Hübner & Boni still fight for the MEP seat

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:

  1. Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former PM & MFA, candidate of SLD (69 years old), hence likely member of the S&D group;
  2. Andrzej Halicki, MP & former minister of administration & digitalisation, PO (58 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
  3. Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, MP, PO, former member of .Modern (36 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
  4. Danuta Hübner, MEP & former European Commissioner, PO, member of the EPP group (71 yo);
  5. Michał Boni, MEP, PO, member of the EPP group (69 yo);
  6. Urszula Zielińska, candidate of the Greens (41 yo);
  7. Paweł Pudłowski, MP, .Modern (47 yo), likely member of ALDE;
  8. Aneta Kalata, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
  9. Anna Brzezińska, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
  10. 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.

Et alors?

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.

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