Marek Jurek has a problem

Marek Jurek is a conservative MEP. In 2014 he is elected to the EP from the Law and Justice list and leaves the party a few weeks later. He is the most recognisable face of a small right-wing party, the Right Wing of the Republic (RWP, Prawica Rzeczypospolitej). Once, he was the Speaker of the Sejm, the Polish Parliament 2005-7, and has been active in the politics since 1989. Always as a devoted Catholic.

PiS No More

Marek Jurek MEP

Today Mr Jurek has a problem. There is an abundance of right wing parties in Poland. Yet, they do not qualify as good partners. Mr Jurek party’s leitmotif is a complete ban of abortion. He disagrees with Law and Justice blaming the ruling party for not strengthening the anti-abortion legislation in Poland.

In Poland abortion is legal only in three situations: if the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother; if according to the prenatal checks there is a high risk of a serious damage to the fetus; or if the pregnancy is a result of a rape. Mr Jurek’s party campaigns to ban all three exceptions.

For Mr Jurek PiS is not an option any more. As Marian Piłka, another RWP politician, explains in 2018: there was an agreement between RWP and Law and Justice and “the agreement contained clear wording regarding the positions of our candidates. Unfortunately, the promises have not been kept”.

The Confederacy is a No-Go

If not PiS, Confederacy is a second option. It is a coalition of various far-right groups, including Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s supporters, the Liberty party (Wolność), nationalists like Grzegorz Braun or Robert Winnicki, or other anti-abortion activists like Kaja Godek. Mr Jurek has a problem with Confederacy, too. The problem’s name is Grzegorz Braun, who recently spoke about scourging of gays.

When Mr Braun wants to talk about “penalisation of homosexuality in the EP”, Mr Jurek says bringing up this issue is not a good idea. Instead he should be focused on the real issues. Jurek: “I was with this matter in Budapest, in Paris in the National Assembly, in the Netherlands, in Brussels. Think about it, if Mr Braun, this time in Brussels, has two more speeches about scourging people who have a different lifestyle, then it is an end our project to safeguard the right of states not to recognize homosexual relationships”.

REM is a long-shot

If not Confederacy, then who? How about the Real Europe Movement (REM)? This new initiative is launched by another MEP Mirosław Piotrowski, who is also affiliated with PiS, that is – he also was elected with PiS back in 2009 and 2014, but departed from the too-soft PiS, according to Mr Piotrowski himself. MEP Piotrowski first entered the European Parliament in 2004 with the League of Polish Families (LPR), the once popular far-right party in mid-2000s which campaigned against EU accession in the 2003 referendum and entered the PiS government 2005-7.

Mirosław Piotrowski MEP

Today Mr Piotrowski tries his chances with a new movement, the REM. Their chances remain limited, but as super-conservatives and pro-Catholic Church as the REM stands for – “Real Europe”, he enjoys a powerful ally. Mr Piotrowski in a local radio says this month: “We, first of all, are in favour of Christian values in the European Union, for the civilization of life and for a normal family”. Sounds like a natural partner for Mr Jurek, especially since Mr Piotrowski allegedly has the backing of the powerful father Tadeusz Rydzyk, leader of Radio Maryja. Mr Rydzyk influence with the right-wing devoted voters is never to be underestimated by the far-right, right-wing, conservative, pro-Catholic Church politicians in Poland. Law and Justice, Kukiz’15 and all the outside of Sejm parties seek Mr Rydzyk blessing in their deeds.

And so for a moment it looks like the candidates of Jurek’s RWP are included on the electoral lists of the Piotrowski’s REM. But Jurek himself is not on the list. They campaign, they gather signatures for their candidates. All looks fine…

And the winner is Kukiz’15

Then comes 11 April and the small world of RWP is turned upside down while the small world of REM is crushing down. Mr Jurek has been saying he was not running for re-election and the RWP candidates are happy with the REP. On 11 April Mr Krzysztof Kawęcki is quoted on all major media. Who is Mr Kawęcki? He is the nominal chairman of the RWP, but not its true leader. Kawęcki says: “I do not understand the decision of Marek Jurek” and warns of the RWP break down.

What did Mr Jurek do before 11 April and announced on 11 April is the following: there are RWP candidates on the electoral list of Kukiz’15! This is the best chance for re-election for Mr Jurek, as there is no guarantee that the Confederacy or the REM can ever reach the 5% electoral threshold. And Mr Kukiz sounds like a perfect partner for Mr Jurek.

Mr Jurek: “Poland needs an independent, strong right-wing. We go to the elections to show that Poland is not a billiard ball in a game played by the Law and Justice (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO)”. He also advocates for cooperation of all the like minded people. Kukiz’15 is to include on its lists not only Mr Jurek, but also Mr Piłka and other candidates.

Mr Jurek is No. 1 on the list of Kukiz’15 in Poznań.

Et alors?

This is a perfect deal. It allows for Mr Jurek to have a new credible chance of re-election. It allows for Mr Jurek to continue his political platform in the European Parliament. It strengthens Mr Kukiz in his struggles to break the 5% threshold. Latest opinion polls give Kukiz’15 about 6% of the votes.

In the process the chances of Mr Piotrowski to return to the European Parliament have been eliminated. The late departure of RWP from its alliance with REM meant that REM was short of time to collect enough signatures by the deadline. On 17 April Mr Piotrowski announced that REM decided to discontinue to collect the signatures knowing that they would fall short of registering lists in 7 of 13 regions necessary to run in the entire country.

The fact that REM is not going to compete in European elections is excellent news for all the competitors of the same electorate: Law and Justice, Kukiz’15 and the Confederacy.

PiS Europe Strategy

  • “For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed” says Zdzisław Krasnodębski, vice-president of the European Parliament, MEP with ECR/PiS
  • After elections, there will be more than one group right-of-the-EPP
  • ECR has a Spitzenkandidat, too!

The Polish ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) is a large party in a populous EU member state. Like all other major national political parties in the EU it should play a major role on the European political scene. Until now, however, it was not the case. In the European Parliament PiS chooses to standby on many issues and periodically engage in “the defence of Polish interests” (usually unsuccessfully) without any major pro-active role. Will it continue to after the May elections?

Salvini

Since the beginning of the year there were four major events thought to help to position PiS ahead of the May elections to the next Parliament. In January, in the spotlight of the European media, Jarosław Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini, the Italian minister of internal affairs in Italy, who paid a visit to the PiS headquarters in Warsaw. There were words about cooperation, but not much more came out of it. It seems that the paths of those two popular parties on the European political scene, Lega and PiS, have simply detached.

No wonder. On the right side of the European Parliament there is a clear emergence of two major groups, which could be labelled “the souverenists” and “the nationalists”. The nationalists are parties that today sit in with the most extreme group of the Parliament: here are the French of Marine Le Pen, the Dutch of Gert Wilders. There are also the Italians of Matteo Salvini. The common denominator for these parties is a total opposition to the Union. They would like to get rid of the Union altogether. Salvini used to say that Italy should leave the eurozone. On a day Le Pen is in favour of Frexit, or France’s exit from the European Union. Some in Eastern Europe may well remember Gert Wilders’ racist comments about Eastern or Central Europeans working in the Netherlands. What puts them together is not only scepticism towards the EU, many of those parties also share a sentiment towards Russia.

Next to the nationalists there are two other groups. Another major Italian party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) of Luigi Di Maio is trying their best with a “direct democracy” group. No much steam or momentum there; only Di Maio can be certain of a EP representation. Over the last nationalists summit in Milan there was a clash in the Italian ruling coalition about the nationalists’ relativism of history.

The Five Star Movement seems as disoriented as Poland’s Law and Justice. Both parties are abandoned by their British partners who have lost important founding functions for both groups (EFDD & ECR, respectively). M5S is an orphan of the departure of Nigel Farage’s UKIP. For PiS, there are the British Tories who are struggling to rule in the Brexit era.

Partners

PiS is preparing for the continuation of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), although it tested its chances with the European People’s Party (EPP). This is where the PiS’ Hungarian friends of prime minister Orban’s Fidesz reside (still). The idea fell even before it was born and today Fidesz has its big problems in the EPP.

When asked if the adjective “souverenists” suits them, MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski asks to use the adjective “conservatives”. The conservatives of PiS, therefore, meet since January, get acquainted, converse, and shall make decisions “in due time” regarding the shape of their next group in the next European Parliament.

“Our conversations have different character. We get to know each other. These are usually smaller, right-wing parties, but closer to the centre of the political scene than the radicals of the extreme right”, says EP’s VP Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a moderate voice among the Law and Justice lawmakers. PiS wants to get to know its partners as they are in reality, not through the lenses of their media representation. PiS distrusts the mainstream media and prefers to make up its own mind about potential partners. An important message: PiS prefers to talk to smaller parties.

Who are the people PiS talks to, except for the Italian League? In February, the second important “interrogation” takes place. This time not in Warsaw, but in Paris. By the end of the current term, the ECR presents itself as a “euro-realistic” group with MEPs from 19 countries. In February, arrival of new parties to the ECR is announced, including the French Debout-la-France (DLF, which effectively means “France, rise up!”) under the leadership of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan and the Forum of Democracy (FvD) from the Netherlands led by Thierry Baudet. The February Paris summit is important as it means extending the activity of ECR to France and strengthening its presence in the Netherlands. Ryszard Legutko, who is the ECR co-chairman in the Parliament, says after the meeting: “[These parties] share our belief that the EU has overreached and that the days of ever more centralisation in Brussels must end.”

The French partners have a problem. In last months they tend to lose out support (from a stable 7% to currently around 4%) and it is not unknown whether they are able to enter the new EP. In France and in Poland there are 5% electoral threshold. Meanwhile, the new Dutch party can be a major hit of this transfer season. FvD won the recent provincial election with 14.5% of the votes. In a fragmented Dutch system, such a result is enough to win. Recent polls give the Baudet party even 25% of support.

Still, there may be another problem with FvD. The FvD leader flirts with Nexit (the Netherlands’ exit from the EU), and the PiS avoids this subject like fire. In February, Baudet spoke with De Volkskrant: “I am ideologically against the EU, against the internal market, against open borders, against the euro, against all of it”. Following his adherence to the ECR he tones previous statements: “The ECR Group have proven themselves to be the only credible voice for a turnaround in Brussels and for a Europe that respects its Member States”. His popularity can be explained by the recent Utrecht shooting, when three people were killed. With freshness, youth (he is 35 years old), the Forum is sucking the energy and support out of the Gert Wilders’ party. Still, Krasnodębski tells me about PiS motives: “We want to reform the EU, not to break it”.

Zdzisław Krasnodębski

MEP Krasnodębski continues: “but I am not opposing to test, to meet, to talk”. It may be that partners from abroad can be excused of more. After all, the Tories introduced same-sex marriages in England several years ago. It is central to know what are the PiS red lines.

The third meeting is another visit at PiS HQ. This time the interviewee is Santiago Abascal, whose new VOX party took Spain by storm last year. In Warsaw Abascal talks about the fight against the loss of sovereignty. Few years back he opposed “Spain to be a vassal of Europe” of likes of Angela Merkel and the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. VOX did not enter the ECR yet, but Abascal is full of hope for further cooperation: “We are big fans of Poland, Spain is Poland’s sister, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary”.

As much as Abascal is controversial in Spain, where he undermines the rights of women, and wants to cancel same-sex marriages, in Warsaw he shows a gentler face. Or maybe the entourage is more accommodating for his views? PiS seems to like what they hear. There seems to be a community of values ​​and the way of thinking about Europe between PiS and VOX: Abascal talks about sovereignty and Christian faith, he respects Poland and the whole of Central Europe, there are no Russian money behind the Spanish politician.

So far the last foreign visit at Warsaw PiS HQ is of a delegation of a smaller Italian party, Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), the Brothers of Italy. At the head of the party is Georgia Meloni. FdI has been in the ECR since last year. The appearance of a delegation in Warsaw is a clear signal from PiS to Matteo Salvini: “we already have Italian partners”. Salvini’s response is the lack of an invitation to attend the Milan summit. Support for the Italian FdI is about 5%, while in Italy the electoral threshold is at 4%. Their trend is slightly upwards. After the meeting in Warsaw the FdI is very happy, the Brothers talk about “deep harmony” in thinking about society and national sovereignty. It is the Italians who speak of the “family of European souverenists in the next European Parliament”.

Four meetings, five partners. These conversations are not always effective, sometimes discrepancy reports are drafted. We shall not forget about the other major ECR partners, among whom there are not only the Tories. There are the Flanders’ NVA (28% in the regional polls and the first place), there are the Swedish Democrats (SD, 18%, second place in the polls), or the Czech ODS (13%, third place in the polls).

Castling

We shall not forget about those who have gone ECR and are with Salvini already. The new formation of the Italian minister is gaining traction and creates a competition for the ECR renewal initiative. The ECR got rid of the German AFD when the Germans started to cooperate with the extreme Austrian party of FPO a few years ago. Today AFD is with Salvini. PiS is abandoned by two smaller but important allies, the Finns (once “true”), who enjoy about 12% support in Finland and the Danish National Party (DF) with support of about 14%. Both left the ECR for Salvini.

Bartek Lech

If on the one hand a “new” ECR is being prepared with the participation of PiS, Spanish VOX, Italian FdI, Dutch FvD, French DLF, Swedish SD, Flemish NVA and Czech ODS, on the other hand the new alliance of Salvini is formed between the League and the French National Rally (ex-Front), the German AFD, the Austrian FPO, the Finns, the Danish DF. They will not have it easy: Le Pen did not come to Paris. “As experience shows, nationalists are able to get along for a week or so and we are awaiting for some spectacular divisions as in previous terms in the EP”, says Bartek Lech, a left-wing insider of European politics.

Two big European partners who look for a new contract in this transfer season, and who seem to be within the ECR range, are the Hungarian Fidesz, if there is a divorce with the EPP, and the other big Italian party, the Five Star Movement. As many commentators rightly point out, not all new parties in the upcoming Parliament are right-wing. Poland’s Spring is also looking for a place in the future EP. For today, the party of Robert Biedroń is getting closer to the S&D, but the final decisions will not be taken “before it becomes clear how many groups have seats in the EP, because only then will their impact on top-jobs be known”, says Lech. “Top jobs” includes the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, as well as the High Representative for Foreign Policy and the new head of the European Central Bank. By the end of the year all institutions will have new bosses atop.

MEP Krasnodębski: “Parties such as FPO or AFD will most likely be in their own group”, and the European People’s Party should return to its roots. The PiS in the next Parliament will not only look for partners to form a political group, but will also want to talk with other groups to cooperate on policies. It is possible that in such discussions the Polish governmental party will sometimes be closer to the far-right than to the EPP. Why? It is easier to find a common understanding on issues like the rule of law, which PiS understands as an attempt to limit Polish sovereignty. Nevertheless, the EPP remains an important partner. Among PiS politicians there are hopes that the German CDU will correct the course under the new leadership of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Standards

PiS would like to set European standards. The pre-conditions for forming an alliance with their partners is the expected respect for Central and Eastern Europe and for Poland. There is a different understanding of what European standards are between the Law and Justice and the outside world. For most people the European standards are the respect of rule of law. For PiS, this issue is about the EU’s lack of competence and “limitation of sovereignty”.

Standards in the process of identifying partners is also an important issue. For PiS, an important limitation is the Russian influence, but as Krasnodębski notes, “Russian influence is also in the European mainstream”, and the Second World War fascists are subject of relativity not only by Salvini, but also by the EP President Antonio Tajani of EPP.

“For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed”

Zdzisław Krasnodębski MEP

Standards are a hard and delicate thing. On the one hand, they are broken often. Krasnodębski: “in Europe various political parties are treated differently, for example those that exercise power in Italy or Austria”. There are different standards for the Poles or the Hungarians.

On the other hand, ECR tries a federalist behaviour and nominated its candidate for the European Commission presidency, the “Spitzenkandidat”. There was a debate about the, but the decisive argument was to have one face in the European debate. The ECR Spitzenkandidat is the Czech MEP Jan Zahradil. Mr Zahradil is campaigning like other leading candidates such as Manfred Weber (Bavarian CSU, EPP candidate) or Frans Timmermans (Dutch Labor Party, PES candidate). He is a leading candidate, the voice of ECR in the European public debate. Zahradil will take part in debates of candidates planned for the end of April and in May. “He fulfils his duties”, assures MEP Krasnodębski.

Future

There are many commentators in Europe who predict there will be one giant group from the far right to Fidesz leaving the European People’s Party. Others are scared of such a scenario. Meanwhile, a clear dividing line is emerging between these two strong camps. On the one hand, there is the Italian deputy prime minister and minister, a “strong man” Salvini. On the other hand, there is the Law and Justice, which takes care of its current message in Poland, saying indirectly: those who accuse us of Polexit are plain wrong. Jarosław Kaczyński once said about PiS’ alleged Polexit: “Lies, lies, lies”.

Law and Justice tried the possibility of joining the EPP. It did not work. PiS leaders met Salvini to get to know each other in person outside of the media spin. They did not get along. The third remaining option: their own political group with smaller partners in Europe. Together it is necessary to establish a rational group to talks about the future of Europe and EU policies, not to scare others or demand EU’s disintegration. There is no guarantee this idea will prevail. There can be subsequent flows of national parties in either direction. Five years ago the Flemish NVA joined the ECR after leaving the Green Group and the Five Star Movement tried to join the Liberal Group. For now we should assume there will be two groups on the right side of the European Parliament: one around Salvini, the other around the PiS. It cannot be ruled out that one group dominates the other, although a total unification is highly unlikely. It should not be ruled out that Fidesz joins ECR, or even the Five Star Movement. A delayed or cancelled Brexit could mean that the Tories remain in the European Parliament and in the group. Then, the ECR in the new Parliament may aim at even more than 100 MEPs.

Timmermans has a shot

Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw as a leading candidate of the European Social Democrats for the position of President of the European Commission.

Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw at the Commission’s First Vice President in charge, inter alia, for the rule of law in member states.

Frans Timmermans comes to Warsaw when the Brexit chaos can produce an outcome with the British electing their MEPs in May. Politico concluded last week this could bring the Dutchman some 30 MEPs closer to the top position, only about 10 MEPs short of the EPP.

Could Mr Timmermans be the Commission’s next President? Does he have a shot?

On Sunday 7 April, Mr Timmermans campaigns in Poland. He participates in a rally called “Brainstorm with Frans Timmermans” organised by the Spring of Robert Biedroń.

Before they enter the stage Mr Timmermans’ name is called: “Frans, Frans!“, people shout. They also shout “Robert, Robert“, for Robert Biedroń is their leader. Today the two politicians will dominate the conversation.

When Frans Timmermans introduces himself to the crowd in Poland, he talks about his own roots. His father’s town was liberated by the Polish army of general Maczek by the end of WWII. He was born in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected. In 1981 when the marshal law was introduced in Poland, he was a student. His fellow students from Poland were panicking for they did not know what was happening. In 1989, when the Communism ended, his son Mark was born. In 2004, when Poland joined the EU, his son Max was born. The fate of Mr Timmermans & Poland are intertwined.

Timmermans & Biedroń in Warsaw on 7 April

You are part of one European family“, Frans speaks to the crowd in English. Most people in the room do not need the headphones. Next to me are two Italians who use headphones for translation from Polish into English. They live in Poland and will vote in the European elections. Will they vote for an Italian list or a Polish list, I ask. They haven’t decided yet.

Another person who needs translation, however, is Mr Timmermans himself. He continues in English “I will fight so no one takes Poland out of Europe“. This is a promise he makes to the crowd, to his father, who was liberated by the Polish soldiers and to the whole of Europe.

The Brainstorm

The rules of the game: there are to be 5 proposals from today’s Brainstorming. Randomly selected people put ideas as proposals, there is a debate and a final vote.

First the discussion is about the hate speech in the EU. “Criminalise it” some say. Others respond: Spring is not for criminalisation of homophobia, but wants homophobia to end. Timmermans adds: “Hate speech is not only a Polish problem“.

Immigration in 2015 caused a big wave of racism” says one participant.

In conclusion of the debate on the hate speech, the proposal is modified: education program against hate speech & more anti-discriminatory laws. The motion is adopted.

The next point is about the European electoral lists. People seem tired of voting Polish parties in European elections. Then someone soberly says: “but I want to vote for you [Timmermans] and you [Biedroń], maybe we could have two votes?“. Adopted.

The next issue is crucial, outside of the room, too. This concerns the social standards. In Poland they are not as elevated as in the Western societies. Example: the European standard of healthcare. There is a discussion if we should have one healthcare standard in Europe. Someone shouts: “one, but not the Polish one!“. The room laughs. Adopted.

There is a new proposal in the area of the rule of law. Someone hands in a 11,000-signed motion for the Commission to begin a new proceeding in the Court of Justice about the Polish National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), politically appointed. Adopted by acclamation.

Close the gender gap! Adopted after discussion. Someone says all we need is to respect existing laws, we don’t need new laws. Timmermans steps in: “We do“. Apparently there is a way to force the companies for increased transparency about how they construct their salaries so that the pay gap between men and women is reduced. Timmermans points out in another direction: there is a 40% pension gap between men and women!

Timmermans is on fire for women’s rights: “All the populists are pushing back on women’s rights. Protect the women’s rights!

A young man finishes the meeting saying “thank you. I see you as a hope for us“.

People from the Timmermans entourage say this was probably the most energetic meeting in the whole of Europe this far in the campaign.

There is maybe a crowd of 1,000 people in the room. Some 28,000 people watch the video on Facebook.

Outside of the room Mr Timmermans meets privately the leader of SLD, too, and holds a press conference with Mr Biedroń to talk about rule of law.

Et alors?

There are a few questions. First, Spring clearly suggests that Mr Timmermans is its candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. Does this mean Spring will join the S&D? The question is still not fully answered, but there are clear signals. When I ask: SLD & Spring together in the S&D, two parties in the same group, my Spring interlocutor smiles at me and says: there are two Polish parties in the Social-Democrats today, remember the Labour Union (UP)? Truly, Adam Gierek MEP, who is retiring this year, is a UP member.

Second, can Timmermans become Commission’s President? He could be already in the lead against Mr Weber, if you consider this: SLD should be expected to elect 3-4 MEPs (Liberadzki, Cimoszewicz, Belka, maybe Miller), but Spring could bring as many as 8 MEPs. That could produce 12 Polish Social-Democratic MEPs in the next European Parliament (up from 5)! This, with British Labour, could be a game changer!

Third, how much of what he says is of the S&D candidate and how much of what he does is of the Commission First VP? This duality is as important in Brussels as it is in Warsaw for the Law & Justice openly accuses the Commission First VP for being biased against the PiS government. Well, this is a shortcoming of the democratic process that we cannot fully decouple one issue (Commission’s independence) from another (political mandate), even if formally the Commissioners who are campaigning are asked to take a leave from their Commission duties. Mr Timmermans is not doing that properly today.

On the other hand, his Commission, like the Juncker Commission, would be a political one. It needs a political mandate for it. Mr Timmermans is seeking exactly this. Asked, he tells me: “We will win the Commission with or without Labour so let’s see what happens“.

Not-so-funnily enough the campaign in Poland starts with the major teachers strike today.


The Group of Souverenists in the making

Remember the Salvini visit in Warsaw in January? That’s past. On Wednesday, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński met with the delegation of Brothers of Italy, a ECR party from Italy with no MEPs yet.

The Brothers of Italy joined the ECR back in November. This seems to be a pattern: PiS looks for sovereignist partners in other EU member states to build up a new group after the elections. Take the Italian party. FdI does not have any MEPs (yet), but already joined the ECR and it’s support in Italy is on the rise.

After the meeting, the Italians provided feedback from the meeting. Carlo Fidanza, who attended the meeting of FdI leader Giorgia Meloni and Jarosław Kaczyński, says: “It was a very positive meeting that took place in Warsaw […] and during which we recorded a profound harmony on all the main topics on the agenda and a horizon of common values: those of a modern social and national right, which wants to help those who do business and those who produce but do not forget the reasons of the weakest. This is the government sovereignty that we want to build by strengthening the ECR group which will also be the largest family of European sovereigns in the next European Parliament “.

The Spanish sovereignist party Vox, on the other hand, chose not to join the ECR group just yet, even if the recent meeting between two leaders, Abascal and Kaczyński, was quite successful.

Earlier this year in Paris a new popular Dutch party Forum for Democracy was also admitted into the ECR. No audience in Warsaw for Mr Thierry Baudet of FvD or the Frenchman Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debut-la-France just yet.

Souverenist talk Constitutions (national)

FdI wants to remove the EU from the Italian constitution. Meanwhile, the Polish small agrarian party PSL (member of the EPP) just proposed to mention the European Union in the Polish constitution as an attempt to check on the Law and Justice if the party is truly against the so-called Polexit.

Beata Mazurek, PiS spokeswoman reacted: “We do not say ‘no’. Let’s talk about it” before linking the issue of inserting the “EU” in the Polish Constitution with a major Constitutional review. Mazurek: “I think this is a good moment to empower the family, or to write in the Polish state sovereignty over EU institutions involvement into our internal business”. She ended: “We’ll talk”.

Et alors

The souverenist group is in the making, that is clear. This is a different group from the nationalist group of Ms Le Pen. Those two strings of thought seem to be prevailing on the right side. The “direct democracy” crowd of M5S and Kukiz’15 is losing steam.

A new debate started about the change of the Polish Constitution. Ever since Law and Justice took confrontational positions on many issues, a serious debate on the Polish constitutional law was not possible; no party has had a constitutional majority or a constitutional coalition since 1997, when the law of the land was approved.

Welcome to the Middle Ages Poland

Over the weekend politicians tried their best to campaign. One of the candidates for the MEP came to Częstochowa… two short stories about some weird incidents taking place in Poland. Let me assure you, not all is rosy, but also not all is black. The next winter will be coming only in eight months.

Częstochowa

Saturday, 30 March 2019, Częstochowa. 1500 nationalists take part in their annual pilgrimage to the Jasna Góra shrine, a Catholic monastery in the southern Polish city. Historically it is one of the most important religious sites in the country. In recent years it became a major site for the Polish nationalists.

On Saturday the usual offensive words are used against the cosmopolitan, multinational, rainbow, colourful, open Poland. “There is a civilizational assault on Poland. Under the sign of the rainbow flag, there is an attempt to steal the values such as truth and love“, says a Catholic priest Henryk Grządko, according to oko.press. The participants shout their regular slogans “Great Catholic Poland” or “God, Honour, Fatherland”.

Among the participants is the candidate of the far-right for the European Parliament Kaja Godek. She was clearly moved and tweeted this photo…

Gdańsk

Sunday, 31 March 2019. Another priest of the Catholic Church organises a local book burning. Your regular after Church activity, right? Apparently the local priest has been collecting books from his parish for a few days. The targeted books and other items are all those which “bring the power of evil”. TVN24 has the full story.

Among the burned books are the Harry Potter saga, other fantasy books, books about Hinduism and amulets: a mask, a figurine of an elephant. Also targetted are an Hello Kitty umbrella and paintings.

Fundacja SMS Z NIEBA

Monday

The weekend is over. Reactions to those backward-looking incidents come in. The book burning is not welcomed anywhere. Even the PiS government is critical. Jarosław Gowin, who serves as the vice-prime minister and minister for science tweeted “censorship or book burning cannot be the response to wrong books; write the good books”. The popularity of the move, however, transcends borders. The BBC wrote about the book burning.

No specific reactions to the far-right march in Częstochowa, except for left wing commentators denouncing the activity as in fact anti-Catholic. It seems the far right becomes a new norm.

Et alors?

Law and Justice is heavily criticised by the far right as in fact pro-gay, pro-Jewish and pro-abortion party. Is it? Just last month the PiS leader turnout out to be a homophobe? Yet the far-right attacks the ruling party for being “soft”. See this tweet as an example “denouncing” vice-prime minister Gowin who allegedly said “Poland is the fatherland of two nations. It is the fatherland of the Polish and Jewish nations” and the Konfederacja (Poland’s far-right’s party’s current name) responds: “Mr Vice-PM, Poland is the fatherland of the Polish nation, NO OTHER”.

The PiS reaction is precious. Wait, what reaction? PiS reaction to the far right is next to non-existent. Only once the PiS minister for interior and the party candidate in EP elections Joachim Brudziński apologised for his slow reaction to the far right activity (January).

The PiS proper reaction is different. Back in December a nationalist was appointed a minister in the Mateusz Morawiecki government. It is April and the nationalist is still a sitting minister in the Polish government. Just these last days the nationalist Mr Andruszkiewicz had to defend himself against even more nationalistic comments. The issue? His engagement was in Rome, not in Poland. Andruszkiewicz: “it was a pilgrimage to the Vatican and the grave of St Peter” so he and his fiancee had an important private moment in the eternal city. Congratulations.

There are many PiS politicians who are not racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT or anti-women. It is a shame they hardly ever speak up. Instead of defending their virtues and values, the PiS politicians chose to attack, even to vocally assault the opposition, the liberal media and the various socio-economic groups who do not vote PiS.

I don’t even want to ask when was the last time someone burned books in Europe.

I don’t want to know what kind of gesture the Polish far right is making during their swearing in ceremony.

Welcome to the 2019 Middle Ages. European elections are in less than 2 months. Thank God the real electoral issue is the teachers’ strike scheduled for 8 April.

Today, 2 April 2019 is the 14th anniversary of the death of John Paul II aka Karol Wojtyła, who was the pope of the Catholic Church 1978-2005 and remains an important figure of the Polish Catholic Church. Pity the Church in Poland is less and less Catholic (=common) and more and more Polish (=nationalistic).


“Europe needs Spring”

It is Saturday, 23 March, a theatre in the Warsaw city centre. It is a quarter to 2PM. A crowd is growing with every minute. There are more and more people, they all came here to listen to the leaders of a new Polish party, Wiosna, or Spring. The people around me take selfies, they came from all over the country, while waiting for the main programme. There are hashtags for today’s event: #nowadrużynaeuropejska and #dodajmyeuropieskrzydeł which translates to #neweuropeanteam and #addwings2europe.

Last time I was here it was a few weeks ago when I watched a children ballet piece about Cinderella… the chairs were removed for the cheering crowd.

The stage is here with the wings that Europe apparently needs. While waiting for the beginning of the presentation of the lead candidates in the upcoming elections I pop into Grzegorz Pietruczuk, one of Wiosna politicians, who is a mayor of the Warsaw district Bielany. Mr Pietruczuk: “It’s a very inspiring idea. I hope it continuous to grow”.

The crowd starts to cheer “Spring” and the show is about to start. I wonder for a moment if this is the right place: am I at a concert? There is a band playing and people clapping: “walk away… rock away… dance with me… rock me girl…”. Later I learn this is the Spring’s Eurospring band. When the band plays the flags go up into the air. There are many flags of Poland and of the EU, there are also flags of European countries like France, Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Hungary, Belgium. Is this an Egyptian flag? I wonder. There is also the LGBT flag and many Spring symbols.

The Candidates

Here we go. A pair of young hosts enters the stage to present, one by one, 13 lead candidates for there are 13 electoral regions in Poland in the European elections. “Are you ready?” asks Patryk Janczewski, the co-host, and the show begins.

The show is Eurovision-inspired. There is a videolink with every region (a pre-recorded video my sceptical mind tells me…) to Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, and other regional cities. The local people reveal who the candidates are. Well, some of them are known for a few days already. Here they are:

  1. Gdańsk: Beata Maciejewska
  2. Bydgoszcz: Wanda Nowicka
  3. Olsztyn & Białystok: Monika Falej
  4. Mazowsze/Radom: Paulina Piechna-Więckiewicz
  5. Warsaw: Robert Biedroń
  6. Łódź: Anita Sowińska
  7. Poznań: Sylwia Spurek
  8. Lublin: Zbigniew Bujak
  9. Rzeszów: Anna Skiba
  10. Kraków: Maciej Gdula
  11. Katowice: Łukasz Kohut
  12. Wrocław: Krzysztof Śmieszek
  13. Szczecin & Zielona Góra & Gorzów Wlkp: Anita Kucharska-Dziedzic

There are 8 women and 5 men in the crowd. Also Warsaw’s no. 2 enters the stage, Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus. This is because Robert Biedroń, the party leader and the leading candidate from Warsaw already announced he is not going to take up the mandate, if elected. He is the last to speak today, and starts with a request for a minute of silence for Mateusz, who was Spring’s activist in Gniezno in Western Poland, and who tragically died recently.

The issues

Mr Biedroń and the candidates before him outline the issues Spring brings to the elections. Spring wants to break the PO-PiS war and advocates for a modern, open, and tolerant Poland.

Spring says it is a brave movement. It wants to break with the old privileges of the Catholic Church. At one point the crowd cheers “Secular State”. A very important element on the Spring agenda is the fight against secrecy of paedophilia in the Catholic Church in Poland. The Spring’s face in this campaign is Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, who is an MP with the Now party (Teraz).

The other main campaign issue is the LGBT+ rights, the group Law and Justice singled out and started to attack for a few weeks now. Spring presents its 5 ideas for the LGBT+ community, which include fight against homophobia and same sex partnerships as a step towards marriage equality.

“Spring is a woman” shouts out Mr Biedroń explaining why 8 lead candidates are women. Feminism and women rights is mentioned by most candidates. One of the Spring leading persons is Wanda Nowicka, a champion for women rights.

The air pollution is a major issue of the general public that Spring takes on board. Quite a few of the candidates talk about the Green agenda, which makes me wonder – should they be elected, will Spring join the Green group in the European Parliament? No answer is expected today. Mr Biedroń says that the electoral programme will be ready in the upcoming days.

The Spring leader also mentions the poor level of remuneration in Poland: “We want a European salary not abroad, but here, in Poland!”. He voices full support for the teachers strike and calls on the prime minister to get to work and talk to the teachers.

The issue of the rights of the employed are dear to Zbigniew Bujak, who is one of the most recognised among the Spring’s lead candidates. Mr Bujak is a legend of the first Solidarność trade union movement of 1980s. His popularity came with an incredible ability to deceive the communist militia, who was looking for him for 5 years before making an arrest. Mr Bujak today says he joins the movement because he feels Spring has a similar enthusiasm and energy among the youth as the first Solidarność almost forty years earlier.

There are two important points on Europe that have not been so clearly voiced before. The first is the removal of the British-Polish protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which talks about the limited application of the Charter in Poland.

The second is a strong statement on the healthcare that should be provided at a corresponding level across the European Union. The fight against cancer is mentioned. Mr Biedroń echoes EPP’s Manfred Weber and Ewa Kopacz voices on the issue.

“Europe needs Spring” shouts Biedroń to conclude his speech. The party latest support is about 7%.



Abascal in Warsaw

Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish party Vox arrives in Warsaw for a meeting with Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of Law and Justice (PiS). The purpose of the meeting? To meet and study each other, as both actors do not know each other too well. Exploration ahead of the next European Parliament. Vox, after all, entered the European political scene only last December after the surprising Andalusian elections, which saw Vox receive 11% of the vote.

The latest opinion polls suggest Vox can receive over 10% of the Spanish vote in the May European elections as well as a month before in the national poll.

Vox is as a very conservative party protective of the Spanish nation and statehood. It stands against migration and multiculturalism (‘purity’). It voices opposition to same sex marriage (‘tradition’). In Spain it supports recentralisation of power against regions (‘unity’). The party also voices strong anti-feminism and anti-women rights arguments. As for the EU it seems to endorse the sovereignist approach. Mr Abascal in 2015: “Spain must be in Europe without complexes, claiming the historical, industrial and agricultural role that we deserve. We should not be vassals of Merkel or Tsipras.”

On Wednesday the Vox leader met with the leadership of PiS. In the official communication after the meeting it seems there was a mutual understanding. Both parties are interested in defending nation states against the federalists “which implies the loss of national sovereignty“.

Vox statement also voices opposition against Macron’s vision.

A happy face of Santiago Abascal after meeting PiS: “We have a lot in common with Poland, Law and Justice”. Clearly this exploratory meeting shows that those two parties are close to each other. Mr Abascal expresses the conviction that the talks are going “in the right direction” regarding a possible future alliance with PiS in the European Parliament.

Europe moves away from fundamental Christian values, accepts mass immigration and interferes too much in the policy of sovereign states

Santiago Abascal

The Vox leader continues: “We are looking for an understanding and alliances with other parties in other countries. Besides, we are big fans of Poland, Spain is a sister country with Poland, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary.”

Presenting his party in Poland Mr Abascal says about Vox: his party “speaks truth and defends common sense”, which is why many Spaniards identify with this message against “the dictatorship of political correctness of the left”. “In Spain there are many people tired of politicians who dictate what to think and interfere with the Spaniards’ religious, patriotic or family feelings”. “Vox transformed into a huge wave that began in the south of Spain”, he concludes.

In his earlier tweet, Mr Abascal described the Wednesday meeting with the Polish partners fruitful. “A very fruitful meeting with the Polish government aimed at analysing common policies based on respect for the sovereignty of European states, Christian values ​​and migration control”.

Et alors?

So far chairman Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini in January. In February there was an ECR summit in Paris hosted by Debut-la-France of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan. Now Vox leader is in Warsaw.

It is easy to dismiss every party on the continent right of the EPP as far-right. It is easy to be scared of the mass and amount of the far-right in the European Parliament. I won’t, because there are certain key actors within this crowd and there are important limitations for some of the actors. There are reasons why there are two groups in the EP now (EFDD and ENF), not one. There are reasons why some parties were even too toxic for other far-right-wingers out there (Jobbik from Hungary, Golden Dawn from Greece).

In the large pool of right-wing parties the crucial for future EP will be the popular parties in the populous states: AfD in Germany, National Rally (RN), which is the current party of Marine Le Pen in France, the Italians – La Lega and M5S, the Spanish Vox and the Polish main actor: PiS.

Clearly the Hungarian Fidesz enters the pool of seeking potential new allies as of today. Also the Dutch party PVV of Geert Wilders is widely known, the Swedish Democrats and the Austrian FPO, too.

Can we expect a wide coalition including all those actors?

PiS seems to have two major limitations in seeking out new partners. The first problem are the Russian money. It will be very difficult for the Polish governmental party to be associated with a partner who is not only dependent on Russian support, but who is perceived in Poland as an agent of Russian (unwanted) influence in Europe. This means it will be very difficult for PiS to cooperate with actors like RN or La Lega.

The PiS government policy towards Russia is frozen since 2015. The latest stint: invitations for the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2 are out. The war broke out in Gdańsk on 1 September 1939. Vladimir Putin of Russia has not been invited by the Polish head of state Andrzej Duda.

The second argument is a bit more subtle. PiS presents itself as the sovereignist party, but also as the defender of the European integration. That is, PiS wants to change the EU and reclaim sovereignty (especially in the rule of law area), but is far away from advocating exit from the EU or dissolution of the Union. Hence, those who are openly hostile to the membership are not likely to be considered partners.

Last, minor, is the obvious statement, that the Polish party calls for respect. PiS is not going to be associated with parties of anti-Polish rhetoric (PVV).

Unless people make corrections in their policy, that is. Matteo Salvini January visit was an attempt to prove himself in the eyes of Jarosław Kaczyński of being free of La Lega’s Russian links. Two months on it seems the criticism towards la Lega among PiS is growing. Still, it may change by May.

With La Lega (maybe), Vox (probably) and Fidesz (likely) the biggest challenge for PiS in their attempt to win the European elections is to win votes for their group (ECR or a new one) in France and Germany. Relations with AfD are dire since the 2016 split. Today AfD is close with the Austrian FPO – anti-European and sometimes disrespectful of Poles. It is very unlikely for any German MEP to be included in the upcoming PiS-led group.

France is another story. RN is a no-go for PiS, but in Paris Law and Justice announced its large block to include the Debut-la-France party of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan, which is polling currently at 5%.

In the Netherlands passing by the Wilders’ PVV there is a new actor, too, who has been reached out to: it is Forum of Democracy (FvD) of Theo Baudet, who just came second in the Dutch provincial elections beating every party except for the VVD of Prime Minister Rutte. It means there is a reservoir of support for the future PiS/ECR+ group in the Netherlands.

If the four parties (PiS, La Lega, Fidesz and Vox) are the core of the next group in the European Parliament, they come from four different houses: PiS is an ECR party today. La Lega is in ENF. Fidesz is/was in EPP. Vox is not yet associated. Together they could amount to over 60 MEPs with each of the parties contributing at least 10 (Italians and Poles at least 20) members. This could be a good start for building of a larger sovereignist group right-of-the-EPP, including the parties of DLF and FvD and alike.

Yet it is very clear: there will be more than one group on the right side of the European Parliament. The other group, openly anti-European could be based on RN, AfD, PVV and FPO.

Where will M5S go?

One Poland, diversified

As many as 62.1% of Poles and Poles believe that religion should take place in vicarage, while only 37.9% are in favour of religious education in schools. 55.9% prefer to be buried in a traditional coffin, but as many as 44.1% would choose to be cremated. As many as 54.1% think that Nobel Peace Prize for Lech Wałęsa was a misunderstanding, while only 45.9% feel proud about this fact. Only 37.6% of Poles choose tomato soup, while as much as 62.4% prefer chicken soup.

These and many other equally surprising, serious and funny findings about the Polish society come from the survey One hundred questions for the centenary of independence, which was carried out as part of the social campaign “We are different. We are Poland“. This is the first research of its kind in Poland, completely devoted to the similarities and differences among the Poles.

Many various views of Polish women and men on very different topics were examined back in December 2018. From very fundamental ones regarding the opinion on the European Union and religion to funny ones: about our everyday choices, habits or preferences. The collected results show an interesting picture of the Polish society and disrupt the stereotypical perception of dividing lines of the Polish society into two camps. This may be important information, especially in the election year, in which the subject of segmentation of recipients and positioning of the electorate will come back many times.

Jacek Santorski

Experts were invited to comment on the results of the study. As noted by social psychologist Jacek Santorski: Poles can not be simply divided into “two tribes”, as is often simplified in the narratives of publicists and politicians. The question that I propose to take is: are we dealing with a wealth of diversity or rather a “neurotic inconsistency”?

What interested the experts are some apparent contradictions from the research. It turns out that in a country where the vast majority of society declares attachment to Catholic values, as many as 74% of respondents are positive about contraception and 82% support the ‘in vitro’ method financed. At the same time, 63.6% of people think that John Paul II is a saint, 85.2% think that God exists, and 63.9% consider the most important values ​​expressed in the slogan “God, Honour, Fatherland”. There are more examples of this type of paradox. The ideas usually associated with the left-wing parties, such as ecology, also enjoy positive support of the Poles. 80.8% of them, if they had to choose between energy from wind or coal, would choose the wind, and 76.1% think that global warming is not a joke, 58% support feminism and as much as 58.4% is for the legalisation of pot.

Antoni Dudek

Professor Antoni Dudek of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University commented on the results this way: The statement that Poles differ in each case smells like a cliché. However, if we look at the detailed results of the survey, it turns out there are matters that the vast majority of us think similarly. And it is on this basis that we should uphold the Polish community.

The next element of the campaign is the on-line quiz posted on the website www.jakajestpolska.pl. Those who take part answer the same questions,
as those polled in the survey, and their answers are arranged in a way that makes the Polish flag. The flag of each of the Internet users looks different reflecting the unique results.

The results of the nationwide survey and the online quiz do not always coincide, as the results of online play change dynamically and the online survey is not representative. So far, the website has been visited by almost 130,000 people.

Complete research results: https://jakajestpolska.pl/public/100_pytan_results.pdf

The “Jaka Jest Polska” (How Poland Is) project is run by the Stefan Batory Foundation and Kultura Niepodległa. The polling was performed by the Difference agency.

Is the Spitzenkandidaten system dead?

2014. There are two candidates who compete for the presidency of the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker is the candidate of the European People’s Party. Martin Schulz is the candidate of the Party of European Socialists. Other Spitzenkandidaten include the Greens’ and the Liberals’ candidates (Ska Keller and José Bové, Guy Verhofstadt) as well as the far-left (Alexis Tsipras). There are debates organised and hosted by the Euronews and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), there are duels between Juncker and Schulz on German-speaking channels ARD, ZDF and ORF, there are debates in France and in Italy. The leading candidate of the winning camp becomes president of the European Commission. He promises a political Commission.

A pan-European public space is born. Or not. In 2019 a new situation arises. There are four political forces with a potential to build a political group in the European Parliament after elections with 100-200 MEPs in each group. The EPP is expected to go down; current expectations are that in a smaller Parliament EPP will have fewer than 200 MEPs. Social-Democrats are expected to massively decrease their presence to under 150 MEPs. At the same time the Liberal group, if merged with president Macron’s new movement in France, could amount to over 100 MEPs. And a new group that could emerge from the current political groups of ECR, EFDD and ENF could also produce a block of 100+ MEPs. In 2019 the Europhiles should expect 4 Spitzenkandidaten with real-life confrontation of programmes and ideas for the future of Europe. EPP and PES have nominated their candidates for the presidency of the European Commission. Manfred Weber of EPP and Frans Timmermans of PES are competing for the job Jean-Claude Juncker is retiring from.

Meanwhile ALDE has decided to nominate a number of leading candidates. In case ALDE wins the European elections its leaders, its Spitzens would not become a collective president of the European Commission. ALDE is merely recognising their version of reality: in 2019 the Spitzenkandidaten of any European party will not necessarily become Commission’s president. Their Spitzens serve the purpose of a pan-European campaign ahead of the elections. What will happen after 26 May is left for later decisions.

This change of heart of the liberal camp is related to the criticism the Spitzenkandidaten process receives from the president Macron’s En Marche in France. In fact, latest news from Paris suggest France has another EPP candidate for the head of the next Commission: Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and a former Commissioner.

The Greens are unmoved by the liberal crackdown on the process: again there are two Green Spitzenkandidaten: the female Ska Keller repeats her 2014 quest, and the male Bas Eickhout enjoys his first time as a Spitzenkandidat. The European Left also has nominated a duo: Violeta Tomic and Nico Cue.

Jan Zahradil

ECR’s in!

If the Greens and European Left can’t dream about winning the elections, the ECR can. European Conservatives and Reformists are orphans post-Brexit. As the British MEPs depart the European Parliament, ECR’s largest block leaves the group and its parent party, the ACRE, considerably weakened.

In 2014 there was no ECR Spitzenkandidat. In 2019 there is one. The 2019 ECR Spitzenkandidat is Czech MEP Jan Zahradil.

Brexit has a major impact on the groups to the right of the EPP. ECR loses Tories, EFDD loses UKIP. The orphaned members need to talk to each other to reinforce each other chances, recognising also the new political reality in Italy, where a government is formed by EFDD and ENF members. What will come out of this conversation? If majority of parties of current ECR, EFDD and ENF got together…

Paris, 28 February 2019. Jan Zahradil presents a new coalition “for a Europe of Nations”. This coalition is composed of Euro-realist national political forces. With him in Paris are new Dutch partners of Forum of Democracy (FvD) under the leadership of Thierry Baudet. Forum is polling at 9%. Next to the Dutchman are the Poles and the Law and Justice leader in the EP, Ryszard Legutko. The French host is Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debout la France (DLF). DLF is polling at 6%.

Zahradil is ambitious: “The grand coalition between the European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which has ruled Brussels for years, must end”. According to the latest polls, indeed the EPP and S&D are expected to score under 50% of seats in the European Parliament for the first time since 1979. Zahradil is certain the future group he represents will be the moderate voice between the “EU fanatics” and radical anti-Europeans. After the elections “we will bring out the change needed in Brussels”, he says. So far the group is competing in 24 member states.

Problems start at home

The problems start with unclear message of what is Mr Zahradil campaigning for. In Paris it is clear he is after the Commission’s top job the same way Jean-Claude Juncker was in 2014.

In Prague the Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš joins the critical voices of the Spitzenkandidaten process. In January Babiš as quoted in info.cz: “I personally do not like the system of Spitzenkandidaten. The President of the Commission should be the best of all nominated European Commissioners and it is not just a political matter”.

Another “home” for Jan Zahradil is the ECR. Recently a leading Polish ECR MEP told me off the record that Zahradil is not a candidate for the position of the Commission president. Mr Zahradil is ECR lead candidate in the electoral process. PiS looks at the process the same way as the Liberals.

It is also not helpful that the European Council has been preparing for the election of the next Commission president. A year ago, in February 2018, a title of a Politico article says it all: EU leaders: We won’t be bound by Spitzenkandidat process. One of the leading voices within the European Council belongs to Angela Merkel: “There will be no unambiguous majority in the next parliament… it is unsure it will be the candidate of the strongest party. We have to wait for the majority of parliament”.

Donald Tusk will oversee the process. He is equally sceptical. In 2018 he says: “The idea that the Spitzenkandidaten process is somehow more democratic is wrong. The treaty says that the president of European Commission should be proposed by the democratically elected leaders of the member states. And that he or she should be elected by the democratically elected members of the European Parliament. This is the double democratic legitimacy of the Commission president. Cutting away any of the two sources of legitimacy would make it less democratic, not more”.

Still, as Tusk says, “of course, being a Spitzenkandidat does not preclude you from becoming the future president of the European Commission. I am absolutely sure it might even increase their chances, it’s obvious for me. But there is not and can be no automaticity”.

Et alors?

The Spitzenkandidaten system is evolving. In 2014 the process was dominated by the largest political group and supported by a clear coalition. In 2019 the process is open, there is no clear majority emerging and the European Council will interpret the results of the vote in such a way that its candidate should be able to secure a majority. If it is the Greens-Social-Democrats-Liberals-EPP or Liberals-EPP-post-ECR majority depends on the outcome of the May vote.

Go out and vote.

European Coalition is a reality now

Some ideas take years to materialise. Some take the world by storm.

Włodzimierz
Cimoszewicz

Early December 2018 Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Poland’s former left wing prime minister, foreign minister and for many years an independent senator, appeals: “if the opposition does not unite, it is responsible for the PiS continued rule”. Mr Cimoszewicz was the foreign minister when Poland’s EU accession treaty was signed in 2003.

1 Feb 2019, during a press conference in Warsaw with 6 former prime ministers he signs a declaration of cooperation of all the pro-European political forces in Poland. The European Coalition for Poland is born.

What looks like a call for action turns reality within weeks. The Civic Platform (PO), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the Polish Greens, the liberal parties .Modern and Now! and finally, on 23 Feb, the agrarian Polish Popular Party (PSL) join the coalition.

The PSL adherence is important. Latest opinion polls suggest that a coalition which includes PSL has a major shot at overcoming the primacy of Law and Justice. Without the PSL the struggle is more dramatic: one poll puts the European Coalition behind PiS ahead of Spring, Kukiz’15 and PSL. With the PSL onboard the chance of winning is real. PSL decision is not unanimous, as the party announces:

21 Feb an opinion poll is published which includes all the political actors as they are today: with PSL in the European Coalition and with the Spring party. The European Coalition is not only first, it leads Law and Justice by 4pp.

Should this poll prove right, the European Coalition would have 23 MEPs to be distributed between EPP, ALDE, S&D and the Green groups in the EP. Law and Justice would elect 21 MEPs, who would be associated with a new group post-ECR. One option is to cooperate with a new initiative of Matteo Salvini. Spring’s 5 MEPs would most likely seat with the ALDE+ group, should the Macron’s MEPs also be affiliated with the group. Last, Kukiz’15’s 4 MEPs would sit with the new group lead by Cinque Stella. The far-right does not enter the EP, according to the poll:

The challenges

There is a number of hurdles for the European Coalition. First, the programme and a cohesive message to the populace. This is a wide and diverse group. It will not be easy to keep the message(s) and infighting under control. What unites the group is a general agreement with the way the EU is today. They do not seek to change the Union – except for maybe the Greens.

Second, the electoral lists. With so many parties there are a number of potential leaders. Maybe too many of them. What we can be sure of right now is that nothing has been decided yet. The pool of potential front people include former prime ministers Mr Cimoszewicz, Mr Miller, Mr Belka, Mr Buzek, Mr Marcinkiewicz and Ms Kopacz, current MEPs like Ms Thun, Mr Liberadzki, Ms Łukacijewska, Mr Lewandowski, Ms Hubner, Mr Kalinowski and former ministers like Mr Sikorski and Mr Arłukowicz…

Third, the win. The stakes are high. The European Coalition is running to win with Law and Justice. If they fail to win there shall be serious repercussions among the opposition leaders, especially for Mr Schetyna, PO’s leader.

SLD and the Polish Greens join the European Coalition

The Polish Social-Democrats Democratic Left Alliance, SLD (members of S&D with 5 MEPs in the current EP) will not compete in the European Parliament elections on their own. In May 2019 they will run in a major pro-European bloc called the European Coalition. The Polish Greens also joined the bloc.

Social-Democrats: we need one army to fight the enemy

First the SLD: the party leader, Włodzimierz Czarzasty, announced the news on Saturday, 16 February 2019. The message of the SLD leader is bleak. Czarzasty: “Four more years of PiS rule, and you will not be able to recognise your country” and “after the death of the president of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, everything is possible.”

Włodzimierz Czarzasty

Czarzasty view is that PiS is totalitarian and everybody who is not a PiS partisan should unite. Since the new party Spring of Robert Biedroń refused to join the European Coalition, the SLD leader has a dark message for the former Słupsk mayor: “Progressive populism is just as dangerous as right-wing populism. Politics of one objective to become prime minister is of no value. Denying the reality with the slogan ‘it’s not our war’ is a lack of responsibility. You can not be nice to everyone – not everyone deserves it.”

He says who should be in the European Coalition: the PSL and PO, the Polish Greens, .Modern and SLD. The European Coalition is the place for responsible people, responsible for Europe.

Czarzasty talks policies: SLD supports adoption of the Euro in Poland, “European standards in remuneration and social policy” and the EU minimal wage. The Alliance also would like to see Poland’s accession to the banking union and creation of a European army.

Their motto from the past still stands: “More of Poland in the EU and more of Europe in Poland”.

Czarzasty explains what it means for them to be on a joint list with EPP, the Liberals and the Greens: “We want to go together, but under our own banners and into our EP groups. If the enemy is one, then one army must fight them”.

The SLD candidates within the European Coalition are already known. They are three former SLD prime ministers Leszek Miller, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Marek Belka as well as two of the current MEPs Bogusław Liberadzki and Janusz Zemke. The new faces in Europe – if elected – include Jerzy Wenderlich, Małgorzata Sekuła-Szmajdzińska, Marek Balt, Andrzej Szejna, Riad Haidar (a Syrian-born doctor) and Katarzyna Piekarska.

The Greens: the coalition of values

On Sunday, 17 February the Polish Greens also joined the European Coalition. Its leader is Marek Kossakowski: “Without a strong community of European countries, the protection of Earth’s resources and the fight against climate change will end with a catastrophe. Unfortunately, the current government of Law and Justice is wading into an open conflict with the European Union”. He continued that the Greens and all other political forces within the European Coalition share the European values. The Greens believe that on 26 May Poles again – like 16 years before – will vote “yes” to Europe by voting the European Coalition.

Apparently the Greens seek to have candidates in all 13 regions of Poland. Should someone be elected into the EP, the MEP will join the Green group. The Greens’ main message: green energy transformation plan. The Green leading candidates are Miłka Stępień (Wielkopolska), Urszula Zielińska (Warsaw), Julia Rokicka (Lower Silesia and Opole), Ewa Sufin-Jacquemart (Małopolska and Świętokrzyskie), Maciej Józefowicz (Podkarpacie), Artur Mazur (Lubelskie), Idris Dawido (Mazowsze), who is a doctor of Kurdish origin.

Et alors?

This is important. The European Coalition press conference was an ad hoc initiative. Today it seems to take shape. SLD enjoys a stable support of about 5%. Five years ago SLD received 9,44% votes which provided 5 mandates. The Alliance failed to be elected to Sejm in 2015 because they were seeking a higher, 8% barrier for coalitions. The SLD-led coalition scored 7,55% and since 2015 Poland is the only major country in the European Union without a social democratic MP.

The SLD problem is their falling support. Not only the party has fallen from 41% support in 2001 to 11% four years later. Ever since the figures are falling and the voters are looking for alternatives.

The Greens are unknown. The party does not record much support. Their presence is a real life chance to attract progressives, as the party doesn’t need 5% threshold.

What this news also confirms is the fact that the Poles and all other Europeans voting in Poland on 26 May will have the following options: European Coalition (PO-SLD-Green, for the moment, expected to join PSL, .M and smaller partners like IP), the United Right of Law and Justice and two other governmental parties (PiS in coalition with the Solidary Poland and Agreement) and challengers. The two challengers are on the left side Spring and on the right side Kukiz’15. All of the parties are nominally pro-European, yet United Right coalition and Kukiz’15 are unhappy with the way EU is managed today. On top of them there will be a far-right alternative to the Law and Justice.

Five Stars fakes a future EP group at a press conference

Leaders of 5 parties from Italy, Poland, Croatia, Finland and Greece met in Rome to sign an electoral manifesto. The block has been in discussion for weeks. Initially 4 parties, today they are 5. M5S is likely to be one of the largest national delegations in the next European Parliament. Today it needs allies. The four allies of Luigi di Maio are Zivi Zid from Croatia, Liike Nyt from Finland, Akkel of Greece and the Polish party Kukiz’15.

The event starts with a little stumble. There are only five partners in Rome in a Union of 27. More partners shall come with time. After all, new groups are formed after the elections. At the press conference there is a minor sound problem.

Luigi di Maio

With a small delay Luigi di Maio delivers his message: this is not a far-right group. This is not a mainstream group either. We live in a post-ideological world. Di Maio: “We do not believe in the division into left and right. We believe in projects that we propose that will improve the quality of life of European citizens”. This is a group of parties who want to keep Europe, but they equally want to change it. Di Maio for months has been talking about Europa diversa, a different Europe. The Europe of banks is not a Europe of people di Maio and co. want.

One of the driving ideas of the new movement is direct democracy. On the action plan to change Europe are also other issues that define the cooperation: an honest Europe, new future, respect for national identities, anti-corruption, reform of the EU institutions, better quality of life, protection of health and environment. On immigration, there is talk about more “solidarity and protection”.

Ivan Sinčić

M5S is very popular in Italy. Not only Luigi di Maio is the country’s deputy prime minister, the party is polling at about 28%. It is a bit of a struggle to find partners of similar popularity in other member states. Still, the second to speak is Ivan Sinčić, MP from Croatia, leader of the Zivi Zid party, or Human Shield. Zivi Zid became popular with their anti-eviction stand. Today they poll at about 16%, which should translate into 1 or 2 MEPs from among the 11 Croat mandates. Sinčić condemns the political corruption, which continues to be a major problem in many South Eastern European countries.

Paweł Kukiz

The next to speak is Poland’s Paweł Kukiz. Once a popular singer he entered the political stage in 2015 with an anti-system message of reclaiming the democracy. In Rome Kukiz called: “Let us reject this Brussels aristocracy and build a new Union. Let’s build a Europe of equal opportunities”. Kukiz’15 is currently polling at about 5%, which is also a national threshold. Hence there is a real chance that Kukiz’15 could end with no MEPs. However, should the party increase its support by a few percentage points that could provide up to 5 MEPs.

Paweł Kukiz accused the EU of being ruled by a two countries, a Franco-German diktat and expressed a wish that Europe should not turn into a kolkhoz: “Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things haven’t changed much in terms of citizens’ rights and power management” and continued of the new group’s aspirations “let’s build a new Europe. Europe of liberty. Europe of nations. Not a Europe of bureaucrats and corruption”.

Europe! Wake up!

Paweł Kukiz in Rome, 15 Feb 2018

Karoliina Kähönen of a new Finnish political movement Liike Nyt had a short presentation and was gone from the stage before I could snap a photo of her. Unfortunately for the new European movement the Finnish partners seem to be political ghosts. Yes, the movement has been created in 2018 and there are two MPs in Helsinki and a number of city councillors. Yet as Finland is ahead of its parliamentary elections (14 April) and then the EP elections it seems awkward the Finnish pollsters are not even recording any Liike Nyt support!

According to the Finnish press, Ms Kähönen short presentation was linked with the fact that Di Maio got it wrong: Liike Nyt is not a partisan of the new initiative, but is “exploring its opportunities” in Europe. Kähönen said Liike Nyt did not sign anything and is not committed to anything, because it is unsure if it competes in the European elections in the first place…

Evangelos Tsiobanidis­

Evangelos ‘Vakis’ Tsiobanidis (Βάκης Τσιομπανίδης)­ is leading the Greek agrarian party AKKEL (Α.Κ.Κ.Ε.Λ). He spoke about the Greek sovereignty and agricultural independence. The party is against GMOs and against the Tsipras government in Athens. Tsiobanidis­: “Greece is a nation occupied like during the WWII” then by Nazis and today by “forces who care only about the externals’ interests” like NATO and the EU.

As this stage it is impossible to foresee what will happen in the Greek EU elections. In 2014 the results were the most volatile possible: all Greek MEPs were replaced by new members. The 2019 opinion polls suggest that the political scene has stabilised and is more predictable than five years ago. Today it is dominated by the EPP’s New Democracy (ND) and GUE/NGL’s Syriza. Other popular parties include Social-Democrats and Communists. There is not much information about the AKKEL campaign at this stage – unless AKKEL decides to run in a larger coalition (five years ago it received about 0.60%).

After one hour of EU bashing Luigi di Maio takes the floor for the second time. The message this time: we are pro-European! The group supports strengthening of the mandate of the European Parliament in EU affairs.

Et alors?

I don’t know if I am more upset with the fake news of Luigi di Maio or with the international press covering the staged “launch” event. I double checked each of the parties background and what comes out? There is one big party, M5S and one party which has a good shot at electing MEPs – Zivi Zid. Kukiz’15 is a major national party, but at this time in the political cycle it is rather on the downfall. The other two partners are a political plankton in their own member states. So what did the 100+ journalists gathered in Rome got, expected or reported on? A staged future EP group exercise! The message that so many outlets bought, including Politico and Euractiv Poland and many Italian sources, too – writing about the need for 25 MEPs and 7 member states to form a group when di Maio is effectively where he was a year ago – alone in Europe.

I can understand new actors on the European scene like Zivi Zid or Kukiz’15 because their strategies is the same as the tiny parties in Finland and Greece: internationalisation of their own presence, the stardom of Luigi di Maio, the deputy prime minister of the great and powerful country of Italy! (don’t think for a second that the stardom in European politics is limited to Macron – good looks and power often come together, for better or worse). By coming to Rome they send a message back home: “we matter, we have been noticed”. In this group only Finns are a little bit more cautious – not signing anything before they see with whom they actually cooperate. Still, the party has not decided if they are going to run in the elections in the first place… Clearly this is a joke Luigi has played on everyone else. I am surprised no one checked the Finns except for the Finns themselves.

The real European campaign di Maio does is elsewhere. His visit in France meeting they Yellow Vests and driving to Strasbourg criticising double seating of the European Parliament – that’s the campaign and that’s negotiations with a real partner – alongside the Zivi Zid, of course.

Last, but not the least important, is the group’s main the message. In the elections to the European Parliament the group asks the voters in a variety of countries to vote for them, because it supports direct democracy. What exactly does it mean in the EP context? Does the group want an EU-wide referenda on issues or a direct election of the College of Commissioners or an EU President? To strengthen the European Citizens Initiatives or more consultations of EU laws? To engage the EU citizens with technology? How about an e-vote in Europe? No, no, no. It supports widening powers of the EP – the representative democracy, not the direct democracy. If the group truly was credible about the European direct democracy there’d be more ideas in line of this book or at least this Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs’ article first. Instead Luigi and co. talk about a national direct democracy – they seem to believe the only democracy possible is at the national level.

Poland’s EP elections latest opinion poll

From the mists of chaos the closer we are to 26 May, it seems there will be the following options to vote in the European elections in Poland. The latest figures have been provided by the Ibris polling institution.

Law and Justice (PiS/ECR)
37.1% and 22 MEPs
Civic Platform (PO/EPP) within a likely coalition:
SLD (S&D)
PSL (EPP)
.Modern (ALDE)
21.8% and 20 MEPs
5.2%
4.8%
0.6%
Spring16.2% and 10 MEPs
Kukiz’154.7% and 0 MEPs

If the ‘big coalition’ of all the traditional centrist forces in the Polish politics (S&D, ALDE, EPP) run together their cumulative result could be very close to the Law and Justice. Another opinion poll published a few days ago suggests that the “European Coalition” could win with 42.1% of the vote against PiS’ 37.6%. Third was Spring with 8.3%. Kukiz’15 was also short of the 5% threshold.

In the above-mentioned table, should the four parties go separately PSL and .Modern would not have MEPs in the next EP and the share of PO and SLD in the Poland’s elected MEPs would drop to 17 (14 and 3, respectively). PiS would increase its share to 25 and Spring would remain at 10.

In another opinion poll CBOS asked what people think about the PiS government three years after. 51% of the polled have positive opinion about the government and 59% agreed that the party has fulfilled its political promises.

Et alors?

The choice gets clearer. The European Parliament election 2019 in Poland will be a vote for the sovereignist Law and Justice and the continuity of a European grand coalition between the EPP-ALDE-S&D. The contestants of the status quo on the one hand is the new (currently gaining momentum) Euro-federalist Spring party and the direct democracy-supporters of Kukiz’15.

The kind of Europe PiS wants

Everyday news is one thing. The Harrold Macmillan words “Events, dear boy, events” rule the politics and the media attention. What grows underneath in the country is not exactly catchy on a specific day. Yet to know why people say what they say is often as important as what they say. Not only the specific context is relevant. The reason, the philosophy is crucial.

In today’s blog post I attempt to present the philosophy of the Law and Justice and its leadership on Europe in the words of the party leaders. Not to inflict “scandal” but to attempt to understand.

What is at stake in European elections come May is the Union’s future and its fate. Before we disagree with the other side one needs to understand why they say what they say. Where do the words come from and why?

It must be that not always the words politicians or political commentators use are cynical and directed only at mischief. There are certain philosophies that are brutally different between two camps in Poland. What is the Law and Justice philosophy, and why?

Mateusz Morawiecki

Mateusz Morawiecki

This weekend Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish prime minister, spoke to Le Figaro in an interview, which was given a title: “La seule solution réaliste est de bâtir une Europe des nations“. The main message is consistent since the beginning of the PiS rule in Poland:

What Europe needs is a Europe of Nations, not of supranational institutions

Morawiecki is disappointed with Western Europe: “Real fatigue has taken over you. For a very long time, each new generation hoped that it would live better than the generation of their parents; today this hope has disappeared.”

The Polish premier on EU elections: “Europe is completely different from what is thought about it in Brussels. Apparently, there will be quite new forces in it, which the bureaucrats in Brussels have a habit of dismissively describing as ‘populist movements’. As for me, these movements are in their roots democratic, and their voice should be heard”.

His vision of Europe is not a federalist one: “European nations have wonderful cultures. Only by preserving our culture can we enrich the European Union. Although there are European values that we all share – there is no such thing as a universal European identity. Besides, we are realists. We believe that there are so many languages and interests on the continent that we will never be able to become the United States of Europe. Such a possibility is too detached from the desires of nations and far-fetched from reality!”

On the accession to the Euro Mr Morawiecki spoke in an interview for the CNBC in January: “First, employees in Poland must start earning money just like people in developed countries in Western Europe”.

We are the beating heart of Europe. We showed it with our courage, determination and honesty

Mateusz Morawiecki, December 2018

Jarosław Kaczyński

Jarosław Kaczyński

Last summer Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice spoke about the judges not protecting Polish citizens in land disputes in former German territory in Northern Poland. He said: “this is oikophobia, as it is called, or reluctance, even hatred for one’s own country, one’s own nation, it is one of the diseases that affected some of the judges and which leads to woes”.

The same September he spoke on Europe: “We should not care. We have to climb up. Poles know the facts and know how it is. Poles are an ambitious nation… We are going up, towards a better Poland, towards a better fate of Poles. More prosperous and – it is very important – more reliable, with a greater impact on reality, safer.”

And here is the credo of Jarosław Kaczyński thinking about Europe: “We’re lifting weights, but that does not mean we have to repeat the mistakes of the West and infect social diseases that prevail there”.

Andrzej Duda

Andrzej Duda

President Andrzej Duda had his infamous faux-pas last summer, when he said of the European integration in a town of Leżajsk: “imaginary community”. More of the same speech from Mr Duda to the locally gathered people: “minimal wages are raised, pensions will be raised, we will try to help you by all means. Why? Because, finally, we manage to bring honesty and order in our country. Someone has been stealing 40 billion zł a year from taxes”. He expressed his fears that the money were transferred abroad, but the process has stopped “thanks to which the 500+ program can be implemented and many other programs which – I hope – will contribute to the quality of life in Poland and the return of those who left abroad for bread, looking for a normal life, normal work, because there was no possibilities here”.

Duda’s Leżajsk speech was important to understand what Europe is for many voters of Law and Justice. Duda: “We want Poland to be a normal country, the same as the rich countries of the European Union, we strive to achieve such a standard of living”. Poles deserve to have the same standard of living as in the West.

Duda’s vox populi: “We will achieve for people not to say that the courts are unjust in Poland and that the judiciary in Poland does not protect the citizen. We do not allow people to say that Poland is an unjust state, a state for the elite in which one does not see normal human being”.

Then the president said that he wanted the citizens to be convinced that someone was thinking about them, not “about some imaginary community from which little results for us. 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”.

Antoni Macierewicz

Antoni Macierewicz

Former interior (1991-92) and defence (2015-18) minister Macierewicz is no dove in any PiS government. This powerful hawk among PiS leaders (he is the party’s vice-chair) wrote about Europe – as he rarely does – for a right-wing magazine Wpis (Note) back in December: “today everything weighs on the scale of international events and choices, today it is decided if Poland is a state at all or shall Poland lose its statehood. Today it is decided if Poland becomes a fragment of another international structure with a liberal-anti-Christian ideology, or will it win the status of an independent state, an independent political actor in the international arena”.

On his disappointment with the EU today: “In the past the EU has appeared to us as a US ally, an organisation that empowered the strength of national independence defenders, a free economy based on private property and justice guaranteed by a strong nation state, Christian values and democratic principles. This world is gone“.

Macierewicz continued: “Of course, there is the European Union and there is Poland, which has its place there defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The Union, which Poland accepted and for which Poles voted in the 2004 referendum, was a union of sovereign nations and independent states.” He concludes that “Poland is loyal to such a Union and expects reciprocity. But this Union is just going away”

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tells us openly that we are to abandon our independence and national sovereignty. French President Emmanuel Macron announces that a European army to be formed can be used to fight against the US. The Court of Justice becomes the guarantor of a post-communist dictate in the Polish judiciary, and the European Parliament condemns Polish patriotism and wants to force us to abandon Christian values”.

Antoni Macierewicz

Macierewicz quotes history lessons. He quotes the Polish geopolitical obsession of being located between Germany and Russia. The traditional choice is with Russia against Germany or with Germany against Russia? Macierewicz quotes and agrees with George Friedman: “In the perspective of the Russian-German alliance, only we [Poland] have the chance to focus the countries and nations of Central and Eastern Europe and create a political space that prevents the construction of the Eurasian empire.”

Witold Waszczykowski

Witold Waszczykowski

Mr Waszczykowski is a former foreign minister (2015-18) and a prominent speaker and writer for Law and Justice on international affairs. On the recent Franco-German renewed partnership agreement he wrote a comment for Onet.pl: “Germany and France give a signal that they will not change the character of the Union. They will continue to deepen political integration at the expense of the sovereignty of the Member States.” On Brexit he wrote: “It’s crystal clear, there is a noticeable desire to punish and humiliate the British and to signal to everyone in Europe how expensive it is to leave the Union. There is also noticeable haste to use Brexit to change the balance of power in the Union, to promote federal and protectionist practices.”

Witold Waszczykowski writes in his regular commentary about the Polish foreign policy in 2019: “By entering NATO and the European Union, we were hoping that the sandwich dilemma was solved. We have become part of a Western civilization, safe under the umbrella of NATO and the European Union. In recent years, however, the ghosts of the past have returned. We are confident of the growing threat from revisionist Russia and the uncertainty about the adequate response of the West.

Et alors?

The EU is an uneasy thing for Law and Justice. PiS is in open opposition to the federalist and liberal views of the EU. The leadership of the party is worried about the country’s security due to limited trust towards allies. The party is disappointed with the direction EU took in recent years. Why?

PiS is a party of sovereignists. Not only the party wants a strong, powerful state able to solve centuries-long geopolitical problems, but most of all, to bring the wealth Poles deserve. Poles are proud and do not agree to be paid less for the same work as Germans. They do not want to leave and many feel they were forced to leave the country to work elsewhere, frequently below one’s qualifications but with a salary much better than back home. Here’s an anecdote I heard from one medical doctor: he negotiated a salary for a new job in Toulouse. 8000 zł is roughly 1800 Euro. He said no. The person on the other side asked, WHY? It was 8000 Euro… What kind of doctor can expect to be paid 8000 Euro a month salary in Poland?

Poles want to be equal, not second class members, discriminated against. Working below European average is degrading. They want to “buy Polish” – Polish products in a Polish store and, simply, be Polish. Instead there are no Polish cars on the streets (Morawiecki once promised a Polish electric car; the investment stalled) and weekly shopping is done usually in one of the French or Portuguese-owned shopping chains. They want their country to be independent, sovereign, “ours”.

Not all Poles, but many. Not everybody who is poor wants a “Polish car”. Yet there are people with decent-level salaries who want to “shop Polish, not international”.

The Polish society pride is typical for a country that has produced a major middle class. There is a major middle class in Poland of people making decent money (average of over 1000 Euro before tax), but since there is wealth now, there is a new wave of expectations, too.

PiS fits perfectly those desires of an ambitious, yet tired with waiting nation. The people outside, the foreigners, should not tell us how to live. We should rule ourselves by ourselves. Others should respect this. In a private conversation one professor of EU studies told me that “the ECJ is the one that brakes the European law”… another EU affairs professor at a recent conference said publicly that “in the EU Christians are discriminated against”…

There is bad news to those Poles. The world does not allow for that kind of, classical, sovereignty. The world became an intertwined, globalised place and the economic wealth is a result of how well the countries are able to benefit from the process. Clearly the Poles are doing great, as the country has had an economic non-stop growth for the past 25 years. Yet in this open market economy there is a little nostalgia for the paradise lost. Many nations have their “perfect glory” moment in history, when they were great and powerful. This is most disturbing sometimes – for Hungary for example. In Poland it is a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand the country was strong and powerful in 16th and 17th centuries (“the Golden Age”) but it was a joint Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. You think it is long time ago? Tell this to the Greeks. There is also a lot of pride of the interwar Poland (1918-1939) with all its limitations of power, but unlimited aspirations of the day (there was even a movement back then claiming that Poland deserved a colony in Africa…).

United Kingdom’s openness to globalisation is the confusing element today: Brexiters at the same time want to be more free (“EU standards are limiting UK”) and want to be less integrated with the outside world (being afraid of external migration). There is a similar sentiment in Poland: those who have benefited from globalisation are becoming a little bit tired of that openness. And the new generation that does not know different sometimes is demanding even more loudly – defensively even – for more Polish products in Polish shops.

Another bad news for the society, but even worse for the PiS leadership: Europe has decided that inter-governmentalism does not work. It has done so not because of some hidden federalist agenda. It has done so because the only way to secure lasting peace in Europe was to create bonds so strong that would be unbreakable. Brexit shows us how difficult it is to break those bonds.

Macierewicz is wrong when he says Europe of 2004 was a Europe of sovereign and independent states. Back then and much earlier it was already a Europe of shared sovereignty and interdependent states.

And there is the factual error in the minister text: the EU accession referendum in Poland took place in 2003, and the accession happened in 2004.

To change the way EU is one needs to rewrite the Treaties. Clearly an ambitious party like PiS would like to see that happen.

To answer to some specific worries: Macierewicz and Waszczykowski should not be worried about choosing Russia or Germany. Poland is with Germany, also PiS’ Poland. And any Germany is with Poland, none Germany is with Russia. PiS politicians praise Trump and do not see how the American president undermines the transatlantic unity. In this context comes the worry about Macron and the idea for a European army. Poland’s diplomacy might be hoping – against the odds – to be the bridge between Washington and Brussels. And in a way, Brussels should keep fingers crossed for that, even if likes of Macron, Juncker, Merkel and others have already learned this to be impossible.

It is funny to see Morawiecki to use the economic, not geopolitical or security arguments for the Eurozone accession. He reads the opinion polls; half of Poles do not want the Euro ever. Yet even the economic argument of “catching up” does not hold: poorer or as wealthy nations of Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Portugal and Greece use the common currency. It may well be that there could be an economic path of adopting the Euro which could stimulate the Polish economic growth.

It is impossible to answer the general PiS’ disappointment and occasional fear of the Western societies’ liberalism, multiculturalism and secularism. One may only point into the natural tendency of societies to evolve. PiS represents part of today’s Poland – not the entire country – and there are many tendencies within the party that are nostalgic about the glorious past, even if it is not clear what exactly they are pointing to. There are very few – if any – fractions of PiS that would like to see any evolution happen. This is very telling, especially in the context of LGBT rights. In many Western countries the LGBT issues became the issues of the conservative parties, sometimes even the populist right-wingers are pro-LGBT. In those cases it is a result of a certain confrontation between the options of an Islamic religious wave on the one hand and an open and tolerant Western society. PiS rejects both; this alternative is alien to them.

Is PiS secretly pro-Polexit? Not today, but their disappointment with the EU as it is seems so great and there is only one argument today that keeps PiS in the pro-EU camp: the single market argument. For the geopolitics and the security Warsaw looks to Washington. Not even the money transfers are as important any more.

There is however a certain criticism of the Brussels central institutions I would consider agreeing with. The argument is this: the Commission has become detached from the problems of the Member States. It may well be that the “ever closer Union” simply requires a re-definition. Staying true to the European convictions, one could ponder that it is necessary to have the three million Poles, who think like PiS, and their political representation – the party itself – convinced that Europe of today is theirs, too.

For that to happen one would need a certain degree of trust between the Law and Justice and the liberal Western Europeans. The trust is absent. The “Ever closer Union” implies evolution. PiS does not see much room for the society evolution. Against those odds, it is in the interest of the Polish pro-European opposition and the Union institutions to engage with the sovereignist part of the Polish nation.

Jean Monnet

Jean Monnet

To answer to the philosophy I turn to the classical quotes from the famous European, Jean Monnet. Monnet was the man behind the concept of the community method and pooled sovereignty. Monnet said on sovereignty: “There is no real peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on a basis of national sovereignty. They must have larger markets. Their prosperity is impossible, unless the States of Europe form themselves in a European Federation.

On EU institutions: Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions

Jean Monnet

Monnet many years ago even responded to Morawiecki: “Europe never existed. One must genuinely create Europe” – it takes effort to built solutions, not to complain Europe lacks them. It takes the experience of the first and second world war to come to this conclusion:

There is no future for the people of Europe other than in union.

Jean Monnet


The Spring is coming

When on Sunday Robert Biedroń entered the main stage in Warsaw’s Torwar stadium, he had his Macron moment with the Ode to Joy playing in the background. Is Biedroń Poland’s Macron the same way as the French president stopped the rise of Marine Le Pen in 2017? Can Biedroń be the response to the nationalist government of Law and Justice and it’s far-right challengers?

There are more questions than answers for now. The biggest question is if Poles can entrust their future with this 42 years old former mayor of Słupsk in Northern Poland. On Sunday we received some first answers. The biggest secret of the new party was its name. As of today the pollsters can use the name “Spring” to check on its popularity.

If the Spring was to come indeed, it would bring Poland Robert Biedroń as a prime minister later this year. At least this is what the Spring’s leader aspires to. He also promises to end the Polish-Polish war between PiS and PO, the two of which ruled Poland since 2005. On the policy front there are so many issues and proposals… let us just name a few that are likely to resonate with the society:

Church’s place

Spring does not like the current division of labour between the State and the Catholic Church. Biedroń wants to renegotiate the concordat Poland has signed with the Vatican in 1993. The financing of the Church in Poland should change (the Church received about 36,5 million Euro in 2018 from the state budget). Priests should pay taxes. Religion should not be taught in public schools.

Abortion

Spring proposes liberalisation of the current law. The 1993 rules say that abortion is forbidden except for 3 extreme cases (rape, when the woman’s life or health is threatened, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged). Plus, under the PiS government some doctors started to use the conscience clause to avoid performing the procedure.

Biedroń proposes legal abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Civil unions

Gay marriage is not legal in Poland, so Biedroń and his partner, Krzysztof Śmiszek, one of many other leading faces of the new party, cannot marry one another. Civil unions were proposed on a few occasions and the best chance was when Donald Tusk government attempted to fill the gap in the Polish legislation on the issue. Yet even on the Tusk government initiative the progressive proposal failed with the conservative Polish lawmakers.

Social policies

The new party would like to see a minimum pension at 1600 zł (375 Euro), tax free. That would be a major increase. They would like to expand the children benefits (500+ programme) to cover first children and single parents. The minimal salary should be at 60% of the average one in a few years. There should be free public transport, a bus should reach every commune and a train every county. Healthcare (doctors’ conscience clause should be illegal; in vitro should be reimbursed) and education (i.e. English for everyone, sexual education, hate speech prevention) are also two big policy areas for the Spring. Among other issues – the animal rights should have their spokesman, there should be more crèches and kindergartens.

End of coal

Biedroń wants Poland to have the best air is Central Europe. To do this, the country should decarbonise, which Spring would like to see done by 2035.


Robert Biedroń quoted important people. John Paul II: “We will change the face of this place”. If he is to succeed with the energy and liberal policies – that would indeed be a different country altogether.

About Paweł Adamowicz he said “We have to make his testament reality”. Clearly he is competing with Schetyna’s PO for the political heritage of the late mayor.

And he quoted Jacek Kuroń (Poland’s first minister of labour after 1989): “Do not burn committees. Create your own”. Yet some observers rightly pointed out Biedroń did not reach out enough to the unions, the farmers or the Silesia region, where all that coal making takes place. There, coal is associated with the Polish national interest.

He is ready to do politics. He wants to appoint the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the PiS rule and bring those responsible for the judicial reform and breaking the Constitution in front of the state tribunal.

Et alors?

The Western media are full of stories that a gay politician, a non-believer takes on a deeply Catholic nation. The domestic media are more cynical, give him a slim chance of about 7% electorate. One popular political scientist said: “It will be a party that will target directly the liberal-metropolitan electorate, people aged 30-40” (Rafał Chwedoruk). Others are more generous painting him as a socio-liberal third force in the upcoming European and national elections.

Everybody deserves a chance. Spring is new, they have been successful in building the momentum and running the Sunday show. It is true, Spring looks like other parties that came and went over the last decade. Will Spring be like the Palikot Movement, or the .Modern? A lot of people who came to Torwar on Sunday were first time engaged in a civic or political activity. Like Kukiz, another leader-based party, who also motivated many first time voters. Can Biedroń reach out beyond the disillusioned?

Everybody is threatened. The urban electorate of .Modern and PO is looking closely at Biedroń moves. As Biedroń said himself: he wants to “energize” PO leaders, Schetyna and Kopacz. But he kills also .Modern and Petru initiative Now with another reason: he is fresher, newer, more magnetic. This is also something that may pull people away from Kukiz, however conservative the electorate this party has.

Spring potentially is a threat for SLD. Old ex-PZPR (Communist party) officials and the retired military personnel will remain with SLD, but the capacity of this party to reach out to new voters is tempered.

Biedroń also pulls in new people who were discouraged with the hate speech and the Polish-Polish war, but were re-engaged with the local 2018 elections and outraged with the Adamowicz murder and now many of them start to believe again with the new party emergence.

There was a notion on Sunday absent in other recent new parties. .Modern wanted to be truly liberal economically and to challenge PO on the issues. Exactly the same story was with the Palikot Movement. Kukiz was gathering a protest vote and libertarian alter-globalist voices at the same time.

Biedroń does not only reach out to the PO, or the new voters. He wants to challenge the PiS in its core. Many participants of the Torwar meeting on Sunday were mentioning how “inspired” they felt and that Spring “is the third way”.

Then there is Law and Justice with their massive 3-3,5 million solid voting base. Spring is someone credible who tries to challenge Law and Justice on their social policy – PO, .Modern were untrusted; SLD has this image from Leszek Miller times as prime minister – to take away a glass of milk per kid per day from schools. Biedroń doesn’t have those limitations. He openly says all his Sunday proposals are expected to cost about 35 billion złoty.

He tries to be transparent and realistic, not to fall into the trap of easy populism. This is the way to reach out to many of the 3 million who were convinced to vote for PiS with their social policy platform.

The fact he is gay and takes on the Church? Most Poles are conservative, but most Poles do not care for private lives of their leaders. Homosexuality is a non-issue for most of the voters, unlike the media, for whom being “gay” is a no-starter in the national politics.

And the Church? Poland voted for a non-believer before (Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President 1995-2005) , there was a Lutheran prime minister in a Catholic country – Jerzy Buzek. The personal set of beliefs is a part of the package people buy or not. The people will not vote for Biedroń because he is or not gay. They will vote for him if he convinces enough people that he has the best shot at improving the average Polish live.

There is a reason for a green (Germany) or centrist (France) or citizenry (Spain) wave in many countries in Europe. People want to believe and people want to trust. But the candidates and the parties have to be trustworthy and believable. How long can we vote only for a lesser evil? How long a vote is a protest vote?

The Church is not as powerful as it used to be. Last year over 5 million people saw the movie “Clergy” about paedophilia in the Polish church. It shocked many. 5 million is more than 3 million PiS voters. There is room in Poland for Church-critical activities and opinions.

Yet, at the end of the day, Macron was possible also because of the weakness of the traditional centre-left and centre-right in France. Biedroń does not have the same situation: PiS and PO go strong, even if lately the ruling party was more on the defensive side of arguments.

 

Human rights today: under attack in Poland, in Europe, in the world.

I talk with Mr Bogusław Stanisławski, who is a nestor of the Polish human rights defenders. Mr Stanisławski (born 1930) is a World War II survivor, was a diplomat during the Helsinki process in 1970s, member of the Solidarność in 1980s, co-creator and leader of the Amnesty International Poland (1999-2001).

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Bogusław Stanisławski

It seems that human rights are in crisis in the West. Not only they are challenged by war and misery, there is a new wave of populism in many Western countries. What is the state of human rights in the world today?

Bogusław Stanisławski: Human rights are violated all over the world. You can’t find a country, where they are fully observed and protected. Human rights are violated everywhere. But cutting this super long story short, let us land in our country.

They were also violated in Poland in the past years. Since the last parliamentary election when the actually ruling party took over they are violating deliberately and systematically, according to the guidelines of the adopted political line: divisive, pointing at critics as at the “worse part” of national community.

I am very sorry about this situation. With deep regret I have to say that the idea of human dignity and equality is coming under assault from the narrative of blame and scapegoating, sometimes even xenophobic.  At the background of all the moves in internal policy there is the bargain:

Promise of security and betterment in exchange for surrendering established civil rights and liberties.

There is a growing number of critics, people undermining the universality of human rights. Some populists question the value of human rights. What is your response?

The question itself implies that there are doubts about it and the very fact of existing doubts is the alarming signal of the crisis of fundamental values. And there are two possible ways of reacting to this crisis: either to surrender and to go back to the times when human dignity in all its aspects was not protected by international law or to face the challenge and to intensify the struggle for the protection of fundamental rights deserved by every human being. In my opinion, answer to the question, which way to go is to be given not by anybody – a philosopher, a sociologist or any sort of an academician; it is to be given by the historical experience. Human rights were defined not as any philosophical construction. They were defined as the reaction to all the horrors of the 20th century and as a safeguard: never again! I am one of those  who lived through the most cruel Second World War and who is fully aware of its dramatic inheritance and – may be – this is why any doubt in answering the question which way to go is for me nothing else but blindness.

What we need now to save our future is not any philosophical deliberation. What we urgently need now, in this unstable world, is the global commitment for core values. What we need now is the global action to affirm humanity and fundamental dignity of every human being. What we urgently need now are the courageous voices standing up against injustice and dehumanization – the voices of human rights heroes.

And that is my answer to your question: definite and univocal.

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UN Human Rights logo since 2011

Coming down from the global level locally. Can you give me examples how the government violates human rights in Poland?

Under these circumstances the three-partite division (separation of powers) is systematically broken and voice of parliamentary minority is commonly ignored. The independent Civil Service Corps was dissolved in favour for party nominees. The authorities systematically attack judicial independence subjecting the judiciary to political interference. Constitutional Tribunal was made subordinated to parliamentary majority. National Judiciary Council was deprived of its autonomy.  The Supreme Court is under strong attack of blame widely spread by party-controlled media and the legislation has attempted to limit its independence through the exchange of its judges what is contradictory to constitutional provisions and is in the agenda of the European Court of Justice. The space for dissent is shrinking due to expanded surveillance powers enjoyed by law enforcement officers. Hundreds of unjust prosecutions are taking place and judges who openly oppose political interference into their independence face harassment and disciplinary proceedings. Mechanisms and guarantees for protecting human rights are drastically undermined.

There is an opposition to the government actions. You are an active participant in the opposition activities. Can you tell more about those actions?

The citizens’ opposition is still active and efficiently slow down the implementation of government policy in the areas hostile to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Much hope is given to the coming parliamentary election and as an active participant in civic protests I dare say and I hope that it will change Polish political scene alongside with the decision-makers who shape the approach to fundamental human rights.

Here is a case. A civil society activist Lyudmila Kozłowska, a Ukrainian citizen and wife of a Polish activist Bartosz Kramek, was arrested when she was landing last August in Brussels. She was deported because the Polish government had issued the highest alert about her being a persona non grata in the EU. A month later, she spoke at event in Bundestag in Berlin and in the European Parliament in Brussels on the invitation of MEPs. She entered the EU on a German and Belgian visaI am asking myself: either the Polish government is engaged in political prosecution of the Polish opposition or at least it is completely unsuccessful in convincing its allies and partners about its security concerns?

For the first time I met Lyudmyla, an Ukrainian living in Poland for a long time, a human rights defender, many years ago, I think – in 2011, when she asked me as the Amnesty International activist to meet a group of refugees from Kazakhstan at the time of mass protests of workers in the Zhanaozen oilfields and heavy crackdowns from the side of Kazakh authorities. I met her again in 2014 while she, as the chair of the Open Dialogue Foundation, was one of the organisers of public demonstrations in Warsaw in support of Euromaidan protesters in Kiev. A warm personality, deeply involved in what she was doing, she was always in the front line of what was going on. It was then when I was asked to join the Foundation Council. As its member, I had a chance of learning more about the Foundation activity and I was under much impression of its broad scale and efficiency in disclosing human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine at international forums – in Brussels and Strasbourg in particular. As a peak achievement of the Foundation lobbying I regard the report of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) on the abuses of Interpol and the lack of international control over the “red notes” resulted in the overuse of the alert system by the non-democratic regimes aimed at harassing the flying dissidents: the report contributed to introducing positive changes in Interpol internal regulations.

Soon after the rumour started to circulate that the Foundation is financed by “dirty money” flowing from Crimea and that it is connected with Russian security service. As I had access – as a Council member – to the Foundation financial reports, I was fully aware that the Foundation was largely supported by Lyudmyla’s  brother, a businessman in Sevastopol, what was clearly said in the reports and was fully accepted by Council members. However – as it is commonly known – any rumour lives its own life and that one burst with new power when Lyudmyla’s husband, a Polish citizen, joined the street protests in July 2017 against breaking the Polish Constitution and limiting civil liberties. He was just an average protester but was soon recognized as the author of the revolutionary manifesto published on his Facebook wall and I don’t believe it happened without inspiration from the side of security forces to drop distrust towards the whole opposition movement.

However, they showed their faces when Lyudmyla included Poland into her lobbying targets in Strasbourg in defence of the rule of law. Then she was publicly considered as the one who is dangerous for state security and – as such – introduced into the Schengen Information System (SIS) what is synonymous with the entry ban to Schengen zone. No proof of any guilt was given anywhere, no court procedure was introduced – everything was covered up by top state secret and only the rumour of “dirty money” joined with contacts with Russian security service was more widely spread. The presumption that the whole affair around the SIS was unlawful and possibly based on fabricated documents was deepened after she received the short term entry permit to cross the German border to speak in Bundestag and – soon after – the permit to enter Belgium where she applies for permanent stay permit as the wife of EU citizen. And I wish her luck in her endeavours to be fully accepted again in the EU territory and to regain all the possibilities of further activity on behalf of the protection of human rights and fundamental EU values.

I have no doubt that her absence in European capitals and parliaments would be the loss for the fight for the rule of law and established civil liberties in post-soviet and East European countries and I can’t stop thinking that introducing the name of Lyudmyla Kozłowska into the SIS was, first of all, the warning addressed to Polish opposition against looking for support in international forums and the EU institutions through saying: “look, we have got the tools and we are powerful enough to harass those who will dare doing it”.

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Now, the next difficult topic. The hate speech. You have been a diplomat during the Helsinki process, you have been a co-creator of the Amnesty International, and at the age of 88 last November you found yourself a victim of a hate speech!

The victim of hate speech? You mean this incident with Madame professor, MP, who noticed me standing with the banner of constitution and perceived me as a poor, old man who should be taken home, fed and taken care of. She offended me by saying “poor old man takes money for standing here with the constitution”.

Did you take the money for coming to the protest?

Well, you are kidding. But I didn’t feel offended very much, because she has no moral qualification to offend me personally. What is terrifying is that she – as a Polish MP – offended the Polish Constitution calling it „piece of garbage”.

Last, but not least: we are facing the European elections in May. Are human rights at stake? Do they matter?

They are of utmost importance! At the time of populist invasion the elections are the main battlefield in the fight for fundamental European values included in Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. And that is why I think that the main slogan widely spread by European Parliament for the sake of the election “This time I am voting” is simply too short. I would be happy if it is extended by adding what I am voting for: freedom, equality, solidarity, rule of law.

Kosiniak-Kamysz: PSL like CSU

Last Friday the leader of the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz gave a major policy interview in Dziennik-Gazeta Prawna. In it he outlined the main issues his party has to confront in the current political environment.

PSL has a stable support in the Polish society. As the only party it has been continuously present in all elections since 1990 and winning seats. In elections to the European Parliament the PSL score has been a stable 3-4 mandates. Currently there are 4 PSL MEPs sitting with the European People’s Party, including the Chair of AGRI committee Czesław Siekierski. PSL has about 100,000 members, it represents mainly the small towns and farming communities’ views and interests.

It also has a 37-years young leader, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, or WKK, who is a medical doctor by training and served as social affairs minister in the Tusk and Kopacz governments (2011-2015). WKK has been PSL’s boss since 2015. WKK is the party’s 7th leader since 1990, which shows the party openness for rotation, evolution and generational change.

Kosiniak-Kamysz about the political polarisation: “In some homes there is a ban to talk about politics. We stopped to talk to one another, we cannot cooperate, we do not even like one another any more” and “we all should take a step back, not to put wood on the fire”. He presents himself as a unifier: “I have been calling for calm for three years now” and “PSL is a party which brings normality into the political discourse. I know normality is not fashionable, flashy colours are. But normality is a desired value when flashiness becomes tiresome. This time is coming.” According to WKK, PiS is flashy, a radical party, like the pre-war Sanacja, the political movement that called on moral renewal and partially suspended Polish democracy in a coup in 1926.

The Polish CSU?

PSL reads the 2015 elections and removal from power as a yellow card for the party. WKK promises that the party has learned from its past mistakes. “We represent the countryside, not only the farmers. Today farmers make only 10% of the countryside population. And a farmer himself is a different person than 20 years before. We want to be the Polish CSU”.

The issues define the party. The key issue is the low level of payments for the pensioners. WKK says that PSL will not enter into any coalition without this pre-condition taken on board by its partners: pensions should be tax-free!

On the social policies, he continues: “we want to keep the good things. Unasked, I supported the 500+ programme [child support scheme]. As the only opposition party we have supported this programme”. He says that 500+ fits into previous social policies of previous governments (Tusk, Kopacz) which introduced important social instruments, too. “But we failed to communicate”. He means the support for big families (families with 3 children or more receive all kinds of discounts in over 10,400 shops), the year-long maternal leave, social security support for a parent who is on a leave, or the major investment in the nursery infrastructure.

In coalition or alone?

PSL will decide on this issue soon. WKK cannot prejudge the outcome of the PSL vote: “we are a democracy, one person cannot take a decision like this”, even if WKK sees the benefits of going in a coalition, when the d’Hondt method decides allocation of mandates.

For the former minister it is highly unlikely to enter into any future coalition with the Law and Justice: “it is difficult to imagine”; PiS “had many opportunities to prove that they can reach out beyond their party interest. It was us, as the only opposition force, who have participated in the meetings with chairman Kaczyński about the Constitutional Tribunal. We tried to mediate during the parliamentary crisis. Examples could be multiplied. PiS response was: eradicate PSL!”

Yet, nothing is lost, since WKK likes all the people and “the PiS membership card is not a problem” to like someone.

WKK also talks the Polish Euro accession. He thinks the issue is of a delicate matter: “the debate about the Euro adoption has to be taken after a great debate. This requires an agreement wider than a governmental coalition”.

Et alors?

Many people in Brussels and other European capitals focus on the EP electoral campaign as a clash between the liberal, cosmopolitan order of the world and the populist, nationalist challengers. Kosiniak-Kamysz reminds us that there are many reasons to vote; and that it is not true that the only issue out there is migration or the migration scare. Economy, education, medical services, climate change, energy prices, and all kind of other issues, alongside international affairs, Trump and Putin, religion and sport can become decisive.

What WKK talks about is a great promise under-delivered: the social Europe. The problem he sees is a major societal challenge in many poorer nations of the EU. It is structural and it is inherited. It is the fact that many pensioners in post-Communist countries receive peanuts compared not only with the Western Europeans, but also with they own previous salaries. Worse, many of the today working people do not see any major new development in this area. Kosiniak-Kamysz wants to ease their lives. But shouldn’t someone, somewhere, propose a true European pension support system so that there is a relative convergence between European pensioners at some point in the future?

As for the CSU comparison, PSL’s boss would like to see his party as a party “of the land”, as in fact it used to be in many regions of Poland. Today PSL has been pushed aside by PiS and is struggling for sustainability. It looks for a new role for itself. Interesting comparison with the CSU since the party is also rather on the decrease of its power in Bavaria following last year vote. However, WKK might have missed the populism with which CSU tries to fight the AFD in Bavaria. In Poland, quite to the contrary, PSL is moderate. Or, as Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz put it, “normal”.

Far, far away on the right side

Where the horizon ends on the far, far right side, Sunday saw two new – marginal, I hope – developments in Poland. Both in the context of the European elections.

Żółtek’s Polexit

First, another new party was created. It is called Polexit and its driver is Stanisław Żółtek, MEP, former associate of Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Mr. Żółtek is a former deputy mayor of Kraków in 1990s and a current MEP with the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Polexit will advocate for leaving the European Union altogether. Sounds similar? Remember UKIP and its difficult start?

The reason to leave the EU according to Mr. Żółtek is the recent vote in the European Parliament that links the rule of law with the distribution of the EU funds. Żółtek: “If [this] enters into force, and it is close, then we will lose our sovereignty completely, other countries will decide on our behalf. This is occupation”. Mr. Żółtek also dislikes ETS which makes the energy prices go up in Poland. He blames the EU for Poland’s increased energy prices.

The Nationalists March in Oświęcim

Second, the far-right march. 27 January is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the liberation of the largest German Nazi-era concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, located near the town of Oświęcim. 27 January 2019 there is an international commemoration led by the Polish prime minister and foreign dignitaries. The attention, however, is high-jacked by a group of radicals led by Piotr Rybak. Piotr Rybak is a convict who has burnt an effigy of a Jew awhile back. On Sunday he argues: “During the occupation years our countrymen died here for the liberty of our motherland. Today it turns out that over last 30 years the fact has been forgotten that all nations of the world, including Poles, died here.” If thus far what he says could sound reasonable, listen to the rest of his speech: “It’s time to fight against the Jewry and free Poland of it. Where are the rulers of this country? At the trough! This has to change.”

This causes an outcry in Poland and abroad. The Washington Times, the Haaretz, write their stories. In Poland the opposition (Paweł Rabiej, deputy mayor of Warsaw, Grzegorz Schetyna, PO leader, for example) accuses the ruling PiS of doing nothing, or little, to fight anti-Semitism. PiS responds that the PO is the guilty party here, as the mayor of Oświęcim is from PO and it was during PiS rule when Mr. Rybak was sentenced (that’s Jacek Sasin, deputy minister of culture and frequent media commentator, for example).

The police looks into the issue.

Chapeau bas to the interior minister Joachim Brudziński, Law and Justice (after throwing some anti-opposition comments beforehand): “I have said this before and I shall repeat once again: there will be never any OK from me for any activities affirming Nazism and anti-Semitism”.

As for Rybak, better bad press than no press.

Et alors?

It does not matter much if Żółtek runs. He’s always a candidate. Sometimes he is elected, like for the deputy mayorship in Kraków in 1990s, or as MEP in 2014. Most of the time he is not. He is not a very popular individual, unlike Mr. Korwin-Mikke. “Polexit” going solo has no chance. “Polexit” as a force within a larger, united anti-European platform on the right side of the Law and Justice, this could happen. United right, Polexit and the Rydzyk moves (or no moves) – there seems to be enough stirring on the Polish far, far right. Can someone unite them?

Brudziński and Sasin incidentally agreed that the Polish courts are politically motivated. They claim that Rybak’s sentencing took place “on this government watch”. If the courts were independent the arguments used by PiS politicians would be different. Hence, are the courts free? Earlier this month a case from the Netherlands, where a local court stopped a transfer of 11 suspects to Poland fearing they would not face a fair trial in Poland. That’s worrisome.

As for Rybak there is bad news and good news. The bad news: Rybak’s popularity re-emerged among the far-right. The good news: there is no more acquiescence for anti-Semitism. To see Law and Justice and the opposition competing for who is more against the far-right – that is how things should be. The unfortunate news is that it took Mr. Adamowicz to die for Law and Justice to be more critical of the far-right. Not self-critical, but critical. Maybe more self-aware. And viciously offensive towards the opposition – who continues to be vocal on those issues, too.

PO gears up for the European Parliament

On Saturday, 26 January, the Civic Platform (PO) and its remaining partner within the Civic Coalition, the small association Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Polska, IP), held a congress. Its leitmotif: “Woman – Poland – Europe“. Now we know the main platform of the Polish leading opposition in the campaign ahead of 26 May: it’s the women’s rights.

First, a video on the importance of women’s rights. Among people on the video are recognisable faces from the European Parliament’s EPP, PO’s sister parties: Italian Lara Comi, Spaniards Esteban González Pons and Rosa Estaràs, Dutch Esther de Lange, Czech Michaela Šojdrova, Belgain Ivo Belet, Maltese Roberta Metsola, What is striking is a strong European message from the video: all the ladies and men speak about why and how women’s rights are important. The European MEPs are included in a video among the Polish MPs. Missing: the Polish MEPs and the Polish male MPs.

Second, a moment of silence for the late mayor Adamowicz of Gdańsk. Words about him, about the values he fought for. Values he died defending: freedom, solidarity, openness, equality. Values the opposition endorses as their own. There is just one question hanging unanswered: will PO consciously and tactically use the death of Paweł Adamowicz as a political weapon? There is a thin line that separates remembering a great man murdered from using his death and calling him a martyr.

One quote Adamowicz used during the 2017 gay pride in Gdańsk was re-quoted last Saturday: “when you hear that someone is a pervert, when you hear that someone is a deviant, then I say – a pervert, a deviant is a he who hates, someone who is hostile to others.” Adamowicz was Poland’s first mayor who had a deputy responsible for gender equality.

Can divided Poland be reunited?

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Grzegorz Schetyna on Saturday

Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader quoted his daughter: “Poles killed Paweł [Adamowicz], Poles killed the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. Can Poles still do something together?” And continued with his own words: “after what happened, can we live as one community?” and answered “yes”. But this community needs to be renewed. It has to be inclusive, open, better than the previous one. Not later, it has to happen now. So that values of trust, solidarity, truth, love, decency can be restored. Poland needs independent institutions: the courts, the Constitutional Tribunal, the prosecution, media. Schetyna: “Only thanks to independent institutions an argument does not become a conflict”.

The PO leader continues: after we win, “there is no room for wild revenge, but this does not mean there is room for impunity”. And until the day comes when PO can restore its vision of independent institutions, the party – oops, the coalition – will “name every lie a lie, every act of villainy a villainy, every crime a crime”.

The PO will continue to boycott the public TV. Schetyna said, “we cannot pretend that one political party television is public”. A basic decency does not allow members of the PO to come to a place that “promotes hatred”. On the PO’s agenda is also delegalisation of the far-right organisations like the All-Polish Youth and other, who promote aggressiveness.

Grzegorz Schetyna promises “a new Polish house” that will be inclusive. Full equality for women’s rights? One by one: protection from violence, support for rape victims, equality in remuneration, equality of chances. Schetyna’s inclusiveness includes a diverse society, where equality means tolerance for diversity and individualism, where there is no room for discrimination.

As a rare gesture, the PO’s leader included the sexual minorities in his “new Polish house”.

PO’s left flank

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Barbara Nowacka on Saturday

Barbara Nowacka is a left-wing activist, who has a long history campaigning for women’s issues. Her most successful action to date was probably the “black protest” against tightening of the already conservative abortion law in Poland. Nowacka was one of the protest leaders. In a rare occurrence, the PiS government has retreated from the move. She supports gay rights and has been included on the FP Top 100 Global Thinkers 2016 list as a “challenger”. Ms Nowacka’s mother, Barbara Jaruga-Nowacka, has died in the 2010 Smolensk plane crash.

On Saturday she remembered that exactly a 100 years before on the very day the first Polish female MPs were elected. Nowacka talked about the EU as a guarantor of citizen rights of equality and equal treatment. She spoke about women’s rights: the fight is on! “Those are our elections and our choices. Nobody will tell us how to live and how to be happy”, Nowacka said as a true feminist. She supported financing by the state of the in-vitro procedure for all those who have problems conceiving, sexual education in schools, the father leave (to complement the mother leave), among other issues.

Credibility problems

The PO’s biggest problem is the party credibility. How to gain trust of people who still remember the government 2007-15? Among the comments to the PO’s Saturday event were those like: “during their rule my hospital was closed and we all got fired, including single moms” or the vulgar words of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski (from a recorded private conversation) and former vice-speaker of the Sejm Stefan Niesiołowski.

Can PO be trusted? What is probably missing is a serious undertone: 2019 is not 2009 or 2014. What seemed right then does not have to seem right today. We know better post-factum… and only then: this is the plan for what to do next.

Also, Schetyna’s previous Civic Coalition failed after he performed a hostile take-over of the .Modern’s (.N) MPs back in December. Is he going to do the same thing today? Can and will other opposition forces trust him?

In this context, Nowacka is the new voice and the added value. She represents a power that drives this EPP member, conservative force of PO, towards the political centre of tolerance and inclusiveness.

The dividing line the PO is drawing is this: between an open society and an inward-looking society, between the future-oriented and the past-oriented, between people of open hearts and people of closed minds, between the equality for all and equality for like-minded, between those who embrace diversity and those who oppose it, between those who are for today’s Europe and those, who want to change it.

Will it gain the support it needs, or will people remember this party as a representative of the wealthy businessmen? Can PO regain the support it once had among the underpaid teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants?

The fight is on.

Et alors?

All is good, people gathered in this Warsaw hall could see a big crowd, half female, half male. They heard a lot about the problems the country has. They talked about women’s rights and Poland’s issues. But there was supposed to be a third element in the leitmotif: “Europe”. Unfortunately the message Mr Schetyna and Ms Nowacka gave about what kind of Europe they want is thin. I can deduce they are happy to embrace the Europe of today. Bad news for the Civic Coalition, then: Europe is changing and is changing fast. The Europe we know today  is facing a cementing and growing opposition. Keeping or defending the status quo is not enough.

I know, I know. First, they need to win. The message on Poland was credible. The message on women’s rights was asking for credibility. Yet the message on Europe was kind of – déjà vu.

Last, but not least, here’s the link to the January Declaration, as the adopted document is called.

The Opposition Prepares for Battle

Ever since the local and regional elections in October and November 2018, the opinion polls have been stable. PiS support is between 30 and 40%, depending on methodology, and PiS is always first. Behind – the opposition. The largest party is the Civic Platform (PO) under the leadership of Grzegorz Schetyna. Latest opinion polls put PO at 22%.

The rest of the crowd is largely unpredictable, as the political situation since the local and regional vote has been about:

  1. Reflection of individual and joint cumulative powers of the opposition;
  2. Turf infighting between the PO and its Civic Coalition main partner, the .Modern party (.Nowoczesna) when 7 MPs moved from .N to PO
  3. Awaiting arrival of a new political actor under the unknown name, which is scheduled for 3 February – its leader is Robert Biedroń.

Who’s strong, who’s not

The last vote and the opinion polls since then are ruthless: PO is the biggest, but not the only force out there. If PO runs alone in May they could lose the elections.

.N, a party once bigger – in the opinion polls – than the PO, today is down to non-existence. There are still liberal MPs in the Sejm, but there is no future for the party if it goes alone. It constitutes, however, an important “added value” to the Civic Platform, as together the two can profit from a unity. PO’s 22% and .N’s 2% do not exactly add up to the 26% a joint coalition of those two parties usually has in the polls.

Then there are two parties, the agrarian PSL and SLD. Once they were almighty, they ruled the country. PSL had a prime minister, SLD had prime ministers and a president. PSL made it to the Sejm in 2015, but every time it struggles with the threshold. Their strongest performance is usually the local and regional vote. In the fall 2018 PiS run a major campaign directed at eradicating PSL from the countryside. PiS failed, but PSL came out weakened. In 2014 PSL had almost 24% of all members of the sejmiks’ (regional council) members. In 2018 this was halved to 12%. Still, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz was relieved on the evening of the elections.

PO, PSL and others lost elections, but not as much as they thought. PiS won elections, but not as much as it anticipated to win. It seems PiS and the opposition had similar expectations.

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Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, source: Facebook

Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz holds the keys for the fate of the future coalition in the European elections. PSL should take its decision in the upcoming days or weeks. WKK in December: “We are ready to go alone”, but he left the door open to talk with other partners, too. WKK remains personally popular. In a recent poll he is the most popular leader among the opposition leaders; 26% of the public favoured him as future prime minister – only 10% chose PO’s Schetyna.

With PSL, the PO-N can “take on” the PiS leadership in the opinion polls. Should the fourth wheel join the pack, SLD, what PiS politicians like to call the Polish opposition forces, the Total Opposition, could materialise in a form of a winning force.

The SLD is a post-communist left, who is fighting for survival. The party failed to enter the Sejm in 2015, brought MEPs into the EP in 2014, and now faces a mortal kiss from the new Biedroń party. They may be forced into coalition with the PO and others, in order to maintain their falling public support.

Do they differ?

What unites them is their rather unified perspective that the PiS government has been destructive for the country. What divides them is everything else. PO is a centre-right party with free market perspective and is respectful of the relationship the state has with the Catholic Church. PO is most popular among the wealthier, urban and educated population. N. is a liberal party, sharing many of the features of the PO electorate, but adding more importance for the equality issues – women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc.

The PSL is a party of the farmers. The SLD today has been shrunken to represent certain parts of the society closer to the military and the former members of the Communist Party (PZPR).

The buzz of the unknown

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Robert Biedroń, source: Facebook

Robert Biedroń, a former MP (2011-2014) for the liberal party back then called “The Palikot Movement”, who has entered the Sejm’s tribune with smirks on the faces of many other MPs. What was hidden back then was the homophobia of the Polish political class of the time. People did not talk about the gay stuff back then. Today the gin is out of the box.

When Biedroń, a former activist for gay rights, run for mayorship of Słupsk, the experts and political parties did not give him many chances. When he won in 2014, he gained respect among the Polish left-wingers. His popularity has been driven by a status of a celebrity, which only a few Polish politicians enjoy. Two years ago opinion pollsters started polling people about who could or should be Poland’s next head of state in 2020. Biedroń got 26-33% of the instinctive reactions. Today he says he wants to be Poland’s prime minister.

Biedroń will not go with the opposition, he needs first to see how strong he is. The European elections will be indicative. He quotes Macron, and is equally critical of PiS, PO and the Catholic Church. When Macron was looking for new partners around Europe, Biedroń’s name came up. But trans-European coalitions have not been formed. Before his party joins ALDE, the Greens or any other group, first they need to prove worthy of the public vote.

The new party problems? Structure, money and the predecessors. The structure, the money and the buzz seem to be there. The experience of recent parties created on the basis of a popularity of its leader – Palikot, Kukiz and Petru (Modern) – prove to be short-lived.

The absent

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. His mandate ends in December. His popularity among the opposition is massive, but he cannot run, or lead the opposition due to his European functions. However, he alludes. In December gossip came through Warsaw that there is a secret deal between Tusk and Schetyna. Apparently among the considered option is an option for the President of the European Council to finish his term three months earlier, in time for the Sejm elections.

Paweł Lisicki, a right-wing journalist mocks Tusk’s popularity: “The anti-PiS awaits Tusk like the Jews await a Messiah”. There is some truth to it.

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