolded here.
Five. V4 is strong, but their strength is negative. This is not a source of inspiration. There needs to be a positive power emanating from this important European region. Mr Morawiecki is proud to say what they do not want, instead is short of saying what he actually wants. It is a “nay, nay, nay” crying baby that is happy something is broken. I would hope for Poland/Hungary to move from let us govern the way we want to this is what we want to do. Let’s talk how we could reach this together. Only together one be successful, especially on the climate/energy challenges. There is a room for this shift. Fingers crossed for the Finnish Council Presidency, which aims to put the issue of 50% decarbonisation back on the EU agenda by the end of the year.
Six. If Mr Timmermans is elected this is bad news for Mr Morawiecki and the Polish leadership. As the most exposed Mr Morawiecki might witness something close to humiliation. The critics are already framing their positions. Take a popular political journalist, Konrad Piasecki: “The ruling camp has invested into fighting against the candidacy of Mr Timmermans. If they fail to have a success they shall have loses: diplomatic, political and in public relations”.
Seven. What do we know? All we know that the endorsement of Mr Timmermans is most likely tomorrow. We know there is a likely vote to take place tomorrow. And that’s all we know. We do not know who are the other people in the package, except for a room for Mr Weber and Ms Vestager should be expected somewhere in the final set-up. Who will be the Eastern European in the mix? Will there be two ladies among the top-jobs, however broadly the ‘top-jobs’ are defined? Who will vote for Mr Timmermans and who will vote against?
It is a month since the European elections and the Civic Platform (PO) now knows why they lost the vote on 26 May. Here’s what Gazeta Wyborcza published a few days ago on the issue. Those points come from within the PO’s inner study.
The exceptionally high turnout (46%, compared with 24% five years before), especially in the rural areas and small towns (up to 50.000 inhabitants). The bigger the town the turnout increase was smaller.
Rural turnout was at 89% of the average, compared with 128% of the biggest cities: the difference five years ago was 86% to 148%.
The European elections voter became more a “small town voter” rather than a “big city voter”: in 2019 60% of voters were rural or small town voters, compared with 56% in 2014. Law and Justice (PiS) won only in rural areas and in smallest towns (up to 50k).
The increased turnout benefited PiS, as the people who turned up to vote were more rural and small town voters.
The effect of the 13th pension: on 1 May the Polish pensioners received a new, additional payment of 200 Euro. In 2019 EU vote the turnout among the seniors was higher than the 2015 parliamentary elections (51% total) – it was the only social group with such a result;
Reduced turnout among the younger and 30-40 year old voters: their activity benefited the Opposition last year during the local elections.
It is good to know why you lost. Now the PO can start to build up its strategy ahead of the parliamentary elections in October. There is a number of challenges for this. First, the unknown question if the Opposition goes as one, united front. It seems there might be two blocks, centre-right and a progressive one, rather than one, but it is too early to say. Those decisions, however, should be taken fast.
Second, there is a severe criticism against the PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna, and the fact that the European Coalition (EC) did not project a positive offer during the European elections, and people only received a negative offer: “do not vote PiS”, “they are bad”. Will the Opposition overcome those difficulties before October?
Third external criticism is the fact that the EC focused its campaign too much on the Internet, and not enough – offline. Apparently the PiS posters were everywhere and there were very few posters of the EC. Clearly offline still matters in Poland.
As 7 groups are formed and there are two major left-outs still looking for a place for themselves in the new European Parliament, the people’s institution is taking shape before it’s official launch on 2 July.
The Groups as of today
There are still moves between the Groups, as for example one new Dutch ECR MEP moved from ECR to the EPP because of the adhesion of Theo Baudet’s Euroskeptic Forum for Democracy into the ECR. One by one as they are today:
European People’s Party has 182 MEPs, Manfred Weber as its chair and one of his vice-chairs is Ewa Kopacz, former Polish PM. The key Polish MEP in the group affairs is Jan Olbrycht, who is one of the negotiators on behalf of the EPP with the other three groups (S&D, RE, the Greens). They negotiate the Parliament’s version of the Union’s agenda for the next five years.
Socialists and Democrats with 153 MEPs have chosen a new leader, Iratxe García. There are 8 Polish MEPs including former PMs Miller, Belka and Cimoszewicz, so it slightly surprising there is no Bureau member from Poland among the new S&D leadership.
Renew Europe grows to 108 MEPs with Dacian Cioloș as its new leader. The group is now French-dominated and dropping the adjective “liberal” is not co-incidental. Mr Cioloș Romanian party PLUS is situated in the “centert, centre-right area”. There are no Polish MEPs among the centrists.
Greens/EFA has 75 MEPs with Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts continuing as co-chairs. The Greens are clear winners of the elections, even if the “green wave” is limited not to all of the Union’s states. There are no Poles among the Green MEPs.
Identity and Democracy goes by ID and replaces ENF. ID is 73 MEPs strong. Marco Zanni is the group leader. There are no Polish far-right MEPs.
European Conservatives and Democrats dropped to 6th spot from 3rd, mainly due to the Tories terrible results. There are 63 MEPs with ECR. The group is dominated by Law and Justice (26 MEPs), and has a co-leadership with Ryszard Legutko (returning) and Raffaelle Fitto (new, previously vice-chair).
European United Left–Nordic Green Left or GUE/NGL is a group of 41 MEPs, a raw figure down from 52 in the outgoing Parliament, mainly due to losses in Czechia, Italy and the Netherlands. Gabbi Zimmer is expected to continue to lead the group. There are no Polish MEPs in the group.
The first of the two big national cohorts without a Parliamentary group are the British Brexit Party (29 MEPs), that run in the snap elections in the UK to make a point about the country leaving the EU. Hence there are no expectations as for if the party should seek a group affiliation as long as Brexit is scheduled to take place.
The second of the national big players is the Italian party Five Star Movement (M5S) with 14 MEPs. With the British they were at the core of the soon defunct EFDD group. Most of the other EFDD partners moved on to the ID group of failed to be re-elected. The Italians tried to run on their own European platform, but managed to get elected MEPs from only two countries, the other being Croatia (1 MEP, also looking for a new group). In the past the M5S was negotiating accession to what is now RE, but failed. Due to domestic politics M5S cannot join the ID (where La Lega rules), the S&D (where the Partido Democratico is strong), or the EPP (where Forza Italia is). Even ECR is problematic, as Brothers of Italy are said to be not open to welcome the big Italian actor. Shopping for affiliation there are two groups left: the Greens and GUE/NGL. What will happen?
The agenda play
The four centrist groups (EPP, S&D, RE and the Greens) are negotiating a coalition agreement. “This is an important development in the process of building of European democracy. In many countries with strong tradition of coalition governments there is an attempt to built a common agenda of the government first”, says professor Steven Van Hecke of KU Leuven.
There are 5 priority areas: (1) Environment, Climate Change; (2) Economic, Fiscal, Trade policies; (3) Digitalisation; (4) Rule of Law, Borders and Migration; (5) Europe in the World, or foreign affairs.
The Parliament takes the European Council’s Strategic Agenda and re-writes it. The European Council’s agenda has four points: (1) protection of citizens and freedoms; (2) economy; (3) climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe; (4) promotion of EU values on the global stage.
The outcome of the play when it comes to the strategic thinking about the Union in the future will be the new President of the European Commission’s political guidelines. At least this was the name given to the policy prioritisation document of the EC head five and ten years ago. The guidelines served as a base of the Barroso II and the Juncker Commission activities of the subsequent five years.
The names play
The European Council considered the Spitzen-candidates and none of them made the cut of obtaining a majority vote among the leaders, is the conclusion of the last European Council 20-21 June. The EUCO will reconvene for one more time ahead of the European Parliament to put forward a candidate for the President of the European Commission.
Who will it be? The speculation is endless, but the key question is: will the Parliament object, if the candidate proposed is not a previous Spitzen-candidate?
This seems to be a false question as the Parliament’s candidates were considered by the EUCO. The European Council respected the system of Spitzens. Yet none of them received a majority necessary to be proposed. This is why and when the EUCO leading people need to reconsider.
The system of Spitzenkandidates is not dead. Institutionally, it was respected. It is the European politics is real and we see a struggle for power. The first fight was for Mr Weber (EPP) to be named candidate. This failed. The EPP now wants for all the others to fail, too: Mr Timmermans and Ms Vestager, candidates of S&D and RE.
Should this be the case whomever the EUCO comes out with, will the Parliament say ‘yes’ to?
As long as Mr Sánchez has an oversight over the S&D, and the new leader of S&D is his MEP; as long as Mr Macron has an oversight over the RE, and the new leader of RE is a protégé of Macron; as long as Ms Merkel has an oversight over the EPP and she does – it seems that the European Parliament can be managed. Unless… exactly for the same reasons, that they are partisans to their national leaders parties, but at the same time they all seem to fight for the empowerment of the people’s chamber, the new leaders of the European Parliament will, in fact, stand up to their bosses in Madrid, Munich and Bucharest/Paris. Well, which value will be dominant?
Let’s hear the name, first. My bet, as early as today (23 June) – and I have always been terrible with bets – is that the current EUCO debate is between Barnier and Vestager. Mr Barnier could unify France and EPP, a social democratic lady could be welcomed as the EUCO leader (is Thorning-Schmidt still in the play?) and Mr Verhofstadt could become a President of the European Parliament. Unless the S&D would like for Mr Timmermans to take the High Rep position, then the EUCO leader could be a Eastern European – Dalia Grybauskaite is available. The only problem here is that only one lady is among the leaders and many actors are saying we should expect at least two ladies.
The people who try to square the circle at different levels are:
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council designed a formateur by the EUCO in the process
Angela Merkel, leader of the largest country of the EPP in the EUCO; Emmanuel Macron, leader of the largest country of RE in the EUCO; and Pedro Sánchez, leader of the largest country of the S&D in the EUCO
6 Prime Ministers who are coordinators in the process, two of each of the political families: for the EPP – of Latvia and Croatia, Krišjānis Kariņš and Andrej Plenkovič, respectively; for RE – Mark Rutte and Charles Michel of the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively; for S&D Sánchez of Spain and António Costa of Portugal.
Brussels, Thursday, 20 June 2019. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vetoes the European Council conclusion on the 2050 full decarbonisation objective. Poland objects, alongside Czechia, Hungary and Estonia. Climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050, “for a large majority of Member States”, reads the European Council conclusion’s footnote.
Mr Morawiecki: “Today we did not agree on the additional, more ambitious climate objectives and we have secured the interests of Polish entrepreneurs, citizens who would bear the risk of additional taxation, costs and we could not agree to it”.
Prime Minister says: “Decisions taken at the EU summit and ongoing discussions are in the interest of Poland”. During the summit Mr Morawiecki is said to have a “frank and honest” interaction with the French President Emmanuel Macron. Apparently the German leader, whose country only recently joined the group of states seeking climate neutrality by 2050, was a more passive interlocutor in the debate.
Morawiecki’s main point is that the 2050 objectives are declaratory and unclear. Before he agrees to them, he needs to know the costs of the energy transition. “We need to know what funds we will receive for the modernization of various sectors of the economy, so that any changes and new commitments that may arise – for example as a result of the EU climate policy – reflect the state of economic development and our challenges, as well as our risks”, says the Polish premier to the media.
“The energy transformation related to climate change and the adoption of possible new goals must be fair, it must be responsible, and this means responsibility for our citizens, for energy costs, for the costs associated with additional risks through new objectives”, he continues.
You may think Poland=coal, but the real problem and the real reason for the government are the rising energy prices.
Warsaw, 18 June 2019. Prime Minister Morawiecki announces a new financial support for the energy-intensive industries. They shall receive 1.9 bn zł, or 450 million Euro subsidies to counterbalance the EU ETS’s CO2 permits.
This move has been expected since January, when the energy prices were fixed for the individual consumers, but not for businesses and the local government. Since the beginning of the year the Polish government has been negotiating with the Commission what kind of solution it could offer to the energy-intensive business in order to avoid the accusation of disproportionate public assistance.
Morawiecki says the move will “save jobs in the industry”. The Polish ministers add sometimes that Poland missed out 50 years of normal economic development. Meanwhile some Western countries are hypocritical as they have outsourced the heavy industries to Asia and import goods from factories which pollute other people’s air… while not being accountable for the pollution. The Polish government does not want the heavy industry to emigrate from Poland.
EU Emission Trading System (ETS) is to blame
The government initiative is a response to the EU ETS forcing the costs to rise. There are some 1.3 million people working in the energy-intensive industries. Collectively they amount to about 11% of the national GDP and consume 20% of national energy consumption.
Jadwiga Emilewicz, the minister who is tipped as one of the candidates for the next EU Commissioner: “The EU climate and energy policy has caused a jump in the price of CO2 emission allowances. This increase will particularly affect enterprises from the energy-intensive sector. This is threatening their profitability and market position. In the case of the [energy-intensive] companies, the energy expenditure accounts for up to 40 percent of the total company costs”.
Ms Emilewicz ministry is Entrepreneurship. The ministry wrote about the new initiative as addressing the following problem: “As a result of EU regulation, the level of costs of these allowances is constantly growing. Compensation will help our industry maintain its position in competition with foreign countries”.
In the recent EP campaign a leading Law and Justice (PiS) candidate from Silesia, the coal country, Jadwiga Wiśniewska MEP, has been talking about “EU climate policy is a security threat for Poland”. She is not alone in her views. Ms Wiśniewska has been re-elected.
In the meantime Poland is nowhere close to reach it’s 20-20-20 objectives by 2020, most notably in the share of the renewable energy in gross energy consumption. Instead of rising, the share is decreasing since PiS took office: 11.7% in 2015, 11.3% in 2016, 10.9% in 2017. The national target is 15%. Back in January the government said it publicly: Poland will NOT meet its renewable target by 2020.
The Polish government is blaming the EU climate regulation for undermining the competitiveness of the Polish economy. The government only wakes up to the idea of climate change being a threat to the Polish security. Instead it is the climate policy that constitutes a threat.
How to address the problem? The government’s response is to mitigate the high costs with a mix of subsidies, delays and vetoes. The PiS politicians who are not sitting in the EU Council or the European Councils are more direct, but short of saying this: “Poland should withdraw from the climate package”, or at least renegotiate it. This used to be the view of the entire Law and Justice when in opposition back in 2012. Today the far-right Robert Winnicki MP agrees: “If Poland does not terminate the climate package imposed by the EU we will have a collapse in the energy production and we will have huge increases in electricity prices”, Winnicki warned in 2018.
Maciej Małecki, who is MP with PiS, says in 2018: “Although the increase in energy prices is not yet perceptible for the Polish society, nobody has any doubt that it will hit us like a ‘tsunami wave’. The European Union, which manipulates CO2 emission norms, puts a hand to this. In the European Union we observe an attempt to manually control the energy prices by limiting the supply of allowances authorizing the CO2 emissions. If a significant number of these allowances is removed from the market then the prices of CO2 allowances jump up and this is a significant component of the price increase”. Mr Małecki chairs the Sejm’s Energy and Treasury Committee.
Everybody sees the consequences of ETS, nobody remembers the reason why ETS was created in the first place. The purpose of ETS was to incentivise business to cut emissions by forcing the fossil energy prices to increase. This is meant as an instrument which favours non-emitting energy production.
Meanwhile the Polish government did everything in its power to de-incentivise the renewable energy production at the beginning of its mandate in 2016, especially the wind and solar power-making was first frozen, and many investors have withdrawn from the Polish market. Only in 2017-18 the process of de-incentivisation stopped, and now, maybe the green power may grow again.
The main reason for that change is the change of public mood, especially in the context of the quality of air. About 66% of Poles consider renewable energy sources “the main source of energy in the future”, including over 50% of PiS voters.
Still, the reflection in the Law and Justice is slow, mainly due to its socio-economic ruling coalition, which includes the powerful mining trade unions, the coal mining companies and the power plants based on coal. There are some 171 coal-based power plant blocks in 37 locations in Poland. They are generating 80% of the Polish power. 5 new blocks are under construction (Opole x2, Jaworzno, Turów and Ostrołęka) and 2 further have been announced (Puławy, Gubin), according to the Global Coal Plant Tracker.
The Polish dependence on coal is producing strange effects. The number of power plants increases, but the domestic production of coal goes down. In effect, more and more of coal is imported from abroad. So goes the principle of self-dependency when it comes to energy sources.
The Polish middle way strategy could be a fast increase of the gas-based power plants. There are more gas imports into Poland from Russia and beyond via the Świnoujście LNG terminal (from i.e. Qatar and US). There is a massive gasification process – building the necessary infrastructure which shall bring the natural gas to 90% Poles by 2022. This could both reduce the CO2 emissions from power plants (some of the coal power plants are being re-build into natural gas-based plants) as well as from domestic heating systems (frequently poor quality coal). In effect it could be that the quality of air in Poland improves, but not due to the renewables.
In the elections to the European Parliament the Polish Opposition run united as the “European Coalition”. In their rhetoric, the leaders and the candidates warned the general public of the risk of “Polexit” that might be a secret strategy of the Polish government dominated by the conservative/nationalist Law and Justice party.
Returning MEP Krzysztof Hetman of PSL (EPP) and first time elected Radek Sikorski of PO (EPP) warned about the Polexit process. Other candidates, like Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski, son of the former foreign minister and Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner Władysław Bartoszewski (1922-2015), warned, too: “PiS wants to lead Europe out of Poland, but not Poland out of Europe” (RFM Radio interview in April). Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader, continued along the same lines: “I want us to show all those bad people who want Poland out of the European Union a Kozakiewicz gesture“.
The “Kozakiewicz gesture” is a famous 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics situation when Władysław Kozakiewicz displayed this gesture after winning the pole vault gold medal in front of a hostile crowd. It is also known as bras d’honneur. It is a sign of disagreement.
Will PiS open up to Europe?
The European Coalition lost the elections and has been soul-searching ever since. With the campaign based on us vs them, the European Coalition knowingly or not, has been saying to the Polish public: “we are Europe, Law and Justice is anti-Europe“. By presenting themselves as “anti-PiS” the dichotomy was between “Europe” and “non-Europe” as much as “anti-PiS” and “PiS“.
In the process and in the campaign PiS and anti-PiS agreed that the Western European establishment supported the Opposition. Hence Law and Justice campaigned on the notion of change that Europe needed.
Law and Justice won in Poland. Law and Justice lost in Europe. The true anti-Europeans of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini won in places like France and Italy, while the slightly more moderate PiS European allies underperformed. Brothers of Italy, Forum of Democracy in the Netherlands, VOX in Spain and most visibly, the British Tories bring collectively only as many MEPs into the new European Parliament as Law and Justice. Not enough leverage to advance the reform of the EU with more sovereignty for member states and less power for the European Commission.
Since the elections are over there are reports that Law and Justice, the realist party rather than the populist one it is accused of being, is seeking rapprochement with the centre right European People’s Party, or the EPP. Not to join it, for this is not possible for domestic reasons. The Civic Platform (PO) is the cornerstone of the Opposition and together with the smaller party PSL together they are the second largest national delegation inside the EPP.
Since joining the EPP is out of question, the Law and Justice tries to persuade the non-Polish EPP that the European Left is the true threat. PiS does not want Frans Timmermans to become President of the European Commission. This would push the Polish government in the deep corner of European politics, as Mr Timmermans has been the main interlocutor with the Warsaw government on the rule of law. He has been accused by the PiS politicians of being partisan.
Today PiS politicians are said to navigate the corridors of both the Berlaymont and the European Parliament offering support for the EPP in its struggles with the left wing groups.
At the same time in many Western capitals the results of the Polish vote are met maybe with a disappointment, but with no emotion. Just last week I hear a German Christian Democrat say “I don’t understand Poland”. The results from Poland do not change the arithmetic of the European Parliament as long as PiS does not unite with La Lega and the rest of the group known now as Identity and Democracy (ID).
The PiS May results suggest an easy win in October national elections. This means the government in Warsaw is likely to continue its policies and the chance of change in Warsaw is now reduced.
To cut a long reflection short: should there be a new opening between Warsaw and Brussels? and on what terms, seems to be the organising question.
There is a number of issues which suggest a potential rapprochement of the Warsaw government. First, it campaigned and won on a pro-European platform “Poland at the heart of Europe” (yet with an EU critical voice) offering Poles a standard of living similar to those of Western Europeans.
Second, PiS feels cornered in the European Parliament and needs new allies, especially with the Tories soon to be gone (and for now, massively reduced). Hence the opening towards the EPP and a potentially conciliatory candidate for the Commissioner.
Third, the Polish government has not broken the European consensus on issues like a threat of US-EU trade war, the wars in Syria, Iran or the Russian sanctions. Yes, the February Iran summit was probably a mistake from the EU point of view, but also proved insignificant.
Fourth, the US-China cold war over technology comes to Europe. Poland seems to argue within the pro-American camp, but seeks a wider European consensus on the matter of 5G.
Fifth is the rule of law debacle. There is probably no one consensus on what to do next. The Justice Minister would like to advance the reforms and the Polish parliament just amended the penal code. The national Ombudsman warns today that the reform is in violation with human rights. Still, the next chapter in the rule of law story will be the ECJ ruling expected in the upcoming weeks.
The Polish government will almost certainly respect the ruling and is expected to follow the outcome of it. It will not end the process of dealing with the rule of law in Poland, the EU’s Article 7 procedure or with the judiciary reforms, or with the wider issue of independence of judiciary across the EU, but potentially it may turn the process into a dialogue.
Sixth, and the real problem of the last four years of the Warsaw government: the absence of European dialogue. Jean Claude Juncker publicly complained he did not talk with Jarosław Kaczyński for years. Angela Merkel met the PiS leader two-and-a-half years ago in February 2017. Polish leaders need to talk to their European counterparts. The last time a European leader met with Jarosław Kaczyński (besides Mr Orban, that is) was Matteo Salvini in January.
Seventh, the real challenge: climate change and energy transition. Law and Justice slowly realises that the future of Polish energy cannot be only coal. The transition will not be easy or cheap and Poland probably cannot do it on its own. Poland needs assistance for that transition into less CO2 polluting energy production. On the one side there are those who argue that the Polish government should withdraw from the 2020 climate package and the ETS system: it makes the energy prices spike and challenges the competitiveness of the Polish economy. On the other side there should be the option of transforming the Polish energy sector. Since 2014 the renewable energy is on the decline in Poland, according to the Forum Energii 2019 annual report.
The dead end
If Law and Justice talks to Brussels a.k.a. Europe to solve the issues as listed above, most notably the energy transition and the rule of law, then the Opposition may well feel to be cornered. The Opposition logic is “Europe = us” and in that logic Law and Justice is cornered into isolation. Should “Europe” and Law and Justice started to talk over the heads of the Opposition, that could be a disillusionment moment for the Polish Opposition.
The important part of the discussion that the Opposition may only observe is if the West stands by the European values and does not compromise on them when making political deals with the Warsaw government. You can only support one team in a game you do not play.
For Law and Justice additional reason to start this conversation is the MFF negotiations framework and the link with the rule of law situation and payments. To either to decouple the two (for example by linking it with the corruption situation not with the rule of law), or to solve the rule of law situation should ease out a compromise in which the regional policy support for Poland in the next MFF is not as limited as initially proposed by the Commission.
What will it be? Will Brussels negotiate a political compromise with the Warsaw government allowing it to be and break the rule of law, media independence or rights of people belonging to minorities so that it may focus on the bigger fish to fry: Italy?
Last time we wrote about who can be the Polish Commissioner in the next European Commission there were 6 names on the agenda. Four of them are still in play (Szymański, Fotyga, Bielan and Kwieciński), but there are three new names that come out after the European elections.
All depends on the set-up of the next European Commission, it’s structure and organisation. The Polish governing party, Law and Justice, is looking more into the dossier and does not try to impose a specific person, which is a smart strategy.
Still, depending on the portfolio different people are mentioned. Next to Adam Bielan, newly returning MEP, Anna Fotyga, a re-elected MEP, Konrad Szymański, the Europe Minister, and Jerzy Kwieciński, the Economy Minister there are three new names. Two heavyweights, Beata Szydło and Joachim Brudziński, come from the inner circles of power within the Law and Justice.
Ms Szydło, now a first time MEP, is a former prime minister. Since elections she has been tipped for all the important positions: vice-president of the European Parliament (July), President of Poland in 2020 or 2025, and the European Commissioner. The main reason for this resurgence of popularity is Ms Szydło electoral performance: over 500.000 votes.
At the same time, Ms Szydło is remembered for anti-European behaviour when she took office. The problems with the rule of law in Poland begun with her government. She has had the EU flags removed from her office and official meetings. When she addressed the European Parliament she lied about refugees in Poland confusing the Ukrainian immigrants with refugees. It will be interesting to see how the newly-elected MEP will try to put the difficult past behind her. Effectively, she is the face for almost everything Poland has been criticized in the EU for the last four years.
Her chance of being accepted as a Commissioner during the EP hearing: limited. Even Law and Justice recognises the challenge. Not wanting a confrontation, it may well be that someone else is nominated EU Commissioner.
The next heavyweight is Joachim Brudziński, a former interior minister turned MEP. For Mr Brudziński to become a Commissioner it would take a skilful negotiations. He is a close affiliate of the PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, with whom he spends holidays. In 2017, for example, the gentlemen went hiking:
Truly, Mr Brudziński is probably the closest to the Chairman from all of the mentioned potential Commissioners. The political affiliations is his forte. His potential portfolio could be in the security area, which is not exactly the objective of the Polish government (economy, energy).
Still, Ms Szydło’s and Mr Brudziński’s foreign languages are not strong qualifications. Foreign language skills is not a must in the EP; in the College, however, it is.
If Law and Justice would like to avoid controversy, Ms Emilewicz could be a good option. Minister Gowin openly talks about this lady in a specific arrangement. He also points out to her weakness: she is not a member of the Law and Justice.
Who is Jadwiga Emilewicz? Ms Emilewicz is a 44 year old minister of entrepreneurship with the Agreement (Porozumienie), a junior coalition partner of Law and Justice. She could take an energy or environmental portfolio, says Mr Gowin in the Polsat News interview.
Jarosław Gowin, who is a leader of Porozumienie and a deputy PM, says that Ms Emilewicz would fit because of her expertise in the topic (energy transition) and that she is a woman. In the next European Commission the gender balance will be an important argument.
Who’s decision is it?
There is a Polish consensus on the appointment of the next Polish Commissioner. The Law and Justice ruling party’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński will call the shots. The negotiations over the dossier will be led by the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the Europe Minister Konrad Szymański. With whom will they negotiate?
This is unclear as there is no one frontrunner for the position of the Commission President. Earlier this week the Visegrad-4 failed to support one candidate in the European Council.
However, in the preparatory work, the European Parliament’s hearings are frequently downplayed. That may prove wrong, depending whom Mr Kaczyński sends to the Commission.
Two weeks ago the new European Parliament is chosen. Today the politicians and the media in Poland are already focused on the next hurdle, the Sejm and the Senate elections in October. Meanwhile, the new European Parliament is self-organizing, taking shape and taking its first decisions.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament, is now established. The new/old leader is Mr. Manfred Weber, and one of his deputies is Ms. Ewa Kopacz (EPP/PO). In the refreshed corridors of the massive building next to the place Luxembourg in Brussels rumours dominate the conversations. Rumours about what may happen in the coming weeks because of the puzzle at the very top – who will become the president of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council, the Central Bank and the High Representative for Foreign Policy? Those big decisions will impact the lower-ranked, but very important positions, such as the chairmen of parliamentary committees.
Some actors play poker. For example, the Commissioners who have been elected to the European Parliament must choose: whether they take an MEP mandate and lose their Commissioner status, or whether they shall continue to work in the Commission hoping to be re-chosen by their government and the new unknown Commission President. In this situation, for example, is Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who decided not to accept the MEP mandate counting on the continuation of work in the College.
The Battle of two former PMs is coming
Another piece of gossip I hear from so many sources is that it should be considered confirmed. Ms. Ewa Kopacz may soon change her new job as EPP vice-chairwoman for the vice-presidency of the European Parliament. In such a situation her party, the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) – two Polish EPP members, that is – may still hope for one committee chairmanship, but of which committee – it is not known. It is too early, as “d’Hondt is decisive for everything”: each of the EP groups has the right to the allocation of positions in proportion and, in turn, positions are allocated one by one to the next group in line. The largest EPP chooses the first position, then Social Democrats from S&D, then liberals from ALDE-R, then Greens? No, EPP (about 180 MEPs) is more than twice the size of the Greens (about 70 MEPs), so the second position for the EPP will be allocated earlier than the first for the Greens.
In the EPP, they estimate that the group shall have six chairmen of parliamentary committees. However, these issues will be clarified only in the coming weeks. All depends on the number and size of the groups – for example, it is not known what will happen on the right side of the Parliament and whether a group is formed between the British Brexit and the Italians from the Five Star Movement. For the group to be created, 25 MEPs from at least seven countries are needed. Apparently, the parties of Mr. Nigel Farage (Brexit) and Mr. Luigi di Maio (the Five Stars Movement) have a problem with completing the seven countries. There are no such problems among the European Conservatives and Reformists (the Polish PiS is the biggest member), which was just joined by new deputies from three countries. Among them is the Forum voor Democratie from the Netherlands. Also the new group created by anti-system MEPs of the Italian League and French from Marine Le Pen should not have problems with attractive 7 states’ MEPs.
“It is being counted,” says EPP MEP Mr. Jan Olbrycht, who may return to the position of a vice-chairman of the EPP if Ms. Kopacz, the former prime minister, is elected as vice-president of Parliament. This is one of the options under consideration, and the EPP is to make its decisions at an away meeting next week in San Sebastian, Spain.
Five years ago the PO and PSL MEPs strategy was different. They did not take the position of EP vice-president considering it insignificant. In exchange, they were able to fill in three positions of less visible but extremely influential chairmen of parliamentary committees: Mr. Jerzy Buzek was chairman of the Industry and Energy Committee (ITRE), Ms. Danuta Hübner became the chairwoman of the constitutional committee (AFCO) dealing with Brexit, and Mr. Czesław Siekierski led the work of the agricultural commission (AGRI). Mr Siekierski was not re-elected.
This time the PO goals are dictated by the national policy: if Law and Justice wants to win the position of the Parliament’s vice-president for Ms. Beata Szydło, the PO will want to show that Ms. Kopacz is more popular than the political star of PiS. Parliament’s vice-presidents are usually elected by acclamation, but their rank depends on who gets more votes. So, what to beat: who will rank higher among the 14th vice-president (there are as many vice-presidents).
A very interesting situation is drawn in the ECR group. Domination of Poles from PiS is total: 27 of about 65 MEPs are elected in Poland. Thus, all the major positions belonging to the group can become Polish: the vice president of the Parliament (Ms. Szydło replacing Mr. Zdzisław Krasnodębski in the previous term) as well as the second vice-president or a quaestor of the Parliament (formerly Mr. Karol Karski), the group chairman (Mr. Ryszard Legutko’s re-appointment was already announced), and one of Parliament’s committees (until now Ms. Anna Fotyga was the head of the SEDE sub-committee on security). Four positions would mean maintaining the quo status of the largest Polish party, although PiS could trade the position of the second vice-president/quaestor with a committee chair.
Will ECR boom?
The probable departure of the Hungarian governmental party Fidesz from the EPP and its possible fusion into the ECR may mean that the group of the Conservatives and Reformists may be entitled to one more committee chairmanship seat, and the EPP might be forced to reduce their aspirations downwards by one, too. Clearly it seems the Hungarians of Fidesz would be virtually taking ‘their’ chairmanship position from the EPP into ECR, should the transfer take place. There are thirteen Fidesz MEPs, and their transfer from the largest group to a smaller group would have a collateral effect: all the ECR positions would be chosen earlier and the right to a position from one group to another.
The Polish radio RMF FM shared a piece of news: PiS is in conversation with Five Star Movement about the M5S future in the Parliament! The options for the Italians are shrinking: the far-right is a no go, the EPP is a no go, the Social Democrats are a no-go, they are not Green, the Liberals said NO two years ago and Macron is heavily criticised by Di Maio. The only options left is GUE and ECR. In the ECR, my interlocutor tells me, the problem are the Brothers of Italy, who have introduced MEPs into the EP. Brothers of Italy have been members of ECR for awhile. Apparently today they are unhappy about M5S joining the group.
Unhappy as they may be, ideology is not a forte of ECR. Strategies of effectiveness might be more important. There are 6 MEPs with Brothers of Italy and 14 MEPs with M5S. Ideally with all of them and Fidesz ECR could grow to some 90 MEPs, outranking the Greens, becoming much larger than the far-right and being more than half of the EPP. Kind of a very different animal than a 5th group of 64 MEPs completely dominated by one ethnicity.
One more unknown: the d’Hondt method is a mathematical formula that is to be confirmed on the democratic agora each time: it will be Parliament plenary where the vote for the president and vice-presidents take place, even if the candidatures will be chosen on behind-the-scenes basis. It is the EP committees that elect their chairmen – and they usually accept the informal agreement resulting from the distribution of seats between the groups.
However, five years ago, the six groups ranging from the leftist GUE to the ECR, agreed that anti-system, anti-European parties should be denied their positions. In this way Mr. Farage’s group did not obtain the position of chairman of the one parliamentary committee it was entitled to (petitions, PETI), and the other six groups made appropriate sllocation among themselves. The chairwomanship was then awarded to the Swedish liberal Ms. Cecilia Wikström.
There were 7 groups at the beginning of the term in 2014.
Will this year be similar? If so, extreme-right groups can expect a parliamentary affront at the very start of the work of the new European Parliament
The situation in the largest group in the European Parliament is such that the biggest national cohorts have significantly changed. Not only the number went down from 216 to 179. Also, the number of MEPs elected from large and populous countries went down. In Germany from 34 to 29, in Poland from 22 to 17, in France from 20 to 8, in Spain from 17 to 12 and in Italy from 12 to 7. Only in Romania the number went up – from 13 to 14 MEPs. In mid-sized nations Hungary stands out. In the 9th Parliament there will be 13. Every other national delegation shall have fewer than 10 MEPs within the EPP ranks.
Size matters and always had in the EPP. The group is largely dominated by the larger national delegations. Hence it is very telling that the French and the Italians effectively become a second-class MEPs in the largest EP group. The group continues to be dominated by the German CDU/CSU, and the 2nd largest national delegation still is Polish with PO and PSL contributing 17 mandates.
What will be the role of the Polish EPP members in the new Parliament? Last term this big delegation chose smartly to influence “from behind”: three of the EPP Committee chairmen went to the Poles: Mr Buzek served as Industry, Research and Energy, ITRE chair (and the Conference of Committee Chairs, CCC for the initial 2.5 years); Ms Huebner was chairwoman of the AFCO committee responsible for Brexit; and Mr Siekierski directed the works of the agricultural committee AGRI. Mr Siekierski has not been re-elected.
Ms Huebner and Mr Buzek are back in the European Parliament. So is Mr Janusz Lewandowski, who was the leader of the Polish EPP delegation in the last term. This function will now travel to a new MEP elected from Warsaw Andrzej Halicki. This is largely considered an important job in the hands of a person who links the works of the Polish EPP delegation and the PO party back home. PSL’s co-chair will be one of the party 3 MEPs – Mr Krzysztof Hetman, who returns to the Parliament for his second term.
EPP also elected its new leadership today. Ewa Kopacz, a former prime minister and health minister, is now one of the EPP vice-presidents, standing behind the new-old leader Manfred Weber.
Previously Mr Jan Olbrycht was tipped for the position. For many years the PO’s vice-chair of the EPP has been Mr Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who has stunned his party in 2017 swapping the PO for the ruling PiS. Mr Saryusz-Wolski is an MEP again, this time with the ECR group.
The 26 May elections is a major turning point in the 2019 politics in Poland. This is the second leg in the long march for power for the Opposition trying to restore peace and order after the populist, antagonistic and deforming rule of the Law and Justice (PiS). At least, this is the narrative.
The first leg was the local and regional elections last year. Back then, it was a clear signal that Law and Justice had a problem with the society tired with antagonistic, deforming and populist rule. What the society needs is more peace and tranquillity. Law and Justice delivers, smiles more, does not launch any new wars on sanity in 2019, and vigorously defends the core values of the nation, including the Church. In the process of protecting the values there might be victims, like demonisation of the sexual minorities, but that seems to be a minor cost for the ruling camp.
The Opposition is satisfied with the first leg (October 2018). The second leg (May 2019), however, is a major blow. -9pp behind Law and Justice. Soul searching begins on the evening of the election night. Any major changes to the format of the organisation needs to be done fast. This is race against time. The third leg in the electoral season is scheduled for October 2019. The national elections will be decisive for who rules Poland over the next four years.
Law and Justice is victorious. Immediately the star of ex-PM Beata Szydło begins to shine a neaveau, as she receives over 500,000 votes in her Kraków electoral district. Speculation goes as far as Ms Szydło becoming PiS candidate for the country presidency in 2020, or a European Commissioner maybe?
The ruling party also seams rushing the parliamentary elections a little bit. The national poll can be held as early as 13 October and this sounds like the date, even if President Duda has not taken the decision at this point.
Together or Separately?
The Opposition story is a different one.
There is no premium for being united: 38% of the vote is less than the three main parties together five years before. There is not enough mobilisation: 5.2 million against 6.2 million of PiS voters. The anti-PiS opposition seems to have lost the elections wholeheartedly. Who’s to blame?
The leader of the Opposition is the leader of the Civic Platform (PO), Grzegorz Schetyna. 27 May Mr Schetyna says: “We need to correct the course. We need more mobilisation. We need fresh ideas for October”.
The narrative is: by going alone the Opposition would be significantly weaker than by going alone. True as it may be, politics is also about managing expectations. Law and Justice did not lose in October 2018, but its expectations were higher. The European Coalition lost in May 2019 both in terms of numbers and expectations. The natural consequence: disillusionment.
The Social Democrats of SLD are happy and want to continue the joint coalition. Their moods are kept bright because the party managed to get 5 MEPs elected into the Strasbourg chamber. The result would be highly improbable if SLD was to compete alone.
The first problems are with the PSL, the agrarian EPP member. Their traditional electorate voted PiS and many in PSL are adamant they can claim back the rural votes alone better. PSL is blaming the liberal issues like gay rights, that have scarred away the traditional voters. Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz says that should the Spring join the Opposition, PSL would leave it.
Schetyna ensures there is the organising idea for the fall elections, but it needs more work.
PSL takes a step further away from the united Opposition, with or without the Spring on board. Kosiniak-Kamysz blames the PO politicians for the ideological confrontation, that he calls “unnecessary”, such as the Warsaw LGBT Declaration signed by Rafał Trzaskowski back in February. On Tusk, Kosiniak-Kamysz says: “Donald Tusk has probably motivated more PiS voters than our voters”.
Katarzyna Lubnauer, leader of .Modern is with PO and SLD on the issue of unity. The Greens are also on board, the last of the five parties.
What the leaders say is one thing. What the party members think is not exactly the same thing. What the 5.2 million voters think is probably best illustrated by the video that went viral in which one young lady accuses the European Coalition of being void of program, reactive to PiS, disengaged. Klaudia Jachira’s video is viewed by 20k people on Youtube and has 15k shares on Facebook. If you understand Polish, have a look here.
There is also a message from Brussels. Donald Tusk’s message is to stay united. He warns the Opposition, “If you were to be divided, think trice if you have an idea how to win by being divided”.
PO leading politicians send a signal to PSL: stay united with us! If not, Budapest can come to Warsaw. In Hungary Fidesz won with over 50% of the vote and the leading opposition party scored about 16%.
Spring’s Robert Biedroń says his party will not join the Opposition and will go alone. This could be an invitation to PSL, as its leader is saying openly: it is us or Biedroń, not both.
One of the outstanding questions is about feasibility to win with PiS. Tusk alluded the day before that working day and night is absolutely crucial, “to be among the people”. Did the EC do everything it could?
Bartosz Arłukowicz, a newly elected first time MEP, says: “don’t worry. Talk to people. Campaign until October”. He is a face that a win is possible with hard work. Other credited hard working candidates include Elżbieta Łukacijewska, who says what is key in the elections: “respect for people of other political views”.
Gazeta Wyborcza writes that the European Coalition campaign was a disaster. The newspaper concludes, “they were asking to be defeated” and reveals lack of coordination, information, local engagement, wrong messages and savings on the campaign. The criticism begins to grow beyond newspapers. Łukacijewska is critical of the PO structures in her region. Julia Pitera, a former MEP (2014-19) is very critical of the engagement of Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who was EC leader in Warsaw and SLD candidate.
PSL will take its decision about the future participation in the united Opposition by second half of June. The Spring says it will go solo. The ranks of the Civic Platform are cranking about its party leadership. The Greens are disillusioned as they received only half of the votes the party got last October in local elections – it is unclear if the party continues in the Coalition.
“United or Divided” seems to be the internal question for the Opposition. But there is also the external reality of the day: PiS is reading itself for the governmental re-shuffeling. There is an upcoming celebrations of 30 years of the partially free elections of 1989 in Gdańsk with the participation of Donald Tusk. A renewed high expectations from the President of the European Council – could he step in more directly into the leadership position of the divided Opposition? Seems impossible today, will it in 3 days?
The morning news is that a small liberal party .Modern is supposed to cease to exist. It is expected to be merged fully with the Civic Platform. Its MPs shall join the PO parliamentary club in the Sejm. The very name should disappear. The party has financial difficulties. The final decision is expected next week.
There seems to be a conflict of opinion within the PSL: “We would have sh*t, no seats, without the European Coalition”, is one strong voice within the party (incognito, as quoted by Gazeta.pl).
It seems that a large coalition block is possible in the elections for the Senate, where there are 100 electoral districts and one senator is elected from each of the districts with the principle “the winner takes it all”. The Senate coalition should include the Spring.
PSL already decides. Did not wait until mid-June. It shall start its own, new Polish Coalition ahead of the parliamentary elections in October, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz announces.
It is a tough choice. Clearly the liberal values were problematic for the PSL voters to stay with the coalition. PSL and the EC were cornered on the antagonising liberal issues, such as the LGBT rights. But, would they be alright on their own? Law and Justice was able to marginalise the party last year in the countryside when PSL was running alone. Tough choice for PSL.
Without PSL .Modern is about to cease to exist and the support for it has been marginal for months. The Greens are tiny and largely unconvincing, dominated by the stronger and progressive Spring.
The only credible partner left is SLD. Yet this one might be the one least desired by the PO. When Włodzimierz Czarzasty was elected as chairman of SLD in 2016 a number of party activists left the party. Without PSL and with the smaller partners either disintegrated or irrelevant, the PO would not necessarily have a clout of an unifier within the renewed Opposition Coalition.
The core problem is PO. What does the party stand for? What are its core values? Is this an economic reformist party it once was? Or is it just a party defending the interests of those who vote for it, like the farmers and PSL, or the social benefactors and PiS? How does it plan to modernise the pension system? The health system? What to do with the education? How about the decarbonisation?
It is telling that in recent years first .Modern, and now the Spring want to serve as a motivator or energiser for the PO. As if the centrist PO was too lazy, too cautious, not ambitious enough.
After 2015 elections Poland has changed. PiS has an understanding of what Poland is. PiS has a narrative about what kind of Poland it wants. PiS has a strategy how to achieve this. PiS has been listening and campaigning properly ever since their lost elections in 2007. PiS is the force to respect. It is not enough to be anti-PiS.
The European Commission is proud of solving problems. Real problems. And often, rightly so. Yet every now and then it creates a new reason of disbelief and mistrust. How? Here’s a story.
“Cows of Deszczno” is the Internet sensation. It is the story people are interested in. Google it, you will see yourself. Why?
The Cows of Deszczno
Deszczno, Western Poland, about 2009. A local farmer is probably tired of cows. He has too many of them and decides to set the herd free. The animals run wild into the forests and grasslands and procreate.
Fast forward to 2019. There are 179 wild cows today, unless another calve came to the world last night. Cows are not registered or supervised by a vet. The owner declines to cooperate (to register, to have them tested). Once, in October 2018 he even is ordered to take care of the situation by the court ruling. There are so many of the cows now they started to create problems on other farms and even on roads.
Kill them all!
After years of trying to force the owner into compliance, the situation becomes dire. The cows do constitute a threat, remember the ASF? If not them, hundreds of other cows could be endangered. So, what to do with the cows? The Lubuskie regional governor Władysław Dajczak says in early May that untested cows are an epidemiological threat to other animals and public safety. The court verdict is: to kill all of the cows. The procedure is to be executed by the local vet, the finances for it are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The animal welfare defenders
“No!” shout the animal welfare defenders. “It is a feral herd, beautiful and apparently happy, cows are related and calves are with their mothers. Before being transported to the slaughterhouse they will be transported by trucks, which means separation of mothers from calves”, points out Andrzej Elżanowski in an oko.press article.
There are two ways of dealing with the problem, say the animal welfare defenders, nicknamed Animalsi in Poland. First is the court way and the way of the local government representative: to kill the herd. The second option is to test them, register them, and let them live some place. The Animalsi point out that the second option was never considered by the officials.
There is a date of execution is kept in secret. The animal welfare activists speculate it is at the end of May. The Animalsi are successful in delaying the execution by 7 days. They hope to work out a solution. Also, the mainstream media caught up on the issue. The Polish authorities are interested.
Is EU to be blamed?
President Andrzej Duda just finished his EP campaign, in which he praised the EU. On 29 May he tweets “Minister Krzysztof Ardanowski [of agriculture] and Main Vet Bogdan Konopka have informed me that they ar looking for a happy ending for the Deszczno herd. I am sure they will find one despite the fact that the EU laws order to kill the animals. A Pole can do! We keep our fingers crossed for the Deszczno herd”.
Before the president of the Republic, also the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński intervened by a parliamentary question to the ministry. Mr Jarosław Kaczyński is well known for his soft spot: the animal welfare.
It will be alright
The political issue becomes manageable, there is good will with the key decision makers. The Animalsi found enough space in various farms throughout the country, the Agriculture Ministry contributed resources and more space where the cows can be tested and kept. All seems to be fine. There is a happy ending. Yes, a Pole can do, Mr President! Another reason to celebrate, following the massive win of the ruling party in the European elections.
Oko.press is not a niche media, but it is also not a mass media. It is hardly read by the millions of animal welfare-concerned or farmers. The liberal urban elites will know that Mr President lied. The countryside voter will not. The oko.press main argument, confirmed by legal experts: EU does not make Poland kill the happy cows. A short information about president tweet spreading misinformation was also aired on TVN24.
The Internet is full of stories of the Deszczno cows. Even Politico writes about it and Mr Duda involvement. So the foreigners already know.
Actually it all worked out. The cows will be fine. Until they are turned into hamburgers, that is, but that’s life, one can argue. At least a slaughterhouse kill has a logic in it and serves a purpose. A kill to burn meat because it has never been tested – it’s a waste, too. Dracarys far too often is pointless.
The European Commission response comes from its spokesperson. Politico reports the quote: “While there is comprehensive EU legislation in place, the authorities need to ensure the protection of public and animal health.”
Doesn’t the EC see the problem? President Duda can travel the country and spread his version of reality on the Internet, say things about bulbs and tweet about the EU’s mass cow killing, and the communication response from the EC is to fact check. Great, we have it settled. Who shall respond politically to the head of the Polish state? I would expect the EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who speaks Polish, to publicly take on the Polish President. Or maybe the Commission President Juncker?
Lies cannot be left to rot. Lies need to be burnt out! Dracarys the lies! If not they are softly decomposing into the soil and become a part of the reality we are living in and a part of air we breathe. By the time we notice someone shouting “EU is the bad guy!”, you might ask “why” and they would not know. Because it is a thousand of little stories, a thousand of little twisted informations, a thousand of drops forming the rock bit by bit.
It takes an ageing President of Austria (75 years old) to defend the sanity in Austria. Do we remember he narrowly won against a FPO candidate in 2017? The same FPO, whose leader just resigned due to a single Ibiza conversation.
The President of Poland is young and vibrant (47 years old) and he recently said he keeps on learning new things. I hope he learns Europe for what it is: his imperfect home, not his enemy.
Who will defend the sanity in Europe, if the Europe’s top representatives fail to do the job? The missing link in the European construction: the link between the European citizen and the European executive.
Here’s a fact check: EU is not perfect and makes mistakes. For it is made of humans and humans are imperfect. To say, or to imply, it is a pure good or an evil, is a mistake. But to let the VIP like the head of state with a lie like that? If I was a Commissioner, I would go to Deszczno and give a response to the Polish President lie that it is not the EU law and forces the Polish state to kill the herd, but the Polish state institutions have interpreted the law this way, because they are free to do it their way. To change it – it’s the state law. To accuse the EU – it’s plain wrong.
I can anticipate the Commission’s response: but we cannot be everywhere! There are limits to the time and space. Mr Andriukaitis deals with plenty other cases and situations elsewhere. I know. But I won’t agree with that.
Mr President Duda, please apologise for misinforming the same general public you shall be asking in a year to re-elect you.
The worse we can do is to move on and forget. The cows are fine. The politics is not.
Here is the complete list of 51 MEPs and 1 in-waiting elected in Poland for the 9th term of the European Parliament 2019-2014.
26 of them will go to ECR (PiS), 17 to EPP (PO & PSL) and 8 to S&D (SLD & Spring).
Magdalena Adamowicz, European Coalition, widow of Paweł Adamowicz, murdered mayor of Gdańsk, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Bartosz Arłukowicz, European Coalition, former health minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Marek Bałt, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Marek Belka, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Robert Biedroń, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Adam Bielan, Law and Justice, a returning MEP 2004-2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Joachim Brudziński, Law and Justice, former interior minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Jerzy Buzek, European Coalition, former President of the European Parliament, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: EPP
Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Ryszard Czarnecki, Law and Justice, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: ECR
Jarosław Duda, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Anna Fotyga, Law and Justice, former foreign affairs minister, MEP 2004-5 and since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Tomasz Frankowski, European Coalition, a footballer (5 times Champion of Poland, national team player), first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Andrzej Halicki, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Krzysztof Hetman, European Coalition, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: EPP
Danuta Hübner, European Coalition, former European Commissioner, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
Patryk Jaki, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Adam Jarubas, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Krzysztof Jurgiel, Law and Justice, former agriculture minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Jarosław Kalinowski, European Coalition, former agriculture minister, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
Karol Karski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Beata Kempa, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Izabela Kloc, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Łukasz Kohut, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Ewa Kopacz, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Joanna Kopcińska, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Zdzisław Krasnodębski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Elżbieta Kruk, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Zbigniew Kuźmiuk, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Ryszard Legutko, Law and Justice, former education minister & co-chair of ECR, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Janusz Lewandowski, European Coalition, former European Commissioner, MEP since 2014 & 2004-2009, likely affiliation: EPP
Bogusław Liberadzki, European Coalition, former transport minister, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: S&D
Elżbieta Łukacijewska, European Coalition, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
Beata Mazurek, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Leszek Miller, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Andżelika Możdżanowska, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Janina Ochojska, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Jan Olbrycht, European Coalition, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: EPP
Tomasz Poręba, Law and Justice, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: ECR
Elżbieta Rafalska, Law and Justice, family and social policy minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Bogdan Rzońca, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: ECR
Radosław Sikorski, European Coalition, former foreign & defence minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
Sylwia Spurek, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
Beata Szydło, Law and Justice, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Róża Thun, European Coalition, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Witold Waszczykowski, Law and Justice, former foreign affairs minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Jadwiga Wiśniewska, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
Anna Zalewska, Law and Justice, former education minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
Kosma Złotowski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR.
The 52nd MEP in-waiting is Dominik Tarczyński, Law and Justice, potential first time MEP.
The 51 MEPs break-up by gender: 17 women (33%) and 34 men.
There are 20 returning MEPs (39%) and 31 first time elected.
There are 6 former heads of government (12%): Belka, Cimoszewicz & Miller (in S&D), Buzek & Kopacz (in EPP) and Szydło (in ECR). There are two former European Commissioners (Lewandowski & Hübner) and numerous MEPs with governmental experience.
The final results are in. Law and Justice (PiS) wins in Poland for ECR. It shall bring in 26 MEPS, 27th in-waiting until Brexit. The European Coalition’s 22 MEPs could be divided – most likely – into two groups in the European Parliament, 5 would go to the S&D and 17 to the EPP. The Spring has 3 MEPs, including its chairman, Robert Biedroń, who announced that the Spring shall join one of the progressive groups. It may be S&D or the Greens or ALDE 2.0, depending on the talks Mr Biedroń has in the upcoming days.
The numerical results are the following:
The turnout: 45,68%, the highest in the history of Polish EU elections, and the biggest increase in the 2019 elections throughout the Union (+22pp). Some 13.6 million people voted.
Law and Justice: 45,38%, or 26 (+1) MEPs, and some 6.2 million voters. This is the highest support PiS has ever had in any party elections in Poland.
European Coalition: 38,47% or 22 MEPs, and some 5.2 million voters.
Spring: 6,06% or 3 MEPs, and 827 thousand voters.
The openly anti-Semitic, homophobic and hostile towards the outside world Confederacy scored 4,55% or 621 thousand voters.
The European Coalition lost big. The Law and Justice won big. The impact of the turnout is important, too. High turnout has pushed down the support for the smaller parties, the Spring and Confederacy alike, and even more for Kukiz’15 and United Left. Who turned out were the PiS voters.
Law and Justice was able to motivate the electorate to show up, and this is remarkable, for in the past the European elections were not as important for the PiS electorate. Still, the high degree of politicisation has pushed both sides of the political debate to motivate, motivate, motivate. Clearly PiS is more successful in the process.
Roman Giertych, a former anti-European campaigner and a former leader of the League of Polish Families (LPR) and education minister in the Jarosław Kaczyński government in mid-2000s, today is a popular attorney-in-law. He defends, for example, the Austrian businessman in a case against the PiS chairman, and Donald Tusk in many cases against him. Mr Giertych today sides with the European Coalition, though he remains true to his conservative believes. Mr Giertych writes on his Facebook about the results: “In my opinion, the reasons for the failure are three: mass distribution of money, turning TVP into purely party television and a major turn to the left that took place at the opposition. Because for the first two reasons we can not do anything, we need to focus on the third reason” and concludes that the biggest mistakes was the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, progressive interviews given on the issue by a number of politicians, the parades and Leszek Jażdżewski’s liberal attack on the Catholic Church.
This is a popular opinion after the elections. Many publicists, including well known liberal ones, like Tomasz Lis, write disillusioned that the responsible for the loss are Robert Biedroń (for dividing the opposition into two camps) and Leszek Jażdżewski (for launching a ‘war on the Church’). The pro-PiS conservative pundits agree, but are not mourning. Quite to the contrary, they are celebratory.
What happened was a major mobilisation on the day, on both sides. And the countryside made the difference. Five years ago in many rural areas the turnout was in single digits. On 26 May – some 40%, on average. The cities voted, too, but it was not a +30pp increase, about 50-55% in the larger cities and Warsaw’s 62.5% did not topple the overall results.
The cities voted liberal. Warsaw voted 50% for EC, 27% for PiS, 10% for the Spring. Gdańsk voted 60% for EC, 27% PiS. The conservative Kraków – 44% EC and 36% PiS. The liberal Wrocław 50% for EC and 30% for PiS with 9% for the Spring and the very liberal Poznań 54% for KE, 24% for PiS and 11% for the Spring. In Łódź, the last of the big cities – 54% for KE, 30% for PiS and 7% for the Spring.
It matters that 40% of Poles live in the countryside. This time the countryside voted, en masse, over 55%, for PiS. As a leading sociologist Jarosław Flis explains at a Stefan Batory Foundation post-electoral event (or a disillusioned mourning…): “The countryside is twice the size of the six largest cities”. Trying to stay positive, professor Flis says, “there are still major reserves ahead of the fall parliamentary elections” and there are 2-4 million more potential voters out there.
The smaller cities and towns were more nuanced. As professor Flis says, “the middle ground is like like the whole of Poland”.
The October elections. Most likely October, but the final decision on the date has not been taken yet. Few people pay attention to the European Council meeting or the European Parliament struggle for power when it comes to Spitzenkandidate. The real questions are: will the European Coalition survive this way or another? How celebratory Law and Justice can be? It seems the stage is set: Law and Justice fights to continue its mono-rule, a government of one party without a coalition partner. The Opposition’s lines of defence are: (1) to gain a constitutional majority against PiS; (2) to gain a governmental majority against PiS; (3) to force PiS into a minority rule (for example by controlling the Senate); (4) to force PiS into a coalition government with another party; (5) to prevent a constitutional majority of PiS when the party rules on its own.
It seems we are in territory (5). The Opposition is defending the Constitution from being amended by Law and Justice. This is clearly a retreat from other options, which were on the table before. At least those are the moods.
So, Law and Justice, after initial celebrations, re-forming of the government (quite a few of ministers are changing jobs and are leaving for the EP), will fight for a constitutional majority. The ruling party is on the offensive!
It is unclear if the European Coalition will go as one block. The Spring already announced it will not join the Coalition. The Polish People’s Party (PSL) is seriously debating whether it should leave the ranks of the Coalition and go on their own. The only wholeheartedly pro-maintaining the Coalition are the left-wing SLD, who is a clear winner with 5 MEPs within the Coalition.
There is a major reflection in the ranks of the Civic Platform. The newly re-elected MEP Elżbieta Łukacijewska was attacked by the party leader Grzegorz Schetyna. First, this 2-term MEP was not positioned as the list leader, as she was a leader back five years ago. Ms Łukacijewska was a candidate no. 10. And she won a seat. Not only that, she carried out Cisna, a commune in the Podkarpacie region, where Law and Justice won with overall 60% support. Mr Schetyna tweeted about Łukacijewska win in Cisna: “People from outside. Externals. Many from Lower Silesia, from Wrocław”, to which Ms Łukacijewska responded “Grzegorz, the inhabitants of Cisna are not ‘people from outside‘, we are all locals here. It is a wonderful community, hospitable, open and entrepreneurial. I am proud that I live in Cisna and I thank all my neighbours for their votes for KE. For sure, we are going for more!”.
As the night is unfolding, the first results of the European elections in Poland are coming in. Initially as exit polls, late polls, this morning (6 AM) we have results out of 95,9% of precincts. Here they are:
Law and Justice, 46,00%
European Coalition, 37,87%
The other committees fall short of the 5% threshold, most notably the far-right Confederacy (4,55%) and Kukiz’15 (3,71%). The last committee was the United Left (in fact, far left coalition) with 1,23%.
The turnout is 43%. Five years ago it was under 24%.
The big winner: the people, who showed up in big number in the electoral booth.
The big winner: Law and Justice, which bounced back from a nuanced results in 2018 to an astonishing result of 46% and 26 MEPs in the new European Parliament. PiS also managed to defend itself from the right side last-minute surge of Confederacy.
The big loser: Grzegorz Schetyna and his European Coalition. 8pp differential between EC & PiS is a major difference. Clearly Donald Tusk was wrong went he said “There are more of us” some 9 days ago addressing the EC rally in Warsaw. The EC should have about 22 MEPs
The big relief: if Confederacy fails to get elected this is a strong message that the only pill against the far right madness is a high turnout.
The big question mark: Spring with 6% and 3 MEPs. Where will they go? Can they be “the third way”, “the progressive option”? “What will Robert Biedroń do” was one of many questions asked last night. Is 6% a good departing point to grow, or, is it everything there is?
In the previous European elections Poles did not vote in big numbers. Turnout never was higher than 25%. This time it looks like things go differently.
The Electoral Commission just informed that the turnout at 12:00 was 14.39%. This is almost double than five years before, when by midday the Polish turnout was at 7.31%.
Last year during the local and regional elections, the turnout at midday was at 15.62%. By the end of the day the turnout was at 54.9%.
The 12:00 turnout suggests that by the end of the day some 40% to 50% may show up to vote.
The high turnout is driven by a high degree of political polarisation and a lack of a clear projected winner ahead of the vote. All leaders called on the voters to turn out to cast their ballot.
In Warsaw the turnout is significantly higher at 16.79% (compared to 10.7% five years before at 12:00). The same can be said of other regions, i.e. in the south-eastern Podkarpacie region the turnout at midday is at 15.96%, compared to 8.72% five years before.
The European citizens in Poland vote for one of 6 lists:
If you think Law and Justice (PiS) is anti-European, anti-systemic, anti-liberal democracy, think again. Not because Law and Justice presents itself as a modern, pro-European party with a logo “Poland at the heart of Europe” and with the European flag behind their backs. Law and Justice is a conservative party arguing in favour of Christian values in modern societies, less tight European integration, favouring the de-politicisation and degrading of importance of the European Commission. You may be critical of Law and Justice for their terrible reforms of the judicial system (challenging the independence of the courts) or the mismanagement of the school system. You may not like their closeness to the Catholic Church or cutting support for liberal NGOs. But this is what democracy is according to PiS: rule of the majority. In this logic there is no room for the respect of the minority rights. You can disagree with that, too.
However, many Poles like what they see. The courts are not important for the average voter. The schools are a problem, but not a reason to take the PiS government down. What’s good about the PiS rule are the give-aways, the 500 zł per child benefit and… the fact they are against those ‘dangerous’ liberal values and policies coming from the West. What comes in the package is a national rhetoric and strong historical links. The omnipresence of history in schools and public debate makes many Poles more aware about what are the important issues of 1944, 1945 or 1946 that of what are the issues of 2019 or 2020.
The focus on history and on the nation’s fate, on the defence of the national sovereignty and the lack of the subtle nuances in the discourse (“no to migrants”, “no to Euro”) gives a paradoxical effect.
Ahead of the Sunday vote the sociologists say there is no fluctuation between the electorate of PiS and of the European Coalition composed of PO, PSL (members of EPP in the European Parliament), SLD (member of S&D), .Modern (an ALDE member) and the Greens. The two blocks are in a virtual deadlock: most opinion polls predict PiS to come out first just an inch ahead of the Coalition (37% to 35%).
For the last four years the Law and Justice has recognised that the liberal opposition is the threat to their rule, especially the biggest party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO). In the last days ahead of the 26 May, however, that’s not exactly the case.
Since there is no fluctuation between PiS and the EC electorates, this means the outcome of the Sunday vote is left to two factors: first is the mobilisation of your own electorate, and second, to the performance of two parties to the right of PiS.
For a long time it seemed that the main party to the right of Law and Justice is Kukiz’15 led by a popular rock star. Mr Kukiz movement prefers direct democracy, but proved futile as it failed completely last year in the local elections. The opinion polls give Mr Kukiz between 3 and 6%.
The real threat for Law and Justice is elsewhere. Every day now gives the Confederacy a greater support, even up to 8%. Confederacy is a coalition in their own right, of extreme views. Openly nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBT (i.e. Kaja Godek talks about same sex couples adoption ‘real purpose’ being to abuse children) and anti-Semitic (what drives the support up in recent days is a protest against the American law Just Act-447 about the Holocaust victims restitution of property).
Sexualisation of children
It is Law and Justice who put the subject of sexualisation of children on the political agenda in February by blowing out of proportion the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Today Ms Godek is more “credible” on the issue and her fellow confederate Grzegorz Braun wants to punish gay people with flogging.
Even worse, the issue haunts PiS with the Church paedophilia scandal that the whole country talks about since it aired on Youtube two weeks ago. The issue demotivates the PiS electoral from showing on Sunday, most likely.
Is Trump’s Americastubbing PiS in the back?
Law and Justice is unquestionably pro-American. Every visit of the Polish officials in Washington is reported with a fanfare in Poland. Earlier this year Poland hosted the US-sponsored anti-Iranian propaganda summit. A few weeks ago the Polish government purchased the HIMARS defence system. For the first time a major defence system like this has been purchased with no off-set financial system to make sure that some of the funds spend would be re-invested in Poland. President Trump is expected back in Poland for the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War 2, come 1 September.
Law and Justice is not anti-American. A few years ago the PiS government withdraw its anti-private TV station campaign (TVN) after the owner of TVN, the American company Discovery Inc., raised the issue with the US ambassador in Warsaw.
And now Confederacy runs protests against the Just Act-447.
Law and Justice tries not to be anti-Semitic and over the previous 18 months has failed in this regard a number of times. Every time the ruling party fails it tries to make amends. This is not as easy since the PiS electorate is unaware with the notion of ‘nuance’ and the Israelis, on their side, also use easy anti-Polish sentiments popular among some sectors of the society. At the same time the business links and tourism between Poland and Israel flourish. The Polish airline LOT offers flights to Israel from 5 airports in Poland.
Another important value PiS tries to use this spring against the European Coalition is freedom. Law and Justice argues that EC is anti-freedom since it wants to censor the Internet (the copyright directive)… Again, Confederacy is more ‘credible’ in defending the ‘freedom’ understood as anarchy and absence of rules. The champion of this topic is Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a leading face of the Confederacy.
Krzysztof Bosak, the Confederacy no. 1 in Warsaw on Thursday: “the climate package should be terminated as soon as possible by Poland”, “the government closes the mines”, “Public opinion is not told this is the fault of EU regulation”. The bad guys? PiS and the EU.
More of Mr Bosak on same sex unions: “We disagree for the EU to dictate to us the conditions. We will defend our cultural autonomy. In our opinion, there can be no consent for the EU to promote deviations and dictate our values. Europe is not multiculturalism and the blurring of our values. No one can censor us”.
If you are a conservative voter, you have a problem. Every time the populist government of Mr Mateusz Morawiecki and the populist party of Mr Jarosław Kaczyński procures a new ‘line to take’ on sovereignty, on LGBT, on Israel, on judges, on freedom, on the Church, on history, on economy, it is the Confederacy who can out-bet the ruling party, not the European Coalition.
The European Coalition survives the attacks from Law and Justice largely untouched. But by focusing on EC, PiS has allowed for the Confederacy to grow in popularity. Only in recent days the government proves how unprepared they are against the Confederacy attacks (especially on the Just Act-447).
Yet the main goal of the European Coalition is to win with Law and Justice. Will they? We shall know for sure only after 9 PM Sunday night. Their struggle has been largely with the consistency of the offer: united in diversity as they are, their may struggle is to remain attractive to a variety of voters, conservative, liberal, centrist and progressive as they may be, as long as they are democratic.
The EC has a liberal challenger, too. Robert Biedroń’s Wiosna, the Spring, has been showing a decent support in the recent weeks, of between 9 to 14%. Yet the last week of the campaign is not as positive for the party, mainly due to a niche-scandal-blown out of proportion about a leading Spring candidate getting rid of her dogs (she gave them away to a shelter; the animal right lovers are in shock). Some polls show Mr Biedroń’s party enjoys only as low as 6% of support. Still, the main messages of the Spring are: to end the dominance of two mega parties, to ‘energize’ the opposition on social issues, women’s rights, gay rights, secularisation of the state and decarbonisation of the Polish energy sector.
Let me play a prediction game. Following the polls and the trends and the public debate this is what I’d like to predict as an outcome (it is NOT a poll). I may be completely wrong, but this is my prediction:
European Coalition 41% (the higher the turnout the better for EC)
Law and Justice 29% (the higher the turnout the better for PiS)
Spring 12% (the higher the turnout the better for the Spring)
Confederacy 10% (the lower the turnout the better for Confederacy)
Kukiz’15 4.5% (the lower the turnout the better for Kukiz’15)
The last weekend before the European elections the Polish campaign is gaining speed. The paedophilia covered in the Catholic Church dominates the debate. With the 18 May march in Warsaw and reinforcement in the person of Donald Tusk, the European Coalition motivates its supporters and hopes to outplay Law and Justice.
18 May, morning, Warsaw: a major storm in the city. Climate change in action, as normally storms like these come in July. This follows a drought earlier this spring, highly unusual, too, to be dry in February and March.
18 May, afternoon, Warsaw: the storm is over. The sun comes out. A major march is planned by the European Coalition and the weather was a major worry for the organisers. Warsaw Mayor is relieved. Rafał Trzaskowski jokes that he fixed the weather so the march can begin. On a serious note: mobilization is the key message of the day.
Some 45 thousand people walk the streets of Warsaw to hear a renewed Donald Tusk speech at the end of their walk. Donald Tusk is in Poland almost daily now. Almost campaigning. His speeches are watched and commented. Remembered. His major speech at the Warsaw University on 3 May is still echoed in the public debate otherwise dominated by the Church paedophilia scandals.
On the day, Mr Tusk goes political. He echoes the European Coalition hashtag, #GreatChoice, or #WielkiWybór with those words: “If 80 percent of Poles want Poland to be in the EU, why would we, all Poles, risk a vote for someone who does not guarantee this position in the EU?”. And continues: “And I say it very openly: is it really worth taking the risk of voting for those who present themselves today as Europeans with extraordinary enthusiasm, but this enthusiasm is only two weeks old? I know well that they will be Europeans for as long as the election demands it. They also know what the Poles want, and therefore, for these two weeks with difficulty, because it is difficult, but somehow the word ‘Europe‘ is declinated. But if they treat our presence in the EU the way they treat the Constitution, which they never said openly, that they want to break it. Shouting ‘Law!’, they violated the Constitution. Shouting ‘Justice!’, they were destroying the Polish courts. Talking about modesty, they shouted loudly: ‘This money simply belongs to us!‘.” He openly points at the ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS).
This is not a vote for a lesser evil, it is a vote for a greater good.
Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw
Tusk launches an attack on PiS leader: “in Europe I see many candidates for local chiefs, in the world they call them differently, one is called the chairman, the other is Ayatollah, but the difference is relatively small”. Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS chairman and speaks (17 May) that if someone does not want sharia law introduced in Poland, they should vote Law and Justice.
There are many more of us!
Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw
And the last quote from the President of the European Council who warns about those local chiefs, “for whom the idea, and we know it well from history, of one nation, one state, one religion, one leader, that this is their melody and they also participate in this European election. Europe is diversity, Europe is a union in diversity, kind of like the European Coalition”.
The government-run TVP is not shy of anti-Tusk sentiment. On the day they are correct to say, “Tusk threatens with PiS”. Gazeta Wyborcza, the liberal daily, concludes on the day Donald Tusk became the spiritual leader of the European Coalition. Paweł Wroński, a leading GW journalist concludes: “The President of the European Council Donald Tusk gave a deeper ideological sense of the existence of the European Coalition and its role in the elections to the European Parliament”.
18 May, Busko-Zdrój, Świętokrzyskie region, some 80 km NE of Kraków. Two men attack two policeman, who are injured before the attackers are arrested. One of the attackers is a local town councillor, who in the past was supported by Jadwiga Emilewicz, minister for entrepreneurship and technology.
Questions about the relationship between the attacker and the PiS politicians are raised not only by the opposition in the context of the January murder of the Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz. Beata Szydło, former PM and PiS leading candidate in the region, raises the same questions via Twitter, demanding clarifications from MP Michał Cieślak and Jarosław Gowin, deputy PM. Both belong to a small party Porozumienie (Alliance) that is in a nominal coalition with Law and Justice.
Mr Gowin, the P’s leader, responds saying that none of the perpetrators of the policemen attacks ever was a member of his party.
Róża Thun, the European Coalition leader in the same electoral region as Ms Szydło, is quick to raise the speculation of association of the attacker by twitting a photo of one of the accused individuals with… Beata Szydło on her campaign bus:
By evening, Ms Thun has another violent incident to report. Three of her volunteers are attacked in Kielce, the second biggest city in her electoral region, with a smelly liquid poured on them, while distributing leaflets.
In a written statement she writes that “the escalation of violence is at its best” while “the perpetrators remain unpunished” of the cases against her in recent years. She says: “I thought that hate, hate speech, and punishment affect me personally, but unfortunately the volunteers who help me in the campaign have been affected”. One of the three volunteers, teenagers has been threatened by the very same councillor who attacked the policemen earlier on the day in Busko-Zdrój.
The latest opinion polls are confusing. According to one, Law and Justice enjoys a comfortable +10% lead. According to another, Law and Justice is trailing the European Coalition by about the same +10%. In every poll, the Spring of Robert Biedroń comes third with about 8-9%. It seems the ultra-right wingers of the Confederation can break the 5% threshold and Kukiz’15 is balancing in the same area, potentially falling short of the threshold.
Effectively, Law and Justice and the European Coalition are going neck-to-neck with an estimate of about 18-25 mandates each (43 total for the two) going either way. The other 8 MEP seats could go to Spring (5) and Confederation (3).
The situation is volatile. The emotions are high due to Church paedophilia debate. The parties focus on mobilisation of their electorates. I believe that the ruling party enjoys about 40% support, but I also think that the ruling party may have difficulty mobilising their voters due to the Church paedophilia scandals. By now the Sekielski brothers film has been watched 20 million times on Youtube and it was aired on the private TVN (the most popular station among 16-49 year olds) on Friday.
PiS political problem is the disconnect with the many voices from within the Catholic Church in Poland, who are critical about the covering up of the paedophiles inside the institution. In fact, the top bishops are not speaking with one voice. Archbishop Polak is apologetic and promises to cooperate, counting on the support of Pope Francis. Archbishop Polak is the country primate, and says: “The Church is not under attack in Poland”. On the other hand, other bishops are unmoved with their political agenda. Archbishop Jędraszewski says “There is a war on Christianity and the Church”. There was a small protest against of archbishop Jędraszewski in front of a church in Poznań. Archbishop Jędraszewski is one of the more conservative bishops in the country.
PiS is unsure how to argue on the Church paedophilia since the Church is not united behind archbishop Polak. Hence PiS walks in the dark. The issue is to have an apolitical commission to be established to look into the Church paedophilia scandals. PiS says “yes” but only if the investigations include other “professions”, like artists, lawyers, or bricklayers. As if being a member of the clergy was a “job”. As if a member of the clergy paid taxes. As if any of the members of the clergy committing the paedophilia crimes or covering them up, ever was arrested 6 AM in their bed, like artists are arrested sometimes.
This is why PiS has a problem; it is sleepwalking on the most important political issue of the year. It is still popular due to its policies attractive to wider public. Yet, will they be as motived to turn out to vote? And what if they don’t?
The marching of the European Coalition and the Tusk speech are a good illustration that the motivation on the other side remains high. The EC probably has about 35% of the general support today. Maybe Tusk is right when he says “There is more of us”. By being much more motived, I expect them to come on top next Sunday. Subject to the last week of campaign, naturally.
The big question is the Spring. I and many others expected Spring to benefit most from the paedophilia scandal. Yet this has not been reflected yet in the polls. The party is stagnating at 8-9%, but with PiS not showing up in numbers, this bring them up to teens figures, before the anticipated boost.
In the relative weakness of PiS the biggest winners could be the Confederacy, that becomes increasingly openly anti-Semitic. The lower the turnout the greater the chance of the ultra-far-right.
All subject to the rest of the campaign. Jarosław Kaczyński just promised (19 May afternoon) new support of the people with disabilities.
On Europe Day, 9 May, the news about Facebook’s new elections operations centre in Dublin hit the wires. This time it is different. This time the social platforms take the fake news threat seriously. The European elections is particularly vulnerable to foreign manipulation.
In April, Facebook goes serious and bans the pan-European campaigns altogether. After all, one of the elements of the new Facebook policy is that no cross-border campaign on Facebook is possible. Remember the foreign involvement in the US 2016 elections? Consider the Chinese or the Russian threat.
The European political parties protest and are exempted from the practice. The big European families can pay for online continent-wide campaigns. The social initiatives, like #Gimme5EU, are not exempted. Our five blogs portrait the situation in our European countries for the wider European audience. Clearly this blog targets the non-Polish speakers interested in the Polish EU campaign. Still, I cannot promote it on Facebook outside of Poland, as it contains political information.
My Facebook readers figures go down. Thank you Google for not forgetting my blog as most of my current readership comes from search engines.
Fake news foreign and domestic
Facebook is worried with misinformation, fake news, etc. It should be. EU is worried, too. The EU has decided it is time to act. There are great and important initiatives, inside and outside of the European Institutions. Just to give here three examples: first is the EU vs DisInfo is working on disinformation originating from Eastern Europe since 2015. This is an official task force put together by the EEAS, European External Action Service, or the EU foreign office.
The problem of the European institutions is that it is possible to agree on the external disinformation, yet it is much more difficult to agree on combating the internal disinformation. Or, the disinformation originating in our member states. In the context of this elections, the FactCheckEU.info is probably one of the better sources for fact checking. It is developed by the The International Fact-Checking Network that deals with fact checking for a longer while.
The IFCN problem? It covers 19 media outlets in 11 languages: English, French, German, Danish, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Croat, Portuguese, Swedish and Lithuanian. No Polish partner in the project, also no Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Dutch, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Romanian. Irish and Maltese equally are not included. C’est la vie. #Gimme5EU is also limited to a few countries, even if in recent weeks we have welcomed two new sister blogs: on the Lithuanian elections and the Portuguese vote.
Who fact checks in Poland in the context of the EU campaign? The best source for you is probably the Wojownicy Klawiatury, the Keyboard Warriors. There are already 6,700 warriors! The difference between the KW and other fact checkers is that Warriors are active directly on the Internet and they are regular Internet users, not journalists or officials. This cooperation is supported by the European Commission and backed up by certain EU officials and academics. Highly recommended.
Facebook bans pages
Facebook’s main tool of interfering with fake news or disinformation is to close down a page or an account. Oko.press, a liberal online magazine is actively monitoring all the political actors with their Internal activities. 17 May Oko.press informs about their latest success: following the Oko.press and Avaaz investigation Facebook just banned 13 pages with about 1.13 million subscribers.
Their main fault? Misinformation. Those pages start as i.e. photography lovers, and slowly transition to political issues. The wider Oko.press investigation identified 80 pages of 4.9 million subscriptions.
Oko.press: “fans who have been operating since 2016 have increased their ranges, including portals with anti-Western, anti-Ukrainian and anti-NATO fake news”. They perpetrated also pro-Russian views, according to the website.
The closed pages also promoted three politicians: ultra-right-winger Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a far-right deputy minister Adam Andruszkiewicz (who is responsible for the Polish relationship with… Facebook) and Leszek Miller, who is a left-wing former prime minister. Mr Korwin-Mikke and Mr Miller run for the European Parliament, Mr Korwin-Mikke is a candidate of Confederation, and Mr Miller of the European Coalition.
11 May 2019, the Tomasz and Marek Sekielski documentary about the paedophilia in the Catholic Church in Poland is released. No major TV wanted to produce it, so the journalist Tomasz Sekielski and his brother collected the necessary resources via crowd founding site and released the documentary on YouTube.
16 May 2019, the documentary “Tell No One” has been watched 16 million times. You can watch it here with English subtitles:
The real problem
The impact this movie has is enormous. It is impossible to predict the full scale effect of the wave it has ignited. The chain of events is very fast.
If you see this movie you know, that the problem addressed in the Sekielskis’ documentary is not paedophilia. It is the Catholic Church cover up of paedophiles among priests.
The bishops of the Catholic Church are apologetic. Even archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź, who was initially dismissive of the documentary, is apologetic now. The leading voice belongs to the country’s primate Wojciech Polak: this film is “an element of crushing down of this reality”.
“The reality” is a reality in which there is a system of cover up, a system where the victims are left alone and left oppressed not to tell. A system in which the Catholic Church is proven a wrong doing and requires soul searching and change.
Can the change be generated from within the Catholic Church in Poland or it requires an external pressure? Vatican sends archbishop Charles Scicluna, who has been sent before to Chile to help the local degenerated clergy to come to terms with their past. Now the Vatican seems to be deeply worried with the situation in the Polish Catholic Church.
There is a major difference between those who saw the documentary and whose who did not see it. Those who did not see it are in a state of denial. Those who saw it are in a state of shock.
Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling party, tries to spin the debate to talk about paedophilia. The millions who have seen the documentary cannot be moved, for the problem is not the general paedophilia, but elsewhere.
It is quite telling that the initial reactions of the bishops (apologetic) are more proper that the reactions of the PiS politicians. Two of the leading PiS MEP candidates have had disqualifying statements in this context:
First, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, PiS candidate in Warsaw on public TV: “It is a baffled problem, specifically invented, to provoke […]. The European Coalition has nothing to say on European issues, and therefore deals with what it should not do”.
Second, Ryszard Legutko, PiS candidate (no. 2) in Kraków claims that Church’s problem is homosexuality. Then, he says, “More than 80 percent of cases of abuse refer to boys from 12 to 17 years of age, well sorry about what is paedophilia? It is not paedophilia, it is simply pederasty”.
The ruling party wants to change the penal code, too. The sentence for the crime of paedophilia will be 30 years, children will be protected until the age of 16, and Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister and a former MEP: “There will be no time limitation to punish someone for raping a child”.
The problem is not in the law, the problem is with the application of the law. There is no image of the police arresting priests accused of paedophilia on TVs. There are images of the police arresting activists for provoking religious groups with antireligious posters.
“Instead of kneeling in front of the bishops, you should all kneel before the victims of paedophile priests and beg for forgiveness! You have done nothing for the raped children for years and continue to do nothing!” yelled MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus of the opposition party Spring before showing a map of the case of paedophilia in Poland in the Sejm. Ms Scheuring-Wielgus is running for the EP from Warsaw – the list of Spring, no.2.
Michał Szułdrzyński, a conservative journalist wrote in Rzeczpospolita that “the Church paedophilia film has surprised Law and Justice”. On Saturday morning, hours before the Sekielski documentary is released, Jarosław Kaczyński is talking about the need to defend traditional values. Szułdrzyński: “the Kaczyński party misses out the social mood” and points out all the strategic mistakes and steps that the ruling party did. He concludes: “the European Coalition lead by Grzegorz Schetyna just caught a second breath” and “Schetyna paraphrased Kaczyński words, when the PiS leader was saying a hand raised against the Church is a hand raised against Poland. The European Coalition leader in response to the documentary said, that the hand raised against the Polish state belongs to the one who raises it against a Polish child”.
I agree with Mr Szułdrzyński. Law and Justice misinterpreted the gravity of the Sekielski documentary. The final 10 days ahead of the elections is a moment when Law and Justice has additional problems to motivate their electorate to come out and vote. Their general support may not be evaporating as fast, but the willingness to go out and vote for the reactionary force may be softened.
If Law and Justice stalls and potentially is set to lose out, who wins? The European Coalition is quick to respond properly, says Mr Szułdrzyński. Yet there is the third party of Robert Biedroń, the Spring, who is the most credible with secularisation. Ms Scheuring-Wielgus has been raising the issue for months; she arose to prominence when she handed in the report on paedophilia in the Polish Church to Pope Francis, who embraced the victim of paedophilia Marek Lisiński, head of the foundation “Do Not Be Afraid” back in February. Mr Lisiński travelled to Rome with MP Scheuring-Wielgus.
The issue is bigger that the current EP campaign and most likely will overshadow the rest of the remaining period. Every day new victims come out with their stories and the media are fully reporting on the issue. The group of people who are in denial is cracking. Since the head of the Catholic Church in Poland is no longer in that group alongside many bishops, it will be very difficult for the ruling party to deny the problem. The problem not being the paedophilia, but the Church cover up of paedophilia.
In a normal country MEP candidate Saryusz-Wolski should be forced to apologize for his words and MEP Ryszard Legutko, who has been PiS leader in the EP, should be removed from the ranks.
Yet there is another twist to the politics of the situation. The “hard core” deniers of the Confederation are raising their heads. They, too, can benefit from the softening of the message of the Church, and potentially Law and Justice. A former MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke expressed some understanding for the paedophiles.
There is no separation between Church and state in Poland. Since 1989 every Polish government is pro-Church. Different governments differ only by the degree of how pro-Church their leaders are. Even agnostic or non-believing leaders hide their religious beliefs. So why now the Church debate?
3 May 2019, Leszek Jażdżewski, the editor-in-chief of a liberal magazine LIBERTÉ takes the stage ahead of the momentous speech of Donald Tusk. Jażdżewski says: “The Polish Catholic Church, burdened with unexplained paedophile scandals, obsessed with the fight for money and influence, lost the moral mandate to exercise the power of the conscience of the nation”.
Soon afterwards, it is not Tusk, but Jażdżewski who is attacked by the right wing ‘hate machine‘. The ultra-conservative Radio Maryja sums up his speech on 4 May on its website as “a comparison of the Church to the swine, accusing the Church of betraying the Gospel“. “The Church is brutally attacked” writes the right-wing wpolityce.pl in one of some 50 articles on the issue. Other adjectives frequently used – ‘godless’, ‘impious’, it is an ‘anticlerical wave’, a new ‘hate towards the Church’. Tusk is accused ‘he had to know’ about the Jażdżewski Church critical words.
Church = Poland
4 May 2019 Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice (PiS), says: “Whoever raises their hand on the Church raises their hand on Poland”. This way the PiS chair allows for the ‘defence of the Church’ from all those, who ‘attack’ the Church. Because as of now, attack on the Church is the attack on Poland.
Except, Leszek Jażdżewski defends his words. In a follow-up explanation interviews he says “if when we say that the Church today misappropriates the Gospel it is regarded as an attack on Christianity, then we can say that Jesus would go to jail today” he says in a liberal radio TOK FM and “the emperor has no clothes” on the liberal news television, TVN24.
An offence against the religious beliefs
6 May 2019, 6 AM, Płock. Elżbieta Podleśna, a local activist is arrested for her posters, considered offensive by the Catholic Church officials and Poland’s interior minister, Joachim Brudziński. The poster consists of the sacred image of the Holy Mary of Częstochowa with a rainbow halo over her and baby Jesus heads. The situation is well described in The Guardian here. And this is the poster:
The initial reactions: “her posters are offensive against Catholics”. In the afternoon, however, it becomes apparent that the police used excessive methods. Podleśna told reporters she was treated ‘like a criminal’, was supposed to be arrested overnight, but this was overturned after her defender appealed to the prosecution.
Later, the human rights defenders of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights argue that Podleśna should never be arrested. Instead, should there be a suspicion, as a locally known activist, she should be summoned to the police. Other human rights NGOs, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also protested against Podleśna’s arrest.
After Podleśna’s arrest the rainbow halos goes viral. The story is covered all around the world. If this is a provocation on the side of the LGBT activist, this is successful.
The same kind of reaction happened two weeks ago when the National Museum in Warsaw banned a few pieces of art from the exhibition due to ‘certain complaints’. The artists and the opposition run to defend the artist and the Museum reversed the decision. Here’s the controversial piece of art:
What do people think?
Probably most of the mainstream politicians and the media feel cornered. The minority issue (LGBT) tries to dominate the mainstream dominant force (the Church). What are the odds? If the Black Madonna of Częstochowa rainbow halo was truly offensive, there is no way this could be good news for the Polish opposition, I hear from quite a few mainstream politicians and commentators.
7 May, oko.press, a liberal investigative medium, publishes new data. Oko.press might be young, but all the mainstream media read them, as they are the powerful source of information. In the analysis the information is mind-blowing: the opposition electorate is far more open towards the criticism of the role of the Catholic Church than the opposition politicians. There is a disconnect. According to oko.press:
85% of Civic Platform electorate thinks that bishops protect the perpetrators rather than the victims of paedophilia in the Church (PiS electorate – 36%);
83% of them thinks that the Catholic masses should NOT be a part of official state celebrations (PiS 21%);
80% supports liberalisation of abortion laws (PiS 21%);
74% prefers for religion to be taught outside of schools in the parishes (PiS 20%);
62% supports gay marriage (PiS 15%).
Civic Platform is the EPP member.
Clearly the PO electorate demands a separation of the state from the Church. Anticipating this situation, 6 May in Częstochowa, in front of the church with the portrait of Black Madonna, Robert Biedroń of Wiosna, demands separation of the two. Biedroń responds to the Law and Justice leader: “Whoever raises their hand on the Constitution raises their hand on Poles”.
The Church speaks
8 May, the Primate of Poland, archbishop Wojciech Polak reacts to the whole situation. Archbishop Polak says that the society is divided and the incident of Black Madonna and the political debates “arouse my pain and anxiety”. The Primate stresses that every person, regardless of their world view, professed principles, sexual orientation or religion, deserves respect, has the right to express their opinions and views.
However, the Primate note, “this right ends when their activity or message breaks freedom, sensitivity, hurts the feelings of another person and everything that is sacred to him. Therefore, there can be no consent to infringe, for whatever reason, what is not inviolable for particular people, social groups or denominations”.
The Primate also stressed that “no situation justifies actions that hurt the sensitivity of another person, or those that retaliate with dignity and a sense of security”.
Archbishop Polak stresses that the image of the Black Madonna “was, is and should remain a sign of unity and love even when these values result not only from religious motives but are an expression of respect for the other person”.
There is no separation between Church and state in Poland. Many previous governments pretended for this to be the case. The current government does not. I talk to Leszek Jażdżewski as I try to comprehend better what he means… Mr Jażdżewski tells me a story of two Churches. “One is the open actor, compassionate and supporting the poor”, while at the same time there is “the political player that is intertwined with the power”. The “open and compassionate Church” is the one that expresses its views in media like liberal Gazeta Wyborcza or the liberal-conservative Tygodnik Powszechny weekly.
The Catholic Church has always been there, even at the Round Table in 1989. It role was that of a mediator. With time it gained a real power, estates, influence in politics and in education with the introduction of religion into schools. It’s role has changed, tells me the editor-in-chief of Liberte.
I can understand only one criticism of Leszek Jażdżewski words: “the Church” he criticises is the institutional, hierarchical organisation. For many others there is a different notion of “the Church”. For them, “the Church” means the community of believers. Hence criticism of the institutional Church could be misinterpreted as the criticism of the society, or even – the entire nation.
Still, Jażdżewski’s words are important and relevant. The Church (institution) is as powerful as ever. At the same time it has never been weaker. The Polish bishops response to the paedophilia scandal is ridiculous and unbelievable at the same time.
On 11 May the explosive new documentary film on the paedophilia in the Polish Catholic Church is released online. The topic is so controversial that nobody wanted to finance the film of Mr Sekielski, a famous journalist. Instead, the funding for the film has been collected with crowdfunding.
The European Coalition (EC) campaign is changing. So far, the leifmotif of the Coalition is to warn the Poles of a risk of “Polexit”, even if unintended. For that reason the EC has a hashtag #WielkiWybor, a #GreatChoice, for it tries to turn the 26 May elections into a referendum “in or out of the EU”. Some 80% of Poles support EU membership.
This strategy is history now. Two events have shaken the strategy. First, the Monday 29 April interview of Jean-Claude Juncker in Rzeczpospolita. In it the President of the European Commission says: “Even if Law and Justice (PiS) wins the fall elections, there will be no Polexit”.
The second hit against the strategy is even closer home. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council speaks on 3 May with an underlying message of a need of civility in politics. He talks inclusiveness and to “stop this spiral of reluctance, hostility, and hate”.
Effectively Mr Juncker tells the pro-European politicians of the EC: “your message to scare off the public is false”. Effectively Mr Tusk tells the same crowd: “your message is not enough, you need a positive offer”.
It does help that for over a month the EC is trailing Law and Justice in the opinion polls. Always just a 2-3 points behind the government party. Nevertheless the trend is clear: always second.
Schetyna in Białystok: 100 bn Euro more!
The 2019 campaign is organised this way that every weekend there are major speeches and events scheduled. 4 May 2019, Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the Civic Platform and of the European Coalition, in Białystok says: “This election is about the money for our country for the next decade”.
His statement comes as the end of the scaring campaign with Polexit. Now comes the “offer”: “we can negotiate better for our country than those who lose 27-1” in the European Council. He clearly refers to the 2017 situation when the Polish government was the only one opposed to the re-election of Donald Tusk as head of the European Council.
“We can negotiate 100 bn more for Poland than the PiS government”, says the PO leader about the upcoming multi-annual financial programming negotiations. “100 billion for Poland, for Poles, for healthcare, for people who work, for the Polish countryside, for education and for the fight against air pollution”.
This is a change for the better. We start to know what kind of Poland in the EU the European Coalition truly wants, not only what they do not want. As a society we come out of a paralysis. If you are a political actor it is important to verbalise your offer, not only to scare people away from your competition. Still, as the TVN (private TV) fact-checkers informed the viewers, the MFF negotiations are made in the European Council, not in the European Parliament.
Let me nuance the fact-checkers here. The Parliament is co-legislator and co-authority on the Union budget. The MFF may be open in principle for a political agreement among the prime ministers in the European Council; yet it is at the same time open to multiple parallel negotiations on policies which are negotiated in a classical ordinary legislative procedure. This procedure fully includes the EP. In fact, some of the MFF files have been already adopted by the outgoing Parliament.
The PO can be even more entitled to defend their stance with the simple fact that two of the leading EP negotiators on the next MFF are PO’s MEPs: Janusz Lewandowski, MEP/EPP from Gdańsk and Jan Olbrycht, MEP/EPP from Katowice. Both Mr Lewandowski and Mr Olbrycht are running for re-election.
What I am concerned with is another problem. The Civic Platform in times of trouble turns to the old tunes we have all heard well before: “we are better negotiators, we can get more money for you”. This is not the pro-European message. This is not about the Europe of values. This is not about the Europe of principles. Instead the PO leader turns to sell Europe to Poles as a piggy-bank once again.
Fair enough, Mr Schetyna talks also about policies he wants to finance with the extra 100 bn Euros. Yes, it is Euros he talks about, not zloties. Yet what the people will remember is “100 bn more”. Not only this is what the public shall remember. This is what Mr Schetyna wants them to remember. And that’s worrisome.
History: It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Europe: Deadly alternative between domination and decay, needs to be avoided.
Poland: This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland. Why should we lose it all?
Global challenges: Only cooperation at every level, of all with everybody, we can meet the challenges of the globe.
Geopolitics: In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire.
Doubt: Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs. Doubt!
3 May 1791, the first Constitution in Europe is adopted. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopts the most important act just a few months before the French first Constitution, and three-and-a-half years after the U.S. Constitution.
3 May 2019, this is a national Constitution Day in Poland. Even if the current Constitution was adopted on 2 April 1997, it is the “3 May” which is the day of the most important legal document of the land.
On the very day the president of the European Council Donald Tusk addresses the big crowd gathered in the Warsaw University main hall, and thousands of others watch him outside the building or on TV. The EUCO President speaks for nearly one hour, and if you understand Polish, you can re-watch it here:
Tusk starts by saying he is not alone on the stage today. He is here “with the hero of the day, the Constitution”.
A footnote to take off: “Those who say that as the president of the European Council I shouldn’t advocate for one political party’s campaign are right”, but at the same time “it is my right and duty as the president of the European Council to support the Europeans in every country of the European Union, all those who are stubborn to unite people, not to divide them”, for their own nation state, and for Europe.
Tusk embraces the Macron’s initiative of “European universities” that the host, the Warsaw University (UW), is bidding in with partners from Copenhagen, Milan, Heidelberg and Paris. Tusk supports the UW’s bid and hopes “there will be plenty of the Warsaw University in Europe and of Europe in the UW”.
A minute of silence follows for the late Karol Modzelewski, who recently died at the age of 81. Mr Modzelewski was a well-known opposition activist during the communist Poland and a senator in the independent Poland. He advocated for the trade union to adopt its name, “Solidarność” or “Solidarity”, back in 1980.
Let the historian talk history
Tusk talks about the communist past, when the communist Poland banned two Polish “holly days”, 11 November (re-gained independence in 1918) and 3 May (1791 Constitution). As a young man, Tusk was exposed to the teachings of Lech Bądkowski, who taught his young adepts that a free Poland has to be acceptable for all. Tusk today says “Poland is one. Everybody who takes up the fight has to bear in mind how to turn a motherland into a home for everyone, not for selected few”.
“Why 3 May is important?” asks Tusk. As a young historian, Tusk back in 1980 thought of the Constitution as of a symbol of freedom and independence. As a historian, Tusk accuses the 3 May 1791 Constitution of not being progressive enough by today’s standards. “Compare it with the US Constitution, just a little bit older, which is binding – with a few changes adopted along the way – until today”, says Tusk. “Under the 3 May Constitution it would be difficult to imagine today’s governance system”. Yet, Tusk defends the 18th century Constitution as giving Poles hope for a change of the status quo of the day. The status quo was hopelessness, chaos, divisions, a social injustice, lack of army and no foreign policy. Against this picture, the 3 May 1791 act was an ambitious step “towards freedom, human and citizen rights, a modern governance system, […] towards the then-European norms”. Tusk quotes Edmund Burke and George Washington, who praised the 1791 document as “perfect”.
Why 3 May constitution is important? Tusk, the historian, says: “This is then when the Poles discovered they constitute a political community”.
Since then, Tusk says, Poles know how important the Constitution is and how evil is its violation. “The Constitution’s violation undermines the most basic element of the community”, says the European Council President.
“Targowica” is a label associated with betrayal in Poland. Back in 1791, the opposition to the 3 May Constitution was called the “Targowica Confederation”. They opposed the document, and were inspired and paid for by foreign powers. With backing of Russia the Targowica Confederation started a war, and once the government was defeated, the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place by 1792, and the final, third, by 1795. Independent Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist until 1918.
The essence of Targowica, according to Mr Tusk: “it is a synonym of betrayal and lies”. Following 3 May, under the mottos of “pride” and “independence” the Targowica Confederation led back to chaos and enslavement of the peasants, dependency of Russia, war and state failure. “The act of Targowica Confederation was a spectacular manifestation of cynicism and propaganda. It appealed to national emotions but was contrary to national interests. This lesson is relevant today, as it carries an universal message: how easy it is to flatter national emotions, acting de facto in contradiction with national interests”.
Soberly, Tusk remarks: “Constitution is not sacred”. It can be changed and improved. What is “sacred” is to respect its provisions “by all the citizens, especially the authorities”. This is a clear reference to the accusations by the Polish opposition against the Law and Justice (PiS) government and president Andrzej Duda that they have violated the current Constitution many times.
It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Nie może być tak, że władza raz do roku obchodzi święto Konstytucji, a na co dzień Konstytucję obchodzi.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
This is an untranslatable game of words: “obchodzi” has two meanings, “to celebrate” and “to evade”.
Let the European talk Europe
Every constitution allows for an inclusive political construction, that can accommodate different people. “United with the respect for one another and for law, but not unified. Equally understanding their obligations to their own country, to their own community, to the freedom of other people, but how different in their views, customs and behaviours”, says the president of the European Council.
More on the definition of freedom by the former Polish premier: “Respect for people who think differently and understand their freedom in a way that least reduces the freedom of other people.” Tusk embraces the EU’s motto: United in diversity. In varietate concordia.
This is also the message for Poland: diversity, not uniformity. Tusk puts the “constitution” and the European Union as equal values, for they have a lot in common. Tusk: “they are to protect citizens from the stronger and more powerful people”.
World is full of stories of politicians, nations and places that aspired to be “the centres of the world”. Tusk mentions the Venetians, Egyptians, Indians and the Ganges, Greece, Mecca, and the Middle Kingdom, China. “The trouble is that this perspective, in a sense natural and understandable, usually translates into a pretence to hegemony, superiority, domination”.
Against those hegemonic tendencies Tusk raises defences. “The national constitution and Europe in the international dimension, is the denial of this logic, the denial of this need, this temptation, this danger of hegemony and domination”.
The philosopher lands home with a joke: Tusk talks about “Poland at the heart of Europe”, the PiS motto in the European elections. He says anatomical references are confusing: if Poland was the heart, then Sweden should be the head, but Hungary – “Viktor Orbán can feel slightly embarrassed”. The joke is warmly received. The head of the Hungarian government should smile, too.
The most important dilemma of the day in Europe is the following: “to avoid the alternative between domination, hegemony and decay and entropy”. Those two tendencies, on the one hand, the nationalism that ends with an attempt to dominate, and on the other hand, the decay, the implosion. “This alternative is deadly”, warns Tusk.
This alternative requires change. It needs to be replaced “by the type of political construction which requires a wise and respected national constitution, and in the international dimension an internationally respected and strengthened European Union”, advocates the head of the European Council.
Earlier in the day Donald Tusk met president Andrzej Duda, who supports the idea of mentioning the Polish membership in the EU and NATO in the Polish constitution. Tusk says: “This statement is worth as much, it would truly strengthen our presence in the EU as much, as it would be met with the determination to observe the Constitution”. And then he continues to ask “why change or improve Constitution if it is disrespected?”.
Let the Pole talk Poland
“Europe, as an idea in which human freedom, human rights, a balance between values, a Europe that has not always managed to defend those values, needs a global partnership”, and according to Tusk this global partnership needs to be trans-Atlantic “at any cost”.
Tusk repeats that in today’s world all European nations are small and the world outside of the EU is brutal. “Geopolitics, demography, statistics are merciless”. If the EU can be successful the only way to achieve this is unity, and the trans-Atlantic community needs fostering.
Tusk then turns to soft criticism of the Polish government. He argues for the inclusive policies, not exclusive ones. Tusk agrees with the pro-American policy of the Polish government, but implies it should not be a choice “US or EU”. Tusk ponders on “and/or” between “us or them” v “us and them”, “an individual or a community” v “an individual and a community”, “security or freedom” v “security and freedom”. This is Tusk’s political grammar. He clearly prefers inclusiveness, “and” wins over “or”.
In politics it can not mean that someone should defeat someone else and annihilate them.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“You can win or lose, but we both will continue to live in the same country”, says Tusk. He disagrees with the approach “I won the elections, Poland is mine, not yours, you are excluded”. It is applicable in Poland and in Europe, says EUCO President and calls on those who listen to “stop this spiral of reluctance, hostility, and hate”.
If we do not stop this spiral [of hate] we shall lose the same way we lost when the 3 May Constitution was adopted only for a few months.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Poland is not the sick man of Europe”, claims Tusk. Poland is much stronger than 228 years ago. Today Poland has “prescriptions” for a good political health, but they can be empty without the respect of the Constitution.
“This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland”, Tusk is fully convinced of that. He shares the conviction with the Polish president Andrzej Duda. Yet, as Tusk asks, “do we really have to be wise again after the damage? Do we really have to give up what has become the foundation of Poland’s unprecedented success just because today the logic of dislike, hatred and aggression is winning?”
Tusk is on fire: “Why should we forget this lesson? […] Without respect for the law, without respecting people of different views, without respect for ourselves and strangers, without understanding that Europe is more than a few treaties and boundaries, why should we lose it somewhere in this fight?”
A Game of Thrones viewer, Tusk says: “politics is a competition, but not a fight to death” like the Winterfell battle. “I do not want for all of us to lose this fight”.
Let the global leader talk global challenges
Poland and whole of Europe face major challenges that can be overwhelming if approached individually by each of the nations alone. “The 21st century problems need to be solved together, because we do not have the chance to face them if we fight with each other to death”.
Environment. Climate change. Air quality in Poland. Tusk quotes Yuval Harari “nationalists are unable to find an answer to the challenges such as climate change. Therefore the only way for them is to deny that such a problem exists in the first place”.
Tusk dwells on the poor air quality in Poland. Most of the country has the worst quality of air in Europe. Tusk: 50 thousand people die every year in Poland due to air pollution. “Would you take a decision to give your child, your grandchild, a package of cigarettes to smoke every day?” he asks rhetorically.
Tusk’s answer to climate change: cooperation at every level, of all with everybody. Example: the plastic. “It is difficult to believe in the effectiveness of our fight against the excess of plastic if other countries are throwing tons of plastic every hour into the sea. This is one of the proofs that we will not be able to deal with the problem alone, without full and harmonious cooperation”, says the European Council head.
Artificial intelligence is another challenge. Tusk talks about the Chinese social credit system and presents it as a system in which a totalitarian government controls every action of a 1.3 billion persons, its nation. It requires a great capacity of analysis of big data. And Tusk says: “This is no science fiction. This is not futurology. This is not my fear when I look at my grand children. This is happening today, now, in this world, in the largest country on the planet, in the country best prepared to de facto control not only behaviour, but also needs, dreams, values of each and every one of the Chinese”.
Tusk is relieved, briefly: “we think we are safe in the West as we are beneficiaries and victims of the same technological revolution, but there is no temptation in us to use this technology to obtain a full state control over the individual”. But, are we? Tusk talks GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple.
In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Are we Internet-junkies?” asks the historian-turned politician.
Tusks warns of the future industries, in which there is no work, but not because of unemployment, but because of technological revolution. He mentions the “value engineers” and other challenges for the civilisation and for the political world.
Let the doubter doubt
“We dream of the rule of the Constitution, yet instead we see those who seek power reach only fiction, and those who seek truth about the world have to compromise even dreaming about power”, says Tusk and soberly notes, “Man by nature prefers power, not truth”.
Fiction today is not only a commercial tool, but it is becoming a major political tool. That’s a challenge for all of us.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
The issue should be dealt with by education and healthcare. “We need a revolution in thinking about education”, says Tusk. “Young people need vaccines against a dangerous world of fiction and being dependent on others’ values.”
Those and other challenges and our responses to them will determine the future of Poles and of other Europeans. It is important to ask questions, says Donald Tusk: “this is the essence of political freedom, we are to disturb and not support, we have to seek, we have to question”.
Cogito ergo sum of Descartes, “I doubt hence I am” is quoted, as is Ortega y Gasset: “the essence of Europe and its great cultural and civilisational advantages was precisely that its people thought, doubted, were in constant motion”. Be in motion, asks president Tusk.
Tusks follows the Ortega y Gasset quote: “European civilisation has deep doubts about itself” and adds “I hope it truly does”. The Spaniard is quoted: “I do not recall that any civilisation ever would die of doubt attacks. I remember, however, they usually die because of the petrification of their traditional faith and sclerosis of beliefs”.
Tusk adds: “Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs”.
Let the dreamer dream
The president of the European Council quotes a long passage from the Polish 1997 Constitution. It is its preamble, as proposed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a Polish statesman and prime minister 1989-1990.
Tusk wants to be proud of Poland again. He dreams it is possible, as it once was. “I have been many times in my life witness to the admiration the world and Europe looked at Poland. And so it can be again”.
Poland’s EU accession in 2004 is a success story. As such, it has many fathers. Today PiS politicians no longer talk of “imaginary community” or “ruined Poland”. Today they are pro-European. Just listen to the Polish head of state talk.
The EU enlargement of 2004 was the Union’s biggest: 10 new countries joined on 1 May and some 74 million people became the EU citizens overnight. Over 15 years those 10 countries have economically developed, but at the same time today they are depopulating. Fifteen years later they are inhabited by 73 million people.
The largest of the 2004 entrants is Poland. Today, 1 May 2019, Warsaw is home of many political rallies and speeches. The far-right anti-Europeans are “defending sovereignty” while the far-left remind the general public the true meaning of 1 May celebrations, the Labour Day.
The mainstream parties campaign in the European Elections. PiS’ shifting narrative and strategy of late is to become increasingly pro-European. The country president, Andrzej Duda, who last year talked dismissively of the EU, spoke last night.
President Duda: 15 years ago the society decided, accession was the Polish national interest. “Membership in the European Union changed many aspects of our lives; it was a challenge, but also – it brought many benefits”.
The head of state mentions open borders, the single market and the well spent cohesion funds; but the most element in it all – it is the people who make use of those opportunities. “We have used well our chance” and the 15 years of EU membership is a collective success.
Mr Duda surprisingly says: “We are members of the great, European community. We take responsibility for its shape and its future”.
Only last year for Mr Duda EU was “some imaginary community from which little results for us”. Back then he thought of a community this way: “Community is needed here, in Poland, for us – our own, focusing on our matters, because they are the most important matters for us. When our affairs are resolved, we will deal with European affairs. For now, let them leave us alone and let us fix Poland, because this is the most important thing”.
In his address to the nation Mr Duda continues talking about the Central European initiatives (Three Seas, Visegrad Group). He underlines that there are frequently differences of opinion as far as the European challenges are concerned.
We are Europe. European Union it’s us.
Andrzej Duda, 30 April 2019
This is an underlying agreement of all Poles, that “we are Europe” is a major message of the day. In the following statement, the president accuses “those, who try to create anxiety in the society about the EU membership are acting against the Polish national interest”. He most likely means the European Coalition, who is arguing the Polish government is running a secret Polexit plan, or an unintended Polexit, or even a “velvet Polexit” (Leszek Miller, former Social-Democratic PM, who finished the accession negotiations in 2002; today a candidate for the EP) .
The far-right Confederacy is openly anti-EU, hence they also are the addressees of the president’s criticism.
“Our goal is a modern Poland in a united Europe”, explains the head of the Polish state. This corresponds with the statements of other PiS leaders, who are promising Eurozone accession when the Polish and German salaries are equal.
Mr Duda finishes with a positive note expressing a believe in a “strong, secure and just Europe built on the foundation of common identity”.
Can the president be trusted? He seems to be changing his tune depending on the audience and depending on the timing. The closer to the elections we are the more pro-European Law and Justice politicians always are. However, not words, deeds matter when it comes to Europe. I could accept PiS does its best at most policies. I may disagree with some of the policies, yet almost of them are within the line of a democratic decision making. The “almost”, however, is the key. The rule of law in Poland has been compromised. This is a fundamental value of a modern democratic society, this is a foundation of a European democratic nation state. This is a core value of the European Union.
As long as the issue regarding the rule of law in Poland is not addressed properly, there is no chance any PiS politician can be trusted about being pro-European or even pro-democratic.
Should the issue be addressed properly (foreign minister Czaputowicz indicates that most likely Poland shall respect the upcoming ruling on the rule of law of the Luxembourg Court), I can respect the vision of a unified, religious, Christian Europe. I wish it was truly the Law and Justice perspective. I am afraid it is not the case.
Brexit puts the details of the European elections in limbo. It looked like there will be 705 MEPs. Now it seems we will see the same number of MEPs as before: 751. With Britain or not, for the Polish MEPs it makes a difference of one mandate: with Britain in the EU there will be 51 MEPs elected in Poland. If Brexit takes place, there are 52 MEPs to be elected from Poland.
51 or 52 makes a difference if you are one of the last people to be elected from Law and Justice (PiS), the European Coalition (KE), the Spring (Wiosna), Kukiz’15 or the Confederacy, as those political forces have real chances for a mandate in the 26 May elections.
However, Brexit makes for a twist in those calculations. It appears that Jacek-Vincent Rostowski, a former finance minister and deputy PM under Donald Tusk, is a candidate in… the United Kingdom for the Change UK party.
Jacek Rostowski is a London-born politician of dual, Polish-British nationalities. As a finance minister 2007-13 he was key in safe navigation of the Polish economy through the difficult high waters of the European and global economic downturn. He was named Europe’s best finance minister 2009 by The Banker magazine.
As a former ECOFIN member he is a perfect ECON candidate. Despite his credentials, in 2014 Mr Rostowski was a disappointment for his Polish party, the EPP’s Civic Platform, when he did not win a seat while being a leading candidate in the Bydgoszcz region. In Britain, his first political party was the Conservative Party. Today it is Change UK.
Today Mr Rostowski is deeply troubled with Brexit. He says in Business Insider, Brexit is “the worst thing that has happened in Western Europe since the Second World War” and would like to see it undone. He says that the 2016 referendum was a one big lie. Rostowski: “I know just how incredibly good the British were at getting their interests across the line within the European Union. They were absolutely the best negotiators” and saw even one French minister cry because he was out-negotiated by the British minister.
On social issues like gay marriage, Mr Rostowski changed his position. The British media have uncovered his anti-gay statements from the past. “My views have fundamentally changed,” he says today, “I’m a Conservative and Conservatives change their views.” Polish gay news-wire Queer.pl called for other PO candidates, who expressed anti-gay views in the past to follow Mr Rostowski’s footsteps.
Mr Rostowski is clearly canvassing the European voters, who are not British, on his twitter account. He wrote in Polish and in French a little info:
Mr Rostowski is 2nd on the Change UK list in London. Change UK is polling at about 6-9%.
It may be that with or without Brexit there are 52 Polish MEPs, after all, which is an interesting nuance.
More importantly, the candidacy of Mr Rostowski is a living proof of the truth about the European elections: that it is about the Europeans, not the states. Mr Rostowski voters will be Brits and all the other European citizens, who are not UK citizens. There are about 17 million Europeans who reside in another EU member state. In Poland there is only about 30,000 of them, but in UK alone there are about 800,000 Poles. In London alone there are about 200,000 French citizens.
It is your vote, if you are European, you can vote wherever you live.
The Electoral Commission registered all the electoral lists and only six of them are registered in the entire country, hence are entitled to mandates, should they meet the 5% threshold in Poland. They are (with the list numbers next to them):
Confederacy KORWiN Braun Liroy Nationalists
Spring of Biedroń
European Coalition – PO, PSL, SLD, .N and the Greens
Law and Justice
No other committee will have candidates in the entire country, including the Polish’ Polexit or the REM – Real Europe Movement.
The Confederacy is a far right coalition. The Spring is a Macron-type new party that most likely will associate itself with the S&D. The European Coalition is the major opposition block of mainstream European parties: PO and PSL belong to the EPP, SLD is a member of S&D, .N is a member of the Liberal Group and the Greens naturally are members of the Greens. Law and Justice is the governmental party and member of ECR. The United Left is left of GUE; they are in a coalition DiEM25 movement. Kukiz’15 is a right wing alternative party; its European affiliation is with the Italian M5S.
The elections in Poland will take place on 26 May. The citizens of the European Union residing in Poland are entitled to vote in the elections, as well as citizens of Poland living abroad.
There are 13 electoral districts. Poles living abroad will vote for the Warsaw district candidates.
There are 52 MEP mandates allocated to be chosen in Poland; however if the Brexit does not take place before 26 May there will be 51 MEPs elected in Poland.
Marek Jurek is a conservative MEP. In 2014 he is elected to the EP from the Law and Justice list and leaves the party a few weeks later. He is the most recognisable face of a small right-wing party, the Right Wing of the Republic (RWP, Prawica Rzeczypospolitej). Once, he was the Speaker of the Sejm, the Polish Parliament 2005-7, and has been active in the politics since 1989. Always as a devoted Catholic.
PiS No More
Today Mr Jurek has a problem. There is an abundance of right wing parties in Poland. Yet, they do not qualify as good partners. Mr Jurek party’s leitmotif is a complete ban of abortion. He disagrees with Law and Justice blaming the ruling party for not strengthening the anti-abortion legislation in Poland.
In Poland abortion is legal only in three situations: if the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother; if according to the prenatal checks there is a high risk of a serious damage to the fetus; or if the pregnancy is a result of a rape. Mr Jurek’s party campaigns to ban all three exceptions.
For Mr Jurek PiS is not an option any more. As Marian Piłka, another RWP politician, explains in 2018: there was an agreement between RWP and Law and Justice and “the agreement contained clear wording regarding the positions of our candidates. Unfortunately, the promises have not been kept”.
The Confederacy is a No-Go
If not PiS, Confederacy is a second option. It is a coalition of various far-right groups, including Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s supporters, the Liberty party (Wolność), nationalists like Grzegorz Braun or Robert Winnicki, or other anti-abortion activists like Kaja Godek. Mr Jurek has a problem with Confederacy, too. The problem’s name is Grzegorz Braun, who recently spoke about scourging of gays.
When Mr Braun wants to talk about “penalisation of homosexuality in the EP”, Mr Jurek says bringing up this issue is not a good idea. Instead he should be focused on the real issues. Jurek: “I was with this matter in Budapest, in Paris in the National Assembly, in the Netherlands, in Brussels. Think about it, if Mr Braun, this time in Brussels, has two more speeches about scourging people who have a different lifestyle, then it is an end our project to safeguard the right of states not to recognize homosexual relationships”.
REM is a long-shot
If not Confederacy, then who? How about the Real Europe Movement (REM)? This new initiative is launched by another MEP Mirosław Piotrowski, who is also affiliated with PiS, that is – he also was elected with PiS back in 2009 and 2014, but departed from the too-soft PiS, according to Mr Piotrowski himself. MEP Piotrowski first entered the European Parliament in 2004 with the League of Polish Families (LPR), the once popular far-right party in mid-2000s which campaigned against EU accession in the 2003 referendum and entered the PiS government 2005-7.
Today Mr Piotrowski tries his chances with a new movement, the REM. Their chances remain limited, but as super-conservatives and pro-Catholic Church as the REM stands for – “Real Europe”, he enjoys a powerful ally. Mr Piotrowski in a local radio says this month: “We, first of all, are in favour of Christian values in the European Union, for the civilization of life and for a normal family”. Sounds like a natural partner for Mr Jurek, especially since Mr Piotrowski allegedly has the backing of the powerful father Tadeusz Rydzyk, leader of Radio Maryja. Mr Rydzyk influence with the right-wing devoted voters is never to be underestimated by the far-right, right-wing, conservative, pro-Catholic Church politicians in Poland. Law and Justice, Kukiz’15 and all the outside of Sejm parties seek Mr Rydzyk blessing in their deeds.
And so for a moment it looks like the candidates of Jurek’s RWP are included on the electoral lists of the Piotrowski’s REM. But Jurek himself is not on the list. They campaign, they gather signatures for their candidates. All looks fine…
And the winner is Kukiz’15
Then comes 11 April and the small world of RWP is turned upside down while the small world of REM is crushing down. Mr Jurek has been saying he was not running for re-election and the RWP candidates are happy with the REP. On 11 April Mr Krzysztof Kawęcki is quoted on all major media. Who is Mr Kawęcki? He is the nominal chairman of the RWP, but not its true leader. Kawęcki says: “I do not understand the decision of Marek Jurek” and warns of the RWP break down.
What did Mr Jurek do before 11 April and announced on 11 April is the following: there are RWP candidates on the electoral list of Kukiz’15! This is the best chance for re-election for Mr Jurek, as there is no guarantee that the Confederacy or the REM can ever reach the 5% electoral threshold. And Mr Kukiz sounds like a perfect partner for Mr Jurek.
Mr Jurek: “Poland needs an independent, strong right-wing. We go to the elections to show that Poland is not a billiard ball in a game played by the Law and Justice (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO)”. He also advocates for cooperation of all the like minded people. Kukiz’15 is to include on its lists not only Mr Jurek, but also Mr Piłka and other candidates.
Mr Jurek is No. 1 on the list of Kukiz’15 in Poznań.
This is a perfect deal. It allows for Mr Jurek to have a new credible chance of re-election. It allows for Mr Jurek to continue his political platform in the European Parliament. It strengthens Mr Kukiz in his struggles to break the 5% threshold. Latest opinion polls give Kukiz’15 about 6% of the votes.
In the process the chances of Mr Piotrowski to return to the European Parliament have been eliminated. The late departure of RWP from its alliance with REM meant that REM was short of time to collect enough signatures by the deadline. On 17 April Mr Piotrowski announced that REM decided to discontinue to collect the signatures knowing that they would fall short of registering lists in 7 of 13 regions necessary to run in the entire country.
The fact that REM is not going to compete in European elections is excellent news for all the competitors of the same electorate: Law and Justice, Kukiz’15 and the Confederacy.
“For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed” says Zdzisław Krasnodębski, vice-president of the European Parliament, MEP with ECR/PiS
After elections, there will be more than one group right-of-the-EPP
ECR has a Spitzenkandidat, too!
The Polish ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) is a large party in a populous EU member state. Like all other major national political parties in the EU it should play a major role on the European political scene. Until now, however, it was not the case. In the European Parliament PiS chooses to standby on many issues and periodically engage in “the defence of Polish interests” (usually unsuccessfully) without any major pro-active role. Will it continue to after the May elections?
Since the beginning of the year there were four major events thought to help to position PiS ahead of the May elections to the next Parliament. In January, in the spotlight of the European media, Jarosław Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini, the Italian minister of internal affairs in Italy, who paid a visit to the PiS headquarters in Warsaw. There were words about cooperation, but not much more came out of it. It seems that the paths of those two popular parties on the European political scene, Lega and PiS, have simply detached.
No wonder. On the right side of the European Parliament there is a clear emergence of two major groups, which could be labelled “the souverenists” and “the nationalists”. The nationalists are parties that today sit in with the most extreme group of the Parliament: here are the French of Marine Le Pen, the Dutch of Gert Wilders. There are also the Italians of Matteo Salvini. The common denominator for these parties is a total opposition to the Union. They would like to get rid of the Union altogether. Salvini used to say that Italy should leave the eurozone. On a day Le Pen is in favour of Frexit, or France’s exit from the European Union. Some in Eastern Europe may well remember Gert Wilders’ racist comments about Eastern or Central Europeans working in the Netherlands. What puts them together is not only scepticism towards the EU, many of those parties also share a sentiment towards Russia.
Next to the nationalists there are two other groups. Another major Italian party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) of Luigi Di Maio is trying their best with a “direct democracy” group. No much steam or momentum there; only Di Maio can be certain of a EP representation. Over the last nationalists summit in Milan there was a clash in the Italian ruling coalition about the nationalists’ relativism of history.
Star Movement seems as disoriented as Poland’s Law and Justice. Both parties
are abandoned by their British partners who have lost important founding
functions for both groups (EFDD & ECR, respectively). M5S is an orphan of
the departure of Nigel Farage’s UKIP. For PiS, there are the British Tories who
are struggling to rule in the Brexit era.
preparing for the continuation of the European Conservatives and Reformists
group (ECR), although it tested its chances with the European People’s Party
(EPP). This is where the PiS’ Hungarian friends of prime minister Orban’s Fidesz
reside (still). The idea fell even before it was born and today Fidesz has its big
problems in the EPP.
When asked if
the adjective “souverenists” suits them, MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski asks to use the adjective “conservatives”.
The conservatives of PiS, therefore, meet since January, get acquainted, converse,
and shall make decisions “in due time” regarding the shape of their next group
in the next European Parliament.
“Our conversations have different character. We get to know each other. These are usually smaller, right-wing parties, but closer to the centre of the political scene than the radicals of the extreme right”, says EP’s VP Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a moderate voice among the Law and Justice lawmakers. PiS wants to get to know its partners as they are in reality, not through the lenses of their media representation. PiS distrusts the mainstream media and prefers to make up its own mind about potential partners. An important message: PiS prefers to talk to smaller parties.
Who are the people
PiS talks to, except for the Italian League? In February, the second important “interrogation”
takes place. This time not in Warsaw, but in Paris. By the end of the current
term, the ECR presents itself as a “euro-realistic” group with MEPs from 19
countries. In February, arrival of new parties to the ECR is announced,
including the French Debout-la-France (DLF, which effectively means
“France, rise up!”) under the leadership of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan and
the Forum of Democracy (FvD) from the Netherlands led by Thierry Baudet. The February
Paris summit is important as it means extending the activity of ECR to France
and strengthening its presence in the Netherlands. Ryszard Legutko, who is the
ECR co-chairman in the Parliament, says after the meeting: “[These parties] share our
belief that the EU has overreached and that the days of ever more
centralisation in Brussels must end.”
partners have a problem. In last months they tend to lose out support (from a stable
7% to currently around 4%) and it is not unknown whether they are able to enter
the new EP. In France and in Poland there are 5% electoral threshold.
Meanwhile, the new Dutch party can be a major hit of this transfer season. FvD
won the recent provincial election with 14.5% of the votes. In a fragmented
Dutch system, such a result is enough to win. Recent polls give the Baudet
party even 25% of support.
may be another problem with FvD. The FvD leader flirts with Nexit (the
Netherlands’ exit from the EU), and the PiS avoids this subject like fire. In
February, Baudet spoke with De Volkskrant: “I am ideologically against the EU,
against the internal market, against open borders, against the euro, against
all of it”. Following his adherence to the ECR he tones previous statements: “The
ECR Group have proven themselves to be the only credible voice for a turnaround
in Brussels and for a Europe that respects its Member States”. His popularity can
be explained by the recent Utrecht shooting, when three people were killed. With
freshness, youth (he is 35 years old), the Forum is sucking the energy and
support out of the Gert Wilders’ party. Still, Krasnodębski tells me about PiS
motives: “We want to reform the EU, not to break it”.
MEP Krasnodębski continues: “but I am not opposing to test, to meet, to talk”. It may be that partners from abroad can be excused of more. After all, the Tories introduced same-sex marriages in England several years ago. It is central to know what are the PiS red lines.
The third meeting is another visit at PiS HQ. This time the interviewee is Santiago Abascal, whose new VOX party took Spain by storm last year. In Warsaw Abascal talks about the fight against the loss of sovereignty. Few years back he opposed “Spain to be a vassal of Europe” of likes of Angela Merkel and the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. VOX did not enter the ECR yet, but Abascal is full of hope for further cooperation: “We are big fans of Poland, Spain is Poland’s sister, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary”.
As much as Abascal
is controversial in Spain, where he undermines the rights of women, and wants
to cancel same-sex marriages, in Warsaw he shows a gentler face. Or maybe the
entourage is more accommodating for his views? PiS seems to like what they
hear. There seems to be a community of values and the way of thinking about
Europe between PiS and VOX: Abascal talks about sovereignty and Christian
faith, he respects Poland and the whole of Central Europe, there are no Russian
money behind the Spanish politician.
So far the last foreign visit at Warsaw PiS HQ is of a delegation of a smaller Italian party, Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), the Brothers of Italy. At the head of the party is Georgia Meloni. FdI has been in the ECR since last year. The appearance of a delegation in Warsaw is a clear signal from PiS to Matteo Salvini: “we already have Italian partners”. Salvini’s response is the lack of an invitation to attend the Milan summit. Support for the Italian FdI is about 5%, while in Italy the electoral threshold is at 4%. Their trend is slightly upwards. After the meeting in Warsaw the FdI is very happy, the Brothers talk about “deep harmony” in thinking about society and national sovereignty. It is the Italians who speak of the “family of European souverenists in the next European Parliament”.
five partners. These conversations are not always effective, sometimes discrepancy
reports are drafted. We shall not forget about the other major ECR partners,
among whom there are not only the Tories. There are the Flanders’ NVA (28% in the
regional polls and the first place), there are the Swedish Democrats (SD, 18%,
second place in the polls), or the Czech ODS (13%, third place in the polls).
We shall not
forget about those who have gone ECR and are with Salvini already. The new formation
of the Italian minister is gaining traction and creates a competition for the
ECR renewal initiative. The ECR got rid of the German AFD when the Germans
started to cooperate with the extreme Austrian party of FPO a few years ago.
Today AFD is with Salvini. PiS is abandoned by two smaller but important allies,
the Finns (once “true”), who enjoy about 12% support in Finland and the Danish
National Party (DF) with support of about 14%. Both left the ECR for Salvini.
If on the one
hand a “new” ECR is being prepared with the participation of PiS, Spanish VOX,
Italian FdI, Dutch FvD, French DLF, Swedish SD, Flemish NVA and Czech ODS, on
the other hand the new alliance of Salvini is formed between the League and the
French National Rally (ex-Front), the German AFD, the Austrian FPO, the Finns,
the Danish DF. They will not have it easy: Le Pen did not come to Paris. “As
experience shows, nationalists are able to get along for a week or so and we
are awaiting for some spectacular divisions as in previous terms in the EP”, says
Bartek Lech, a left-wing insider of European politics.
Two big European partners who look for a new contract in this transfer season, and who seem to be within the ECR range, are the Hungarian Fidesz, if there is a divorce with the EPP, and the other big Italian party, the Five Star Movement. As many commentators rightly point out, not all new parties in the upcoming Parliament are right-wing. Poland’s Spring is also looking for a place in the future EP. For today, the party of Robert Biedroń is getting closer to the S&D, but the final decisions will not be taken “before it becomes clear how many groups have seats in the EP, because only then will their impact on top-jobs be known”, says Lech. “Top jobs” includes the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, as well as the High Representative for Foreign Policy and the new head of the European Central Bank. By the end of the year all institutions will have new bosses atop.
MEP Krasnodębski: “Parties such as FPO or AFD will most likely be in their own group”, and the European People’s Party should return to its roots. The PiS in the next Parliament will not only look for partners to form a political group, but will also want to talk with other groups to cooperate on policies. It is possible that in such discussions the Polish governmental party will sometimes be closer to the far-right than to the EPP. Why? It is easier to find a common understanding on issues like the rule of law, which PiS understands as an attempt to limit Polish sovereignty. Nevertheless, the EPP remains an important partner. Among PiS politicians there are hopes that the German CDU will correct the course under the new leadership of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
PiS would like
to set European standards. The pre-conditions for forming an alliance with their
partners is the expected respect for Central and Eastern Europe and for Poland.
There is a different understanding of what European standards are between the
Law and Justice and the outside world. For most people the European standards
are the respect of rule of law. For PiS, this issue is about the EU’s lack of
competence and “limitation of sovereignty”.
Standards in the process of identifying partners is also an important issue. For PiS, an important limitation is the Russian influence, but as Krasnodębski notes, “Russian influence is also in the European mainstream”, and the Second World War fascists are subject of relativity not only by Salvini, but also by the EP President Antonio Tajani of EPP.
“For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed”
Zdzisław Krasnodębski MEP
Standards are a
hard and delicate thing. On the one hand, they are broken often. Krasnodębski: “in
Europe various political parties are treated differently, for example those
that exercise power in Italy or Austria”. There are different standards for the
Poles or the Hungarians.
On the other hand, ECR tries a federalist behaviour and nominated its candidate for the European Commission presidency, the “Spitzenkandidat”. There was a debate about the, but the decisive argument was to have one face in the European debate. The ECR Spitzenkandidat is the Czech MEP Jan Zahradil. Mr Zahradil is campaigning like other leading candidates such as Manfred Weber (Bavarian CSU, EPP candidate) or Frans Timmermans (Dutch Labor Party, PES candidate). He is a leading candidate, the voice of ECR in the European public debate. Zahradil will take part in debates of candidates planned for the end of April and in May. “He fulfils his duties”, assures MEP Krasnodębski.
There are many
commentators in Europe who predict there will be one giant group from the far
right to Fidesz leaving the European People’s Party. Others are scared of such
a scenario. Meanwhile, a clear dividing line is emerging between these two
strong camps. On the one hand, there is the Italian deputy prime minister and
minister, a “strong man” Salvini. On the other hand, there is the Law and
Justice, which takes care of its current message in Poland, saying indirectly:
those who accuse us of Polexit are plain wrong. Jarosław Kaczyński once said
about PiS’ alleged Polexit: “Lies, lies, lies”.
Law and Justice tried the possibility of joining the EPP. It did not work. PiS leaders met Salvini to get to know each other in person outside of the media spin. They did not get along. The third remaining option: their own political group with smaller partners in Europe. Together it is necessary to establish a rational group to talks about the future of Europe and EU policies, not to scare others or demand EU’s disintegration. There is no guarantee this idea will prevail. There can be subsequent flows of national parties in either direction. Five years ago the Flemish NVA joined the ECR after leaving the Green Group and the Five Star Movement tried to join the Liberal Group. For now we should assume there will be two groups on the right side of the European Parliament: one around Salvini, the other around the PiS. It cannot be ruled out that one group dominates the other, although a total unification is highly unlikely. It should not be ruled out that Fidesz joins ECR, or even the Five Star Movement. A delayed or cancelled Brexit could mean that the Tories remain in the European Parliament and in the group. Then, the ECR in the new Parliament may aim at even more than 100 MEPs.
Poland is outside of the Eurozone, together with Sweden, Denmark, Czechia and Hungary. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia joined the EU later and are on their way to the Eurozone, at least this is what one hears…
“Should Poland join the Eurozone?” is not the question on people’s minds this elections. At least, not until Saturday, 13 April, when Law and Justice (PiS) holds its weekly convention. On Saturday we are in Lublin, a region resourceful when it comes to support for PiS.
Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS chairman: “We will adopt the euro one day, because this is our obligation, but we shall do this when it is in our interest. And it will be in our interest when we reach the level of GDP, the level of livelihood, similar to the German one”.
Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister: “It is not in our interest to adopt the euro, especially today. We want the European salaries, not the European prices. The way to achieve this is to maintain the zloty”.
The ruling party dismisses the experiences of the Euro-accession of countries of similar economic output, Slovakia or Lithuania. “Those are not good experiences”, claims PiS MEP candidate from the region, Elżbieta Kruk, in a right-wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska.
The eurozone accession is a non-issue. Yes, there are occasional voices in favour of the accession, but the eventual accession is not in sight. Then, why? PiS accuses the opposition, the European Coalition, that “it wants to join the Eurozone as fast as possible” and joining the Eurozone is pure evil, or a catastrophe: inflation, hyperinflation, low salaries… blah, blah, blah.
Why? Well, the real issue is the strike. The pro-PiS newspaper, Gazeta Polska today says: “You want more money? Work more!”. Then it covers the strike with news that the teachers are lazy because they work fewer hours than the rest of the EU. I am no expert in education, but I know that the fewer hours of Polish teachers is related to how the system is organised, not how many hours they truly work. Zbigniew Dolata, PiS MP says in Gazeta Polska: “the public knows that the protest broke out when the teachers have received salary increase, and at the same time the public does not support the strike. This means that teachers do not gain in the eyes of public opinion”.
Really? Over the weekend there were dozens of protests like below in Warsaw, in support of teachers. On Wednesday there is scheduled a new protest in solidarity with the teachers, for 15 minutes people working for the public sector will manifest their views. There are 3 million złoty collected over last days for the “Strike Fund“. At best, the society is divided, not against the teachers.
Should Poland join the Euro? There is a legal obligation for it (the Accession Treaty), but there is a Constitutional limit on it, too (the currency emitter is the Polish Central Bank, NBP). So it is a non-issue until there is a constitutional majority in the Sejm for the Euro adoption. Until then, this is a non-issue.
Fake issues, fake news, fake facts. The ruling party is unhappy with the reality so it tries to create its own. Will it succeed?
Since Monday, 8 April, Polish schools and pre-schools are on strike. Classes are cancelled throughout the country. Teachers are demanding increases of salary. The government reached an agreement with one of three of the trade unions, the educational branch of “Solidarność”, but most teachers continue to strike. Many of “Solidarność” members defy their union. Many of the teachers on strike are non-unionised. Altogether some 600,000 people are on strike.
There was a referendum in schools about the strike. 78% said they were ready to strike. The unions ask for:
Increase of salary by 1,000 zł (about 230 Euro)
Increase budgetary expenditure on education
Change of the teachers work system
Change of the teachers advancement path
Firing of Anna Zalewska, the PiS education minister.
The teachers unions were pondering a strike since the end of 2018. However their motions to engage with the ministry or the prime minister proved elusive. They felt forced into strike. If you are a 25 years old in Poland today and you would like to be a teacher this is not your popular choice. Average age of a Polish teacher is 42. Only 2,4% of students dream to be a teacher one day. This is one of the lowest indicators among the OECD countries.
The response & the memes
The government took the strike threat seriously only last minute. Beata Szydło, vice PM responsible for the social matters and MEP candidate, was called in for help, as the teachers do not consider Anna Zalewska (another MEP candidate) a partner. Ms Szydło mission fails, yet she continues to lead the talks. For the time being the leading union, ZNP, rejects all the governmental proposals.
On Saturday before the strike, Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, made a new promise to the farmers offering at least 500 zł (about 116 Euro) per cow and 100 zł (about 23 Euro) per porker. That was a classical PiS campaign: offer financial assistance to groups supporting Law and Justice. The timing, however, could not be worse: the Internet is full of memes like these:
If the timing is terrible for the ruling party, the real life test is next to come. What to do with millions of children who should go to schools? Parents took holidays, special leaves, or took children with them to work. But the real test is about the exams season that also starts this week.
On 10, 11 and 12 April there is a state exam for the middle schools’ final year (gimnazjum) aged 16. The middle schools are being phased out this year, hence the final exams season continues next week for the 8th graders of the new system (aged 15): they shall have exams on 15, 16 & 17 April.
The phasing out of the old system created a major havoc in the educational system. There is a great anxiety there will not be enough space for all the 15-year olds and 16-year olds who should move to high schools at the same time (3-year long and 4-year long schools). There are also costs related to the adaptation to the new system where the state has not provided enough funding for the local governments which sustain the schools. There are even court cases pending on the issue.
Awhile back the ZNP leader Sławomir Broniarz said the exams could be jeopardised by the strike. The government does everything in its power to avoid the disaster. Crisis management in full bloom.
On day 3 of the strike and day 1 of the exams the country holds its breath. And a relief in the afternoon: only in 3 schools out of the entire country the exams did not take place. Day 2 of the tests and a relief, all schools carried out the exams. Day 3 and the situation is under control.
What will happen next week? Will the 15-year olds be ok, too? How about the schools that those 16- and 15-year olds will be moving to, are they ready?
There are more questions than answers today, the victorious government is temporarily relieved, the strike continuous, and so do new rounds of negotiations led by Ms Szydło.
On one hand, the government is negotiating. The Szydło offer includes a 15% salary increase. Thus far, the unions reject the offer.
On the other hand, there is trolling against the strike, the ZNP and its leader. The leader in the process is the right-wing public TV, TVP in its information programmes. Cynical comments, false accusations and misused video material to prove one’s point: welcome to TVP’s Wiadomości daily routine. Some programmes are saying that only 11% schools are on strike, others – 48%. ZNP says 78% of schools are on strike.
PiS politicians talk about the strike, ZNP and Mr Broniarz that they are politically motivated, politically inspired by the opposition, that they work “hand in hand” with Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the Civic Platform. One PiS politician said: nobody stops teachers from having more children.
There are reports confirming that Law and Justice used trolling farms in the past campaigns. There is no reason to believe this not to be the case today.
Some commentators draw parallels to the demonisation of teachers today to the way handicapped people and their parents were addressed when they went on a strike over a year ago, or migrants or the LGBT community. Virtually anyone PiS chooses to be a “target” of their campaign.
The Ministry of Education tries to single out teachers on strike to keep this information on the record for future reference. The Ministry asked the school directors to provide information who’s on strike. Minister Zalewska asked directly, denies the story. The Internet is flooded with counter-proof.
Gazeta Wyborcza sums up the PiS strategy: “Don’t talk about the strike, demonise Broniarz, talk about the PiS offer”.
It’s about the society, not politics
Meanwhile, the strike continuous for the 5th day today. There is no compromise in sight. The strike is controversial and divisive, only 46% of the public supports the teachers, 43% is opposed to the strike. Most of the people disagree with the strike timing (exams). Most of the people are concerned about the children promotion to the next class, or graduation.
When teachers strike they do not receive salaries. ZNP organises support for the teachers. People wear black to support the teachers. Someplace teachers call for a pizza delivery, and when the pizza arrives they receive the food free of charge. In solidarity with the striking teachers.
Not only teachers are on strike this week. The strike of taxi drivers on Monday lasted a day. The taxi drivers do not like Uber, but also other companies providing taxi services without proper licences.
The real issue is if Law and Justice can contain the teachers strike problem. Contain, not solve. Clearly the strike is a negative development for the ruling party. It is 600,000 people who are concerned. By now PiS tried to control the information, to shame, to troll and to intimidate. With time PiS proves to be partly successful as the exams take place and large part of the society is against the strike. The next hurdle: graduation papers that can only be signed by teachers (unlike the exams, which were managed with assistance of volunteers working at sport facilities, universities or the Catholic Church).
The crisis management is with the detriment to the quality of education.
It seems that the argument of children education can prevail. The strike has been quite intrusive, but the unions could consider softening their strike method to be more accommodating of children needs.
The one actor who lost credibility thus far is “Solidarność” trade union, not ZNP or Mr Broniarz, despite PiS trolls efforts. Traditionally “S” has been the most respected trade union. To see teachers blurring the emblem “Solidarność” to continue the strike – this is the end of an era.
People who have problem are PiS leading MEP candidates: Anna Zalewska and Beata Szydło. Instead of addressing the school problems both are accused of doing too little too late, being aloof and disconnected. Their expected departure for the European Parliament should be viewed as removing the not-so-popular politicians before the October parliamentary elections. The only elections that PiS truly cares for.
Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw as a leading candidate of the European Social Democrats for the position of President of the European Commission.
Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw at the Commission’s First Vice President in charge, inter alia, for the rule of law in member states.
Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw when the Brexit chaos can produce an outcome with the British electing their MEPs in May. Politico concluded last week this could bring the Dutchman some 30 MEPs closer to the top position, only about 10 MEPs short of the EPP.
Could Mr Timmermans be the Commission’s next President? Does he have a shot?
On Sunday 7 April, Mr Timmermans campaigns in Poland. He participates in a rally called “Brainstorm with Frans Timmermans” organised by the Spring of Robert Biedroń.
Before they enter the stage Mr Timmermans’ name is called: “Frans, Frans!“, people shout. They also shout “Robert, Robert“, for Robert Biedroń is their leader. Today the two politicians will dominate the conversation.
When Frans Timmermans introduces himself to the crowd in Poland, he talks about his own roots. His father’s town was liberated by the Polish army of general Maczek by the end of WWII. He was born in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected. In 1981 when the marshal law was introduced in Poland, he was a student. His fellow students from Poland were panicking for they did not know what was happening. In 1989, when the Communism ended, his son Mark was born. In 2004, when Poland joined the EU, his son Max was born. The fate of Mr Timmermans & Poland are intertwined.
“You are part of one European family“, Frans speaks to the crowd in English. Most people in the room do not need the headphones. Next to me are two Italians who use headphones for translation from Polish into English. They live in Poland and will vote in the European elections. Will they vote for an Italian list or a Polish list, I ask. They haven’t decided yet.
Another person who needs translation, however, is Mr Timmermans himself. He continues in English “I will fight so no one takes Poland out of Europe“. This is a promise he makes to the crowd, to his father, who was liberated by the Polish soldiers and to the whole of Europe.
The rules of the game: there are to be 5 proposals from today’s Brainstorming. Randomly selected people put ideas as proposals, there is a debate and a final vote.
First the discussion is about the hate speech in the EU. “Criminalise it” some say. Others respond: Spring is not for criminalisation of homophobia, but wants homophobia to end. Timmermans adds: “Hate speech is not only a Polish problem“.
“Immigration in 2015 caused a big wave of racism” says one participant.
In conclusion of the debate on the hate speech, the proposal is modified: education program against hate speech & more anti-discriminatory laws. The motion is adopted.
The next point is about the European electoral lists. People seem tired of voting Polish parties in European elections. Then someone soberly says: “but I want to vote for you [Timmermans] and you [Biedroń], maybe we could have two votes?“. Adopted.
The next issue is crucial, outside of the room, too. This concerns the social standards. In Poland they are not as elevated as in the Western societies. Example: the European standard of healthcare. There is a discussion if we should have one healthcare standard in Europe. Someone shouts: “one, but not the Polish one!“. The room laughs. Adopted.
There is a new proposal in the area of the rule of law. Someone hands in a 11,000-signed motion for the Commission to begin a new proceeding in the Court of Justice about the Polish National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), politically appointed. Adopted by acclamation.
Close the gender gap! Adopted after discussion. Someone says all we need is to respect existing laws, we don’t need new laws. Timmermans steps in: “We do“. Apparently there is a way to force the companies for increased transparency about how they construct their salaries so that the pay gap between men and women is reduced. Timmermans points out in another direction: there is a 40% pension gap between men and women!
Timmermans is on fire for women’s rights: “All the populists are pushing back on women’s rights. Protect the women’s rights!“
A young man finishes the meeting saying “thank you. I see you as a hope for us“.
People from the Timmermans entourage say this was probably the most energetic meeting in the whole of Europe this far in the campaign.
There is maybe a crowd of 1,000 people in the room. Some 28,000 people watch the video on Facebook.
Outside of the room Mr Timmermans meets privately the leader of SLD, too, and holds a press conference with Mr Biedroń to talk about rule of law.
There are a few questions. First, Spring clearly suggests that Mr Timmermans is its candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. Does this mean Spring will join the S&D? The question is still not fully answered, but there are clear signals. When I ask: SLD & Spring together in the S&D, two parties in the same group, my Spring interlocutor smiles at me and says: there are two Polish parties in the Social-Democrats today, remember the Labour Union (UP)? Truly, Adam Gierek MEP, who is retiring this year, is a UP member.
Second, can Timmermans become Commission’s President? He could be already in the lead against Mr Weber, if you consider this: SLD should be expected to elect 3-4 MEPs (Liberadzki, Cimoszewicz, Belka, maybe Miller), but Spring could bring as many as 8 MEPs. That could produce 12 Polish Social-Democratic MEPs in the next European Parliament (up from 5)! This, with British Labour, could be a game changer!
Third, how much of what he says is of the S&D candidate and how much of what he does is of the Commission First VP? This duality is as important in Brussels as it is in Warsaw for the Law & Justice openly accuses the Commission First VP for being biased against the PiS government. Well, this is a shortcoming of the democratic process that we cannot fully decouple one issue (Commission’s independence) from another (political mandate), even if formally the Commissioners who are campaigning are asked to take a leave from their Commission duties. Mr Timmermans is not doing that properly today.
On the other hand, his Commission, like the Juncker Commission, would be a political one. It needs a political mandate for it. Mr Timmermans is seeking exactly this. Asked, he tells me: “We will win the Commission with or without Labour so let’s see what happens“.
Not-so-funnily enough the campaign in Poland starts with the major teachers strike today.
The campaign to the European Parliament in Poland revolves around the weekends, when all the major political blocks try to impose a new narrative. This weekend is no different.
In the recent weeks PiS run an anti-LGBT campaign (failed) and a series of proposals with new spending programme (party successful). The European Coalition response so far is rather weak and reactive. No new proposals are made by the EC and PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna, as if the Coalition still needed to learn how to manage its own diversity first.
The one idea of the European Coalition that seems to be gaining momentum is the “scare tactics”. The Coalition slogan is: The Future of Poland: the Great Choice. The European elections is a referendum in which Poles are asked to make a choice: “chose your future: us or PiS” and PiS means, for example, “Poland loses its chance to grow”, “Poland is marginalised”, “PiS politicians are decomposing EU”, “PiS – team of people full of complexes”.
The alternative is to catch up with the quality of life with the West, “strong Poland in a solidary EU”, “competent, energetic, efficient representation of Poland” and the “team of the great Polish pride”.
One of the leading candidates of the Coalition is Krzysztof Hetman MEP. He is No. 1 in the Lublin region with a major chance for re-election, as he originally comes from PSL (EPP), the agrarian party that enjoys major support in the rural region. Mr Hetman says that PiS is saying one thing and is doing another. Instead of being pro-European it secretly prepares a Polexit, the exit of Poland from the European Union.
Hetman: “I want to warn the inhabitants of [my] region that such gestures as flag removal show true intentions. I have no doubts about PiS’s intentions“. PiS officials were asked to remove the EU flag from their offices in the regional council. Beata Szydło, when took office of Poland’s PM in 2015, removed the EU flags from her office, too. Mr Hetman says today this is symbolic.
He continues: “They do not say it directly. However, creating such coalitions, or who they talk to, recently with the leader of the Spanish VOX, clearly speaks of intentions. I am most afraid of populists and those who do not talk about their intentions“.
Radek Sikorski, former foreign minister and the Coalition’s No.1 candidate in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie region, says along those lines, too: “Cimoszewicz led us to the European Union and he will not lead us out of it, but – can we be sure that the Chairman [Jarosław Kaczyński] will not do it by doggedness or plain stupidity? There’s a great choice in front of us”. Hashtag #GreatChoice or #WielkiWybór.
“The Big Lie”
PiS, meanwhile, is trying a new narrative. Following the controversial votes on the copyright directive and on the posted workers in transport, it calls on the MEPs of the Coalition as “big liars”. They call the Polish EPP MEPs “European statists” claiming they voted “against the Polish interest” on the copyright directive (labelled ACTA2 in Poland) or the mobility package. They also bring back the 2016 vote on the EP political resolution on the situation in Poland in relation to the rule of law.
Back in 2016 MEP Tomasz Poręba claimed that Mr Trzaskowski, current Warsaw mayor and a former MEP, has edited the EP draft resolution. Today Poręba argues that it was an anti-Polish resolution. Three years ago there was a “list of shame” of MEPs who supported the resolution that empowered certain neo-Nazi group to issue death threats against some of the MEPs back in 2016.
Ryszard Legutko, MEP and co-chairman of the ECR group in the European Parliament, is on fire: “There is a war against PiS, and more importantly against the Polish government. PO politicians have become impotent in Europe” and calls Donald Tusk “a little scout fighting the Polish government“.
The official PiS twitter account quotes Legutko as saying “The stake of these elections is whether the European institutions will be open to everyone or will remain monopolized”. There is the hashtag, too: #BigLie or #WielkieOszustwo.
Why politicians lose their mind during the electoral process?
Just the fact check: Poland is growing under PiS and has been growing under PO before. To say by one of the parties otherwise is a pure lie. In 2015 PiS run a campaign under a motto “Poland in ruin”, which was false. The same could be argued today for the European Coalition’s scare tactics – is Poland losing its chance to grow under PiS? Be critical of their social policies, budget deficit, cutting important programs, the teachers strike, etc., but the unemployment is falling and the economic performance is positive. The future might be difficult – but that’s not what the Coalition argues. The Coalition argues with PiS Poland loses a chance to grow. Are they too simplistic or try to scare the electorate?
Mr Hetman might be right that PiS is having a secret agenda. That’s fair to campaign on the issue of Polexit, if someone believes this is a credible threat. Fair enough.
PiS on the other hand is full of lies, once again. The mobility package issue is the issue divisive in many countries and as a European problem it calls for a European regulation. The issue is not settled (yet) and some people are pushing for a fast-tracking of the procedure. As such it is as much in the hands of the Polish government (in the Council) as the MEPs to do their best to block the issue in the Council and/or the Parliament. This is not a done deal yet.
The copyright directive is as divisive in Poland as it is in other EU countries. It seems PiS tries a short-cut to reach out to the Youtubers community failing to communicate its own failings: where is the blocking minority in the Council? It may be noble to lose “for the cause”, but the true standing for someone’s interests is to be effective. The contentious Article 13 of the directive is as much as a failure of the EPP MEPs from Poland who voted the way they voted as of the Polish government which was unable to change the working in the Council. All provided the MEPs do not support the directive as it stands, because there are serious arguments for the directive and its article 13, too, that the PiS politicians conveniently downplay. In either case, this is not a national interest situation. Labelling the issue “EU steals your freedom of expression” is a pure exaggeration.
As for reminding the general public about the allegedly “anti-Polish statements” made in the European Parliament in 2016, the Law and Justice forgets the Parliament is a political and deliberative body, too. The adopted resolution was a political statement, not a legally binding act. As far as democracy and freedom of opinion is concerned, all views are welcome, defending the Polish government and opposing it.
How PiS tries to lie to the Polish public is clearly manifested in one situation: back in 2012 there was a public hearing in the European Parliament. Speakers included right wing activists and journalists including Jan Pospieszalski and Rafał Ziemkiewicz (video below) who spoke about the situation in Poland criticising the Polish government for wrongdoing. The hosts? Law and Justice MEPs including the current Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro; the guest list include speakers Bronisław Wildstein, Jacek Karnowski, Anita Gardas, Law and Justice MP Beata Kempa and media mogul Tadeusz Rydzyk.
The meeting title: “Freedom of Media in Poland. Case TV Trwam”. The speakers:
So it is OK to be critical of the Polish government in the 2012 European Parliament, but it is not OK to be critical of the Polish government in the 2016 European Parliament. This is a plain double standard, hence a lie.
European Parliament is your Parliament since you elect its Members. It is not “foreign” and there is no “Poland’s delegation” as the PO and PiS like to call the people elected Members of the European Parliament. There is the European Coalition team and the PiS team; some of them will make it to the house in Strasbourg; those who make it have to cooperate this way or another.
The duopoly EC v PiS serves both actors to do well in the upcoming elections. Spring and Kukiz’15 and far-right and far-left are all squeezed out. Only one or two of them have a real shot at the 5% threshold.
Remember the Salvini visit in Warsaw in January? That’s past. On Wednesday, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński met with the delegation of Brothers of Italy, a ECR party from Italy with no MEPs yet.
The Brothers of Italy joined the ECR back in November. This seems to be a pattern: PiS looks for sovereignist partners in other EU member states to build up a new group after the elections. Take the Italian party. FdI does not have any MEPs (yet), but already joined the ECR and it’s support in Italy is on the rise.
After the meeting, the Italians provided feedback from the meeting. Carlo Fidanza, who attended the meeting of FdI leader Giorgia Meloni and Jarosław Kaczyński, says: “It was a very positive meeting that took place in Warsaw […] and during which we recorded a profound harmony on all the main topics on the agenda and a horizon of common values: those of a modern social and national right, which wants to help those who do business and those who produce but do not forget the reasons of the weakest. This is the government sovereignty that we want to build by strengthening the ECR group which will also be the largest family of European sovereigns in the next European Parliament “.
The Spanish sovereignist party Vox, on the other hand, chose not to join the ECR group just yet, even if the recent meeting between two leaders, Abascal and Kaczyński, was quite successful.
Earlier this year in Paris a new popular Dutch party Forum for Democracy was also admitted into the ECR. No audience in Warsaw for Mr Thierry Baudet of FvD or the Frenchman Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debut-la-France just yet.
Souverenist talk Constitutions (national)
FdI wants to remove the EU from the Italian constitution. Meanwhile, the Polish small agrarian party PSL (member of the EPP) just proposed to mention the European Union in the Polish constitution as an attempt to check on the Law and Justice if the party is truly against the so-called Polexit.
Beata Mazurek, PiS spokeswoman reacted: “We do not say ‘no’. Let’s talk about it” before linking the issue of inserting the “EU” in the Polish Constitution with a major Constitutional review. Mazurek: “I think this is a good moment to empower the family, or to write in the Polish state sovereignty over EU institutions involvement into our internal business”. She ended: “We’ll talk”.
The souverenist group is in the making, that is clear. This is a different group from the nationalist group of Ms Le Pen. Those two strings of thought seem to be prevailing on the right side. The “direct democracy” crowd of M5S and Kukiz’15 is losing steam.
A new debate started about the change of the Polish Constitution. Ever since Law and Justice took confrontational positions on many issues, a serious debate on the Polish constitutional law was not possible; no party has had a constitutional majority or a constitutional coalition since 1997, when the law of the land was approved.
Two of some of the best politicians in the outgoing European Parliament (judging by the amount of MEP Awards nominations, alone…) have been elected five years before from the Warsaw electoral district.
This spring they both faced a non-inclusion threat on the list of candidates’ of the otherwise crowded European Coalition. The European Coalition puts – like all other competing political actors – 10 candidates in each of Poland’s 13 electoral districts.
The Warsaw MEPs
The Warsaw district is a traditional stronghold for the liberal candidates. In 2004 three Warsaw MEPs were liberal (Geremek), EPP-turned-liberal (Piskorski), or social-democrat-turned EPP a decade later (Rosati). The other two mandates went to the right-wing Law & Justice (M. Kamiński) and League of Polish Families (B. Wojciechowski).
In 2009 three mandates went to the EPP (Hübner, Trzaskowski, P. Zalewski), one to the Social-Democrat Olejniczak and only one to PiS’ Michał Kamiński, who since migrated to the EPP and is an independent MP in the Polish Sejm today.
In 2014 the liberals were outplayed: two mandates for the EPP (Hübner & Boni), two for PiS (Krasnodębski & Jurek) and one for the far-right (Marusik), as Danuta Hübner received 225 thousand votes (down from 311 thousand five years before). The Social-Democrats received more votes than the far-right, but the mandate went elsewhere.
In 2019 Danuta Hübner is no longer the European Coalition leading candidate. She has been downgraded to position no. 4. Here’s the full list of the European Coalition Warsaw list:
Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former PM & MFA, candidate of SLD (69 years old), hence likely member of the S&D group;
Andrzej Halicki, MP & former minister of administration & digitalisation, PO (58 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, MP, PO, former member of .Modern (36 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
Danuta Hübner, MEP & former European Commissioner, PO, member of the EPP group (71 yo);
Michał Boni, MEP, PO, member of the EPP group (69 yo);
Urszula Zielińska, candidate of the Greens (41 yo);
Paweł Pudłowski, MP, .Modern (47 yo), likely member of ALDE;
Aneta Kalata, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
Anna Brzezińska, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski, who was proposed by PSL, likely member of the EPP group (son of the late Polish WW2 hero and former MFA Władysław Bartoszewski, who died in 2015).
All ten of the European Coalition candidates have a shot at a mandate from Warsaw. How many of those will go to the European Coalition and who will receive the mandate? All depends how the campaign plays out. It is almost guaranteed that the European Coalition will have at least two MEPs from Warsaw, likely three mandates.
Today it is likely that PiS targets 1-2 mandates from Warsaw and 1 mandate is likely for the Spring party. Among the PiS candidates it will be an interesting confrontation between two three-term MEPs and previous vice-presidents of the European Parliament, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (for 13 years an EPP MEP, who just joined the ECR group) and Ryszard Czarnecki. Should Mr Czarnecki (positioned 2nd on the PiS list) did not receive a mandate, he could become the party’s candidate for the EU Commissioner.
The Spring one quasi-secured mandate could go to the party leader, Robert Biedroń. He announced he is not interested in taking up the mandate and is ready to pass it on to No.2. Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus is the No.2 on the Spring list in Warsaw.
The Coalition’s internal rivalry
It is clear that there are 10 candidates for 2-3 spots. The first mandate is almost guaranteed to go to Mr. Cimoszewicz. His only major vulnerability among the PO voters is that the liberal Warsaw electorate could turn to younger and away from the not-as-popular SLD candidate. Still, the former prime minister should prevail on top of the list.
The second mandate is up for grabs. The PO just scored a major victory in Warsaw last fall when mayor Trzaskowski was elected in the first round. He is a former MEP from Warsaw, whose political career took off once he campaigned in 2009 from the 4th place to score the third mandate for PO. People ranked 3-10 on today’s European Coalition list are aiming to repeat his rise. Among them, the experienced MEPs Hübner & Boni.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the author of the electoral list composition and leader of the PO says that “to be on the list is a great distinction and a great opportunity” for anyone. He continues as quoted on TVN24: “I believe that the most experienced MEPs will be able to cope with the election campaign and with the electoral verdict” of the general public.
Why Warsaw? First, because this region has the highest turnout in Poland. Second, because not only the Varsovians vote for the Warsaw list – also those Poles abroad who chose to vote for a Polish list instead of the country they reside in (some 2 million voters). And third, because from among the 40,000 non-Polish EU citizens entitled to vote in Poland, quite a few reside in Warsaw.
It can’t be easy to squeeze in 4 parties on one list of candidates where only 2 or 3 mandates are truly potentially secured. With an amazing campaign and major victory, a 4th mandate could be possible, but for that to happen, only two electoral committees would have to meet the 5% benchmark (unlikely) and the domination of the European Coalition over the Law and Justice would have to be about 3:1 (next to impossible).
So what was important in determining the lists? The attractiveness of the candidates? Their popularity? Their experience? Their European vocation? Hopefully all of those. It is somewhat surprising that the European experience, however, was of so little value for the PO chairman.
More surprising is something else: to include representatives of four major European parties (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens) on one single electoral list feels like a confrontation between the status-quo diverse and open and tolerant Europe on the one hand, and something else on another. This alternative is clear and this is what drives the Coalition into running together against the Law and Justice, the party of the land.
The Coalition v. PiS is a dichotomy both actors prefer. Their dominance pushes other actors, most notably the Spring, Kukiz’15 and the far-right, into defence against marginalisation. For now it seems Spring has the upper hand in the process of convincing the electorate they have the best offer for people, who do not want to make a choice between the Coalition and PiS.
Over the weekend politicians tried their best to campaign. One of the candidates for the MEP came to Częstochowa… two short stories about some weird incidents taking place in Poland. Let me assure you, not all is rosy, but also not all is black. The next winter will be coming only in eight months.
Saturday, 30 March 2019, Częstochowa. 1500 nationalists take part in their annual pilgrimage to the Jasna Góra shrine, a Catholic monastery in the southern Polish city. Historically it is one of the most important religious sites in the country. In recent years it became a major site for the Polish nationalists.
On Saturday the usual offensive words are used against the cosmopolitan, multinational, rainbow, colourful, open Poland. “There is a civilizational assault on Poland. Under the sign of the rainbow flag, there is an attempt to steal the values such as truth and love“, says a Catholic priest Henryk Grządko, according to oko.press. The participants shout their regular slogans “Great Catholic Poland” or “God, Honour, Fatherland”.
Among the participants is the candidate of the far-right for the European Parliament Kaja Godek. She was clearly moved and tweeted this photo…
Sunday, 31 March 2019. Another priest of the Catholic Church organises a local book burning. Your regular after Church activity, right? Apparently the local priest has been collecting books from his parish for a few days. The targeted books and other items are all those which “bring the power of evil”. TVN24 has the full story.
Among the burned books are the Harry Potter saga, other fantasy books, books about Hinduism and amulets: a mask, a figurine of an elephant. Also targetted are an Hello Kitty umbrella and paintings.
The weekend is over. Reactions to those backward-looking incidents come in. The book burning is not welcomed anywhere. Even the PiS government is critical. Jarosław Gowin, who serves as the vice-prime minister and minister for science tweeted “censorship or book burning cannot be the response to wrong books; write the good books”. The popularity of the move, however, transcends borders. The BBC wrote about the book burning.
No specific reactions to the far-right march in Częstochowa, except for left wing commentators denouncing the activity as in fact anti-Catholic. It seems the far right becomes a new norm.
Law and Justice is heavily criticised by the far right as in fact pro-gay, pro-Jewish and pro-abortion party. Is it? Just last month the PiS leader turnout out to be a homophobe? Yet the far-right attacks the ruling party for being “soft”. See this tweet as an example “denouncing” vice-prime minister Gowin who allegedly said “Poland is the fatherland of two nations. It is the fatherland of the Polish and Jewish nations” and the Konfederacja (Poland’s far-right’s party’s current name) responds: “Mr Vice-PM, Poland is the fatherland of the Polish nation, NO OTHER”.
The PiS reaction is precious. Wait, what reaction? PiS reaction to the far right is next to non-existent. Only once the PiS minister for interior and the party candidate in EP elections Joachim Brudziński apologised for his slow reaction to the far right activity (January).
The PiS proper reaction is different. Back in December a nationalist was appointed a minister in the Mateusz Morawiecki government. It is April and the nationalist is still a sitting minister in the Polish government. Just these last days the nationalist Mr Andruszkiewicz had to defend himself against even more nationalistic comments. The issue? His engagement was in Rome, not in Poland. Andruszkiewicz: “it was a pilgrimage to the Vatican and the grave of St Peter” so he and his fiancee had an important private moment in the eternal city. Congratulations.
There are many PiS politicians who are not racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT or anti-women. It is a shame they hardly ever speak up. Instead of defending their virtues and values, the PiS politicians chose to attack, even to vocally assault the opposition, the liberal media and the various socio-economic groups who do not vote PiS.
I don’t even want to ask when was the last time someone burned books in Europe.
I don’t want to know what kind of gesture the Polish far right is making during their swearing in ceremony.
Welcome to the 2019 Middle Ages. European elections are in less than 2 months. Thank God the real electoral issue is the teachers’ strike scheduled for 8 April.
Today, 2 April 2019 is the 14th anniversary of the death of John Paul II aka Karol Wojtyła, who was the pope of the Catholic Church 1978-2005 and remains an important figure of the Polish Catholic Church. Pity the Church in Poland is less and less Catholic (=common) and more and more Polish (=nationalistic).
As the European elections come closer the issue of its outcome begins to unfold. The next European Commission, whoever is the next Commission President, will continue to have equal number of Commissioners to that of EU member states: 27, should Brexit truly take place.
There are already first speculative names mentioned as potential future Commissioners from Poland. As Konrad Szymański, Poland’s Europe minister (PiS), said recently: “the structure of the new Commission is unknown today, because its shape will be proposed by the new president. This is a very important decision for [Poland], but it is not possible to conduct such negotiations in public, because it would reveal what we care most about”. He continued in the Radio Zet interview: “we want to choose the best place for the Polish Commissioner for the next five years, so it fits well with the policies of the country”.
There needs to be a correlation between the state’s interests and the portfolio, the minister rightly says. It is too early to determine the portfolio and too early to talk the names, nevertheless the “stock market of names” is already out there. Szymański’s name is mentioned, too.
Here we present the people who are mentioned as a potential future European Commissioner:
Konrad Szymański, current PiS Europe Minister (since 2015), is a former MEP (2004-2014). He is known for hard work (considered the best Polish MEP in 2013) and having conciliatory approach. Former member of AFET (Foreign Affairs), FEMM (Women’s Rights) and ITRE (Industry, Research, Energy) Committees. (+) Generally liked and knowledgeable about the EU, could take any policy portfolio (-) Member of the PiS Government involved in the rule of law process; he does not have a strong party position.
Anna Fotyga, current PiS MEP (2004-5 & since 2014), where she chairs SEDE (security & defence). She is a former Foreign Minister (2006-7) and an MP (2011-14). The field for which her experience is recognised is security. Most recently, she was nominated for the MEP Awards 2019. For more, see her interview for the Parliament Magazine. (+) Strong political position in PiS & good SEDE chair in the EP (-) Her experience suggests the position of the High Representative, which is not necessarily where the Polish government interests lie & it seems unlikely for the moment for a PiS politician to take an EU top-job portfolio.
Ryszard Czarnecki, MEP since 2004 and the Parliament’s vice president (2014-18). Currently member of CONT. As vice president he was responsible for Eastern Partnership. He is known for his interests in sports. See the promo video made for Mr Czarnecki when he became VP. In 2018 he was removed from office of VP for his “serious misconduct” towards another MEP Róża Thun (EPP-PL). (+) Strong political position in PiS; could take any portfolio (-) Difficult re-election challenge ahead of him; following the recent removal from the position of VP it would be a challenge for Mr Czarnecki to expect an easy Parliamentary “ok” from hearings.
Tomasz Poręba, MEP since 2009, where most recently he was the deputy chair of the TRAN Committee (transport). The project he has been heavily campaigning for is the highway north-south from the Slovak border to Lithuania in Eastern Poland (S19). He is the author of PiS electoral campaigns, including the current one. (+) Strong political position in PiS; could take any internal policy portfolio, especially transport (-) will he be the first choice for the job of Jarosław Kaczyński?
Adam Bielan, currently senator (since 2015), former MEP 2004-2014, where he was also vice president of the house (2007-9). He is currently running for the MEP position because the EP is important: “majority of our laws are made in the Parliament”. Former member of IMCO (Internal Market) Committee. Recently he denied to seek the position of the European Commissioner, but he probably would not refuse it, neither… (+) Could take any internal policy portfolio (-) Weak political position (member of the Jarosław Gowin party Agreement) & denies the gossip
Jerzy Kwieciński, minister of investment and economic development (since 2018) is a long-time civil servant-turned PiS politician in the current government. The industrial magazine wnp.pl has recently informed that Mr Kwieciński is “the iron candidate” for the position of the next Polish member of the European Commission. (+) decent political position; technocrat, fitting the PiS logic that the Commission is the technocracy of civil servants, could take any internal policy portfolio; (-) probably not the first choice.
Does the speculation matter? First, it does for it shows a certain maturity in the process of determining who should be the Commissioner – not the name but the portfolio should come first. Second, the maturity is confirmed by the recognition that the portfolio allocation will be done in liaison with the next Commission President.
The missing element is the fact that the Commissioner from Poland is barred from “representing Poland”. It is not the job of a Commissioner and should the next Pole to replace Elżbieta Bieńkowska present themselves this way, they are bound to be rejected by the Commission President or the European Parliament.
It is unclear if the decision is political (within PiS) or governmental (as the treaty says). Should the decision be taken by PiS, it shall be the Jarosław Kaczyński call. Should the decision by delegated to the Prime Minister, than Mateusz Morawiecki shall call the shots.
The party strongest candidates are probably Poręba, Czarnecki and Fotyga. The government strongest candidates are probably Szymański and Kwieciński.
In any case, the current speculation does not include the possibility that the new Commission President could negotiate the next College only in the fall this year. After the Polish parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall. Whoever governs in Poland as of November could negotiate and nominate the next Commissioner with the next Commission President. It may well be Law and Justice. It may be, however, another political force that will organise itself only after the European elections 26 May. Until the May vote it is known as the European Coalition and currently it is going neck-and-neck with Law and Justice in the opinion polls (oko.press):
All EU institutions have to prepare for the post-Brexit reality. The British Commissioner will lose his position on the day the UK leaves the EU. After the European Council last week the chance there will be British MEPs is reduced to almost 0%. Hence most likely there will be 705 MEPs come July. In the Council and the European Council the British participation is already reduced and will cease to exist completely the first day UK is out of the Union. The scheduled British Council presidency was scheduled for 2017 and it was scrapped in the first weeks after the Brexit 2016 referendum. The EU institutions have been internalising Brexit for years by now.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is facing its own Brexit challenge. The issue concerns the participation of the British judges and the Advocate-General (AG) in the works of the Court. Each of them is nominated according to different rules and following a different calendar.
There should be no problems with ending the term of office of the EU Court of Justice member. The mandate of Judge Christopher Vajda is linked with United Kingdom’s EU membership. The mandate of judge Ian Stewart Forrester of the General Court ends in August 2019.
Meanwhile, the bigger issue is related to the Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston. The number of Advocates-General is not related to the number of EU Member States. This number is specified in the Statute of the CJEU as part of the treaties. Among the Advocates-General there is no “one country one AG” principle, which is applied among other higher ranked public such as members of the European Commission or judges of the Court of Justice. The mandate of AG Sharpston ends in October 2021.
There are currently 11 Advocates-General in the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice. Their work is coordinated by the First AG Maciej Szpunar. Six AGs come from the six largest EU nations while the others are rotated.
During a recent event in Warsaw AG Szpunar admitted the Court is faced with the dilemma of Brexit’s impact on its functioning: “First of all, the question should be asked if Brexit – for example in the event of UK exit without an agreement – means automatic expiration of the British AG mandate? It would be advisable for the Member States to make appropriate arrangements in this regard, taking into account the specificity of the functioning of the Court. And secondly, and this question is also for Member States to address, should the British AG post be moved to rotation?”.
The pending issue of the status of the British AG is a minor issue in the larger fallout of Brexit – with or without the May-negotiated agreement. But this small issue of an internal ECJ cuisine is indicative that Brexit has important consequences not only on the UK. The impact of Brexit on the rest of the Union and its institutions is as important and even more relevant for the rest of us who are outside of the United Kingdom.
It is my understanding that this is a developing story. Many of the shocks of Brexit – i.e. the financial contribution of the major net payer, the UK, into the EU budget – shall be absorbed by the other member states. Yet it does not solve all the issues.
It is a well-shared expectation that in short-term Brexit pushes the United Kingdom into a recession. The agreement question is largely only about the degree of the recession Britain is facing.
The big question out there is if Brexit pushes the rest of the Union into a recession, too.
It is Saturday, 23 March, a theatre in the Warsaw city centre. It is a quarter to 2PM. A crowd is growing with every minute. There are more and more people, they all came here to listen to the leaders of a new Polish party, Wiosna, or Spring. The people around me take selfies, they came from all over the country, while waiting for the main programme. There are hashtags for today’s event: #nowadrużynaeuropejska and #dodajmyeuropieskrzydeł which translates to #neweuropeanteam and #addwings2europe.
Last time I was here it was a few weeks ago when I watched a children ballet piece about Cinderella… the chairs were removed for the cheering crowd.
The stage is here with the wings that Europe apparently needs. While waiting for the beginning of the presentation of the lead candidates in the upcoming elections I pop into Grzegorz Pietruczuk, one of Wiosna politicians, who is a mayor of the Warsaw district Bielany. Mr Pietruczuk: “It’s a very inspiring idea. I hope it continuous to grow”.
The crowd starts to cheer “Spring” and the show is about to start. I wonder for a moment if this is the right place: am I at a concert? There is a band playing and people clapping: “walk away… rock away… dance with me… rock me girl…”. Later I learn this is the Spring’s Eurospring band. When the band plays the flags go up into the air. There are many flags of Poland and of the EU, there are also flags of European countries like France, Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Hungary, Belgium. Is this an Egyptian flag? I wonder. There is also the LGBT flag and many Spring symbols.
Here we go. A pair of young hosts enters the stage to present, one by one, 13 lead candidates for there are 13 electoral regions in Poland in the European elections. “Are you ready?” asks Patryk Janczewski, the co-host, and the show begins.
The show is Eurovision-inspired. There is a videolink with every region (a pre-recorded video my sceptical mind tells me…) to Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, and other regional cities. The local people reveal who the candidates are. Well, some of them are known for a few days already. Here they are:
There are 8 women and 5 men in the crowd. Also Warsaw’s no. 2 enters the stage, Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus. This is because Robert Biedroń, the party leader and the leading candidate from Warsaw already announced he is not going to take up the mandate, if elected. He is the last to speak today, and starts with a request for a minute of silence for Mateusz, who was Spring’s activist in Gniezno in Western Poland, and who tragically died recently.
Mr Biedroń and the candidates before him outline the issues Spring brings to the elections. Spring wants to break the PO-PiS war and advocates for a modern, open, and tolerant Poland.
Spring says it is a brave movement. It wants to break with the old privileges of the Catholic Church. At one point the crowd cheers “Secular State”. A very important element on the Spring agenda is the fight against secrecy of paedophilia in the Catholic Church in Poland. The Spring’s face in this campaign is Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, who is an MP with the Now party (Teraz).
The other main campaign issue is the LGBT+ rights, the group Law and Justice singled out and started to attack for a few weeks now. Spring presents its 5 ideas for the LGBT+ community, which include fight against homophobia and same sex partnerships as a step towards marriage equality.
“Spring is a woman” shouts out Mr Biedroń explaining why 8 lead candidates are women. Feminism and women rights is mentioned by most candidates. One of the Spring leading persons is Wanda Nowicka, a champion for women rights.
The air pollution is a major issue of the general public that Spring takes on board. Quite a few of the candidates talk about the Green agenda, which makes me wonder – should they be elected, will Spring join the Green group in the European Parliament? No answer is expected today. Mr Biedroń says that the electoral programme will be ready in the upcoming days.
The Spring leader also mentions the poor level of remuneration in Poland: “We want a European salary not abroad, but here, in Poland!”. He voices full support for the teachers strike and calls on the prime minister to get to work and talk to the teachers.
The issue of the rights of the employed are dear to Zbigniew Bujak, who is one of the most recognised among the Spring’s lead candidates. Mr Bujak is a legend of the first Solidarność trade union movement of 1980s. His popularity came with an incredible ability to deceive the communist militia, who was looking for him for 5 years before making an arrest. Mr Bujak today says he joins the movement because he feels Spring has a similar enthusiasm and energy among the youth as the first Solidarność almost forty years earlier.
There are two important points on Europe that have not been so clearly voiced before. The first is the removal of the British-Polish protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which talks about the limited application of the Charter in Poland.
The second is a strong statement on the healthcare that should be provided at a corresponding level across the European Union. The fight against cancer is mentioned. Mr Biedroń echoes EPP’s Manfred Weber and Ewa Kopacz voices on the issue.
“Europe needs Spring” shouts Biedroń to conclude his speech. The party latest support is about 7%.
Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish party Vox arrives in Warsaw for a meeting with Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of Law and Justice (PiS). The purpose of the meeting? To meet and study each other, as both actors do not know each other too well. Exploration ahead of the next European Parliament. Vox, after all, entered the European political scene only last December after the surprising Andalusian elections, which saw Vox receive 11% of the vote.
The latest opinion polls suggest Vox can receive over 10% of the Spanish vote in the May European elections as well as a month before in the national poll.
Vox is as a very conservative party protective of the Spanish nation and statehood. It stands against migration and multiculturalism (‘purity’). It voices opposition to same sex marriage (‘tradition’). In Spain it supports recentralisation of power against regions (‘unity’). The party also voices strong anti-feminism and anti-women rights arguments. As for the EU it seems to endorse the sovereignist approach. Mr Abascal in 2015: “Spain must be in Europe without complexes, claiming the historical, industrial and agricultural role that we deserve. We should not be vassals of Merkel or Tsipras.”
On Wednesday the Vox leader met with the leadership of PiS. In the official communication after the meeting it seems there was a mutual understanding. Both parties are interested in defending nation states against the federalists “which implies the loss of national sovereignty“.
Vox statement also voices opposition against Macron’s vision.
A happy face of Santiago Abascal after meeting PiS: “We have a lot in common with Poland, Law and Justice”. Clearly this exploratory meeting shows that those two parties are close to each other. Mr Abascal expresses the conviction that the talks are going “in the right direction” regarding a possible future alliance with PiS in the European Parliament.
Europe moves away from fundamental Christian values, accepts mass immigration and interferes too much in the policy of sovereign states
The Vox leader continues: “We are looking for an understanding and alliances with other parties in other countries. Besides, we are big fans of Poland, Spain is a sister country with Poland, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary.”
Presenting his party in Poland Mr Abascal says about Vox: his party “speaks truth and defends common sense”, which is why many Spaniards identify with this message against “the dictatorship of political correctness of the left”. “In Spain there are many people tired of politicians who dictate what to think and interfere with the Spaniards’ religious, patriotic or family feelings”. “Vox transformed into a huge wave that began in the south of Spain”, he concludes.
In his earlier tweet, Mr Abascal described the Wednesday meeting with the Polish partners fruitful. “A very fruitful meeting with the Polish government aimed at analysing common policies based on respect for the sovereignty of European states, Christian values and migration control”.
So far chairman Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini in January. In February there was an ECR summit in Paris hosted by Debut-la-France of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan. Now Vox leader is in Warsaw.
It is easy to dismiss every party on the continent right of the EPP as far-right. It is easy to be scared of the mass and amount of the far-right in the European Parliament. I won’t, because there are certain key actors within this crowd and there are important limitations for some of the actors. There are reasons why there are two groups in the EP now (EFDD and ENF), not one. There are reasons why some parties were even too toxic for other far-right-wingers out there (Jobbik from Hungary, Golden Dawn from Greece).
In the large pool of right-wing parties the crucial for future EP will be the popular parties in the populous states: AfD in Germany, National Rally (RN), which is the current party of Marine Le Pen in France, the Italians – La Lega and M5S, the Spanish Vox and the Polish main actor: PiS.
Clearly the Hungarian Fidesz enters the pool of seeking potential new allies as of today. Also the Dutch party PVV of Geert Wilders is widely known, the Swedish Democrats and the Austrian FPO, too.
Can we expect a wide coalition including all those actors?
PiS seems to have two major limitations in seeking out new partners. The first problem are the Russian money. It will be very difficult for the Polish governmental party to be associated with a partner who is not only dependent on Russian support, but who is perceived in Poland as an agent of Russian (unwanted) influence in Europe. This means it will be very difficult for PiS to cooperate with actors like RN or La Lega.
The PiS government policy towards Russia is frozen since 2015. The latest stint: invitations for the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2 are out. The war broke out in Gdańsk on 1 September 1939. Vladimir Putin of Russia has not been invited by the Polish head of state Andrzej Duda.
The second argument is a bit more subtle. PiS presents itself as the sovereignist party, but also as the defender of the European integration. That is, PiS wants to change the EU and reclaim sovereignty (especially in the rule of law area), but is far away from advocating exit from the EU or dissolution of the Union. Hence, those who are openly hostile to the membership are not likely to be considered partners.
Last, minor, is the obvious statement, that the Polish party calls for respect. PiS is not going to be associated with parties of anti-Polish rhetoric (PVV).
Unless people make corrections in their policy, that is. Matteo Salvini January visit was an attempt to prove himself in the eyes of Jarosław Kaczyński of being free of La Lega’s Russian links. Two months on it seems the criticism towards la Lega among PiS is growing. Still, it may change by May.
With La Lega (maybe), Vox (probably) and Fidesz (likely) the biggest challenge for PiS in their attempt to win the European elections is to win votes for their group (ECR or a new one) in France and Germany. Relations with AfD are dire since the 2016 split. Today AfD is close with the Austrian FPO – anti-European and sometimes disrespectful of Poles. It is very unlikely for any German MEP to be included in the upcoming PiS-led group.
France is another story. RN is a no-go for PiS, but in Paris Law and Justice announced its large block to include the Debut-la-France party of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan, which is polling currently at 5%.
In the Netherlands passing by the Wilders’ PVV there is a new actor, too, who has been reached out to: it is Forum of Democracy (FvD) of Theo Baudet, who just came second in the Dutch provincial elections beating every party except for the VVD of Prime Minister Rutte. It means there is a reservoir of support for the future PiS/ECR+ group in the Netherlands.
If the four parties (PiS, La Lega, Fidesz and Vox) are the core of the next group in the European Parliament, they come from four different houses: PiS is an ECR party today. La Lega is in ENF. Fidesz is/was in EPP. Vox is not yet associated. Together they could amount to over 60 MEPs with each of the parties contributing at least 10 (Italians and Poles at least 20) members. This could be a good start for building of a larger sovereignist group right-of-the-EPP, including the parties of DLF and FvD and alike.
Yet it is very clear: there will be more than one group on the right side of the European Parliament. The other group, openly anti-European could be based on RN, AfD, PVV and FPO.