Last Friday the leader of the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz gave a major policy interview in Dziennik-Gazeta Prawna. In it he outlined the main issues his party has to confront in the current political environment.
PSL has a stable support in the Polish society. As the only party it has been continuously present in all elections since 1990 and winning seats. In elections to the European Parliament the PSL score has been a stable 3-4 mandates. Currently there are 4 PSL MEPs sitting with the European People’s Party, including the Chair of AGRI committee Czesław Siekierski. PSL has about 100,000 members, it represents mainly the small towns and farming communities’ views and interests.
It also has a 37-years young leader, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, or WKK, who is a medical doctor by training and served as social affairs minister in the Tusk and Kopacz governments (2011-2015). WKK has been PSL’s boss since 2015. WKK is the party’s 7th leader since 1990, which shows the party openness for rotation, evolution and generational change.
Kosiniak-Kamysz about the political polarisation: “In some homes there is a ban to talk about politics. We stopped to talk to one another, we cannot cooperate, we do not even like one another any more” and “we all should take a step back, not to put wood on the fire”. He presents himself as a unifier: “I have been calling for calm for three years now” and “PSL is a party which brings normality into the political discourse. I know normality is not fashionable, flashy colours are. But normality is a desired value when flashiness becomes tiresome. This time is coming.” According to WKK, PiS is flashy, a radical party, like the pre-war Sanacja, the political movement that called on moral renewal and partially suspended Polish democracy in a coup in 1926.
The Polish CSU?
PSL reads the 2015 elections and removal from power as a yellow card for the party. WKK promises that the party has learned from its past mistakes. “We represent the countryside, not only the farmers. Today farmers make only 10% of the countryside population. And a farmer himself is a different person than 20 years before. We want to be the Polish CSU”.
The issues define the party. The key issue is the low level of payments for the pensioners. WKK says that PSL will not enter into any coalition without this pre-condition taken on board by its partners: pensions should be tax-free!
On the social policies, he continues: “we want to keep the good things. Unasked, I supported the 500+ programme [child support scheme]. As the only opposition party we have supported this programme”. He says that 500+ fits into previous social policies of previous governments (Tusk, Kopacz) which introduced important social instruments, too. “But we failed to communicate”. He means the support for big families (families with 3 children or more receive all kinds of discounts in over 10,400 shops), the year-long maternal leave, social security support for a parent who is on a leave, or the major investment in the nursery infrastructure.
In coalition or alone?
PSL will decide on this issue soon. WKK cannot prejudge the outcome of the PSL vote: “we are a democracy, one person cannot take a decision like this”, even if WKK sees the benefits of going in a coalition, when the d’Hondt method decides allocation of mandates.
For the former minister it is highly unlikely to enter into any future coalition with the Law and Justice: “it is difficult to imagine”; PiS “had many opportunities to prove that they can reach out beyond their party interest. It was us, as the only opposition force, who have participated in the meetings with chairman Kaczyński about the Constitutional Tribunal. We tried to mediate during the parliamentary crisis. Examples could be multiplied. PiS response was: eradicate PSL!”
Yet, nothing is lost, since WKK likes all the people and “the PiS membership card is not a problem” to like someone.
WKK also talks the Polish Euro accession. He thinks the issue is of a delicate matter: “the debate about the Euro adoption has to be taken after a great debate. This requires an agreement wider than a governmental coalition”.
Many people in Brussels and other European capitals focus on the EP electoral campaign as a clash between the liberal, cosmopolitan order of the world and the populist, nationalist challengers. Kosiniak-Kamysz reminds us that there are many reasons to vote; and that it is not true that the only issue out there is migration or the migration scare. Economy, education, medical services, climate change, energy prices, and all kind of other issues, alongside international affairs, Trump and Putin, religion and sport can become decisive.
What WKK talks about is a great promise under-delivered: the social Europe. The problem he sees is a major societal challenge in many poorer nations of the EU. It is structural and it is inherited. It is the fact that many pensioners in post-Communist countries receive peanuts compared not only with the Western Europeans, but also with they own previous salaries. Worse, many of the today working people do not see any major new development in this area. Kosiniak-Kamysz wants to ease their lives. But shouldn’t someone, somewhere, propose a true European pension support system so that there is a relative convergence between European pensioners at some point in the future?
As for the CSU comparison, PSL’s boss would like to see his party as a party “of the land”, as in fact it used to be in many regions of Poland. Today PSL has been pushed aside by PiS and is struggling for sustainability. It looks for a new role for itself. Interesting comparison with the CSU since the party is also rather on the decrease of its power in Bavaria following last year vote. However, WKK might have missed the populism with which CSU tries to fight the AFD in Bavaria. In Poland, quite to the contrary, PSL is moderate. Or, as Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz put it, “normal”.