Szczerski withdraws & his book, ‘Power & Market’ (5)

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.

Janusz Wojciechowski in the Parliament in Brussels (2016)

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 beneficial for the country and with keeping the złoty there should be no limitations of the EU membership rights”.

The process of growing domination is 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 before twice.

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. Common market 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:

  1. The will of member states to fulfil obligations and to respect the rule of equality of member states in the Union;
  2. The capacity of the European Commission to prepare concrete coordination proposals according to the regulatory scheme;
  3. The position of the European Parliament, which tends to politicise the economic governance of the EU;
  4. 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.

Et alors?

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.

Jarosław Kaczyński: we need to limit the LGBT ideology

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
Jarosław Kaczyński in Zbuczyn, 11 August 2019, source: TVN24

Et alors

Why are my jaws dropped? According to the most powerful person in Poland:

  1. Human rights are irrelevant.
  2. Rights of people belonging to minorities are irrelevant.
  3. Right to protest should be limited.
  4. There is a Polish national Church.
  5. This Polish Church is under attack from the LGBT ideology.
  6. Independent judiciary is a threat. It is influenced by the LGBT ideology.
  7. There is a conspiracy between the EU and LGBT and the judiciary against the Polish culture and the Polish Church.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Air Kuchciński lands. Will PiS plane refuel & take off?

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.

Poland’s National Elections on 13 October 2019

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.

Who’s running?

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.

The Campaign

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:

“Speaker Kuchciński walks his dog”

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.

The Quest for the Commissioner is (not yet) over

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.

Et alors?

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.

European Utopia

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.

And vetting the candidate.

Polish MEPs in EP Committees

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:

Foreign Affairs (AFET): 10 MEPs

  • Robert Biedroń, S&D
  • Adam Bielan, ECR
  • Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, S&D (ex-foreign minister)
  • Anna Fotyga, ECR (ex-foreign minister)
  • Andrzej Halicki, EPP
  • Karol Karski, ECR
  • Zdzisław Krasnodębski, ECR
  • Radosław Sikorski, EPP (ex-foreign minister)
  • Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, ECR
  • Witold Waszczykowski, ECR (ex-foreign minister)

Development (DEVE): 4 MEPs

  • Ryszard Czarnecki, ECR
  • Beata Kempa, ECR
  • Ewa Kopacz, EPP
  • Janina Ochojska, EPP

International Trade (INTA): 4 MEPs

  • Marek Belka, S&D
  • Danuta Hübner, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Elżbieta Łukacijewska, EPP
  • Witold Waszczykowski, ECR

Budgets (BUDG): 7 MEPs

  • Robert Biedroń, S&D
  • Adam Jarubas, EPP
  • Zbigniew Kuźmiuk, ECR
  • Janusz Lewandowski, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Jan Olbrycht, EPP
  • Bogdan Rzońca, ECR
  • Grzegorz Tobiszowski, ECR

Budgetary Control (CONT): 5 MEPs

  • Joachim Brudziński, ECR
  • Ryszard Czarnecki, ECR
  • Patryk Jaki, ECR
  • Ryszard Legutko, ECR
  • Bogusław Liberadzki, S&D

Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON): 5 MEPs

  • Marek Belka, S&D
  • Danuta Hübner, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Ryszard Legutko, ECR
  • Janusz Lewandowski, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Bogdan Rzońca, ECR

Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL): 8 MEPs

  • Jarosław Duda, EPP
  • Krzysztof Hetman, EPP
  • Joanna Kopcińska, ECR
  • Beata Mazurek, ECR
  • Leszek Miller, S&D
  • Elżbieta Rafalska, ECR
  • Beata Szydło, ECR
  • Anna Zalewska, ECR

Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI): 9 MEPs

  • Bartosz Arłukowicz, EPP
  • Marek Balt, S&D
  • Adam Jarubas, EPP
  • Ewa Kopacz, EPP
  • Joanna Kopcińska, ECR
  • Sylwia Spurek, S&D
  • Grzegorz Tobiszowski, ECR
  • Jadwiga Wiśniewska, ECR
  • Anna Zalewska, ECR

Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE): 11 MEPs

  • Marek Balt, S&D
  • Jerzy Buzek, EPP (former EP President)
  • Adam Jarubas, EPP
  • Izabela-Helena Kloc, ECR
  • Łukasz Kohut, S&D
  • Zdzisław Krasnodębski, ECR
  • Elżbieta Kruk, ECR
  • Janusz Lewandowski, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, ECR
  • Róża Thun, EPP
  • Grzegorz Tobiszowski, ECR

Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO): 7 MEPs

  • Adam Bielan, ECR
  • Krzysztof Hetman, EPP
  • Beata Mazurek, ECR
  • Leszek Miller, S&D
  • Andżelika Możdżanowska, ECR
  • Beata Szydło, ECR
  • Róża Thun, EPP

Transport and Tourism (TRAN): 6 MEPs

  • Magdalena Adamowicz, EPP
  • Tomasz Frankowski, EPP
  • Bogusław Liberadzki, S&D
  • Elżbieta Łukacijewska, EPP
  • Tomasz Poręba, ECR
  • Kosma Złotowski, ECR

Regional Development (REGI): 6 MEPs

  • Krzysztof Hetman, EPP
  • Krzysztof Jurgiel, ECR
  • Izabela-Helena Kloc, ECR
  • Elżbieta Kruk, ECR
  • Andżelika Możdżanowska, ECR
  • Jan Olbrycht, EPP

Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI): 3 MEPs

  • Krzysztof Jurgiel, ECR
  • Jarosław Kalinowski, EPP
  • Zbigniew Kuźmiuk, ECR

Fisheries (PECH): 1 MEP

  • Jarosław Kalinowski, EPP

Culture and Education (CULT): 5 MEPs

  • Tomasz Frankowski, EPP
  • Łukasz Kohut, S&D
  • Elżbieta Kruk, ECR
  • Ryszard Legutko, ECR
  • Tomasz Poręba, ECR

Legal Affairs (JURI): 3 MEPs

  • Magdalena Adamowicz, EPP
  • Andrzej Halicki, EPP
  • Kosma Złotowski, ECR

Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE): 8 MEPs

  • Magdalena Adamowicz, EPP
  • Bartosz Arłukowicz, EPP
  • Joachim Brudziński, ECR
  • Andrzej Halicki, EPP
  • Patryk Jaki, ECR
  • Beata Kempa, ECR
  • Sylwia Spurek, S&D
  • Jadwiga Wiśniewska, ECR

Constitutional Affairs (AFCO): 2 MEPs

  • Danuta Hübner, EPP (former Commissioner)
  • Ryszard Legutko, ECR

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM): 7 MEPs

  • Robert Biedroń, S&D
  • Beata Kempa, ECR
  • Ewa Kopacz, EPP
  • Elżbieta Łukacijewska, EPP
  • Andżelika Możdżanowska, ECR
  • Elżbieta Rafalska, ECR
  • Jadwiga Wiśniewska, ECR

Petitions (PETI): 3 MEPs

  • Ryszard Czarnecki, ECR
  • Jarosław Duda, EPP
  • Kosma Złotowski, ECR

Human Rights Sub-Committee (DROI): 3 MEPs

  • Ryszard Czarnecki, ECR
  • Karol Karski, ECR
  • Janina Ochojska, EPP

Security and Defence Sub-Committee (SEDE): 6 MEPs

  • Jerzy Buzek, EPP (former EP President)
  • Anna Fotyga, ECR (ex-foreign minister)
  • Zdzisław Krasnodębski, ECR
  • Leszek Miller, S&D
  • Radosław Sikorski, EPP (ex-defense & ex-foreign minister)
  • Witold Waszczykowski, ECR (ex-foreign minister)

Et alors?

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
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.

The Quest for a Polish Commissioner continues

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?

Emilewicz – Szczerski – Kwieciński – Czarnecki – Szymański – Saryusz-Wolski – Bielan

Polish democracy: gay rights or gay propaganda?

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 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.

Paweł Kasprzak

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.

Et alors?

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.

Difficult first weeks in the Parliament for PiS

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 before twice. 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.

Jadwiga Emilewicz

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.

How the Szydło affair keeps Commissioners-nominees hostage

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.

10 July, the new European Parliament elects its committee chairs. All except one. There is a problem in the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL), that fails to elect Beata Szydło, a former Polish PM, as its chairperson.

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.

Et alors?

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?

“The European Way” of Ursula von der Leyen

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.

Climate Change

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 Citizens

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.

The Debate

“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 Green leaders listen to 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.

Et alors?

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?

Will all of EPP support Ursula?

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?

Tomorrow’s vote is secret.

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.

Krasnodębski is NOT a Vice-President. How come?

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.

Cordon sanitaire

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.

Non-attached MEPs

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

Mr Krasnodębski is still hopeful. Plenary session – Election of the Vice-Presidents of Parliament – Second ballot

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.

What happened?

Is Mr Krasnodębski loss due to others disrespect of the rules?

Press point Ursula von der LEYEN, Candidate for President of the European Commission

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.

Mr Castaldo is hopeful. Election of the Vice-Presidents of the Parliament – First ballot

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.

Et alors

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 Italian Affair

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.

Ms von der Leyen needs ‘majority of the component Members‘, hence she shall seek a majority of 751 component Members.

David Sassoli

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.

Habemus papam… not yet

2 July 2019, a series of tweets of Donald Tusk:

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.

Et alors?

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 party politics 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.

European Council negotiates top jobs

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.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron,
30 June 2019

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?

Jean-Claude Juncker, 30 June 2019

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.

Visegrad-4 with the French President.
Left to right: Pellegrini-Macron-Morawiecki-Babiš-Orban.

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.

Monday Morning Meeting

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.

Mr Aamann is Mr Tusk’s spokesperson.

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.

Et alors?

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.

Angela Merkel’s press conference, 1 July 2019, source:

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?

Why the European Coalition lost?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Rural turnout was at 89% of the average, compared with 128% of the biggest cities: the difference five years ago was 86% to 148%.
  3. 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).
  4. The increased turnout benefited PiS, as the people who turned up to vote were more rural and small town voters.
  5. 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;
  6. Reduced turnout among the younger and 30-40 year old voters: their activity benefited the Opposition last year during the local elections.

Et alors?

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.

Groups are ready. Parliament is ready to play

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.

Good luck.

The Climate Veto

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.

Mateusz Morawiecki in Brussels, 21 June 2019. Source: Council of EU

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.

Et alors?

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.

Not yet. Hence, the climate veto.