How cordon sanitaire played out & Beata Szydło lost

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?

The EMPL 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.

EMPL Constitutive meeting – Election of Chair and Vice-Chairs: MEP Rafalska (middle) and MEP Szydło (on the right)

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.

EMPL Constitutive meeting – Election of Chair and Vice-Chairs

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.

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