At one point this summer Ursula von der Leyen said her Commission will be “geopolitical”, as opposed to the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker.
There was no meaning to the adjective back then. There is little meaning to it today. Still, the adjective is growing on the Commission.
First foreign trip of the new President: Ethiopia. To mark the European strategic interest in the continent. But as the EU fights it’s own war on global relevance between US and China, it needs to chose its battles carefully. Africa will be an interesting field to watch.
The challenges are many for the Commission and the whole of Europe. The most important is unity. Brexit et al. do not help. Donald Tusk, the ex-EUCO boss and new head of the EPP says that the fight to preserve or protect the EU’s unity was a constant battle over the past five years. Little changed.
Provided unity is preserved, the outside world is as scary as promising. The same story, but changing. Terrorist threats, trade wars, migration flows, climate crisis, populist leaders and all the other challenges out there are met with business opportunities as new technologies come to the market, new greening of the economy constitutes a major push for innovation in Europe and new trade agreements open new markets.
Will fears dominate hopes? First days tell little of the future, but for the ball to be moved to the external field EU and its Commission needs to play bold and safe at the same time. Not to be reactive but proactive. To look for opportunities where others don’t.
EU is not and won’t be a security power. It’s magic is located elsewhere. Preservation of and expansion of the multilateral system is what EU wants. The not-so-secret weapon of the Union is the strength of its single market. Expansion and deepening into the digital single market will be matched with re-calibrating it on the sustainability tracks.
The more-secret-but-not-totally-unknown EU magic is its regulatory power. It may have lost the 5G battle to the Chinese and the Americans but the other two are nowhere close to the regulatory might of the EU.
Yes, the EU is the soft power. In the times of nationalism and populism and climate change it has been doing surprisingly well, despite the fall backs along the way.
At the end of the day what may determine our future is our free will and determination. I do not know if the Commission has it. But I hope the basic fact that 202 million people voted for this thing back in May means something.
“The EPP is dead”! Did Viktor Orbán plan a hostile take-over of the party? What are the plans for the future? Welcome to rainy Zagreb, where the European People’s Party holds its congress 2019. Hashtag #EPPZagreb
The Croatian capital is cold and rainy this time of the year. Grim are the moods in the great hall of Arena Zagreb, covered with great speeches on the main stage. Angela Merkel comes, her star shines among the 2000+ delegates, yet you can sense the deadline to her rule in Berlin. There are more people of a decaying glory here, and a few upcoming stars, too. Ursula von der Leyen is relaxed and multilingual. Sebastian Kurz is glowing. Donald Tusk is elected new leader. This is a grand theatre and the main play is to put a good face on a bad game.
Elections won, but…
Every five years since 2009 there are fewer EPP MEPs sitting in the Strasbourg hemicycle. Non only since last May there are only 182 MEPs affiliated with the EPP. The party lost a ruling majority in the Parliament alongside the Social-Democrats. For decades the two, EPP and S&D provided for a stable majority. “It takes two to tango”, but how to learn the dance with a third, or a fourth partner?
The electoral crisis is clear and debated behind the scenes. There is another crisis underneath: the identity challenge. In a moment of weakness one MEP cries, “The EPP is dead“, and asks not to be named.
Feet of clay
The EPP is still the largest political group in the European Parliament, but the future is not looking easy. “If you win the elections, you can’t say you lose,” soberly reminds me the Irish MEP Sean Kelly quoting the EPP leaders, new and old, Tusk and Daul. Michael Gahler, a German MEP, also praises his home party: “We retained political leadership on the European level. Where are the Socialists and the Liberals in their positioning?”
Mr Gahler is not alone, many people here think that the EPP is the best organized party in Europe. Over 2,000 delegates come to Zagreb to discuss new leaders, but also to debate and decide the agenda. Issues such as the climate and technological challenges, enlargement, international policy in Eastern Europe, transatlantic relations and the situation in the Middle East – all of these are important matters for the oldest European political party.
But what does the EPP want to be in the third decade of the 21st century? How to regain voters? It must have been difficult to swallow that Europeans like to vote in European elections, but not as much for the EPP. “We are not popular with the voters“, complains one EPP staffer, as if it was the voter who was the problem. Ideas are welcomed.
How to simultaneously and effectively resist populism of the far right, but also the internal populism from the Hungarian party Fidesz, is the unanswered question here in Zagreb. The Slovenian Janez Janša, former prime minister, says simply: “Punishing the most successful party in the group would not make any sense“. Last spring Fidesz scored 53 percent in Hungary.
The electoral result of other EPP parties outside Hungary is not as positive. “Populism destroys us from the right and the left,” tells me the leading Bavarian MEP Monika Hohlmeier, member of the Parliament since 2009. Not only the EPP members’ share of the Strasbourg chamber has fallen from 36 percent to 24 percent in the same decade, the number of EPP members of the European Council is down from 12 to 9.
What is more, the internal dynamics is shifting, too. As of May, the majority of EPP MEPs are Central European politicians. In countries such as Italy and France, local EPP parties suffered heavy defeats. In Zagreb Silvio Berlusconi walks surrounded by a smaller crowd of journalists, an echo of old glory. The French party was relegated to the third position. In both populous countries the extreme right populists replaced the EPP parties as the main right-wing force in the national public space.
The EPP’s nightmare is this: in Germany the AfD is gaining ground, in Spain the extreme VOX party is fast catching up with the centre-right, and it is possible that in Poland the Civic Platform (PO) – the party of Donald Tusk – will fight the newly united Left to maintain the position of the main opposition party. A few years down the line the EPP members could be relegated to no. 3 or worse in all of the most populous EU member states.
Orbán’s hostile takeover?
How to effectively respond to the challenges of a changing world? Last spring seven EPP members demanded to remove Fidesz from the EPP. Hungarians were suspended and were not invited to the meetup in Croatia. The only Hungarians in the Arena are the Hungarian journalists investigating when the throwing out will happen, if ever.
In Zagreb, one could hear the whisper of Orbán’s intent to make a “hostile takeover” of the EPP from the centre-right and turn the party into a right-wing nationalist family. The attempted hostile takeover failed, Fidesz is suspended. Clearly the Hungarian ideas of illiberal democracy run in opposition to the core values of the modern EPP. In such an orbanesque version, the People’s Party could accommodate the Matteo Salvini’s La Lega and the Polish Law and Justice (PiS).
However, the Fidesz affair weakens the EPP. There are also those, like Janša, who believe that there should be room for the Hungarian party. But for the Hungarians to be unsuspended, they would have to undo many of their changes. There is also the fear that the Fidesz exit from the EPP could have followers. One EPP member protests: “I absolutely do not believe this. This is a rumour spread by the Orbán supporters. There will be no domino effect“. Hence many delegates do not mind the suspension. A report on what to do with Fidesz may be done in December or maybe in the new year. Donald Tusk says the issue should be solved by the end of January 2020.
There is a wide consensus to reject populism. But there is no consensus on what to offer in return. How to effectively talk to Europeans and address their worries? “We must remain a people’s party,” says new Slovak MEP Vladimír Bilčík. “People demand answers here and now, and the answers to these challenges can only be European,” he continues. Bilčík is a politician with a profile comparable to the Croatian prime minister and host of the summit, Andrej Plenković. Both are in their 40-ties and are building their political position with a strong belief and ownership for the European project. “We are the responsible ones. Everything we propose is put into practice” Sean Kelly adds on this point.
Plans for the future
A sense of responsibility, rejection of populism and building an effective offer for Europeans, this is the plan for the future. The EPP wants to fight back for European values like never before. Especially for the rule of law. One MEP asked to be anonymous when he says: “Fidesz is a virus“.
Climate change is also important. It is impossible to escape from the feeling, however, confirmed by many interlocutors, that the EPP is defensive on the topic. The credibility on the climate issues lies with the Green parties, and to a lesser degree, with the Social-Democrats. In Zagreb the EPP is discussing how to balance the greening of the economy with the jobs and the economic performance. They seek for a golden snitch instead of promoting green innovation, some younger and some more liberal MEPs complain. In this political debate over the greening of the economy the EPP frequently accuse the European Greens of political populism, even if Joseph Daul, the outgoing party leader, says he supports to declare the climate crisis an emergency. Many more conservative EPPers do not like to talk climate, instead some prefer to talk sustainability.
Bilčík and Plenković see the issue of greening of politics in their home countries differently. Bilčík speaks bluntly about his party SPOLU in Slovakia, an EPP member, “We are the Greens of Slovakia“.
New kind of leadership
Against this picture Donald Tusk takes over the leadership of the party. Professor Steven van Hecke of the University of Leuven explains what just happened this way: “It is discontinuity, because this is the first [presidency] from the Central European country, not from the traditional Christian democratic power bases of Western Europe. But it is a continuity, because those power bases do not exist any more since May 2019. The strongholds of EPP are in Central and Eastern Europe, so in that way it is not a coincidence“. This explains the context of the Tusk’s ascent to the EPP power, but “why him”? Professor van Hecke continues: “The former president of the European Council has the authority. He will be more political and the litmus test is Fidesz“.
New stars and parameters of success
In the ocean of sorrow not everything is only negative. The recent successes of the EPP members in Greece (winning against the populist left) and Austria (successfully fighting the populist extreme right) promote the figures of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and former/future Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “The future belongs to them” can be heard when a crowd gathers around Kurz, the “right-wing conqueror”, who, between successive selfies with youth activists and subsequent interviews, tries to rebuild his position in the EPP. Earlier this year Mr Kurz gave up power as a result of a corruption scandal of his far right coalition partner, held the elections and won them decisevely. Mr Kurz is only 33 years old.
Retiring Joseph Daul (72), as well as Donald Tusk who replaces him in a few days, speak of rejuvenation of the EPP leadership. When the important words of the new leader on the defence of European values are spoken on the main stage, one of the EPP activists asserts on a side: “Tusk is a defender of these values” and adds that the success of the new leadership will be measured based on two criteria. First, he expects Fidesz to be removed from the EPP. Second, how aggressively the new EPP leadership will be seeking for new directions for the party and building a “positive agenda”.
Earlier version of this article was published in Polish on Onet.pl
It is 14 September. In a month, on 13 October, Poles will go to the polls to chose their parliament. The Sejm has 460 members and there are 100 Senators. Who will rule Poland for the next four years? What are different political actors fighting for in this elections?
The stakes could not be higher. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) fights to continue to rule alone. The party received 37.6% and a majority in the Sejm last time round. This was possible as the Left failed to meet the 8% threshold for coalitions. The last time turnout was only 51%.
Since Law and Justice took over the government the politics became highly controversial. The opposition accuses the ruling party and the President Andrzej Duda of breaking the Constitution, compromising the independence of judiciary, partisan take over of the public administration and turning the public TV into a propaganda machine propagating hate speech and smear campaigns. At the same time the quality of public education and public healthcare decreases under the PiS rule.
With the use of public money and private money of state-controlled companies the Law and Justice rules with a tactics of carrots and sticks. It introduces massive social policies like the 500 zł payment per child per month. It’s latest reform included payments for all the children, including the first ones. PiS increased the minimal wage from 1750 zł (in 2015) to 2250 zł (in 2019), which is an increase of 29%. In the same period the inflation was minimal. The minimal pension increased by 25% and in 2019 the pensioners received a 13th pension just before the EU vote.
PiS does not rule with a Marianne Williamson’s love message. Au contraire, the politicians of Law and Justice engage in smear campaigns against their opponents, be it political or societal. It is a distant memory today that the 2015 PiS scare tactics against the imaginary migrants coming to Poland was an important element of the victorious campaign. Over the years there were smear campaigns and vilifying against feminists and what PiS calls “gender ideology”, against the judges (with the latest instalment of the Piebiak affair), the handicapped persons, the teachers, the paramedics, the entire opposition, green activists, bikers, vegans and the LGBT community.
Law and Justice does not reach out to the other side. It does not have to. It has a propaganda machine (TV station), where a few days ago in one of the regional studios the PiS rule was debated. Invited guests: PiS politicians only.
PiS has its allies, most notably the Catholic bishops, some of whom have been exposed earlier this year as covering up the paedophilia cases. “The Church is under attack” and PiS is its prime defender.
Among the clergy is Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs his small media empire based on Radio Maryja and receives major subsidies from the state.
Another ally is the legendary Solidarność trade union, which won PiS for their motion to close down shops on Sundays. Ever since this motion was adopted, Solidarność in PiS’ debt. The move, however, remains highly controversial with the general public.
PiS runs to win. It wants to maintain its 230+ seats in the Sejm. It wants to control the Senate. It dreams to reach the 2/3 majority to change the constitution, yet it’s 2015/16 taking over the Constitutional Tribunal has effectively subjected the Tribunal to the political will of the ruling party. As the constitutional majority might be desired, it is not necessary to control the “eradication of post-Communism”, to use the PiS leader’s words.
The Opposition fight for the Senate
In the process PiS win is largely expected (the party is polling 40-45%). The opposition is divided. There are three groups running parallel campaigns: the centrist Citizen Coalition (KO) is the biggest of them, the Left is on the one side of the KO, while on the other is the conservative Polish Coalition (KP) composed of mainly the farmers party PSL, as well as the remnants of anti-system Kukiz’15 and a few liberals of the ALDE member Democratic Party.
The three coalitions agreed to support a team of 99 candidates for the Senate. In the European elections earlier this year they realised that going together they were an easy target for PiS, who was able to play out the internal divisions of the opposition. Then, they hoped to run on a pro-European platform against a Euro-sceptic Law and Justice. PiS adjusted its message, put EU flags everywhere during the campaign, moved the debate to other issues divisive for the opposition and, won.
This time round KO, the Left and KP run separately. Their messages and stakes vary individually. The KO fights PiS and hopes for a majority in the new Sejm of KO-Left-KP. In this process the leader of the KO changed, surprisingly. Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform the party and the entire Coalition announced that the KO candidate for the prime ministership is not him, but Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. The move was a surprise for PiS. The public took the decision with a relief, energising the KO campaign. Ms Kidawa-Błońska is a politician who has not been as vilified by PiS as often as others. Her message is to take a step back from hostilities in the public discourse. KO polls at 22-27%.
The Left coalition is a group of three leaders: Robert Biedroń, MEP and leader of the new party Spring, Włodzimierz Czarzasty of the traditional left-winger SLD and Adrian Zandberg of the Varoufakis-leaning party Razem (Together). Unlike 2015 this time the threshold the Left is facing is 5%. The Left’s fight is to return to the Sejm, from which they have been absent for four years. The Left polls at 11-14%.
Incidentally the next Sejm can see also first Green MPs as the Green politicians are running from the KO list.
The Polish Coalition’s stakes is survival. If PSL fails to enter the Sejm this will be the next step in PiS successful campaign to replace PSL in the Polish countryside. Kukiz’15 failed to win a seat in regional elections in 2018 and in the European elections 2019. Hence Paweł Kukiz decision to enter this coalition. The KP polls at 5-6%.
Collectively the united Opposition knows that it will be difficult to stop PiS from winning the Sejm. They know, however, that the fight for the Senate is open. As there are 100 electoral districts for the Senate and “the winner takes it all” it helps that in 99 of them there is one candidate supported by all three opposition forces. They hope for well over 50 mandates.
In some districts there are independent candidates, too, so the vote is not PiS-Opposition always.
The other opposition
The Confederacy of ex-MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is also in the mix. Their message is anti-system and openly adversary towards minorities and foreigners. This far-right group polls at up to 6%.
PiS Electoral Offer: minimal wage at 900 Euro
Knowing that PiS carrots and sticks approach works, in this campaign the ruling party politicians demonise LGBT people, portray themselves as defenders of a traditional family, and have a new social offer.
Jarosław Kaczyński says that PiS will raise the minimal wage from the current 2250 zł to 4000 zł (equivalent of 900 Euro in today’s money) by the end of next parliamentary term. The country debates now how realistic his plans are for the state budget and for the economy, over all. Will this move force the companies to modernise? Will it mean that Poles move to the grey economy? What about inflation? Etc. The Polish average salary in 2019 is about 1,150 Euro, yet the median salary is at 980 Euro, and the dominant salary at 580 Euro (current minimal wage, 2250 zł is about 520 Euro).
The political wars are best for politicians and political commentators. The society is interested in something else.
As divided the Poles might seem between the Law and Justice and the opposition, there is a general agreement on what the Polish society next goal is. This goal is taking the society out of a transition fatigue, many argue the society was caught up with in the first half of the current decade (Tusk II government and its famous inertia). PiS divisive rule has mobilised a society on both sides of the public discourse to realise who they are and what they want.
In the process PiS kills the political inertia. Poles broke the national records in regional elections last year as well as this year’s European vote. The October 2019 turnout should be significantly higher that 51% four years ago.
So, what do Poles want?
The Poles want their welfare state. PiS is the first party to realise this dream and tries to make it happen. The PiS rule thus far was concentrated on assisting the groups underprivileged in transformation since 1989: undereducated, less mobile, workers in smaller towns, unemployed, technologically and territorially marginalised, and the farmers.
PiS might be blind, or slow to realise that the underprivileged are also the women on the labour market, the handicapped and their families, and other groups who have taken to the streets in recent years. Yet for time being the focus is on forging this new welfare state. Not for everybody, but definitely for “the Polish family”. And it works, at least at the level of public support.
This is why PiS is popular. PiS aspires to the inner dreams of Poles and tells them “it can happen”. PiS also says: “the alien, the different, the migrant, the non-believer is a threat to you, to the Church, to Poland. You are a Polish family and you are who and what we worship”.
A populist is a politician who does not recognise the power of nuance. Who says “good” and “bad” without seeing the details. As much as this can be understood in a campaign mode, it is unacceptable in governance. PiS is a populist party.
But the populist party argues the same way as the European Commission: for the ex-post legitimacy. What does it mean? “We deliver”, says PiS.
Will they deliver the 900 Euro minimal wage, 13th and 14th pension, as scheduled?
Or, will they fail to see the detail? Economy might be growing, but the inflation of daily products is noticeable in recent weeks. Education is a key for economic growth, too. Instead of improving the quality of schooling, schools are now politically indoctrinated and mid-schools operate in logistical chaos. Healthcare waits to be financed. And there is all this rule of law debacle, the issue which is minor for the elections, but a major issue to rule the country effectively in the future.
Krzysztof Szczerski announces he will not be a Commissioner in the Ursula von der Leyen Commission. The reason for his resignation is the portfolio. He was offered the agriculture dossier. “In politics one has to be honest. If there is an option to have an agriculture commissioner for Poland, and I have never dealt with agriculture, I think it is honest to withdraw and give the position to someone who is competent”, said Mr Szczerski on Monday, 26 August 2019.
The new candidate for the Agricultural Commissioner is Janusz Wojciechowski, a member of the European Court of Auditors, a long-time MEP (2004-2016). Mr Wojciechowski at one point was a leader of the Polish People’s Party, the agrarian force in Polish politics. He has joined the Law and Justice (PiS) in 2010.
Meanwhile back to Mr Szczerski’s book…
Mr Szczerski analyses in his 2017 book European Utopia the key political trends that have been unfolding in the European Union since the economic crisis in its variety of angles.
For Mr Szczerski the key processes are: first, the increased competition within the EU and globally. This is a competition between states and regions, as well as economic sectors. Second, the hegemony in Europe of certain larger states. And third, the progressing disintegration with the concentration of the policy around the Eurozone (sic!), which Mr Szczerski calls “super-euro”. This includes the early 2010s discussions about the so-called “economic governance” of the Eurozone.
Mr Szczerski argues he is supportive of the “common European good”, which is threatened by those three parallelly advancing processes. “There are symptoms of the birth of the competition-dominating system in the European Union, in which some countries of a reduced political and economic clout remain permanently on a side of a mainstream politics“.
The warning of Mr Szczerski is that domination of the big changes the rules of the intergovernmental play with EU cohesion and EU equality being compromised. “Poland, the PiS Europeanist writes, has every right to keep its currency if it considers that it is beneficialfor the countryand with keeping the złoty there should be no limitations of the EU membership rights”.
The process of growing dominationis related to the re-nationalisation of policies, that is protection of national interests and interests of national actors from competition of other countries, including protection from EU rules, for example, the competition policy rules.
What is progress?
Mr Szczerski loves semantics. He dwells on differentiation between the single and internal market, but when it comes to the EU treaties preamble talk of an economic and social progress, Mr Szczerski adds “whatever that means“.
The EU treaties, according to Mr Szczerski, are a solid ground for developing a social model of a welfare state, not the liberal vision of the Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech. Mr Szczerski sees a conflict here: “rather, it is a vision close to leftist sensitivity which recognizes the welfare state’s social model as part of European identity and heritage, trying to appropriate social sensitivity, whose roots lie in the Christian canon of values and the concept of social order“. Mr Szczerski is back to his identity politics, as presented beforetwice.
Mr Szczerski proves that in fact, the EU is a leftist project, since it aims to sustain the welfare state, supports redistribution, and praises an open society. He calls the left-wing values “pseudo-values” like the European social model, focus on the citizen, human development, etc. He concludes, those pseudo-values “which serve creation of a utopian European society“.
Europe’s economic integration
Mr Szczerski rightly historically argues there were three components necessary in the development of the European economic unity: internal market, unified external trade policy and a system of regulatory institutions.
The second element, the trade policy, is not that controversial. The problems are elsewhere. Especially in the understanding of a single market. Mr Szczerski: “when two Europeans say ‘market’, it does not mean they think the same thing” and argues differences between the internal, common, single and free market. Internal market implies protectionism and protective barriers against imported goods. Commonmarket follows the logic of removal of obstacles between EU nations. Single market is about a supranational regulation including political strategies and standard-setting norms. Free market is, according to the author, a key term, yet forgotten and marginalised to a sectoral meaning of liberalisation of economic exchange.
All this meander of understandings of a market boils down to two approaches: you create a market by taking down obstacles to trade, or by building up a cohesive market. Mr Szczerski argues, that a diversified European market needs different approaches. There are weaker states and weaker economies in the EU. “Such a ‘free’ market led to bankruptcy of the Gdańsk Shipyard in Poland, because the state was not allowed – in the name of the free market – to intervene or help the periodically weakened corporation“.
The first approach is deregulation, Thatcher-like. The second approach is regulatory. In the multi-levelled governance of the Union, Mr Szczerski concludes that the EU has a tendency to create new institutions (agencies), when “more could be achieved with cooperation of national actors”
The chapter “Power and market” is concluded by a critical statement about the European federalists who, according to the author, fail. They tend to continue to argue for “more Europe”, even if the societies tend to reject the federalist offers. Mr Szczerski offers four pre-conditions, “four elements” of the EU integration process:
The will of member states to fulfil obligations and to respect the rule of equality of member states in the Union;
The capacity of the European Commission to prepare concrete coordination proposals according to the regulatory scheme;
The position of the European Parliament, which tends to politicise the economic governance of the EU;
The will of the Europeans, who tend to support a closer economic coordination.
And, there should never be “no alternative” solutions. There are always alternatives, writes the ex-Commissioner-candidate.
First of all, the position of an agricultural commissioner was offered to Mr Szczerski, not to Poland. Maybe it was offered precisely in order for Mr Szczerski to withdraw? I hope this issue is further investigated with Ms von der Leyen in the future.
Will it be easy for Mr Wojciechowski? It remains to be seen. No PiS candidate will have it easy in the European Parliament. Apparently Mr Wojciechowski confirmation for the Court of Auditors back in 2016 was not smooth, and the Parliament did not recommend him; except for the final decision was with the Council.
As for the book, I largely agree with Mr Szczerski economic and political analysis, except for the obvious: Mr Szczerski asks for values which are there, or if they once were there and are no longer there, it is not that those values can be reinstalled with an institutional change. If there is an undertone, according to which Poland is not respected today in the EU, it is not because of the Franco-German domination in the Union. Just look to Cyprus for the EU policy on Turkey. Just look to Ireland for the EU policy on Brexit. The Polish government can learn a lot not only from the larger nations of the Union. Actually it can learn a lot also from the smaller and more effective nations out there.
There are reasons why Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia adopted the euro as their currency.
PiS problems in the Union, in the Council and the Parliament, are not coming out of disrespect for Poland. They come from the alienation and disrespect this party and its members have for their European partners. Mr Szczerski writes “progress, whatever that means” dismissively. He argues the EU is left-leaning. But he cannot – or does not want to – see all the elements of the right-wing in the system. Mr Szczerski accuses the EU of exactly the opposite of what the French far-left is accusing it of not being. According to them, the EU is a liberal instrument of globalisation dismantling the French welfare.
So, what is the EU? As Mr Szczerski argues, a left-liberal conspiracy, or as Mr Melanchon? The latter argued earlier this year there is a Macron-Orban axis and a German CDU diktat that should be removed….
Maybe, only maybe the EU is a compromise? An inclusive compromise of those who can identify themselves in the final product. All views contributing are welcome from the start, and – according to the latest figures it takes 20 months on average to legislate in the Union – over the next following year and half a compromise is gradually worked out. Across the political views, across the national and sectoral interests, respecting the European interest as proposed by the Commission.
And as such a compromise you can either identify yourself in it, especially if you are a stateman, or you chose not to do this, and to argue that the entire project is hostile, has been hijacked by the other side.
Maybe the Gdańsk shipyard bankruptcy was a mistake. Maybe the Commission should be more accommodating. I don’t know. But I do know that the Polish government was able to save the Polish air carrier LOT when it had its difficult days, with the support of the European Commission. During the same period the Hungarian air carrier Malev went out of the market. So maybe, just maybe, not all is down to the good and the bad, but also to the skills of national negotiators? Mr Orban government was unable to save the airline. Mr Tusk was able to save the Polish airline. All Italian governments were able to argue in defence of Alitalia.
I love that Mr Szczerski finally acknowledges the Europeans are a force in the European decision making. It is an obvious that those four elements (Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and the Citizens) have to converge for anything like re-writing of EU treaties to happen. But sometimes it is a relief just to have a confirmation that we walk the same planet. At least sometimes.
Mr Szczerski asks a genuinely good question: “what can we teach our friends from other Union states, especially those of its core” and gives three answers.
Poland defends Europe
First, the Polish political choices have impacted not only the fate of Poland, but also, “the shape of Europe“. In this perspective Mr Szczerski draws attention to the 1683 Vienna siege and asks “what would happen if the Polish king Jan III Sobieski would not decide to go to rescue Vienna in 1683 from an Islamic onslaught“?
The other examples used refer to the Polish defence of Europe against the Tatars in 1241 and the Soviets in 1920. Mr Szczerski concludes: “We need to remind the Western countries […] what has been the role played by Poland on our continent“.
There are two reflections of the author in this context. First, “a good policy is the one which allows for making choices which do not incapacitate us“. Second, “Poland is the country which over the centuries in reality has made fundamental choices alone for itself as well as for the whole of Europe“. Surely, there were mistakes along the way, too, admits Mr Szczerski. There is an important warning: “when Poland was deprived of the choice by the external powers, or it has deprived itself of the choice, or when it has led an unthinking or a subordinate policy vis-a-vis other capitals, it would lose its resources and its own subjectivity. Europe would lose out too, as it would lead to much greater crises later, on a continental scale“.
Poland’s sovereign choice is one of the very important stabilising elements of our continent.
Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia 2017
Free Poland = Free Europe
The second historical conclusion of Mr Szczerski is that the history of Poland is the history of freedom. “Poland was free when freedom ruled Europe“, and subordination of Poland effectively means a domination of larger nations. When Poland was not free, in late 18th and 19th centuries, many others suffered, writes the Commissioner-appointee, including the Belgians and the Italians.
The Polish freedom is linked with the European freedom, but one should not “confuse freedom with frolics and lawlessness“.
Lesson number three relates to historical identity. “Polish history is a history of a community connected by culture, identity, values and traditions originating from the Christian fundament“.
Mr Szczerski writes that today’s Europe “has a fundamental problem with its own identity, its own civilisation, when it turns itself into a post-cultural, post-civilizational or post-identity conglomerate of some undefined forces and processes“. If Europe is truly lost, it can survive only if one relates to the identity. In fact, Mr Szczerski argues, a community can survive only when “the community roots are deeper than just ad hoc business, political identity, economic wealth or opportunistic choices of being politically correct. Only deep roots give a guarantee of long lasting.”
There are three elements Mr Szczerski would like to upload as Polish experiences into the European political dimension: the issue of choice, the issue of freedom and the issue of a culture based on centuries-old values. “If those three things we could merge today for the sake of Europe, it would truly become a different political community“.
I truly agree with the sentiment of Mr Szczerski when it comes to freedom: what freedom is and what freedom is not and that the value of freedom is important to Poles. Freedom, however, is not only a freedom of a nation from a foreign oppression. Individual freedoms matter! Personal freedoms are relevant. The European and, wider, the Western thinking about liberties has massively advanced since 1945. Today human rights are part of the Western understanding of freedom.
In a way it is amazing how simplistic the historical analysis of Mr Szczerski is. It does not include the centuries old tradition of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation. In fact, the fact that some 97% of citizens of Poland are “ethnic Poles” is a historical anomaly for Poland. Poles do not have a concept of an ethnic Pole like many other European nations do. Poles are those who speak the language, said the 1931 census. It was a linguistic category, not an ethnic one.
I am missing also the reference to the Second World War. There would be no European Union without the War. In Poland the WWII is considered “the War” and not to draw lessons from it seems to be a major omission. The War changed Poland: its borders were moved, its citizens were killed or relocated. It’s cities were deplored and the country was in ruins. All that was locked under a Communist freezer; the historical debates only resurface post-1989. As the War’s fallout all the minorities disappeared. A third of Polish citizens before the War was not “Polish”, but Ukrainian, German, Jewish, Dutch, Scottish, Czech, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Russian, Armenian or another. Poland was a melting pot the same way the Austro-Hungarian empire was a melting pot of nations. It was not a paradise, there were many problems of the day, but the multi-culti was the norm. The mono-culti is an abnormality, for Poland, too, Mr Szczerski.
I am also missing nuance in Mr Szczerski analysis. As much as Poland cherishes its freedom many Poles tend to forget that our freedom is not exactly someone else’s freedom. See Lithuanians for it, and their experience, their reading of what a “free Poland” means: occupation and often a forced Polonisation. Yes, Poles were subjects to Germanisation under Bismarck, but similar processes took place against other nations. When General Żeligowski entered Vilnius in 1920 what exactly did his army mean by “freedom”? Or, was it more politics with fait accompli as the international politics of the day were still largely based on rude power?
Maybe this is why Europeans decided to draw a line making a distinction and a decision: we focus on the future, because the past can divide us as easily as before? We need to build trust between Europeans before we build fences between us.
I do not share Mr Szczerski reflection that Europe’s doomed because it lost its identity. Who am I to tell others they lost their identity?
I do agree, however, that the political community of Europe is something important. It should be built and developed further, in a constructive way, even if the Commissioner-to-be does not like the approach.
I hope for his perspective to be included in the European political discourse. It is an important input, but to preclude it is the only one correct is too much, it is presumptive, and as such, offensive to others.
An open, tolerant, culturally and religiously diverse Poland is the true nature of this smiling country. Not the grey mono-religious and a righteous perspective of some Poles. In order to be inclusive I shall say that both versions, or all versions of a complex and multi-dimentional Poland should be included in the statement of Mr Szczerski: “More of Poland means more of Europe“.
Poland is in the middle of the national political campaign. The ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), enjoys a 40-45% support, has chosen its lists of candidates for the Sejm who are spread around the country campaigning. In the meantime the opposition parties only finish up deciding their lists of candidates. Their campaign is rather reactive to the PiS campaign. They are about two weeks behind the ruling party.
As for the main topic of the campaign, it seems PiS is able to close the flights scandal of the ex-Speaker of the Sejm with no major loss of the public support. The PiS campaign is largely focused on defending the national values. Apparently the Church and the Polish moral values are under threat.
Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, sums best his and his party position on the LGBT rights. On Sunday Mr Kaczyński at a local rally in Zbuczyn, Eastern Poland, is asked what he intends to do about the so-called equality parades. Equality parades are Polish equivalent of the gay prides elsewhere. On Saturday another march takes place in Płock, a city of 120 thousand people. In early July there are riots in Białystok with far right hooligans attacking the equality parade. Mr Kaczyński response leaves some people jaws-dropped while others hear confirmation of their deepest fears:
You know, the problem is, if it was up to me, it would be simple. My late brother, a Varsovian, when he was a mayor of Warsaw, he banned it. But here it is about the EU rules. They will repeal our bans. The courts will also repeal, because the courts are completely influenced by this ideology. This has to be done differently, calmly limit it. In such a way that it does not destroy the Polish culture or damage the Polish Church. And we will fight for it
Jarosław Kaczyński, 11 August 2019
Why are my jaws dropped? According to the most powerful person in Poland:
Human rights are irrelevant.
Rights of people belonging to minorities are irrelevant.
Right to protest should be limited.
There is a Polish national Church.
This Polish Church is under attack from the LGBT ideology.
Independent judiciary is a threat. It is influenced by the LGBT ideology.
There is a conspiracy between the EU and LGBT and the judiciary against the Polish culture and the Polish Church.
Mayor Lech Kaczyński banned the Warsaw Equality Parade in 2005 and that was a good thing. Quick fact check: Poland was an EU member already. EU laws applied. Polish Constitutional applied – on the basis of the Polish Constitution that ban was considered unlawful in 2006. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (not an EU body) considered the ban illegal in 2007.
The cover up of paedophilia among the Polish priests is not an issue worth paying attention to.
Jarosław Kaczyński has a history of anti-LGBT statements. He seems to believe there is an LGBT ideology and he calls it evil.
This is scary for LGBT people, for an average hooligan does not distinguish the nuance between the “LGBT ideology” and “LGBT affirmation”, and for an average hooligan a gay person is gay. Not Polish, not Catholic. A threat to the national culture and national religion. The Polish leader is feeding the violent radicals who take to the streets against the minority that is demonised. The minority which without the PiS demonisation already witnesses a mountain to climb to be a contributing member of the society. One study has shown that 70% of Polish LGBT youth has suicidal thoughts and half – suffers of depression.
Krzysztof Szczerski is a candidate for the position of a Commissioner in the College of Ursula von der Leyen. Earlier this week there was a meeting between the nominee and the Commission President. The only relevant information Mr Szczerski shared after the meeting is that he has signalled his interest in an economic portfolio. No decision has been taken.
Divided Europe forgets its roots
Back to his 2017 book “European Utopia” where Mr Szczerski explores the roots of the European Crisis. He offers an interesting and original take on what the European Union is. It is a practical-spiritual integration that has been based on practical cooperation and Christian values. Mr Szczerski argues that the integration has an original flaw in its construction: the limitation of the integration to a few Western European countries and the approbation of “the brutal and unnatural division of Europe into two hostile parts“, with the Central and Eastern European part of the continent left behind the Iron Curtain. “When one side of a plant is permanently in the shade, while the other side has access to the light, both of them grow in an unnatural way – one is poor, the other one extensively exuberant – the entire system loses its harmony“. Mr Szczerski empathically remarks “both sides of the Iron Curtain were victims of the division (…) since both parts were separated from each other“.
This unnatural situation results with the Eastern Europe economically underdeveloped and Western Europe alienated. The year 1989 and the new opening is not “optimally used” for reunification of the divided continent, according to Mr Szczerski. The stereotypes of Central and Eastern Europeans among the Western European political elites dominate the approach. In consequence, “they strived for simple domination over the backward Eastern countries and their economies. This was called the need of westernisation of the Central and Eastern Europe, what effectively was to be a repetition of the East German take over by West Germany“. That process has an important side-effect: “the contempt for the Eastern Germans, the Ossi“, among the Western Germans.
The spiritual element evaporates over the years: “Western Europe that we’ve met in 1989 was becoming a different continent, in which the public life was based on new, fully secularised rules“.
The Western European material domination over Central Europe results in unnatural relationship, in which the “external domination, for example in terms of owning business, or the unfavourable conditions (for us) of the opening of our national markets for Western corporations, which had very strong bargaining positions. This frequently led to market disorders, and in some areas even to practical elimination of home companies“. Mr Szczerski contradicts this reality with early days of integration: “the inivial historical project assumed respect” no matter if the country was Luxembourg or France. “Then, the base of relations between the integrating states were the Christian values“. In 1989 and today it is no longer the case.
Mr Szczerski concludes this part of history: “even if according to me the European integration has never taken the optimal developmental shape, the presence of Poland in this process is essential“.
Poland needs free and stable Europe of equal states and free nations.
Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia, 2017
Mr Szczerski’s key disillusionment is in the reality of the year 1989. This is when “the chance to rebuild the true European unity was lost“, because the West forgets its Christian values. There is a general happiness that dictators of Eastern Europe are gone, but there as an accompanying fear. The West is worried about the “backwardness” of the new democracies and their alleged nationalism and social conservatism. There are also the material worries of “flooding of the West with hordes of hungry workers (better version) or simply – thieves (worse version)“.
The Western fear results, according to Mr Szczerski, with a policy of re-education: “immediate buying out of the media and giving them a liberal-left profile as well as creation and financing of all sorts of foundations and educational centres of so-called new elites. Education obviously in one binding meaning of political correctness“.
Mr Szczerski says that the Central Europeans are considered “barbarians” and this is so unfair “when Europe is currently flooded with a true uncontrolled wave of migrants that is endangering its security, and caused by the very same politicians of the same countries who used to scare their citizens with Poles or Hungarians“.
I wonder if according to Mr Szczerski the 2015 and later waves of migrants pouring into Europe constitute a “flood of barbarians”, since he uses the term.
In his analysis of Western Europe losing touch with its own religious past Mr Szczerski turns to the social turmoil of 1968: Europe “turned more and more, for a long time, and especially since the social revolution of 1968, to the left. The turn was exacerbated in many Western European countries after the government positions were filled by politicians, who once were the revolted ‘children’ actively participating in the 1967-68 student protests“.
The 1968 revolution was not a generational conflict, it was a “clash of ways of life and a vision of social peace“.
The constructivist virus
Mr Szczerski is not a fan of social constructivism. In short, this approach mean that societies are social constructs, not a result of long historical processes. The Commissioner-to-be writes it this way: “so you can imagine creation of a multi-culti society and accordingly, systematically make it real and develop through children education, adult propaganda, through correctly chosen instruments of mixing human groups“. According to Mr Szczerski this is an EU policy: “step by step complete rebuilding of the social environment of the European policy” and many Europeans are terrified as they are “unable to identify themselves in this modern reality” and argues for return to roots.
The only way forward, writes Mr Szczerski, “to reintegrate Europe […] is a return to the source of our identity, to the core of European culture, distorted by the constructivist projects (like the gender ideology[…]).”
Krzysztof Szczerski says that social constructivism is used in European policy to create “a new economy” which rejects the free market economy. The free market approach Mr Szczerski supports is effectively deregulation and removal of market obstacles and creation of incentives for economic exchange.
Yet, Mr Szczerski argues, with time this original free market approach was compromised with the regulatory framework. The most relevant elements, that is the “financial mechanisms supporting the poorest EU regions (structural funds) and extended protection of competitiveness preventing monopolies” are supported by Mr Szczerski. However, the “constructivist virus” entered the free market, and “single market” is on the increase: “the more regulated the market, the more room for corruption and competition manipulation. A true competition is gone. This is one of the reasons for stagnation“. He notes cynically, “for the bureaucratic regulatory mind there are no cordons“.
The economic integration is “in the phase of advanced constructivism“. Mr Szczerski is not a fan of the Eurozone: “Project Euro […] has no basis in the economic reality” and “the Eurozone is condemned for permanent instability that can be mitigated, but not liquidated“.
According to Mr Szczerski the Eurozone is impossible, hence the ECB “has to take decisions serving the interests of a few at the same time trying to hurt the others as little as possible. The strongest come out of the process as winners“, hence the Eurozone is based “at the expense” of the needs of the economies outside of the decision-making centre.
His idea for renewal of Europe is to create a common, not single market. Deregulation is the key in this process.
As for the Eurozone, Mr Szczerski would like to keep the zone open, “but not mandatory, as it is today de facto. Maybe even gentle ways of leaving the Eurozone by some countries should be considered.“
Mr Szczerski says that Eurozone own budget is “the easiest way to a Europe of two speeds, hence practically, to final break off of the community“. The alternative is “to subject oneself to the euro hegemony and related regulations that are not beneficiary for countries like Poland“. In other words, Euro accession.
It is an interesting way of looking at the way European integration between the Western and Eastern parts was truly an expansion. 12 countries joined the Union in 2004. The Union that pre-existed for a number of years. It has been a long Polish belief that even if this was an accession, what really happened in 2004 was a reunification of Europe.
The debate on accession or reunification is relevant in the context of ownership for the project, if not for what Mr Szczerski argues – economic advantages of certain economies. Poles do not share the ownership for the European project, at least Mr Szczerski clearly does not. It is important to point out that Mr Szczerski in his analysis finds only problems (secularism) in Western Europe and no problem in Central and Eastern Europe (the shaded part of the plant) were analysed between 1945 and 1989. As if those societies did not undergo any relevant evolution in their own right.
I agree with Mr Szczerski that there are many Western Europeans who are sceptical of the Eastern Europeans. Isn’t this our task to eradicate the sentiment? Over the years there are fewer of them. Elections of Jerzy Buzek (EP President, 2009) or of Donald Tusk (European Council President, 2014) help the process. If the sceptics are back on the increase – maybe it is because of the policies of governments like the one Mr Szczerski is backing. Still, over the years the fears and scepticism are rather going away, and it is the Poles and Romanians, who en masse travel abroad for work, who create new opinions about our nations among other Europeans. The most important quantification in this regard is that there is no one “Poland”, “Romania” or “France” and in each and every society there are different people of different skills and qualities.
And this is a constructivist approach, too: we are constructing the perception of the Poles and of Poland. A complete rejection of constructivism is a rejection of the European integration at its core. The very Christian first leaders, Fathers of European integration who Mr Szczerski values so much, were not only deeply rooted in their religion, nation-states, but they knew that the future is in the hands of men. Robert Schuman in his Declaration writes: “Europe will not be made all at once“. Be made. “It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity“. Built.
Supranational character of the Union is from the start, not from after 1968.
Regulatory approach of the Union is from the start (regulate the coal and steel market), not from after 1968.
Over-regulation is a good objective; PM Cameron of UK and PM Rutte of the Netherlands even performed audits seeking similar results “what should be deregulated at the EU level from the national perspective”. Outcome of those reports were unimpressive for the populists.
It is easy, overly easy, populist maybe even, to argue that “Europe over-regulates” for each time it regulates it does so with the countries on board. And the citizens.
Maybe this is the problem: Mr Szczerski portrays himself as a political conservative thinker and politician who would like to associate himself with the likes of Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer, but the policies of his government and his political party are not only conservative, but also populist. They seek enemy, they need enemy to thrive and build support. They criticise constructivism in Europe, yet they do the same in Poland – use constructivism to raise a new generation of Poles deeply rooted in history and national narrative – this is, after all, the objective of the Law and Justice educational reform. A constructivist approach.
It is worrisome Mr Szczerski, the Commissioner-to-be does not knowthe difference between de iure and de facto. Poland is under obligation de iure to join the Eurozone, not de facto.
Clearly Mr Szczerski does not recognise the benefits of the Eurozone membership for the smaller nations. Maybe the Baltics’ and the Slovaks’ arguments and advice should be revisited as I am sure they had their reasons to take a decision “contrary to their national interests”, according to Mr Szczerski.
And this simplification… all of the West is liberal and left-leaning, all of Poland is socially conservative… Those presumptions are simple speaking, wrong.
I do agree that there are three ways forward for Poland: in the Eurozone, with the EU broken from inside by the Eurozone budget, or by muddling through as today. There is a chance for this choice to be relegated to irrelevant, but it would require for a series of bold decisions to be made. The true question is not how to avoid forcing Poland into the Eurozone but how to maximize the benefits of Eurozone accession for economic growth and political security.
Krzysztof Szczerski, the Commissioner-nominee for the Ursula von der Leyen Commission, published a book in 2017 entitled “European Utopia“. I am reading it for you. Today’s part: “Europe without a soul is dead“.
According to Mr Szczerski the European identity is based on Christianity. He seeks a special role for the Poles: “we have a special role to play and we should not run away from it or abandon it due to political correctness or fear generated by the media“.
“Many countries await for us, for the fatherland of saint John Paul II, to lead the way. The way leading to a spiritual unity, to respect of fatherlands and tradition. We are predestined to play the role not only because we gave the great son of our nation John Paul II, the saint pope, to the world“, writes the Commissioner-to-be in 2017, “we are predestined because of our geographical location and our territorial and demographic potential“.
Mr Szczerski refers to the Polish in-built dilemma: it is a much smaller country than the larger nations in the EU, but it is equally much bigger than the mid-sized nations of the EU: “We do not threaten anybody: we can’t dominate the small, we can’t knock down the big. Nobody should be afraid of us. This is our great asset“.
He cherishes the European identity based on diversity, but rejects the Brussels bureaucracy attempts to replace it: “One should not be told that the Brussels bureaucracy, due to its international, or, better said, cosmopolitan character, is able to replace the true European identity“.
“The Noah’s days” means a situation in which life goes as usual, but there is a major event in sight only Noah knows about and is preparing for. The biblical Noah was preparing for the biblical Flood. Mr Szczerski writes: “Europe we got used to know might truly disappear flooded by mighty waves“, and continues: “[Europe] may disappear if it continues to deliver ‘the European utopia’ over the real needs of nations and the continent’s nations“.
Europe needs renewal. The rules of this renewal should be: “freedom of nations, equality of states, unity of the continent and a base in its centuries-developed identity“.
There is a special role for Poland in this “Europe of the future“. Why? “Poles, in their majority, are a nation who is at the same time attached to its sovereignty and understands the value of having their own state, and at the same time support the membership in the European family“. Mr Szczerski rejects the opposition between “integrationists” and “souverenists“. “It is not true, that if you are a supporter of the integration you have to sign up to the camp advocating the European utopia, which preaches that national state is evil and should be abolished and replaced by a European federal superstate. This vision is one of the most dangerous concepts of the European utopia.”
Mr Szczerski rightly concludes, “it is possible to maintain independence, that is self-reliance and subjectivity, while being part of a common Europe“. Only that, he argues, “this Europe needs to act differently and leave the road of a dangerous utopia, and our state needs to be more effective, more honest and positioned to service the needs of citizens“.
Mr Szczerski writes of the Poland-led coalition, “community of aspirations” between the Baltic, Adriatic and the Black seas. This is a group of nations “who still wants”, as they seek to catch up the economic development from the old days Communist past. The group is composed of nations who are competitive, ambitious and fight hidden protectionism. Many people have left the region, but as the process is negative, at the same time “it shows the dynamics of our, Central and Eastern European societies“. The same applies to CEE scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers.
This dynamism is not in contradiction to traditional values. “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“, argues Mr Szczerski and attacks: “different actors have thrown enormous resources and measures trying to impose a model of modernization by eradication, suggesting this is the common and biding trend, some sort of ‘social physics law’ that should not be debated. In order to be modern one needs to be a multicultural, atheist, devoid of family ties and a very morally loose society“. Mr Szczerski claims that this approach has “almost entire media dominance” to promote such behaviour. He is proud that “most Poles are not convinced” and “their European utopia loses with the Polish attachment to traditions and values” to conclude “our social model is the future of Europe, if it chooses to survive“.
Europe must feel internally strong with its civilisation and its dynamism. Like Poland does.
Krzysztof Szczerski, “The European Utopia”, 2017
I agree with Mr Szczerski that there is no contradiction between being pro-European and being a proud citizen of Poland. One does not exclude the other. But I do not see the Brussels-imposed unilateralism that Mr Szczerski calls “European utopia”. I do not see the multicultural imposition of values such as openness and inclusiveness at the expense of traditional values.
Quite to the contrary, the diverse Europe embraces traditions. Europe cherishes and supports cultural events and traditions. Europe respects the member states’ individuality and uniqueness.
I also agree when Mr Szczerski writes, “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“. But there is a contradiction in what Mr Szczerski is arguing: on the one hand he advocates for the diversity, but at the same time he seeks for a promotion of traditional Christian values in places where those values are no longer relevant. Why is it not fair to promote atheist values in Poland while it is fair and desired to promote religious values outside of Poland?
He plays into the Polish tradition of seeing Poland as a country with a special historical mission. Poles are taught to believe that about four hundred years ago Poland was the ultimate defender of Christendom against the Ottoman invasion. Again it defended the free world against the Soviet invasion in 1920. This perspective has a name: it’s called “messianism”.
Does Europe need a messiah as a Commissioner?
I may be short-sighted and not see the upcoming Flood. Yet, somehow I cannot escape a thought that if Europe was doomed it was not because of its (lack of) religiosity, but because of climate change.
Mr Szczerski rightly points to the threats of a European super-state, as advocated by some. Ulrike Guerot wrote a book about it: Why Europe Must Become a Republic! A Political Utopia, and the two use the same word. Ms Guerot argues in favour of a European superstate. Mr Szczerski is fundamentally opposed. The two agree: this is a utopia, a dream, NOT a reality. It is strange that Ms Guerot is not quoted once in Mr Szczerski book. What an omission!
Mr Szczerski is not trying to distinguish between the European federalists, some of whom advocate for a European state, and the majority of European federalists, who simply stand by the “ever closer Union”. Here’s a link to what the mainstream European federalists think: they advocate for a Federal Political Union, not a state. They seek policy integration in fiscal and economic policies, in justice and home, migration and asylum policies, in completing the single market. More on the European Federalists here.
I am unsure if this “community of aspirations” truly exits. To put all the countries known as “the new member states” is a risky business. They are as diverse as they come. Estonia and Czechia are among the most secular and least religious nations in Europe. Hungarians are angry with their neighbours, Czechs and Slovaks are not depopulating, unlike Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic nations. Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are in the Eurozone, and Bulgaria and Croatia would like to join it. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia remain outside of the Schengen system. On top, Etc. Etc. Etc.
What does exist is the Three Seas Initiative, since 2016. It is a useful instrument complementary to the European policy of the 12 states. It is political, diplomatic and no alternative to the EU. Clearly the 12 participating EU nations (CEE and Austria) have certain joint interests steaming from the geographical closeness. It is positive Jean-Claude Juncker attended two of those summits. It is important to know that the Americans (Donald Trump attended once) and the Chinese (present at the initial event in Dubrovnik in 2016) are also watching.
Still, as much as the Three Seas Initiative is there, I am quite sure this is not an alternative to the European Union. It could be a useful complementation of the EU membership.
As regards the clash of values in Poland today, between the traditional values and more liberal values, in relation to the role of women, LGBT rights, equality, discrimination, place of religion in the society, etc. this is not some sort of a liberal, conspiracy imposed clash. This conflict is domestic and is serious. It is between various groups of Poles who think differently. Should the religiousness in Poland be on a decrease (it is not) it is not because of some external-led campaign. There is no such campaign. The diversity of Poles is growing. Simply there are people asking for their rights to be respected by the ruling party which stigmatises minorities by instigating the public majority against them.
And no, majority of the media is not anti-traditional. It so happens, Mr Szczerski, that when Law and Justice overtakes a certain medium (TVP, Polish Radio), its viewership or listenership or readership radically decreases. It does not mean that liberals have an upper hand. It means the liberal media are more popular to read, listen to and watch.
In 2017 Krzysztof Szczerski publishes his monumental book on Europe. It is called “European Utopia” and is not popular with the academics or the public in Poland, but is an important manifestation of the views of the leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician. Some even consider him an ideologue of the PiS Europe standing.
The book begins with a Prologue, “Noah’s Days”. According to the author Europe today is a witness of a major change that not everybody is able to see. Mr Szczerski writes: “Before our eyes a certain pattern of the European states integration comes to an end; and rather its formula that has dominated the community policy at the highest point of integration. This highest phase I consider wrong and this is why I am not worried about its end. I would like, however, for us to understand the sense of the end of this period of integration, and use the opportunity of a wave of changes correctly for Poland’s benefit, our neighbours and the whole of Europe. We can impact the shape of European policy so that this policy regains once lost impetus and attractiveness for its citizens“.
Mr Szczerski embraces diversity, but warns: “the European integration retreats on all fronts, and the political elites of the European core have no answer, and what is more, they deepen the crises with some of their decisions and create new causes of crises“. The key problem is that “Brussels is detached from the life of an average European as never before, and at the same time it tries to interfere into the daily lives of a European citizen with its decisions“. Mr Szczerski calls it a European paradox.
At the same time, Mr Szczerski’s Europe is “a voluntary community created by free nations and equal states” where the EU institutions “should play only the servant’s role to member states“. The author likes the subsidiarity principle, that is the “foundation of the system” of the EU.
“The European policy begins with democratic governments of member states and they are the source of original validity; only with the agreement of those national communities the supranational institutions and policies can function. Never other way round. The EU institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament can never be the source of their own power and decision-making empowerment. They cannot create new power out of nothing, that is with their own decisions or own competence-demanding actions. This is why the Commission cannot one day announce, according to the spirit of the Union treaties, that it has a right to dictate internal decisions on, for example, the constitutional judiciary in one of its member states, since no state has ever transferred such competences“.
It is the states who are at the source of all decision making. The competences can be uploaded bottom up by states, never other way round. “Today many issues in the European Union are topsy-turvy. There is a chaos in which every institution tries to cut out competences for itself and claims a right to decide for others. The Union political system is the victim of the process, as it becomes illogical, or senseless“. Mr Szczerski claims that the effect is the following: “citizens feel oppressed by the power they cannot impact” and the next stage is coming: “This situation is unsustainable. The social reaction is coming and it can put an end to the united Europe“.
How to recover the stability? A new point of balance is necessary. A balance between “the unilateralism wave” and “the needs of maintaining of the integrated area“. “The European nations want to control their fate and their future, do not want to be steered top down by some international hipper-bureaucracy“, but he agrees that they need to act within a general agreement on a “unity of European interest“.
“Unilateralism” according to the writer, is a “superior ideology, that requires to be respected and renounce own objectives and even believes“. This is why there is a growing opposition to this “unilateralism”, “to take back control“.
Fighting “unilateralism” needs to be done delicately, because even if “universalism can be dangerous” one should not give in to all those “who complain about Brussels. Europe shattered and divided becomes easier prey for external empires” and concludes: “it is not in the Polish interest to divide Europe“.
At the same time, there is a bigger challenge than disintegration: it is marginalisation of Poland within the EU. The risk of becoming an exploited periphery is rejected by Krzysztof Szczerski: “The scenario in which the Union disintegrates completely is very bad. The scenario in which the Union persists, but Poland and our region is relegated to a ‘grey zone’, outside of integration, is dramatic“.
Mr Szczerski concludes this part: “our task is to save Poland and Europe from the bad scenarios, which means we need to present a project to combine a greater subjectivity of European nations and states with maintaining their community above borders“.
How to square the circle? Europe today needs to regain its spiritual base. “Policy is an expression of identity, realisation of values, that are common“.
Mr Szczerski describes European Union in a over-simplistic way. He argues Europe has no values and this is why it is doomed. He says Brussels over-regulates and imposes. He says Europe can only work with consent of member states.
Mr Szczerski does not recognise that the Treaties are precisely drafted with a list of competences granted, delegated, by the nations, states to the EU level. This is a done deal. As if he was to rediscover a wheel. This has been done long time ago, Mr Commissioner-to-be.
As for values, the European values are also included in the treaties. They include the rule of law. Hence the activity of rule of law defence of the Union is not an interference, but a defence of EU values.
I am missing at least three elements, from the start. First, it is the fact that the Union is a unique political system in the world that escapes a simple classification of an “international organisation”. For once, there is a tremendous jurisprudence of the Court of Justice that no other “international” court has. This political system is alive, hence dynamic, hence there is room for interpretation and re-interpretation. This is what makes it fit for purpose today: its elasticity.
Second missing element is the European citizen as a subject of a European policy. For Mr Szczerski citizens are national, hence the states are in the centre of power. Yet it is the citizen who makes the whole difference. As every European citizen, each of the 513 million this year until UK leaves, can take the issue to the Court of Justice, can elect the European Parliament, is represented in the Strasbourg chamber and indirectly, chooses the European Commission, he or she is at the bottom of the ladder, alongside the states.
This is what makes the EU stand on a double legitimacy: it is the European citizens who elect the Parliament and the national democratically elected governments. The source of legitimacy is double, and no one power can claim “exclusive right”, as Mr Szczerski does for the states.
That is, of course, as long as we do not change the treaties, one could think, as the EU competences are written down in the treaties and every treaty change requires all member states national ratifications. Yet even here there is a trace of the second source of democratic legitimacy: the Parliament’s role in the redrafting of EU treaties is the strongest ever – for once it has to approve the change alongside the states. It chooses the way the treaty is negotiated (convention or not), too.
To disregard the citizen is a grave omission.
Third is the globalisation. Completely not referenced yet, one cannot fully grasp the counter-reaction in democratic nations in Europe or in a wider world without referencing the globalisation processes. The emergence of global markets and global companies, who dictate and demand, who control and are, effectively, undemocratic actors in the democratic arena with states and the EU institutions, is a major reason why so many Europeans feel disenfranchised. EU has a dilemma in this regard: at the same time it is viewed as the “last resort of defence” against global companies, and as an vehicle for globalisation, hence a threat as it pushes a liberalisation agenda with free trade agreements.
The real imposition of the Commission is towards smaller “partner” nations, not towards the member states. The difference of power between Cyprus, that dictates EU policy towards Turkey, and Lebanon is staggering. France has a smaller population than Vietnam. There are more people in Ethiopia than Germany. Individually all European states are small. Poland does not think it is small. Mr Szczerski does not think Poland is small at all.
I shall continue with the second part of Noah’s Days tomorrow.
In the European Elections 46% Poles took part, which is an astounding increase with the previous European votes in 2004, 2009 and 2014 (all with 20-25% participation level).
In October 2018 during the local and regional elections some 55% Poles went to the polls. This was the best turn out in local and regional elections ever.
Poles go to the polls. Will the October 2019 national elections bring a new record in the participation level, too? The current record is 63%, when the Communism has fallen in 1989 elections.
The wider question is, what is the state of democracy in Poland? Clearly there are heated political debates in the country that bring emotional engagement to new levels. Entitlements are debated and defended. Rights are offended and disrespected.
Last June the Warsaw gay pride attracted a 45,000-strong anti-government manifestation. This was the largest gay pride in Poland in history.
On Saturday, 20 June, in the NE Polish city of Białystok, a first gay pride is ever organised. A 1,000 strong crowd is overpowered by right-wing hooligans and other radical groups. The left-wing journalists of OKO.press are present. Their story is dramatic. Read it in full in Polish here.
The police is accused by the hooligans and the gay pride participants alike. The hooligans are surprised the police is arresting them. They feel empowered. Still, 20 people are arrested. But before that happens some pride participants are beaten up. There is a police helicopter involved in the monitoring of the march.
There are many proofs of violence on the social media. I shall share one such video, which is disturbing. A peaceful person who is coming to the gay pride is attacked by hooligans:
The hooligans try to block the march. The pride has to re-route to avoid the blockages. Instead of a celebration of diversity many people end up in hell. Someone comments “I feel like at war”. People who march hear offensive comments and bricks are thrown in their, and the police, direction. The gay pride response: “Come with us”.
The Białystok pride is a clear manifestation of two sides of Poland. One is the open, tolerant, diverse, modern. Another is regressive, aggressive, offensive, with a clear world view that Poland is a place for Poles alone, family consists of a mother and a father, and everybody should go to Church. There is no room for any differentiation from “the norm”.
Both groups feel threatened. The anti-diversity campaign of Law and Justice brought the party victory in the May elections. In it, the LGBT community is demonised. Ahead of the October elections, the party continues to play the same tone.
Will the anti-gay propaganda machine reach its limits?
We are the island of freedom. We need to reject the offensive of evil.
Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, in Katowice, 6 July 2019
Summer likes strange news. The homophobic news from Poland hit front pages of many Western media. No different is with the latest Gazeta Polska campaign, to distribute homophobic stickers.
Gazeta Polska is a small paper with a circulation of about 13,000 copies. Major state corporations support the publication with commercials. The links between the GP and the ruling party are close and well known.
Since PiS scares the general ignorant public with LGBT telling people that gays are “perverts and degenerates” (MP Stanisław Pięta). The fake news that “40% of gays are paedophiles” is taking Poland by storm after two months ago half of the Polish public saw a terrific documentary about the Catholic Church cover-up of the paedophile priests.
Today, PiS and the far-right are putting the two together.
Often it is difficult to distinguish PiS from the far right.
One case when it is possible to distinguish PiS from the far right is the GP anti-gay stickers propaganda case. The US Ambassador, Trump appointee and a colourful diplomat, Georgette Mosbacher twittes in Polish “I am disappointed and concerned that certain groups use stickers to promote hatred and intolerance. We respect freedom of speech, but we must stand together on the side of values such as diversity and tolerance.”
Here when the Trump US government intervenes in the Polish domestic affairs, some of PiS politicians retract. Piotr Muller, the government spokesperson speaks against the anti-gay stickers.
Also, the Interior Minister Elżbieta Witek defends the police defending the gay pride on twitter without calling it “gay pride”: “The officers ensure security regardless of the banners, worldview and beliefs of the citizens. Officers operate on the basis and within the limits of applicable law.”
The End of One Pole
With the heated debates Poles are discovering the obvious: there is no one Pole with identical features. Poles are as diverse as every other nation. What is truly new is that many Poles are nostalgic of old times when life was simpler. Then, the government was promoting a narrative of one Poland inhabited by one nation, with one language and one religion.
PiS will defend the nostalgic, simplistic view. The opposition will dwell on the diversity. This is the outlook for the October elections.
Since the Opposition likes diversity, it chooses to go not in one block, but instead in three blocks. More on them in the upcoming weeks.
New Democratic Instruments
One debate within the Opposition is how party democracy should look like.
The European Coalition that was formed ahead of the 26 May vote was decided behind closed doors in negotiations between party leaders. There were many disappointed ahead of the vote and disenfranchised after the vote.
The soul searching among the Civic Platform (PO), the biggest of all Opposition parties, was an important process, that nevertheless did not lead to increased democratisation of the Opposition lists. What PO learned is that it needs to run a campaign among the people, not only on the web.
Still, the heart of the Polish Opposition is not with the PO. The true heart is with the civil society organisations that organised and led the anti-government protests since 2015: the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP), Free Courts (Wolne Sądy), the Women’s Strike (OSK) among many others.
In the context of the European vote the Citizens of Poland organised a series of citizen panels between the citizens and democratic candidates for the European Parliament. Over all there were 19 panels organised in 6 regions (out of 13 total). 36 candidates participated in the panels.
The panels gave recommendations on who was the best prepared to serve as a Member of the European Parliament.
This was the first attempt of its kind in the context of European vote in Poland.
Today, Citizens of Poland campaign for further democratization – greater involvement of the citizens – in the life of Opposition parties. Since coalitions are to be drafting its candidates for MP positions in the next Sejm, Citizens of Poland would prefer for those candidates to be selected in a primary way. “Do not make contracts in closed offices. Break with the tradition of a political trading behind closed doors away from the media and the public opinion. This style of politics […] discredits democracy in the eyes of citizens”, writes Paweł Kasprzak in Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading liberal journal, 5 July.
Idealists as they are, Citizens of Poland’s idea is not shared by the political parties.
Law and Justice has pulled back another ‘softer’ instrument of citizens participation: voting by proxy for people who are abroad has been disallowed since 2018.
Many expect a clash. A clash of society groups. Diversity v homogeneity, small towns v big cities, Church-goers v Church-visitors, believers in open Poland v believers that Poland is under threat.
The turnout will be high. Emotions will fly high. Some sociologists say there may be 4 million new voters compared with the European elections.
Many of the Opposition folks talk of “the last chance” of a democratic Poland. Should PiS continue to rule, they say, PiS will solidify its power, begin a new fight against the last bastion of the Opposition in the cities and regional governments. PiS will rule for many, many years to come.
PiS says to stay calm. PiS runs a campaign to receive a new mandate to change the country. PiS is certain of a win, especially since the Opposition is divided into three camps. The only unknown is the degree of its win.
Should PiS truly win in October it may well be that a new wave of Polish citizens may chose to leave the country. As a participant in the gay pride in Białystok remarked: “As of today I think it is time to think about leaving”.
The thing is that if the current debates and controversies were to be sidelined, there are other groups to be demonised by the PiS machinery.
In the chaos of transition between the Parliaments and the Commissions there are some surprise stories, twists and attempted shortcuts. There are unintended consequences and parallel processes that impact one another. Here’s one such story.
26 May, the end of European elections. Among new MEPs are two ex-Commissioners, Andrus Ansip and Corina Creţu.
2 June, President Jean-Claude Juncker says there is no need for a replacement of outgoing Commissioners Ansip and Creţu and that the Commission can cope with fewer members. He says that for the remaining of his College (4 months) there is no need for new people to join the team. Also, it would cost money.
Following his announcement, Mr Juncker proceeds with an adequate proposal for the Council. Clearly the news of savings in EU budget and the ‘no need’ argument are not received in Tallinn and Bucharest. This is a matter of principle. Back in 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the very first formal decision of the European Council was to make sure that the “one state = one commissioner” principle is respected.
1 July, the Estonian and Romanian governments propose new EU Commissioners, Kadri Simson from Estonia and Ioan Mircea Pașcu from Romania. Clearly this is a defeat for President Juncker.
Yet Mr Juncker is not ready to give in.
9 July, there is a re-arrangement in the Commission structure. There are 26 Commissioners, including the President and 5 Vice-Presidents. There are no Romanian and Estonian Commissioners.
Incidentally, the Juncker Commission started with 7 Vice-Presidents. After losing Kristalina Georgieva in 2016 and now Mr Ansip, the number of “vices” goes down significantly.
The new incoming Commissioners-nominees, before they become Commissioners, have to be approved by the European Parliament.
12 July, Ms Simson and Mr Mircea Pașcu, nominated against the better judgement of Mr Juncker, receive no portfolio from their boss. This creates a problem for the parliamentary hearings, which normally are organised by the committee or committees thematically responsible for the same portfolio as the Commissioner-nominee.
15 July, the EMPL committee fails to chose its leader for the second time.
In the absence of portfolios, the issue of hearings is delegated to the Conference of Committee Chairs (or, CCC) of the European Parliament. The problem here is, however, that it cannot meet or take any decisions until all EP committees are fully constituted.
So the future of Ms Kadri and Mr Mircea Pașcu depends on the ability of the EMPL committee to elect its chair. This is the unintended consequence. Their political position depends on the simple question: will ECR change a candidate? Should the ECR group continue to push for Ms Szydło, they may face a fierce opposition. Should the ECR group change a candidate, they could be endorsed by an acclamation, like the other ECR committee chair, Mr Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR/NVA) who is leading the work of the Budgets Committee (BUDG).
Should this problem be solved, the next one will be with the CCC to decide what to do about the hearings.
If the situation is not solved by the end of next week, the issue will return in September, to coincide with the other hearings of the new European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, who, by then, will present a full College. Each one of these people will face the European Parliament.
How strange does it look for Mr Mircea Pașcu to be a Commissioner for just a few weeks? At least Ms Simson is supposed to be Commissioner for the entire term of the Ursula von der Leyen College.
It is difficult to escape a thought that being a Commissioner just for a few months simply pays so well: 22,367 Euro a month.
In a positive – and unintended – twist, it is a good delay to delay the process of appointments of two new Commissioners. Juncker is right: it is a nonsensical to appoint someone just for a few weeks. It is a waste of public money (Juncker talks of 1 million Euro savings, including the Commissioner and their cabinets members salaries, other allowances, etc.).
Thank you PiS for pushing for Ms Szydło and everybody else for blocking her. Isn’t this ironic?
Ursula speaks. It is Tuesday, 16 July, Strasbourg’s big chamber. It is early morning and people are coming in. All the MEPs are invited. Most of them arrive. They take seats, they nod and clap occasionally, they welcome into their new house a very new person, Ursula von der Leyen, who claims to be European at her heart. Will she convince the “House of Europeans” to support her?
It is the speech of her lifetime. But at the same time she is an enigma. The European citizens do not particularly know her yet. Who is she? She did not stand in the European elections. Yes, she is a mother of seven, herself born in Brussels, a doctor and a German politician. But “who is she and, will she be good”?
MEPs in the debate that follows mention the 200 million of citizens who voted in the European elections. Many say that there is the disconnect between her, the candidate, and the elections. That the link that was supposed to be there, is missing.
Many speak “on her behalf”. The European Council did. Individual member states’ leaders did. They spoke of deals, they spoke of secured arrangements. The leaders of political groups issue their demands, securities, guarantees. In all this European politicking of the last month one thing is missing: a Commission President candidate who is a leader, a driver of the process, a political actor.
One of the group leaders comments after von der Leyen’s speech: the learning curve of Europe is steep. Yes, it is steep. But, hey, she has Europe in her guts, she says.
And oh, boy, she delivers. She starts slow, with lukewarm greetings in the room. She talks the green agenda. She wants to be credible and to open up to the continent’s biggest challenge: the climate change. She wants to turn the challenge into an opportunity.
She mentions the obvious and the important: she is an embodiment of the feminist politics. “The fathers and mothers” of European integration include Simone Veil, who was the president, la présidente of the European Parliament 40 years ago. “Thanks to all the women before me” we have the Europe of today: of peace, of unity and of values.
When she says that for her children generation, “Europe is a home” she hits all the right buttons for all the federalists in the house. She may, however, soon discover that general federalism may not be enough. Still, it is honey for the pro-Europeans’ hearts.
She speaks clearly from the heart. Yes, she speaks issues, but she shares personal stories, too. She talks of her father, who worked in the Hallstein Commission in the 1960s. This is why she was born in Brussels. She talks of a refugee she welcomed in her house a few years back. Today he is a young man, a community leader who is fluent in German, English and his native Arabic. One day he wants to go home.
You cannot deny her standing on the migration issues. Her credibility cannot be greater on Europe and migration as she is a living proof on both. Those values are real. The problems may begin elsewhere.
The climate. Ursula von der Leyen speaks of challenges of globalisation, digitalisation and the climate change. “The citizens feel them in daily life” and “none of the challenges will go away”.
She embraces multilateralism, rules and fair trade. In doing so the climate challenges and goals will need to be scaled up. The current goals are not sufficient. She supports cutting CO2 emissions by 50%, “maybe 55%” by 2030 and reaching the carbon neutrality by 2050. Ursula calls it “the Green deal for Europe” and promises a European Climate Law for 2050.
We have to do it the European Way
Ursula von der Leyen, Strasbourg, 16 July 2019
Sustainability is important, so a trillion Euro in a decade should be spend on appropriate investments. In the process the European Investment Bank will be turned into a climate bank. Economic activities generating CO2, like aviation and the maritime sector, shall be included in the CO2 emissions cuts. “Emissions must to have a price”. She talks carbon leakage – to make sure that the European production does not migrate away due to the increased costs of emissions. She talks carbon taxes.
For the underprivileged in the transition process there needs to be a transition fund, Just Transition Fund and I hesitate if it is a name already…
When von der Leyen finishes to talk climate it is clear: she says bye-bye to the support of the ECR and reaches out to the Greens, who said “no” last week. But she also reaches out beyond the Greens to the Social-democrats to secure their support.
Social Market Economy
The economy. This is where the economic talk turns to “social market economy”. This is a message mostly towards the S&D and Ms von der Leyen’s home group, the EPP. She says the tech giants need to pay their share. She opts for a “fairer, more equal Union” and that “the fight for fairness never stops”. To which later on the S&D leader will ask for more details.
Ursula von der Leyen talks minimal wage that allows for a decent life. She supports insurance against unemployment, and echoes the EP’s call to triple the spending on Erasmus. She wants to work on the Social Pillar, especially on children education and children healthcare. Women’s rights are important; the Commission President candidate would like the EU to adhere to the Istanbul Convention on action against violence against women and domestic violence.
Women are so important and make half of the society. Hence half of the College of Commissioners shall be female. If member states do not send female candidates, the Commission President candidate says she is ready to send them back home to achieve full parity.
The European Rule of Law
Third, the rule of law. “There will never be a compromise when it comes to respect of the rule of law”, says Ursula von der Leyen and receives stronger support than before. Over last ten days there were suspicions (expectations) towards certain deals she may make with the ECR group in exchange of their support for her. Today ECR later will express their disappointment and the left wing groups’ welcome of her position. Her strong stance may bring her support from some disenfranchised EPP members, too.
Her take on the rule of law is to support a new EU-wide rule of law mechanism, to be complimentary with existing procedures. Interestingly, the candidate talks about the Commission to be “independent” guardian of the treaties: “Lady Justice is blind”.
Credible she is, will she be able to deliver? This was the issue that has shaken the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker. The reasons are the deep divisions between member states. “We need empathy and decisive action”, says Ursula von der Leyen, but “there are the legitimate concerns for many”. How to square a circle?
Clearly the candidate supports the ambitious agenda, but the problems with ambition in this area are not in the Parliament, but with the Council and its member states.
The Foreign Affairs
“The world needs more Europe”, says the candidate. It may well be true, but how to deliver? Ms von der Leyen supports transatlantic relations and NATO, but does not mention United States, United Nations or enlargement. She does not talk Russia nor China. She talks European defence.
She does talk Brexit. “We regret it and we respect it” and offers a possible extension of the 31 October date, if necessary. “The United Kingdom will remain our partner, our ally and our friend”, overstates the candidate. Let us see how the relations look like with the incoming new British PM.
The candidate was not a Spitzen-candidate. Clearly this generates a new source of a democratic deficit. There is a new ditch that needs to be addressed. There are three elements on how to further democratize the Union.
First is the new Conference on the Future of Europe that shall begin in 2020, and run until 2022. This is a promise delivery for the Renew Europe group.
Second is the promise to work on making the Spitzen-candidate a reality “next time around” in 2024, on its visibility and on transnational lists (idea popular in the European Parliament, most recently promoted by the French President Emmanuel Macron).
Third is the idea of giving the Strasbourg chamber a right of legislative initiative. This would effectively mean that should the European Parliament adopt a legislative resolution the issue will be dealt with politically in the Commission.
“Europe is not about war any more”, as our Europe “has grown up, has matured”, claims Ursula von der Leyen. The European Union is like a marriage, in which we argue, disagree, and reconcile. The candidate finishes with “I call on all Europeans to play their parts”, “Long live Europe” and “Vive l’Europe”.
The EPP and Renew Europe give her a standing ovation. Clearly the two groups are in her camp. This is, however, not enough.
Manfred Weber of the EPP says he expects the Social-democrats to deliver on the package, that includes a S&D President of the Parliament and High Representative.
Iratxe Garcia of the S&D quotes Willy Brandt from forty year before, who regretted that the European democracy was moving so slowly. Half of the people watching is wondering: “she is about to agree with Brandt and accept the slow progress, or will she deny the step-by-step progress and demand a jump into the unknown?”. At one point Ms Garcia mentions that S&D does not want a constitutional crisis. The group decision will be taken this afternoon.
The Greens are confused. They said “no” last week, but clearly today’s speech “is a step forward”, says the co-chair of the group Philippe Lamberts. He is still critical on many details, but the confusion among the group leadership is clear. The Green group’s meeting would be interesting to follow, as many individual Green MEPs could actually support the candidate von der Leyen.
The ID is against, naturally.
Mr Farage is offensive, naturally.
The ECR group is disappointed. Clearly the candidate was reaching out to them in recent days. On Sunday CDU representatives met the Polish ruling party PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński to talk support, but all this has failed on Monday night when Beata Szydło was defeated second time. Her candidacy for EMPL chairwomanship was rejected 19 to 34. In a few days Ms Szydło support has diminished instead of increasing (first vote was 21:27).
Don’t expect the ECR to support Ms von der Leyen.
GUE/NGL also expressed a negative position.
Will she pass? The decision is with the S&D. The reaching out has been made. It was a good speech. With it Ursula von der Leyen has solidified the centrist, pro-European majority. Now this majority should deliver with the evening vote in a few hours.
Another pro-S&D move is the departure of the Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr, announced this morning.
If Ms von der Leyen is confirmed she is voted by the EPP-RE-S&D majority with some individual MEPs breaking the ranks, such as the German SPD, the most outspoken critic of the candidate from within the S&D, and some other incidental support (for example, the individual Greens or M5S, who are independent).
Will she? The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels decision-making and journalistic circles claims:
The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels French decision making and journalistic circles likes the speech, too and asks a question about the Greens being on the same page as the ID, which suggests he would like the Greens to reconsider:
I’d say, Brussels/Strasbourg is ready to say “yes” to Ms von der Leyen. So, what say you, European Parliament?
10 July 2019. Meeting of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in Brussels. Main theme: meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The meeting is closed, after the meeting there is a statement that the EPP “fully” supports von der Leyen. After meeting the candidate, Manfred Weber, the EPP leader, leads the internal discussion about the political situation in the European Parliament. He talks about cooperation with ECR, which comprises the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Mr Weber expresses the need to “stand by” ECR candidates for the positions in the Parliament, most notably for Ms Beata Szydło, who is a candidate for chairwoman of the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL).
The Weber’s speech is met with said enthusiasm of Fidesz, the Hungarian governmental party whose politicians sit with the EPP. Fidesz and PiS have the same problem: they are accused of rule of law violation in Hungary and Poland, respectively. The EU treaties’ Article 7 procedure has been launched against both states.
Due to the rule of law situation Fidesz faces EPP exclusion, though this issue is no longer on top of the EPP agenda (at least until November). The agenda is currently dominated by the left-leaning groups in the Parliament.
I talk with a lamenting EPP MEP who says that Weber words of “standing by” were deeply disappointing. Another EPP MEP tells me about a nuance: Weber words were about “standing by the d’Hondt method of distribution of seats”. A person close to Mr Weber tells me that he would defend the GUE candidates too, in light of an upcoming cordon sanitaire against the Polish ECR candidates.
Still, it hurts to hear the positive conciliatory words about a candidate, Ms Szydło, whose government was deeply unpopular with the Polish EPP MEPs for actions such as violating Polish constitution and disempowering the Polish Constitutional Tribunal by not publishing its verdicts, overseeing the removing EU flags from governmental buildings, etc. Now she is a candidate for the EMPL chair and Mr Weber says that EPP should “stand by”.
Mr Radan Kanev, a EPP MEP from Bulgaria, speaks to a sister blog. He says “This is causing tensions among the Polish MEPs who are part of the European People’s Party, but also among other colleagues. It is quite obvious that there is tension even when it comes to personal contacts between MEPs”.
What does it mean for Ursula von der Leyen?
Mr Weber’s commitment to d’Hondt is not only a commitment to high political standards. This is him trying to extend the chances for Ms von der Leyen on the Tuesday late confirmation vote. She needs over 374 votes, since some of MEPs did not take their mandates (Catalans) and a Danish new MEP Jeppe Kofod has been appointed a new foreign minister in Denmark.
Does this mean Mr Weber abandoned his narrative from a few weeks ago? In the campaign ahead of 26 May, he said that if he became the president of the Commission, he would not like to cooperate with PiS. Swedish or Dutch MEPs said that Fidesz’s presence in the EPP deprives them of votes in their countries. From within Mr Weber’s entourage I hear that “there is a difference between campaigning for yourselves and for von der Leyen”. The Commission President vote is nevertheless related to the votes of last week.
Six groups agreed on the cordon sanitaire for the candidates of the far-right parties grouped in Identity and Democracy (ID). Weber apparently was asking other groups to make sure if someone else was “still problematic” ahead of the vote. Apparently the Greens, RE, GUE and S&D said nothing, apart from ID there was no other problematic chair. Then on Tuesday, 9 July Dacian Ciolos, the leader of RE, tweets:
Hence the Weber words of “standing by” are related to the d’Hondt and not joining the Renew Europe and others in voting down the PiS and Fidesz candidates. Sometimes the “defence” is successful as three PiS committee vice-chairs are voted through. The most visibly, however, the PiS chairwoman candidate is defeated.
Following this defeat and the previous week’s EP vice-presidency defeat of Mr Krasnodębski, Law and Justice is offended. They send signals they will not vote for von der Leyen despite PM Morawiecki’s support for the German candidate at the beginning of the month. PiS is disillusioned, cornered and does not want to engage to build trust with other groups. To the extend that the CDU sends emissaries to Poland to talk directly to the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński on Sunday, 14 July, as the PiS chairman revealed.
Mr Weber’s job is to guarantee a safe passage for Ms von der Leyen. The two are ready to go the whole distance. Ms von der Leyen did not meet the ID group, even if the support of La Lega is not completely out of question (Mr Conte voted ‘yes’ for von der Leyen in the European Council). Yet Ms von der Leyen met with M5S, the Five Star Movement, which seats with the non-attached members:
Win-win or lose-lose?
It may well be that some EPP MEPs, including certain Polish MEPs, will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because of her and Mr Weber reaching out to ECR.
It may well be that ECR MEPs will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because they’ve been humiliated twice in the European Parliament over last two weeks.
Or, it may well be that both Polish EPP MEPs and Polish ECR MEPs vote for Ms von der Leyen. This could be possible if by tomorrow Ms von der Leyen strongly holds the ground on the rule of law defence against the governments in Warsaw and Budapest, and at the same time there is a deal that in the following week Ms Szydło is voted through at the next EMPL meeting.
I worry, however, that CDU representatives could not guarantee to Ms Jarosław Kaczyński that Ms Szydło is voted through in EMPL by the end of next week. Maybe a compromise agreement was found for another ECR candidate in the committee?
As the night is unfolding, the first results of the European elections in Poland are coming in. Initially as exit polls, late polls, this morning (6 AM) we have results out of 95,9% of precincts. Here they are:
Law and Justice, 46,00%
European Coalition, 37,87%
The other committees fall short of the 5% threshold, most notably the far-right Confederacy (4,55%) and Kukiz’15 (3,71%). The last committee was the United Left (in fact, far left coalition) with 1,23%.
The turnout is 43%. Five years ago it was under 24%.
The big winner: the people, who showed up in big number in the electoral booth.
The big winner: Law and Justice, which bounced back from a nuanced results in 2018 to an astonishing result of 46% and 26 MEPs in the new European Parliament. PiS also managed to defend itself from the right side last-minute surge of Confederacy.
The big loser: Grzegorz Schetyna and his European Coalition. 8pp differential between EC & PiS is a major difference. Clearly Donald Tusk was wrong went he said “There are more of us” some 9 days ago addressing the EC rally in Warsaw. The EC should have about 22 MEPs
The big relief: if Confederacy fails to get elected this is a strong message that the only pill against the far right madness is a high turnout.
The big question mark: Spring with 6% and 3 MEPs. Where will they go? Can they be “the third way”, “the progressive option”? “What will Robert Biedroń do” was one of many questions asked last night. Is 6% a good departing point to grow, or, is it everything there is?
If you think Law and Justice (PiS) is anti-European, anti-systemic, anti-liberal democracy, think again. Not because Law and Justice presents itself as a modern, pro-European party with a logo “Poland at the heart of Europe” and with the European flag behind their backs. Law and Justice is a conservative party arguing in favour of Christian values in modern societies, less tight European integration, favouring the de-politicisation and degrading of importance of the European Commission. You may be critical of Law and Justice for their terrible reforms of the judicial system (challenging the independence of the courts) or the mismanagement of the school system. You may not like their closeness to the Catholic Church or cutting support for liberal NGOs. But this is what democracy is according to PiS: rule of the majority. In this logic there is no room for the respect of the minority rights. You can disagree with that, too.
However, many Poles like what they see. The courts are not important for the average voter. The schools are a problem, but not a reason to take the PiS government down. What’s good about the PiS rule are the give-aways, the 500 zł per child benefit and… the fact they are against those ‘dangerous’ liberal values and policies coming from the West. What comes in the package is a national rhetoric and strong historical links. The omnipresence of history in schools and public debate makes many Poles more aware about what are the important issues of 1944, 1945 or 1946 that of what are the issues of 2019 or 2020.
The focus on history and on the nation’s fate, on the defence of the national sovereignty and the lack of the subtle nuances in the discourse (“no to migrants”, “no to Euro”) gives a paradoxical effect.
Ahead of the Sunday vote the sociologists say there is no fluctuation between the electorate of PiS and of the European Coalition composed of PO, PSL (members of EPP in the European Parliament), SLD (member of S&D), .Modern (an ALDE member) and the Greens. The two blocks are in a virtual deadlock: most opinion polls predict PiS to come out first just an inch ahead of the Coalition (37% to 35%).
For the last four years the Law and Justice has recognised that the liberal opposition is the threat to their rule, especially the biggest party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO). In the last days ahead of the 26 May, however, that’s not exactly the case.
Since there is no fluctuation between PiS and the EC electorates, this means the outcome of the Sunday vote is left to two factors: first is the mobilisation of your own electorate, and second, to the performance of two parties to the right of PiS.
For a long time it seemed that the main party to the right of Law and Justice is Kukiz’15 led by a popular rock star. Mr Kukiz movement prefers direct democracy, but proved futile as it failed completely last year in the local elections. The opinion polls give Mr Kukiz between 3 and 6%.
The real threat for Law and Justice is elsewhere. Every day now gives the Confederacy a greater support, even up to 8%. Confederacy is a coalition in their own right, of extreme views. Openly nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBT (i.e. Kaja Godek talks about same sex couples adoption ‘real purpose’ being to abuse children) and anti-Semitic (what drives the support up in recent days is a protest against the American law Just Act-447 about the Holocaust victims restitution of property).
Sexualisation of children
It is Law and Justice who put the subject of sexualisation of children on the political agenda in February by blowing out of proportion the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Today Ms Godek is more “credible” on the issue and her fellow confederate Grzegorz Braun wants to punish gay people with flogging.
Even worse, the issue haunts PiS with the Church paedophilia scandal that the whole country talks about since it aired on Youtube two weeks ago. The issue demotivates the PiS electoral from showing on Sunday, most likely.
Is Trump’s Americastubbing PiS in the back?
Law and Justice is unquestionably pro-American. Every visit of the Polish officials in Washington is reported with a fanfare in Poland. Earlier this year Poland hosted the US-sponsored anti-Iranian propaganda summit. A few weeks ago the Polish government purchased the HIMARS defence system. For the first time a major defence system like this has been purchased with no off-set financial system to make sure that some of the funds spend would be re-invested in Poland. President Trump is expected back in Poland for the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War 2, come 1 September.
Law and Justice is not anti-American. A few years ago the PiS government withdraw its anti-private TV station campaign (TVN) after the owner of TVN, the American company Discovery Inc., raised the issue with the US ambassador in Warsaw.
And now Confederacy runs protests against the Just Act-447.
Law and Justice tries not to be anti-Semitic and over the previous 18 months has failed in this regard a number of times. Every time the ruling party fails it tries to make amends. This is not as easy since the PiS electorate is unaware with the notion of ‘nuance’ and the Israelis, on their side, also use easy anti-Polish sentiments popular among some sectors of the society. At the same time the business links and tourism between Poland and Israel flourish. The Polish airline LOT offers flights to Israel from 5 airports in Poland.
Another important value PiS tries to use this spring against the European Coalition is freedom. Law and Justice argues that EC is anti-freedom since it wants to censor the Internet (the copyright directive)… Again, Confederacy is more ‘credible’ in defending the ‘freedom’ understood as anarchy and absence of rules. The champion of this topic is Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a leading face of the Confederacy.
Krzysztof Bosak, the Confederacy no. 1 in Warsaw on Thursday: “the climate package should be terminated as soon as possible by Poland”, “the government closes the mines”, “Public opinion is not told this is the fault of EU regulation”. The bad guys? PiS and the EU.
More of Mr Bosak on same sex unions: “We disagree for the EU to dictate to us the conditions. We will defend our cultural autonomy. In our opinion, there can be no consent for the EU to promote deviations and dictate our values. Europe is not multiculturalism and the blurring of our values. No one can censor us”.
If you are a conservative voter, you have a problem. Every time the populist government of Mr Mateusz Morawiecki and the populist party of Mr Jarosław Kaczyński procures a new ‘line to take’ on sovereignty, on LGBT, on Israel, on judges, on freedom, on the Church, on history, on economy, it is the Confederacy who can out-bet the ruling party, not the European Coalition.
The European Coalition survives the attacks from Law and Justice largely untouched. But by focusing on EC, PiS has allowed for the Confederacy to grow in popularity. Only in recent days the government proves how unprepared they are against the Confederacy attacks (especially on the Just Act-447).
Yet the main goal of the European Coalition is to win with Law and Justice. Will they? We shall know for sure only after 9 PM Sunday night. Their struggle has been largely with the consistency of the offer: united in diversity as they are, their may struggle is to remain attractive to a variety of voters, conservative, liberal, centrist and progressive as they may be, as long as they are democratic.
The EC has a liberal challenger, too. Robert Biedroń’s Wiosna, the Spring, has been showing a decent support in the recent weeks, of between 9 to 14%. Yet the last week of the campaign is not as positive for the party, mainly due to a niche-scandal-blown out of proportion about a leading Spring candidate getting rid of her dogs (she gave them away to a shelter; the animal right lovers are in shock). Some polls show Mr Biedroń’s party enjoys only as low as 6% of support. Still, the main messages of the Spring are: to end the dominance of two mega parties, to ‘energize’ the opposition on social issues, women’s rights, gay rights, secularisation of the state and decarbonisation of the Polish energy sector.
Let me play a prediction game. Following the polls and the trends and the public debate this is what I’d like to predict as an outcome (it is NOT a poll). I may be completely wrong, but this is my prediction:
European Coalition 41% (the higher the turnout the better for EC)
Law and Justice 29% (the higher the turnout the better for PiS)
Spring 12% (the higher the turnout the better for the Spring)
Confederacy 10% (the lower the turnout the better for Confederacy)
Kukiz’15 4.5% (the lower the turnout the better for Kukiz’15)
The last weekend before the European elections the Polish campaign is gaining speed. The paedophilia covered in the Catholic Church dominates the debate. With the 18 May march in Warsaw and reinforcement in the person of Donald Tusk, the European Coalition motivates its supporters and hopes to outplay Law and Justice.
18 May, morning, Warsaw: a major storm in the city. Climate change in action, as normally storms like these come in July. This follows a drought earlier this spring, highly unusual, too, to be dry in February and March.
18 May, afternoon, Warsaw: the storm is over. The sun comes out. A major march is planned by the European Coalition and the weather was a major worry for the organisers. Warsaw Mayor is relieved. Rafał Trzaskowski jokes that he fixed the weather so the march can begin. On a serious note: mobilization is the key message of the day.
Some 45 thousand people walk the streets of Warsaw to hear a renewed Donald Tusk speech at the end of their walk. Donald Tusk is in Poland almost daily now. Almost campaigning. His speeches are watched and commented. Remembered. His major speech at the Warsaw University on 3 May is still echoed in the public debate otherwise dominated by the Church paedophilia scandals.
On the day, Mr Tusk goes political. He echoes the European Coalition hashtag, #GreatChoice, or #WielkiWybór with those words: “If 80 percent of Poles want Poland to be in the EU, why would we, all Poles, risk a vote for someone who does not guarantee this position in the EU?”. And continues: “And I say it very openly: is it really worth taking the risk of voting for those who present themselves today as Europeans with extraordinary enthusiasm, but this enthusiasm is only two weeks old? I know well that they will be Europeans for as long as the election demands it. They also know what the Poles want, and therefore, for these two weeks with difficulty, because it is difficult, but somehow the word ‘Europe‘ is declinated. But if they treat our presence in the EU the way they treat the Constitution, which they never said openly, that they want to break it. Shouting ‘Law!’, they violated the Constitution. Shouting ‘Justice!’, they were destroying the Polish courts. Talking about modesty, they shouted loudly: ‘This money simply belongs to us!‘.” He openly points at the ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS).
This is not a vote for a lesser evil, it is a vote for a greater good.
Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw
Tusk launches an attack on PiS leader: “in Europe I see many candidates for local chiefs, in the world they call them differently, one is called the chairman, the other is Ayatollah, but the difference is relatively small”. Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS chairman and speaks (17 May) that if someone does not want sharia law introduced in Poland, they should vote Law and Justice.
There are many more of us!
Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw
And the last quote from the President of the European Council who warns about those local chiefs, “for whom the idea, and we know it well from history, of one nation, one state, one religion, one leader, that this is their melody and they also participate in this European election. Europe is diversity, Europe is a union in diversity, kind of like the European Coalition”.
The government-run TVP is not shy of anti-Tusk sentiment. On the day they are correct to say, “Tusk threatens with PiS”. Gazeta Wyborcza, the liberal daily, concludes on the day Donald Tusk became the spiritual leader of the European Coalition. Paweł Wroński, a leading GW journalist concludes: “The President of the European Council Donald Tusk gave a deeper ideological sense of the existence of the European Coalition and its role in the elections to the European Parliament”.
18 May, Busko-Zdrój, Świętokrzyskie region, some 80 km NE of Kraków. Two men attack two policeman, who are injured before the attackers are arrested. One of the attackers is a local town councillor, who in the past was supported by Jadwiga Emilewicz, minister for entrepreneurship and technology.
Questions about the relationship between the attacker and the PiS politicians are raised not only by the opposition in the context of the January murder of the Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz. Beata Szydło, former PM and PiS leading candidate in the region, raises the same questions via Twitter, demanding clarifications from MP Michał Cieślak and Jarosław Gowin, deputy PM. Both belong to a small party Porozumienie (Alliance) that is in a nominal coalition with Law and Justice.
Mr Gowin, the P’s leader, responds saying that none of the perpetrators of the policemen attacks ever was a member of his party.
Róża Thun, the European Coalition leader in the same electoral region as Ms Szydło, is quick to raise the speculation of association of the attacker by twitting a photo of one of the accused individuals with… Beata Szydło on her campaign bus:
By evening, Ms Thun has another violent incident to report. Three of her volunteers are attacked in Kielce, the second biggest city in her electoral region, with a smelly liquid poured on them, while distributing leaflets.
In a written statement she writes that “the escalation of violence is at its best” while “the perpetrators remain unpunished” of the cases against her in recent years. She says: “I thought that hate, hate speech, and punishment affect me personally, but unfortunately the volunteers who help me in the campaign have been affected”. One of the three volunteers, teenagers has been threatened by the very same councillor who attacked the policemen earlier on the day in Busko-Zdrój.
The latest opinion polls are confusing. According to one, Law and Justice enjoys a comfortable +10% lead. According to another, Law and Justice is trailing the European Coalition by about the same +10%. In every poll, the Spring of Robert Biedroń comes third with about 8-9%. It seems the ultra-right wingers of the Confederation can break the 5% threshold and Kukiz’15 is balancing in the same area, potentially falling short of the threshold.
Effectively, Law and Justice and the European Coalition are going neck-to-neck with an estimate of about 18-25 mandates each (43 total for the two) going either way. The other 8 MEP seats could go to Spring (5) and Confederation (3).
The situation is volatile. The emotions are high due to Church paedophilia debate. The parties focus on mobilisation of their electorates. I believe that the ruling party enjoys about 40% support, but I also think that the ruling party may have difficulty mobilising their voters due to the Church paedophilia scandals. By now the Sekielski brothers film has been watched 20 million times on Youtube and it was aired on the private TVN (the most popular station among 16-49 year olds) on Friday.
PiS political problem is the disconnect with the many voices from within the Catholic Church in Poland, who are critical about the covering up of the paedophiles inside the institution. In fact, the top bishops are not speaking with one voice. Archbishop Polak is apologetic and promises to cooperate, counting on the support of Pope Francis. Archbishop Polak is the country primate, and says: “The Church is not under attack in Poland”. On the other hand, other bishops are unmoved with their political agenda. Archbishop Jędraszewski says “There is a war on Christianity and the Church”. There was a small protest against of archbishop Jędraszewski in front of a church in Poznań. Archbishop Jędraszewski is one of the more conservative bishops in the country.
PiS is unsure how to argue on the Church paedophilia since the Church is not united behind archbishop Polak. Hence PiS walks in the dark. The issue is to have an apolitical commission to be established to look into the Church paedophilia scandals. PiS says “yes” but only if the investigations include other “professions”, like artists, lawyers, or bricklayers. As if being a member of the clergy was a “job”. As if a member of the clergy paid taxes. As if any of the members of the clergy committing the paedophilia crimes or covering them up, ever was arrested 6 AM in their bed, like artists are arrested sometimes.
This is why PiS has a problem; it is sleepwalking on the most important political issue of the year. It is still popular due to its policies attractive to wider public. Yet, will they be as motived to turn out to vote? And what if they don’t?
The marching of the European Coalition and the Tusk speech are a good illustration that the motivation on the other side remains high. The EC probably has about 35% of the general support today. Maybe Tusk is right when he says “There is more of us”. By being much more motived, I expect them to come on top next Sunday. Subject to the last week of campaign, naturally.
The big question is the Spring. I and many others expected Spring to benefit most from the paedophilia scandal. Yet this has not been reflected yet in the polls. The party is stagnating at 8-9%, but with PiS not showing up in numbers, this bring them up to teens figures, before the anticipated boost.
In the relative weakness of PiS the biggest winners could be the Confederacy, that becomes increasingly openly anti-Semitic. The lower the turnout the greater the chance of the ultra-far-right.
All subject to the rest of the campaign. Jarosław Kaczyński just promised (19 May afternoon) new support of the people with disabilities.
The European Coalition (EC) campaign is changing. So far, the leifmotif of the Coalition is to warn the Poles of a risk of “Polexit”, even if unintended. For that reason the EC has a hashtag #WielkiWybor, a #GreatChoice, for it tries to turn the 26 May elections into a referendum “in or out of the EU”. Some 80% of Poles support EU membership.
This strategy is history now. Two events have shaken the strategy. First, the Monday 29 April interview of Jean-Claude Juncker in Rzeczpospolita. In it the President of the European Commission says: “Even if Law and Justice (PiS) wins the fall elections, there will be no Polexit”.
The second hit against the strategy is even closer home. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council speaks on 3 May with an underlying message of a need of civility in politics. He talks inclusiveness and to “stop this spiral of reluctance, hostility, and hate”.
Effectively Mr Juncker tells the pro-European politicians of the EC: “your message to scare off the public is false”. Effectively Mr Tusk tells the same crowd: “your message is not enough, you need a positive offer”.
It does help that for over a month the EC is trailing Law and Justice in the opinion polls. Always just a 2-3 points behind the government party. Nevertheless the trend is clear: always second.
Schetyna in Białystok: 100 bn Euro more!
The 2019 campaign is organised this way that every weekend there are major speeches and events scheduled. 4 May 2019, Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the Civic Platform and of the European Coalition, in Białystok says: “This election is about the money for our country for the next decade”.
His statement comes as the end of the scaring campaign with Polexit. Now comes the “offer”: “we can negotiate better for our country than those who lose 27-1” in the European Council. He clearly refers to the 2017 situation when the Polish government was the only one opposed to the re-election of Donald Tusk as head of the European Council.
“We can negotiate 100 bn more for Poland than the PiS government”, says the PO leader about the upcoming multi-annual financial programming negotiations. “100 billion for Poland, for Poles, for healthcare, for people who work, for the Polish countryside, for education and for the fight against air pollution”.
This is a change for the better. We start to know what kind of Poland in the EU the European Coalition truly wants, not only what they do not want. As a society we come out of a paralysis. If you are a political actor it is important to verbalise your offer, not only to scare people away from your competition. Still, as the TVN (private TV) fact-checkers informed the viewers, the MFF negotiations are made in the European Council, not in the European Parliament.
Let me nuance the fact-checkers here. The Parliament is co-legislator and co-authority on the Union budget. The MFF may be open in principle for a political agreement among the prime ministers in the European Council; yet it is at the same time open to multiple parallel negotiations on policies which are negotiated in a classical ordinary legislative procedure. This procedure fully includes the EP. In fact, some of the MFF files have been already adopted by the outgoing Parliament.
The PO can be even more entitled to defend their stance with the simple fact that two of the leading EP negotiators on the next MFF are PO’s MEPs: Janusz Lewandowski, MEP/EPP from Gdańsk and Jan Olbrycht, MEP/EPP from Katowice. Both Mr Lewandowski and Mr Olbrycht are running for re-election.
What I am concerned with is another problem. The Civic Platform in times of trouble turns to the old tunes we have all heard well before: “we are better negotiators, we can get more money for you”. This is not the pro-European message. This is not about the Europe of values. This is not about the Europe of principles. Instead the PO leader turns to sell Europe to Poles as a piggy-bank once again.
Fair enough, Mr Schetyna talks also about policies he wants to finance with the extra 100 bn Euros. Yes, it is Euros he talks about, not zloties. Yet what the people will remember is “100 bn more”. Not only this is what the public shall remember. This is what Mr Schetyna wants them to remember. And that’s worrisome.
History: It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Europe: Deadly alternative between domination and decay, needs to be avoided.
Poland: This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland. Why should we lose it all?
Global challenges: Only cooperation at every level, of all with everybody, we can meet the challenges of the globe.
Geopolitics: In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire.
Doubt: Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs. Doubt!
3 May 1791, the first Constitution in Europe is adopted. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopts the most important act just a few months before the French first Constitution, and three-and-a-half years after the U.S. Constitution.
3 May 2019, this is a national Constitution Day in Poland. Even if the current Constitution was adopted on 2 April 1997, it is the “3 May” which is the day of the most important legal document of the land.
On the very day the president of the European Council Donald Tusk addresses the big crowd gathered in the Warsaw University main hall, and thousands of others watch him outside the building or on TV. The EUCO President speaks for nearly one hour, and if you understand Polish, you can re-watch it here:
Tusk starts by saying he is not alone on the stage today. He is here “with the hero of the day, the Constitution”.
A footnote to take off: “Those who say that as the president of the European Council I shouldn’t advocate for one political party’s campaign are right”, but at the same time “it is my right and duty as the president of the European Council to support the Europeans in every country of the European Union, all those who are stubborn to unite people, not to divide them”, for their own nation state, and for Europe.
Tusk embraces the Macron’s initiative of “European universities” that the host, the Warsaw University (UW), is bidding in with partners from Copenhagen, Milan, Heidelberg and Paris. Tusk supports the UW’s bid and hopes “there will be plenty of the Warsaw University in Europe and of Europe in the UW”.
A minute of silence follows for the late Karol Modzelewski, who recently died at the age of 81. Mr Modzelewski was a well-known opposition activist during the communist Poland and a senator in the independent Poland. He advocated for the trade union to adopt its name, “Solidarność” or “Solidarity”, back in 1980.
Let the historian talk history
Tusk talks about the communist past, when the communist Poland banned two Polish “holly days”, 11 November (re-gained independence in 1918) and 3 May (1791 Constitution). As a young man, Tusk was exposed to the teachings of Lech Bądkowski, who taught his young adepts that a free Poland has to be acceptable for all. Tusk today says “Poland is one. Everybody who takes up the fight has to bear in mind how to turn a motherland into a home for everyone, not for selected few”.
“Why 3 May is important?” asks Tusk. As a young historian, Tusk back in 1980 thought of the Constitution as of a symbol of freedom and independence. As a historian, Tusk accuses the 3 May 1791 Constitution of not being progressive enough by today’s standards. “Compare it with the US Constitution, just a little bit older, which is binding – with a few changes adopted along the way – until today”, says Tusk. “Under the 3 May Constitution it would be difficult to imagine today’s governance system”. Yet, Tusk defends the 18th century Constitution as giving Poles hope for a change of the status quo of the day. The status quo was hopelessness, chaos, divisions, a social injustice, lack of army and no foreign policy. Against this picture, the 3 May 1791 act was an ambitious step “towards freedom, human and citizen rights, a modern governance system, […] towards the then-European norms”. Tusk quotes Edmund Burke and George Washington, who praised the 1791 document as “perfect”.
Why 3 May constitution is important? Tusk, the historian, says: “This is then when the Poles discovered they constitute a political community”.
Since then, Tusk says, Poles know how important the Constitution is and how evil is its violation. “The Constitution’s violation undermines the most basic element of the community”, says the European Council President.
“Targowica” is a label associated with betrayal in Poland. Back in 1791, the opposition to the 3 May Constitution was called the “Targowica Confederation”. They opposed the document, and were inspired and paid for by foreign powers. With backing of Russia the Targowica Confederation started a war, and once the government was defeated, the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place by 1792, and the final, third, by 1795. Independent Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist until 1918.
The essence of Targowica, according to Mr Tusk: “it is a synonym of betrayal and lies”. Following 3 May, under the mottos of “pride” and “independence” the Targowica Confederation led back to chaos and enslavement of the peasants, dependency of Russia, war and state failure. “The act of Targowica Confederation was a spectacular manifestation of cynicism and propaganda. It appealed to national emotions but was contrary to national interests. This lesson is relevant today, as it carries an universal message: how easy it is to flatter national emotions, acting de facto in contradiction with national interests”.
Soberly, Tusk remarks: “Constitution is not sacred”. It can be changed and improved. What is “sacred” is to respect its provisions “by all the citizens, especially the authorities”. This is a clear reference to the accusations by the Polish opposition against the Law and Justice (PiS) government and president Andrzej Duda that they have violated the current Constitution many times.
It cannot be that the authorities celebrate the Constitution Day once a year but the Constitution is evaded on a daily basis.
Nie może być tak, że władza raz do roku obchodzi święto Konstytucji, a na co dzień Konstytucję obchodzi.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
This is an untranslatable game of words: “obchodzi” has two meanings, “to celebrate” and “to evade”.
Let the European talk Europe
Every constitution allows for an inclusive political construction, that can accommodate different people. “United with the respect for one another and for law, but not unified. Equally understanding their obligations to their own country, to their own community, to the freedom of other people, but how different in their views, customs and behaviours”, says the president of the European Council.
More on the definition of freedom by the former Polish premier: “Respect for people who think differently and understand their freedom in a way that least reduces the freedom of other people.” Tusk embraces the EU’s motto: United in diversity. In varietate concordia.
This is also the message for Poland: diversity, not uniformity. Tusk puts the “constitution” and the European Union as equal values, for they have a lot in common. Tusk: “they are to protect citizens from the stronger and more powerful people”.
World is full of stories of politicians, nations and places that aspired to be “the centres of the world”. Tusk mentions the Venetians, Egyptians, Indians and the Ganges, Greece, Mecca, and the Middle Kingdom, China. “The trouble is that this perspective, in a sense natural and understandable, usually translates into a pretence to hegemony, superiority, domination”.
Against those hegemonic tendencies Tusk raises defences. “The national constitution and Europe in the international dimension, is the denial of this logic, the denial of this need, this temptation, this danger of hegemony and domination”.
The philosopher lands home with a joke: Tusk talks about “Poland at the heart of Europe”, the PiS motto in the European elections. He says anatomical references are confusing: if Poland was the heart, then Sweden should be the head, but Hungary – “Viktor Orbán can feel slightly embarrassed”. The joke is warmly received. The head of the Hungarian government should smile, too.
The most important dilemma of the day in Europe is the following: “to avoid the alternative between domination, hegemony and decay and entropy”. Those two tendencies, on the one hand, the nationalism that ends with an attempt to dominate, and on the other hand, the decay, the implosion. “This alternative is deadly”, warns Tusk.
This alternative requires change. It needs to be replaced “by the type of political construction which requires a wise and respected national constitution, and in the international dimension an internationally respected and strengthened European Union”, advocates the head of the European Council.
Earlier in the day Donald Tusk met president Andrzej Duda, who supports the idea of mentioning the Polish membership in the EU and NATO in the Polish constitution. Tusk says: “This statement is worth as much, it would truly strengthen our presence in the EU as much, as it would be met with the determination to observe the Constitution”. And then he continues to ask “why change or improve Constitution if it is disrespected?”.
Let the Pole talk Poland
“Europe, as an idea in which human freedom, human rights, a balance between values, a Europe that has not always managed to defend those values, needs a global partnership”, and according to Tusk this global partnership needs to be trans-Atlantic “at any cost”.
Tusk repeats that in today’s world all European nations are small and the world outside of the EU is brutal. “Geopolitics, demography, statistics are merciless”. If the EU can be successful the only way to achieve this is unity, and the trans-Atlantic community needs fostering.
Tusk then turns to soft criticism of the Polish government. He argues for the inclusive policies, not exclusive ones. Tusk agrees with the pro-American policy of the Polish government, but implies it should not be a choice “US or EU”. Tusk ponders on “and/or” between “us or them” v “us and them”, “an individual or a community” v “an individual and a community”, “security or freedom” v “security and freedom”. This is Tusk’s political grammar. He clearly prefers inclusiveness, “and” wins over “or”.
In politics it can not mean that someone should defeat someone else and annihilate them.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“You can win or lose, but we both will continue to live in the same country”, says Tusk. He disagrees with the approach “I won the elections, Poland is mine, not yours, you are excluded”. It is applicable in Poland and in Europe, says EUCO President and calls on those who listen to “stop this spiral of reluctance, hostility, and hate”.
If we do not stop this spiral [of hate] we shall lose the same way we lost when the 3 May Constitution was adopted only for a few months.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Poland is not the sick man of Europe”, claims Tusk. Poland is much stronger than 228 years ago. Today Poland has “prescriptions” for a good political health, but they can be empty without the respect of the Constitution.
“This has been the best 30 years in the history of Poland”, Tusk is fully convinced of that. He shares the conviction with the Polish president Andrzej Duda. Yet, as Tusk asks, “do we really have to be wise again after the damage? Do we really have to give up what has become the foundation of Poland’s unprecedented success just because today the logic of dislike, hatred and aggression is winning?”
Tusk is on fire: “Why should we forget this lesson? […] Without respect for the law, without respecting people of different views, without respect for ourselves and strangers, without understanding that Europe is more than a few treaties and boundaries, why should we lose it somewhere in this fight?”
A Game of Thrones viewer, Tusk says: “politics is a competition, but not a fight to death” like the Winterfell battle. “I do not want for all of us to lose this fight”.
Let the global leader talk global challenges
Poland and whole of Europe face major challenges that can be overwhelming if approached individually by each of the nations alone. “The 21st century problems need to be solved together, because we do not have the chance to face them if we fight with each other to death”.
Environment. Climate change. Air quality in Poland. Tusk quotes Yuval Harari “nationalists are unable to find an answer to the challenges such as climate change. Therefore the only way for them is to deny that such a problem exists in the first place”.
Tusk dwells on the poor air quality in Poland. Most of the country has the worst quality of air in Europe. Tusk: 50 thousand people die every year in Poland due to air pollution. “Would you take a decision to give your child, your grandchild, a package of cigarettes to smoke every day?” he asks rhetorically.
Tusk’s answer to climate change: cooperation at every level, of all with everybody. Example: the plastic. “It is difficult to believe in the effectiveness of our fight against the excess of plastic if other countries are throwing tons of plastic every hour into the sea. This is one of the proofs that we will not be able to deal with the problem alone, without full and harmonious cooperation”, says the European Council head.
Artificial intelligence is another challenge. Tusk talks about the Chinese social credit system and presents it as a system in which a totalitarian government controls every action of a 1.3 billion persons, its nation. It requires a great capacity of analysis of big data. And Tusk says: “This is no science fiction. This is not futurology. This is not my fear when I look at my grand children. This is happening today, now, in this world, in the largest country on the planet, in the country best prepared to de facto control not only behaviour, but also needs, dreams, values of each and every one of the Chinese”.
Tusk is relieved, briefly: “we think we are safe in the West as we are beneficiaries and victims of the same technological revolution, but there is no temptation in us to use this technology to obtain a full state control over the individual”. But, are we? Tusk talks GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple.
In the East there is a gigantic empire capable to control all human actions. In the West there already is an uncontrolled, business-like, somewhat spontaneous, but effectively, a similar empire
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
“Are we Internet-junkies?” asks the historian-turned politician.
Tusks warns of the future industries, in which there is no work, but not because of unemployment, but because of technological revolution. He mentions the “value engineers” and other challenges for the civilisation and for the political world.
Let the doubter doubt
“We dream of the rule of the Constitution, yet instead we see those who seek power reach only fiction, and those who seek truth about the world have to compromise even dreaming about power”, says Tusk and soberly notes, “Man by nature prefers power, not truth”.
Fiction today is not only a commercial tool, but it is becoming a major political tool. That’s a challenge for all of us.
Donald Tusk, 3 May 2019
The issue should be dealt with by education and healthcare. “We need a revolution in thinking about education”, says Tusk. “Young people need vaccines against a dangerous world of fiction and being dependent on others’ values.”
Those and other challenges and our responses to them will determine the future of Poles and of other Europeans. It is important to ask questions, says Donald Tusk: “this is the essence of political freedom, we are to disturb and not support, we have to seek, we have to question”.
Cogito ergo sum of Descartes, “I doubt hence I am” is quoted, as is Ortega y Gasset: “the essence of Europe and its great cultural and civilisational advantages was precisely that its people thought, doubted, were in constant motion”. Be in motion, asks president Tusk.
Tusks follows the Ortega y Gasset quote: “European civilisation has deep doubts about itself” and adds “I hope it truly does”. The Spaniard is quoted: “I do not recall that any civilisation ever would die of doubt attacks. I remember, however, they usually die because of the petrification of their traditional faith and sclerosis of beliefs”.
Tusk adds: “Let us defend Poland, Europe and ourselves against the sclerosis of beliefs”.
Let the dreamer dream
The president of the European Council quotes a long passage from the Polish 1997 Constitution. It is its preamble, as proposed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a Polish statesman and prime minister 1989-1990.
Tusk wants to be proud of Poland again. He dreams it is possible, as it once was. “I have been many times in my life witness to the admiration the world and Europe looked at Poland. And so it can be again”.
Poland’s EU accession in 2004 is a success story. As such, it has many fathers. Today PiS politicians no longer talk of “imaginary community” or “ruined Poland”. Today they are pro-European. Just listen to the Polish head of state talk.
The EU enlargement of 2004 was the Union’s biggest: 10 new countries joined on 1 May and some 74 million people became the EU citizens overnight. Over 15 years those 10 countries have economically developed, but at the same time today they are depopulating. Fifteen years later they are inhabited by 73 million people.
The largest of the 2004 entrants is Poland. Today, 1 May 2019, Warsaw is home of many political rallies and speeches. The far-right anti-Europeans are “defending sovereignty” while the far-left remind the general public the true meaning of 1 May celebrations, the Labour Day.
The mainstream parties campaign in the European Elections. PiS’ shifting narrative and strategy of late is to become increasingly pro-European. The country president, Andrzej Duda, who last year talked dismissively of the EU, spoke last night.
President Duda: 15 years ago the society decided, accession was the Polish national interest. “Membership in the European Union changed many aspects of our lives; it was a challenge, but also – it brought many benefits”.
The head of state mentions open borders, the single market and the well spent cohesion funds; but the most element in it all – it is the people who make use of those opportunities. “We have used well our chance” and the 15 years of EU membership is a collective success.
Mr Duda surprisingly says: “We are members of the great, European community. We take responsibility for its shape and its future”.
Only last year for Mr Duda EU was “some imaginary community from which little results for us”. Back then he thought of a community this way: “Community is needed here, in Poland, for us – our own, focusing on our matters, because they are the most important matters for us. When our affairs are resolved, we will deal with European affairs. For now, let them leave us alone and let us fix Poland, because this is the most important thing”.
In his address to the nation Mr Duda continues talking about the Central European initiatives (Three Seas, Visegrad Group). He underlines that there are frequently differences of opinion as far as the European challenges are concerned.
We are Europe. European Union it’s us.
Andrzej Duda, 30 April 2019
This is an underlying agreement of all Poles, that “we are Europe” is a major message of the day. In the following statement, the president accuses “those, who try to create anxiety in the society about the EU membership are acting against the Polish national interest”. He most likely means the European Coalition, who is arguing the Polish government is running a secret Polexit plan, or an unintended Polexit, or even a “velvet Polexit” (Leszek Miller, former Social-Democratic PM, who finished the accession negotiations in 2002; today a candidate for the EP) .
The far-right Confederacy is openly anti-EU, hence they also are the addressees of the president’s criticism.
“Our goal is a modern Poland in a united Europe”, explains the head of the Polish state. This corresponds with the statements of other PiS leaders, who are promising Eurozone accession when the Polish and German salaries are equal.
Mr Duda finishes with a positive note expressing a believe in a “strong, secure and just Europe built on the foundation of common identity”.
Can the president be trusted? He seems to be changing his tune depending on the audience and depending on the timing. The closer to the elections we are the more pro-European Law and Justice politicians always are. However, not words, deeds matter when it comes to Europe. I could accept PiS does its best at most policies. I may disagree with some of the policies, yet almost of them are within the line of a democratic decision making. The “almost”, however, is the key. The rule of law in Poland has been compromised. This is a fundamental value of a modern democratic society, this is a foundation of a European democratic nation state. This is a core value of the European Union.
As long as the issue regarding the rule of law in Poland is not addressed properly, there is no chance any PiS politician can be trusted about being pro-European or even pro-democratic.
Should the issue be addressed properly (foreign minister Czaputowicz indicates that most likely Poland shall respect the upcoming ruling on the rule of law of the Luxembourg Court), I can respect the vision of a unified, religious, Christian Europe. I wish it was truly the Law and Justice perspective. I am afraid it is not the case.
Brexit puts the details of the European elections in limbo. It looked like there will be 705 MEPs. Now it seems we will see the same number of MEPs as before: 751. With Britain or not, for the Polish MEPs it makes a difference of one mandate: with Britain in the EU there will be 51 MEPs elected in Poland. If Brexit takes place, there are 52 MEPs to be elected from Poland.
51 or 52 makes a difference if you are one of the last people to be elected from Law and Justice (PiS), the European Coalition (KE), the Spring (Wiosna), Kukiz’15 or the Confederacy, as those political forces have real chances for a mandate in the 26 May elections.
However, Brexit makes for a twist in those calculations. It appears that Jacek-Vincent Rostowski, a former finance minister and deputy PM under Donald Tusk, is a candidate in… the United Kingdom for the Change UK party.
Jacek Rostowski is a London-born politician of dual, Polish-British nationalities. As a finance minister 2007-13 he was key in safe navigation of the Polish economy through the difficult high waters of the European and global economic downturn. He was named Europe’s best finance minister 2009 by The Banker magazine.
As a former ECOFIN member he is a perfect ECON candidate. Despite his credentials, in 2014 Mr Rostowski was a disappointment for his Polish party, the EPP’s Civic Platform, when he did not win a seat while being a leading candidate in the Bydgoszcz region. In Britain, his first political party was the Conservative Party. Today it is Change UK.
Today Mr Rostowski is deeply troubled with Brexit. He says in Business Insider, Brexit is “the worst thing that has happened in Western Europe since the Second World War” and would like to see it undone. He says that the 2016 referendum was a one big lie. Rostowski: “I know just how incredibly good the British were at getting their interests across the line within the European Union. They were absolutely the best negotiators” and saw even one French minister cry because he was out-negotiated by the British minister.
On social issues like gay marriage, Mr Rostowski changed his position. The British media have uncovered his anti-gay statements from the past. “My views have fundamentally changed,” he says today, “I’m a Conservative and Conservatives change their views.” Polish gay news-wire Queer.pl called for other PO candidates, who expressed anti-gay views in the past to follow Mr Rostowski’s footsteps.
Mr Rostowski is clearly canvassing the European voters, who are not British, on his twitter account. He wrote in Polish and in French a little info:
Mr Rostowski is 2nd on the Change UK list in London. Change UK is polling at about 6-9%.
It may be that with or without Brexit there are 52 Polish MEPs, after all, which is an interesting nuance.
More importantly, the candidacy of Mr Rostowski is a living proof of the truth about the European elections: that it is about the Europeans, not the states. Mr Rostowski voters will be Brits and all the other European citizens, who are not UK citizens. There are about 17 million Europeans who reside in another EU member state. In Poland there is only about 30,000 of them, but in UK alone there are about 800,000 Poles. In London alone there are about 200,000 French citizens.
It is your vote, if you are European, you can vote wherever you live.