Poland’s Choice 2019: Elections Stakes

It is 14 September. In a month, on 13 October, Poles will go to the polls to chose their parliament. The Sejm has 460 members and there are 100 Senators. Who will rule Poland for the next four years? What are different political actors fighting for in this elections?

The stakes could not be higher. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) fights to continue to rule alone. The party received 37.6% and a majority in the Sejm last time round. This was possible as the Left failed to meet the 8% threshold for coalitions. The last time turnout was only 51%.

Since Law and Justice took over the government the politics became highly controversial. The opposition accuses the ruling party and the President Andrzej Duda of breaking the Constitution, compromising the independence of judiciary, partisan take over of the public administration and turning the public TV into a propaganda machine propagating hate speech and smear campaigns. At the same time the quality of public education and public healthcare decreases under the PiS rule.

The carrot

With the use of public money and private money of state-controlled companies the Law and Justice rules with a tactics of carrots and sticks. It introduces massive social policies like the 500 zł payment per child per month. It’s latest reform included payments for all the children, including the first ones. PiS increased the minimal wage from 1750 zł (in 2015) to 2250 zł (in 2019), which is an increase of 29%. In the same period the inflation was minimal. The minimal pension increased by 25% and in 2019 the pensioners received a 13th pension just before the EU vote.

The stick

PiS does not rule with a Marianne Williamson’s love message. Au contraire, the politicians of Law and Justice engage in smear campaigns against their opponents, be it political or societal. It is a distant memory today that the 2015 PiS scare tactics against the imaginary migrants coming to Poland was an important element of the victorious campaign. Over the years there were smear campaigns and vilifying against feminists and what PiS calls “gender ideology”, against the judges (with the latest instalment of the Piebiak affair), the handicapped persons, the teachers, the paramedics, the entire opposition, green activists, bikers, vegans and the LGBT community.

The allies

Law and Justice does not reach out to the other side. It does not have to. It has a propaganda machine (TV station), where a few days ago in one of the regional studios the PiS rule was debated. Invited guests: PiS politicians only.

TVP3 Lublin studio: PiS candidates in elections “debate” the PiS years in government.

PiS has its allies, most notably the Catholic bishops, some of whom have been exposed earlier this year as covering up the paedophilia cases. “The Church is under attack” and PiS is its prime defender.

Among the clergy is Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs his small media empire based on Radio Maryja and receives major subsidies from the state.

Another ally is the legendary Solidarność trade union, which won PiS for their motion to close down shops on Sundays. Ever since this motion was adopted, Solidarność in PiS’ debt. The move, however, remains highly controversial with the general public.

The stakes

PiS runs to win. It wants to maintain its 230+ seats in the Sejm. It wants to control the Senate. It dreams to reach the 2/3 majority to change the constitution, yet it’s 2015/16 taking over the Constitutional Tribunal has effectively subjected the Tribunal to the political will of the ruling party. As the constitutional majority might be desired, it is not necessary to control the “eradication of post-Communism”, to use the PiS leader’s words.

The Opposition fight for the Senate

In the process PiS win is largely expected (the party is polling 40-45%). The opposition is divided. There are three groups running parallel campaigns: the centrist Citizen Coalition (KO) is the biggest of them, the Left is on the one side of the KO, while on the other is the conservative Polish Coalition (KP) composed of mainly the farmers party PSL, as well as the remnants of anti-system Kukiz’15 and a few liberals of the ALDE member Democratic Party.

The three coalitions agreed to support a team of 99 candidates for the Senate. In the European elections earlier this year they realised that going together they were an easy target for PiS, who was able to play out the internal divisions of the opposition. Then, they hoped to run on a pro-European platform against a Euro-sceptic Law and Justice. PiS adjusted its message, put EU flags everywhere during the campaign, moved the debate to other issues divisive for the opposition and, won.

This time round KO, the Left and KP run separately. Their messages and stakes vary individually. The KO fights PiS and hopes for a majority in the new Sejm of KO-Left-KP. In this process the leader of the KO changed, surprisingly. Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform the party and the entire Coalition announced that the KO candidate for the prime ministership is not him, but Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. The move was a surprise for PiS. The public took the decision with a relief, energising the KO campaign. Ms Kidawa-Błońska is a politician who has not been as vilified by PiS as often as others. Her message is to take a step back from hostilities in the public discourse. KO polls at 22-27%.

The Left coalition is a group of three leaders: Robert Biedroń, MEP and leader of the new party Spring, Włodzimierz Czarzasty of the traditional left-winger SLD and Adrian Zandberg of the Varoufakis-leaning party Razem (Together). Unlike 2015 this time the threshold the Left is facing is 5%. The Left’s fight is to return to the Sejm, from which they have been absent for four years. The Left polls at 11-14%.

Incidentally the next Sejm can see also first Green MPs as the Green politicians are running from the KO list.

The Polish Coalition’s stakes is survival. If PSL fails to enter the Sejm this will be the next step in PiS successful campaign to replace PSL in the Polish countryside. Kukiz’15 failed to win a seat in regional elections in 2018 and in the European elections 2019. Hence Paweł Kukiz decision to enter this coalition. The KP polls at 5-6%.

Collectively the united Opposition knows that it will be difficult to stop PiS from winning the Sejm. They know, however, that the fight for the Senate is open. As there are 100 electoral districts for the Senate and “the winner takes it all” it helps that in 99 of them there is one candidate supported by all three opposition forces. They hope for well over 50 mandates.

In some districts there are independent candidates, too, so the vote is not PiS-Opposition always.

The other opposition

The Confederacy of ex-MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is also in the mix. Their message is anti-system and openly adversary towards minorities and foreigners. This far-right group polls at up to 6%.

PiS Electoral Offer: minimal wage at 900 Euro

Knowing that PiS carrots and sticks approach works, in this campaign the ruling party politicians demonise LGBT people, portray themselves as defenders of a traditional family, and have a new social offer.

Jarosław Kaczyński says that PiS will raise the minimal wage from the current 2250 zł to 4000 zł (equivalent of 900 Euro in today’s money) by the end of next parliamentary term. The country debates now how realistic his plans are for the state budget and for the economy, over all. Will this move force the companies to modernise? Will it mean that Poles move to the grey economy? What about inflation? Etc. The Polish average salary in 2019 is about 1,150 Euro, yet the median salary is at 980 Euro, and the dominant salary at 580 Euro (current minimal wage, 2250 zł is about 520 Euro).

Et alors?

The political wars are best for politicians and political commentators. The society is interested in something else.

As divided the Poles might seem between the Law and Justice and the opposition, there is a general agreement on what the Polish society next goal is. This goal is taking the society out of a transition fatigue, many argue the society was caught up with in the first half of the current decade (Tusk II government and its famous inertia). PiS divisive rule has mobilised a society on both sides of the public discourse to realise who they are and what they want.

In the process PiS kills the political inertia. Poles broke the national records in regional elections last year as well as this year’s European vote. The October 2019 turnout should be significantly higher that 51% four years ago.

So, what do Poles want?

The Poles want their welfare state. PiS is the first party to realise this dream and tries to make it happen. The PiS rule thus far was concentrated on assisting the groups underprivileged in transformation since 1989: undereducated, less mobile, workers in smaller towns, unemployed, technologically and territorially marginalised, and the farmers.

PiS might be blind, or slow to realise that the underprivileged are also the women on the labour market, the handicapped and their families, and other groups who have taken to the streets in recent years. Yet for time being the focus is on forging this new welfare state. Not for everybody, but definitely for “the Polish family”. And it works, at least at the level of public support.

This is why PiS is popular. PiS aspires to the inner dreams of Poles and tells them “it can happen”. PiS also says: “the alien, the different, the migrant, the non-believer is a threat to you, to the Church, to Poland. You are a Polish family and you are who and what we worship”.

A populist is a politician who does not recognise the power of nuance. Who says “good” and “bad” without seeing the details. As much as this can be understood in a campaign mode, it is unacceptable in governance. PiS is a populist party.

But the populist party argues the same way as the European Commission: for the ex-post legitimacy. What does it mean? “We deliver”, says PiS.

Will they deliver the 900 Euro minimal wage, 13th and 14th pension, as scheduled?

Or, will they fail to see the detail? Economy might be growing, but the inflation of daily products is noticeable in recent weeks. Education is a key for economic growth, too. Instead of improving the quality of schooling, schools are now politically indoctrinated and mid-schools operate in logistical chaos. Healthcare waits to be financed. And there is all this rule of law debacle, the issue which is minor for the elections, but a major issue to rule the country effectively in the future.

The Ministry of Hate

It is evening, 19 August 2019. Another sunny, hot day. The climate change shows its positive side for holiday-makers, as there are thousands of people on the sunny sandy beaches over the southern Baltic coast and thousands more hike the hills and mountains of south Poland. 30 degrees in the shade, and the political campaign ahead of the 13 October elections is only about to begin.

With high temperatures storms are expected. The big storm will hit the popular Giewont mountain in the High Tatras in a few days. 4 people will die and 150 further will suffer. This will be the largest tragedy in the Tatras in the recorded history. Here’s a recorded lightening of 22 August.

The lazy summer day ends at 6 PM on 19 August. Onet.pl, the largest online news portal in Poland, publishes an investigation story that will be read over 40 million times in the next seven days.

It is a story that makes people drop their jaws. Remember Cambridge Analytica? Go and see the Great Hack on Netflix. The Onet.pl story is the Polish equivalent.

Poland is a country where the political discourse has been poisoned with hatred for awhile now. The deep divisions have led both sides of the political argument to far-reaching accusations of lies and misinformation. There were victims, like the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, brutally murdered in January.

Onet.pl reveals that the deputy minister of justice, a judge Łukasz Piebiak, is running a coordinated hate speech group that chooses as its targets judges opposed to the judicial reforms introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Once again: a deputy justice minister was involved in preparing smear campaigns against people who were in disagreement with them. Onet.pl talks to a woman, Little Emi, who shares stories how things were done. She shares WhatsApp conversations with the journalists, where the minister is seen as giving instructions, rewards, sharing burden with Emi, who is the executioner of the hate campaign.

Among the victims are some 20 judges, including judge Krystian Markiewicz, who leads the work of an independent association of lawyers “Iustitia”, and Małgorzata Gersdorf, head of the Supreme Court.

Over the next days it becomes public that there was a WhatApp group where coordinating action took place. The group’s name: “Kasta”, or “The Cast”.

The Gang Talk

Emi: Good morning Minister. Is the information useful? What should we do with it?

Piebiak: I have received the material some time ago, but I had no idea how to use it, so I didn’t use it. If you have ideas, that’s splendid!

Emilia: I have the following idea. Send it anonymously to all the branches of Iustitia. And to the addressee. The newspapers are off as we have no proof. I have a phone number to the husband of the mistress. We could use one of the Internet gates or a sim card, but I do not have one and I do not have anyone to register it with. I can talk to R. [a tv journalist of a pro-government TVP]. Maybe he can go through it but there is no source and proof. It doesn’t look good. What do you think? And more generally, will it help us?

Piebiak: I think it will help us. It is important to drive over Iustitia, we have to deal with them. People will talk, and Markiewicz will go down a little bit knowing what we have on him. Maybe Kuba [another Ministry of Justice employee] has ideas how to disseminate it without any traces?

Emilia: Welllllll

Piebiak: The journalist and the material would be great, but I am not sure if there is such a courageous person.

Emilia: I think Kuba is a little afraid. Those are his ex-pals, you know. Ok. I will do what I can.

Piebiak: Thank you.

Emilia: I’ll talk to the journalists and will send the papers around. Anonymously, by email. And by post. The one problem is I do not have the addresses and the emails. I will do everything as I can, as always. I cannot guarantee the final outcome, but I will try. I hope I will not go to jail for this.

Piebiak: We do not put people in jail for doing good.

The fallout

Minister Piebiak resigns. Other justices involved resign or are fired from the Ministry of Justice. The ruling party says that all that scandal is a proof that the judicial system in Poland is degenerate and that Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of the PiS judicial reforms, did not know a thing about the hate group.

The judges come to the streets to demand Mr Ziobro’s resignation. Either he did know and is complicit. Or he did not know and is an ignorant. In either way, there is a political responsibility for the ministry one runs.

Over the summer a suicide of Dawid Kostecki, a criminal who was once a boxing champion, draws more questions than answers. Mr Kostecki’s suicide is questioned, and his testimony was instrumental in another of Law and Justice scandals. Mr Ziobro oversees the entire justice system and safety of prisoners is his political responsibility, too.

Will the people care? The elections are in little over a month and a half. The first opinion poll suggests that PiS enjoys its dominant position, regardless of the scandals. Majority of the public would like to see Mr Ziobro go, but they will not punish the entire party for one person’s mistakes, clearly.

Et alors

The nightmares of many became a reality. Hate speech is procured in Poland, not only in the churches by priests talking about the LGBT community. Hate speech is crafted and targeted against individuals who are on the opposing side. It is not only a group. It is an individual. Be warned, for you can be next. Is this an EU member state or Russia? Clearly there is no one who can prosecute this situation properly, because the Ministry of Hate is the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor is the Justice Minister and all the prosecutors below Mr Ziobro fear him for he has a history of rewarding the loyal and punish the insubordinate.

In a country without an effective independent prosecution, in a country with a paralysed justice system, the public loves the government of Mr Morawiecki because of the economy and social give aways.

PiS may well win the elections in October as all the scandals make the party even more scandal-proof. But the question is not on who wins. The question is about the low standards of public life. Can we go lower? Yes we can. Expect the worst, work for the better, dream for the best.

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

Krzysztof Szczerski announces he will not be a Commissioner in the Ursula von der Leyen Commission. The reason for his resignation is the portfolio. He was offered the agriculture dossier. “In politics one has to be honest. If there is an option to have an agriculture commissioner for Poland, and I have never dealt with agriculture, I think it is honest to withdraw and give the position to someone who is competent”, said Mr Szczerski on Monday, 26 August 2019.

The new candidate for the Agricultural Commissioner is Janusz Wojciechowski, a member of the European Court of Auditors, a long-time MEP (2004-2016). Mr Wojciechowski at one point was a leader of the Polish People’s Party, the agrarian force in Polish politics. He has joined the Law and Justice (PiS) in 2010.

Janusz Wojciechowski in the Parliament in Brussels (2016)

Meanwhile back to Mr Szczerski’s book…

Mr Szczerski analyses in his 2017 book European Utopia the key political trends that have been unfolding in the European Union since the economic crisis in its variety of angles.

For Mr Szczerski the key processes are: first, the increased competition within the EU and globally. This is a competition between states and regions, as well as economic sectors. Second, the hegemony in Europe of certain larger states. And third, the progressing disintegration with the concentration of the policy around the Eurozone (sic!), which Mr Szczerski calls “super-euro”. This includes the early 2010s discussions about the so-called “economic governance” of the Eurozone.

Mr Szczerski argues he is supportive of the “common European good”, which is threatened by those three parallelly advancing processes. “There are symptoms of the birth of the competition-dominating system in the European Union, in which some countries of a reduced political and economic clout remain permanently on a side of a mainstream politics“.

The warning of Mr Szczerski is that domination of the big changes the rules of the intergovernmental play with EU cohesion and EU equality being compromised. “Poland, the PiS Europeanist writes, has every right to keep its currency if it considers that it is beneficial for the country and with keeping the złoty there should be no limitations of the EU membership rights”.

The process of growing domination is related to the re-nationalisation of policies, that is protection of national interests and interests of national actors from competition of other countries, including protection from EU rules, for example, the competition policy rules.

What is progress?

Mr Szczerski loves semantics. He dwells on differentiation between the single and internal market, but when it comes to the EU treaties preamble talk of an economic and social progress, Mr Szczerski adds “whatever that means“.

The EU treaties, according to Mr Szczerski, are a solid ground for developing a social model of a welfare state, not the liberal vision of the Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech. Mr Szczerski sees a conflict here: “rather, it is a vision close to leftist sensitivity which recognizes the welfare state’s social model as part of European identity and heritage, trying to appropriate social sensitivity, whose roots lie in the Christian canon of values and the concept of social order“. Mr Szczerski is back to his identity politics, as presented before twice.

Mr Szczerski proves that in fact, the EU is a leftist project, since it aims to sustain the welfare state, supports redistribution, and praises an open society. He calls the left-wing values “pseudo-values” like the European social model, focus on the citizen, human development, etc. He concludes, those pseudo-values “which serve creation of a utopian European society“.

Europe’s economic integration

Mr Szczerski rightly historically argues there were three components necessary in the development of the European economic unity: internal market, unified external trade policy and a system of regulatory institutions.

The second element, the trade policy, is not that controversial. The problems are elsewhere. Especially in the understanding of a single market. Mr Szczerski: “when two Europeans say ‘market’, it does not mean they think the same thing” and argues differences between the internal, common, single and free market. Internal market implies protectionism and protective barriers against imported goods. Common market follows the logic of removal of obstacles between EU nations. Single market is about a supranational regulation including political strategies and standard-setting norms. Free market is, according to the author, a key term, yet forgotten and marginalised to a sectoral meaning of liberalisation of economic exchange.

All this meander of understandings of a market boils down to two approaches: you create a market by taking down obstacles to trade, or by building up a cohesive market. Mr Szczerski argues, that a diversified European market needs different approaches. There are weaker states and weaker economies in the EU. “Such a ‘free’ market led to bankruptcy of the Gdańsk Shipyard in Poland, because the state was not allowed – in the name of the free market – to intervene or help the periodically weakened corporation“.

The first approach is deregulation, Thatcher-like. The second approach is regulatory. In the multi-levelled governance of the Union, Mr Szczerski concludes that the EU has a tendency to create new institutions (agencies), when “more could be achieved with cooperation of national actors”

The chapter “Power and market” is concluded by a critical statement about the European federalists who, according to the author, fail. They tend to continue to argue for “more Europe”, even if the societies tend to reject the federalist offers. Mr Szczerski offers four pre-conditions, “four elements” of the EU integration process:

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

And, there should never be “no alternative” solutions. There are always alternatives, writes the ex-Commissioner-candidate.

Et alors?

First of all, the position of an agricultural commissioner was offered to Mr Szczerski, not to Poland. Maybe it was offered precisely in order for Mr Szczerski to withdraw? I hope this issue is further investigated with Ms von der Leyen in the future.

Will it be easy for Mr Wojciechowski? It remains to be seen. No PiS candidate will have it easy in the European Parliament. Apparently Mr Wojciechowski confirmation for the Court of Auditors back in 2016 was not smooth, and the Parliament did not recommend him; except for the final decision was with the Council.

As for the book, I largely agree with Mr Szczerski economic and political analysis, except for the obvious: Mr Szczerski asks for values which are there, or if they once were there and are no longer there, it is not that those values can be reinstalled with an institutional change. If there is an undertone, according to which Poland is not respected today in the EU, it is not because of the Franco-German domination in the Union. Just look to Cyprus for the EU policy on Turkey. Just look to Ireland for the EU policy on Brexit. The Polish government can learn a lot not only from the larger nations of the Union. Actually it can learn a lot also from the smaller and more effective nations out there.

There are reasons why Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Latvia adopted the euro as their currency.

PiS problems in the Union, in the Council and the Parliament, are not coming out of disrespect for Poland. They come from the alienation and disrespect this party and its members have for their European partners. Mr Szczerski writes “progress, whatever that means” dismissively. He argues the EU is left-leaning. But he cannot – or does not want to – see all the elements of the right-wing in the system. Mr Szczerski accuses the EU of exactly the opposite of what the French far-left is accusing it of not being. According to them, the EU is a liberal instrument of globalisation dismantling the French welfare.

So, what is the EU? As Mr Szczerski argues, a left-liberal conspiracy, or as Mr Melanchon? The latter argued earlier this year there is a Macron-Orban axis and a German CDU diktat that should be removed….

Maybe, only maybe the EU is a compromise? An inclusive compromise of those who can identify themselves in the final product. All views contributing are welcome from the start, and – according to the latest figures it takes 20 months on average to legislate in the Union – over the next following year and half a compromise is gradually worked out. Across the political views, across the national and sectoral interests, respecting the European interest as proposed by the Commission.

And as such a compromise you can either identify yourself in it, especially if you are a stateman, or you chose not to do this, and to argue that the entire project is hostile, has been hijacked by the other side.

Maybe the Gdańsk shipyard bankruptcy was a mistake. Maybe the Commission should be more accommodating. I don’t know. But I do know that the Polish government was able to save the Polish air carrier LOT when it had its difficult days, with the support of the European Commission. During the same period the Hungarian air carrier Malev went out of the market. So maybe, just maybe, not all is down to the good and the bad, but also to the skills of national negotiators? Mr Orban government was unable to save the airline. Mr Tusk was able to save the Polish airline. All Italian governments were able to argue in defence of Alitalia.

I love that Mr Szczerski finally acknowledges the Europeans are a force in the European decision making. It is an obvious that those four elements (Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and the Citizens) have to converge for anything like re-writing of EU treaties to happen. But sometimes it is a relief just to have a confirmation that we walk the same planet. At least sometimes.

Szczerski on Polish history lessons (Part 4)

As Krzysztof Szczerski, the Commissioner-to-be rejects constructionism and embraces a historical approach, he draws three important lessons for Europe from the Polish historical experience.

This comes as I continue to read for you Mr Szczerski 2017 book on Europe called European Utopia. My previous inputs from his book include:

  1. Noah’s Days
  2. Europe without a soul is dead
  3. Euro’s good only for the powerful

Mr Szczerski asks a genuinely good question: “what can we teach our friends from other Union states, especially those of its core” and gives three answers.

Poland defends Europe

First, the Polish political choices have impacted not only the fate of Poland, but also, “the shape of Europe“. In this perspective Mr Szczerski draws attention to the 1683 Vienna siege and asks “what would happen if the Polish king Jan III Sobieski would not decide to go to rescue Vienna in 1683 from an Islamic onslaught“?

The other examples used refer to the Polish defence of Europe against the Tatars in 1241 and the Soviets in 1920. Mr Szczerski concludes: “We need to remind the Western countries […] what has been the role played by Poland on our continent“.

There are two reflections of the author in this context. First, “a good policy is the one which allows for making choices which do not incapacitate us“. Second, “Poland is the country which over the centuries in reality has made fundamental choices alone for itself as well as for the whole of Europe“. Surely, there were mistakes along the way, too, admits Mr Szczerski. There is an important warning: “when Poland was deprived of the choice by the external powers, or it has deprived itself of the choice, or when it has led an unthinking or a subordinate policy vis-a-vis other capitals, it would lose its resources and its own subjectivity. Europe would lose out too, as it would lead to much greater crises later, on a continental scale“.

Poland’s sovereign choice is one of the very important stabilising elements of our continent.

Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia 2017

Free Poland = Free Europe

The second historical conclusion of Mr Szczerski is that the history of Poland is the history of freedom. “Poland was free when freedom ruled Europe“, and subordination of Poland effectively means a domination of larger nations. When Poland was not free, in late 18th and 19th centuries, many others suffered, writes the Commissioner-appointee, including the Belgians and the Italians.

The Polish freedom is linked with the European freedom, but one should not “confuse freedom with frolics and lawlessness“.

Deep Roots

Lesson number three relates to historical identity. “Polish history is a history of a community connected by culture, identity, values and traditions originating from the Christian fundament“.

Mr Szczerski writes that today’s Europe “has a fundamental problem with its own identity, its own civilisation, when it turns itself into a post-cultural, post-civilizational or post-identity conglomerate of some undefined forces and processes“. If Europe is truly lost, it can survive only if one relates to the identity. In fact, Mr Szczerski argues, a community can survive only when “the community roots are deeper than just ad hoc business, political identity, economic wealth or opportunistic choices of being politically correct. Only deep roots give a guarantee of long lasting.”

There are three elements Mr Szczerski would like to upload as Polish experiences into the European political dimension: the issue of choice, the issue of freedom and the issue of a culture based on centuries-old values. “If those three things we could merge today for the sake of Europe, it would truly become a different political community“.

Et alors?

I truly agree with the sentiment of Mr Szczerski when it comes to freedom: what freedom is and what freedom is not and that the value of freedom is important to Poles. Freedom, however, is not only a freedom of a nation from a foreign oppression. Individual freedoms matter! Personal freedoms are relevant. The European and, wider, the Western thinking about liberties has massively advanced since 1945. Today human rights are part of the Western understanding of freedom.

In a way it is amazing how simplistic the historical analysis of Mr Szczerski is. It does not include the centuries old tradition of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation. In fact, the fact that some 97% of citizens of Poland are “ethnic Poles” is a historical anomaly for Poland. Poles do not have a concept of an ethnic Pole like many other European nations do. Poles are those who speak the language, said the 1931 census. It was a linguistic category, not an ethnic one.

I am missing also the reference to the Second World War. There would be no European Union without the War. In Poland the WWII is considered “the War” and not to draw lessons from it seems to be a major omission. The War changed Poland: its borders were moved, its citizens were killed or relocated. It’s cities were deplored and the country was in ruins. All that was locked under a Communist freezer; the historical debates only resurface post-1989. As the War’s fallout all the minorities disappeared. A third of Polish citizens before the War was not “Polish”, but Ukrainian, German, Jewish, Dutch, Scottish, Czech, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Russian, Armenian or another. Poland was a melting pot the same way the Austro-Hungarian empire was a melting pot of nations. It was not a paradise, there were many problems of the day, but the multi-culti was the norm. The mono-culti is an abnormality, for Poland, too, Mr Szczerski.

For excellent texts about the history of Poland look for the books of historians like Norman Davies, Timothy Snyder or Adam Zamoyski.

I am also missing nuance in Mr Szczerski analysis. As much as Poland cherishes its freedom many Poles tend to forget that our freedom is not exactly someone else’s freedom. See Lithuanians for it, and their experience, their reading of what a “free Poland” means: occupation and often a forced Polonisation. Yes, Poles were subjects to Germanisation under Bismarck, but similar processes took place against other nations. When General Żeligowski entered Vilnius in 1920 what exactly did his army mean by “freedom”? Or, was it more politics with fait accompli as the international politics of the day were still largely based on rude power?

Maybe this is why Europeans decided to draw a line making a distinction and a decision: we focus on the future, because the past can divide us as easily as before? We need to build trust between Europeans before we build fences between us.

I do not share Mr Szczerski reflection that Europe’s doomed because it lost its identity. Who am I to tell others they lost their identity?

I do agree, however, that the political community of Europe is something important. It should be built and developed further, in a constructive way, even if the Commissioner-to-be does not like the approach.

I hope for his perspective to be included in the European political discourse. It is an important input, but to preclude it is the only one correct is too much, it is presumptive, and as such, offensive to others.

An open, tolerant, culturally and religiously diverse Poland is the true nature of this smiling country. Not the grey mono-religious and a righteous perspective of some Poles. In order to be inclusive I shall say that both versions, or all versions of a complex and multi-dimentional Poland should be included in the statement of Mr Szczerski: “More of Poland means more of Europe“.

Jarosław Kaczyński: we need to limit the LGBT ideology

Poland is in the middle of the national political campaign. The ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), enjoys a 40-45% support, has chosen its lists of candidates for the Sejm who are spread around the country campaigning. In the meantime the opposition parties only finish up deciding their lists of candidates. Their campaign is rather reactive to the PiS campaign. They are about two weeks behind the ruling party.

As for the main topic of the campaign, it seems PiS is able to close the flights scandal of the ex-Speaker of the Sejm with no major loss of the public support. The PiS campaign is largely focused on defending the national values. Apparently the Church and the Polish moral values are under threat.

Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, sums best his and his party position on the LGBT rights. On Sunday Mr Kaczyński at a local rally in Zbuczyn, Eastern Poland, is asked what he intends to do about the so-called equality parades. Equality parades are Polish equivalent of the gay prides elsewhere. On Saturday another march takes place in Płock, a city of 120 thousand people. In early July there are riots in Białystok with far right hooligans attacking the equality parade. Mr Kaczyński response leaves some people jaws-dropped while others hear confirmation of their deepest fears:

You know, the problem is, if it was up to me, it would be simple. My late brother, a Varsovian, when he was a mayor of Warsaw, he banned it. But here it is about the EU rules. They will repeal our bans. The courts will also repeal, because the courts are completely influenced by this ideology. This has to be done differently, calmly limit it. In such a way that it does not destroy the Polish culture or damage the Polish Church. And we will fight for it

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

Et alors

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

  1. Human rights are irrelevant.
  2. Rights of people belonging to minorities are irrelevant.
  3. Right to protest should be limited.
  4. There is a Polish national Church.
  5. This Polish Church is under attack from the LGBT ideology.
  6. Independent judiciary is a threat. It is influenced by the LGBT ideology.
  7. There is a conspiracy between the EU and LGBT and the judiciary against the Polish culture and the Polish Church.
  8. Mayor Lech Kaczyński banned the Warsaw Equality Parade in 2005 and that was a good thing. Quick fact check: Poland was an EU member already. EU laws applied. Polish Constitutional applied – on the basis of the Polish Constitution that ban was considered unlawful in 2006. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (not an EU body) considered the ban illegal in 2007.
  9. The cover up of paedophilia among the Polish priests is not an issue worth paying attention to.

Jarosław Kaczyński has a history of anti-LGBT statements. He seems to believe there is an LGBT ideology and he calls it evil.

This is scary for LGBT people, for an average hooligan does not distinguish the nuance between the “LGBT ideology” and “LGBT affirmation”, and for an average hooligan a gay person is gay. Not Polish, not Catholic. A threat to the national culture and national religion. The Polish leader is feeding the violent radicals who take to the streets against the minority that is demonised. The minority which without the PiS demonisation already witnesses a mountain to climb to be a contributing member of the society. One study has shown that 70% of Polish LGBT youth has suicidal thoughts and half – suffers of depression.

Szczerski: Euro’s good only for the powerful (Part 3)

Krzysztof Szczerski is a candidate for the position of a Commissioner in the College of Ursula von der Leyen. Earlier this week there was a meeting between the nominee and the Commission President. The only relevant information Mr Szczerski shared after the meeting is that he has signalled his interest in an economic portfolio. No decision has been taken.

Divided Europe forgets its roots

Back to his 2017 book “European Utopia” where Mr Szczerski explores the roots of the European Crisis. He offers an interesting and original take on what the European Union is. It is a practical-spiritual integration that has been based on practical cooperation and Christian values. Mr Szczerski argues that the integration has an original flaw in its construction: the limitation of the integration to a few Western European countries and the approbation of “the brutal and unnatural division of Europe into two hostile parts“, with the Central and Eastern European part of the continent left behind the Iron Curtain. “When one side of a plant is permanently in the shade, while the other side has access to the light, both of them grow in an unnatural way – one is poor, the other one extensively exuberant – the entire system loses its harmony“. Mr Szczerski empathically remarks “both sides of the Iron Curtain were victims of the division (…) since both parts were separated from each other“.

This unnatural situation results with the Eastern Europe economically underdeveloped and Western Europe alienated. The year 1989 and the new opening is not “optimally used” for reunification of the divided continent, according to Mr Szczerski. The stereotypes of Central and Eastern Europeans among the Western European political elites dominate the approach. In consequence, “they strived for simple domination over the backward Eastern countries and their economies. This was called the need of westernisation of the Central and Eastern Europe, what effectively was to be a repetition of the East German take over by West Germany“. That process has an important side-effect: “the contempt for the Eastern Germans, the Ossi“, among the Western Germans.

The spiritual element evaporates over the years: “Western Europe that we’ve met in 1989 was becoming a different continent, in which the public life was based on new, fully secularised rules“.

The Western European material domination over Central Europe results in unnatural relationship, in which the “external domination, for example in terms of owning business, or the unfavourable conditions (for us) of the opening of our national markets for Western corporations, which had very strong bargaining positions. This frequently led to market disorders, and in some areas even to practical elimination of home companies“. Mr Szczerski contradicts this reality with early days of integration: “the inivial historical project assumed respect” no matter if the country was Luxembourg or France. “Then, the base of relations between the integrating states were the Christian values“. In 1989 and today it is no longer the case.

Mr Szczerski concludes this part of history: “even if according to me the European integration has never taken the optimal developmental shape, the presence of Poland in this process is essential“.

Poland needs free and stable Europe of equal states and free nations.

Krzysztof Szczerski, European Utopia, 2017

Mr Szczerski’s key disillusionment is in the reality of the year 1989. This is when “the chance to rebuild the true European unity was lost“, because the West forgets its Christian values. There is a general happiness that dictators of Eastern Europe are gone, but there as an accompanying fear. The West is worried about the “backwardness” of the new democracies and their alleged nationalism and social conservatism. There are also the material worries of “flooding of the West with hordes of hungry workers (better version) or simply – thieves (worse version)“.

The Western fear results, according to Mr Szczerski, with a policy of re-education: “immediate buying out of the media and giving them a liberal-left profile as well as creation and financing of all sorts of foundations and educational centres of so-called new elites. Education obviously in one binding meaning of political correctness“.

Mr Szczerski says that the Central Europeans are considered “barbarians” and this is so unfair “when Europe is currently flooded with a true uncontrolled wave of migrants that is endangering its security, and caused by the very same politicians of the same countries who used to scare their citizens with Poles or Hungarians“.

I wonder if according to Mr Szczerski the 2015 and later waves of migrants pouring into Europe constitute a “flood of barbarians”, since he uses the term.

In his analysis of Western Europe losing touch with its own religious past Mr Szczerski turns to the social turmoil of 1968: Europe “turned more and more, for a long time, and especially since the social revolution of 1968, to the left. The turn was exacerbated in many Western European countries after the government positions were filled by politicians, who once were the revolted ‘children’ actively participating in the 1967-68 student protests“.

The 1968 revolution was not a generational conflict, it was a “clash of ways of life and a vision of social peace“.

The constructivist virus

Mr Szczerski is not a fan of social constructivism. In short, this approach mean that societies are social constructs, not a result of long historical processes. The Commissioner-to-be writes it this way: “so you can imagine creation of a multi-culti society and accordingly, systematically make it real and develop through children education, adult propaganda, through correctly chosen instruments of mixing human groups“. According to Mr Szczerski this is an EU policy: “step by step complete rebuilding of the social environment of the European policy” and many Europeans are terrified as they are “unable to identify themselves in this modern reality” and argues for return to roots.

The only way forward, writes Mr Szczerski, “to reintegrate Europe […] is a return to the source of our identity, to the core of European culture, distorted by the constructivist projects (like the gender ideology[…]).”

The Economy

Krzysztof Szczerski says that social constructivism is used in European policy to create “a new economy” which rejects the free market economy. The free market approach Mr Szczerski supports is effectively deregulation and removal of market obstacles and creation of incentives for economic exchange.

Yet, Mr Szczerski argues, with time this original free market approach was compromised with the regulatory framework. The most relevant elements, that is the “financial mechanisms supporting the poorest EU regions (structural funds) and extended protection of competitiveness preventing monopolies” are supported by Mr Szczerski. However, the “constructivist virus” entered the free market, and “single market” is on the increase: “the more regulated the market, the more room for corruption and competition manipulation. A true competition is gone. This is one of the reasons for stagnation“. He notes cynically, “for the bureaucratic regulatory mind there are no cordons“.

The economic integration is “in the phase of advanced constructivism“. Mr Szczerski is not a fan of the Eurozone: “Project Euro […] has no basis in the economic reality” and “the Eurozone is condemned for permanent instability that can be mitigated, but not liquidated“.

According to Mr Szczerski the Eurozone is impossible, hence the ECB “has to take decisions serving the interests of a few at the same time trying to hurt the others as little as possible. The strongest come out of the process as winners“, hence the Eurozone is based “at the expense” of the needs of the economies outside of the decision-making centre.

His idea for renewal of Europe is to create a common, not single market. Deregulation is the key in this process.

As for the Eurozone, Mr Szczerski would like to keep the zone open, “but not mandatory, as it is today de facto. Maybe even gentle ways of leaving the Eurozone by some countries should be considered.

Mr Szczerski says that Eurozone own budget is “the easiest way to a Europe of two speeds, hence practically, to final break off of the community“. The alternative is “to subject oneself to the euro hegemony and related regulations that are not beneficiary for countries like Poland“. In other words, Euro accession.

Et alors?

It is an interesting way of looking at the way European integration between the Western and Eastern parts was truly an expansion. 12 countries joined the Union in 2004. The Union that pre-existed for a number of years. It has been a long Polish belief that even if this was an accession, what really happened in 2004 was a reunification of Europe.

The debate on accession or reunification is relevant in the context of ownership for the project, if not for what Mr Szczerski argues – economic advantages of certain economies. Poles do not share the ownership for the European project, at least Mr Szczerski clearly does not. It is important to point out that Mr Szczerski in his analysis finds only problems (secularism) in Western Europe and no problem in Central and Eastern Europe (the shaded part of the plant) were analysed between 1945 and 1989. As if those societies did not undergo any relevant evolution in their own right.

I agree with Mr Szczerski that there are many Western Europeans who are sceptical of the Eastern Europeans. Isn’t this our task to eradicate the sentiment? Over the years there are fewer of them. Elections of Jerzy Buzek (EP President, 2009) or of Donald Tusk (European Council President, 2014) help the process. If the sceptics are back on the increase – maybe it is because of the policies of governments like the one Mr Szczerski is backing. Still, over the years the fears and scepticism are rather going away, and it is the Poles and Romanians, who en masse travel abroad for work, who create new opinions about our nations among other Europeans. The most important quantification in this regard is that there is no one “Poland”, “Romania” or “France” and in each and every society there are different people of different skills and qualities.

And this is a constructivist approach, too: we are constructing the perception of the Poles and of Poland. A complete rejection of constructivism is a rejection of the European integration at its core. The very Christian first leaders, Fathers of European integration who Mr Szczerski values so much, were not only deeply rooted in their religion, nation-states, but they knew that the future is in the hands of men. Robert Schuman in his Declaration writes: “Europe will not be made all at once“. Be made. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity“. Built.

Supranational character of the Union is from the start, not from after 1968.

Regulatory approach of the Union is from the start (regulate the coal and steel market), not from after 1968.

Over-regulation is a good objective; PM Cameron of UK and PM Rutte of the Netherlands even performed audits seeking similar results “what should be deregulated at the EU level from the national perspective”. Outcome of those reports were unimpressive for the populists.

It is easy, overly easy, populist maybe even, to argue that “Europe over-regulates” for each time it regulates it does so with the countries on board. And the citizens.

Maybe this is the problem: Mr Szczerski portrays himself as a political conservative thinker and politician who would like to associate himself with the likes of Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer, but the policies of his government and his political party are not only conservative, but also populist. They seek enemy, they need enemy to thrive and build support. They criticise constructivism in Europe, yet they do the same in Poland – use constructivism to raise a new generation of Poles deeply rooted in history and national narrative – this is, after all, the objective of the Law and Justice educational reform. A constructivist approach.

It is worrisome Mr Szczerski, the Commissioner-to-be does not know the difference between de iure and de facto. Poland is under obligation de iure to join the Eurozone, not de facto.

Clearly Mr Szczerski does not recognise the benefits of the Eurozone membership for the smaller nations. Maybe the Baltics’ and the Slovaks’ arguments and advice should be revisited as I am sure they had their reasons to take a decision “contrary to their national interests”, according to Mr Szczerski.

And this simplification… all of the West is liberal and left-leaning, all of Poland is socially conservative… Those presumptions are simple speaking, wrong.

I do agree that there are three ways forward for Poland: in the Eurozone, with the EU broken from inside by the Eurozone budget, or by muddling through as today. There is a chance for this choice to be relegated to irrelevant, but it would require for a series of bold decisions to be made. The true question is not how to avoid forcing Poland into the Eurozone but how to maximize the benefits of Eurozone accession for economic growth and political security.

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

Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński just resigned.

And you could have thought it is another hot and lazy day in Warsaw’s politics. You couldn’t be more wrong. Ever since the President announced the national elections are to take place on 13 October, the political scene needs to be contained.

As I wrote yesterday, the October elections are for Law and Justice (PiS) to lose. What started as a summer silly news, Mr Kuchciński used governmental planes for private purpose, led to his resignation from office.

I wrote contained on purpose. Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński is the second most important figure in the country. The media, starting from the privately owned Radio Zet, started to inform about the abuse of public office in late July.

It is important to remember that Radio Zet is a privately owned medium. Earlier this year the previous owner, a Czech billionaire, Daniel Křetínský, sold the radio station, one of the most profitable Polish media, and a PiS-backed investor was in the running. Today many PiS politicians talk of a need to “re-polonise the media” following the elections, and to “break out the monopolies”. So it happens that in a consortium that bought Radio Zet is Agora, a major Polish media holding, whose crown medium is the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza opposed to the government.

When PiS took over the state owned media in 2015 all the investigative journalism left the state television TVP and the Polish Radio. Even some individual reporters were fired for asking wrong questions to the ruling party politicians.

Without Radio Zet investigation the story might have broken anyway, but without Radio Zet being independent from Law and Justice it would not break the news mid-summer.

Law and Justice has a problem

The problem is not that Mr Kuchciński with his flights with family and party colleagues and their families completely disregard the rules. Jarosław Kaczyński at a press conference today says:

Mr Speaker did not break the law, he did not violate the existing practices, but since you the media and a large part of the society are of a different opinion we have no choice. The Speaker’s decision is linked with our motto “Listen to the Poles, serve Poland”. Since we promised to increase the standards of public service, we have to listen to the Poles.

Jarosław Kaczyński, 8 August 2019, on Marek Kuchciński resignation

The real problem is different. Elections are in sight and “listening to the Poles” probably was confused with “listening to the polls”. Law and Justice enjoys a stable 40-45% public support. Result like this should deliver a continuation of governance for the next four years. Contain the problem.

Law and Justice has been successful in playing down all the scandals thus far, like the two towers scandal back in the spring. The Kuchciński Air, as the scandal has been labelled is different and dangerous. How PiS comes untouched so far? Judiciary issues are not understood by the PiS electorate. The climate issues are increasingly popular, but the party is able to adapt; there is an attempt by the Morawiecki government to actually comply with the national target for renewable energy production by 2020. The economy has been roaring, the salaries have been rising fast, and – there are the social payments for children, 13th pension for the retirees, first child payments, taxes reductions, etc.

There is a cynical, but widely accepted summary of how PiS is able to maintain high support: “Everybody steals. At least PiS shares with others”.

The Kuchciński Air scandal is dangerous for one reason: PiS is the party of the average Pole, the Pole of a small town, who works, who is a family man, who is not especially well educated, but who is moderately religious and definitely feels strong about Poland – that it needs to be respected, cannot be discriminated against, and its national sport teams should win: if you wear an eagle on your t-shirt you are proud.

That “average PiS voter” is represented by the average Poles who are PiS MPs, PiS ministers and PiS leaders. If you are coming out of the people, if you are the average Poland, and if the average Poland entrusts you, you need to be careful with the Kuchciński Air. No average Pole has a plane at their service. No average Poles has an aspiration to have a plane. This is beyond imagination of an average Pole. You may be out of touch with me, the average Pole might be telling the ruling party.

That’s the risk. That’s the problem that needs to be contained.

The new problem? The Kuchciński situation has been developing since 25 July. It was not contained then and today the Speaker resigns. But the hungry media prey on the weak and unlike hyenas will not likely be redirected to the flights of ex-PM Donald Tusk. During Mr Kaczyński press conference today the list of Tusk trips was distributed.

The media are targetting PiS not because they are anti-PiS. It’s because PiS is in power. Media hold the power accountable and the news that there are 29 other PiS politicians who used the planes for wrong purposes (effectively as taxis) is more likely to be exploited in the weeks to come.

“Air Kuchciński” can turn into “Air PiS” and continue to be the problem. Or maybe it will not be the case and PiS, once again, will prove to be successful in controlling the media agenda.

The fight is on. Deadline of this race is on 13 October.

Poland’s National Elections on 13 October 2019

On 13 October the Polish citizens are going to vote in national elections – the decision has been announced by the country’s President Andrzej Duda. The opposition parties are divided and unhappy with the choice of the earliest possible date. The ruling Law and Justice advocated for the elections to be organised as early as possible.

On 13 October Poles will chose 460 members of the Sejm, the lower chamber, and 100 senators of the Senate. The Sejm MPs are elected proportionally in 41 electoral districts. The Senators are elected in 100 electoral districts: the winner of each district takes the seat.

Who’s running?

Unlike in the European elections in May, the opposition is not going in one united block. It is divided into three fractions. Here are the most important actors competing for the votes in October 2019:

Law and Justice (PiS) is the ruling party since 2015. Under the leadership of Jarosław Kaczyński, a former PM (2006-7), the party maintains a high public support. In 2015 PiS received 37.6% of votes and 235 seats (out of 460) in the Sejm allowing for the establishment of a first one-party government in Poland since 1989. PiS also had 61 senators (out of 100) back in 2015.

The Civic Coalition (KO) is a coalition between the Civic Platform (PO) and the liberal .Modern party (.N). Among other members of the coalition are the left-leaning Polish Initiative of Barbara Nowacka and the Green Party. In 2018, when the KO was established in a similar shape the coalition was able to face off PiS. In the regional elections the KO obtained some 27% of votes and PiS – 34%, but more importantly its candidates carried all of the bigger cities. The KO leader is Grzegorz Schetyna. The KO attracted a number of prominent former SLD politicians to join the coalition as well as an ex-PiS minister, Paweł Kowal.

The Left is an alliance of three political forces: the S&D members – SLD and Wiosna (Spring) and the third is the far left wing party Razem (Together). The Left is led by Włodzimierz Czarzasty (SLD, 40% of candidates), Robert Biedroń (Wiosna, 40% of candidates) and Adrian Zandberg (Razem, 20%). SLD obtained about 7% of the vote during the 2018 regional elections.

The Polish Coalition is a coalition led by the Polish People’s Party (PSL) and it’s leader is Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz. There were tensions between the PO and PSL as during the European elections campaign the PSL has been accused by Law and Justice of supporting anti-Church politicians and being pro-LGBT. In order to prevent those accusations the PSL decided to abort the European Coalition. On another hand, PiS successfully divided the opposition forces.

It may be that Paweł Kukiz of Kukiz’15 will campaign alongside PSL. Some more conservative PO politicians joined the Polish Coalition, too, alongside prominent liberal conservatives known from their days in the European Parliament: Jacek Protasiewicz and Michał Kamiński. PSL obtained about 12% of the regional vote last year, but the party traditionally performs much better in a local and regional vote than in a national or a European one.

The far right Confederacy will run in one block. Mr Korwin-Mikke is among better known politicians of the Confederacy, now registered as a party (previously it was registered as an electoral committee only). Confederacy fell short of 5% threshold in the May European elections.

The Campaign

Poland lives in a permanent campaign. Not only since October 2018 the October 2019 elections is a third time Poles are going to the polls, but the ruling party has run a number of anti- campaigns over the years. The 2019 anti-campaign is the anti-LGBT campaign.

The Opposition says it will unite behind 100 candidates for the Senate.

The opinion polls indicate that the upcoming election is for the Law and Justice to lose. The party enjoys about 45% support, KO – 30%, the Left – 11%, the Polish Coalition – 9% and the Confederacy – 4%.

The summer politics are dominated by the Białystok riots, when the far-right hooligans attacked a peaceful LGBT Equality Parade. The country united in condemnation of the violence, but many PiS supporters as well as Church officials continue to instigate against the LGBT people.

The second summer topic is the Sejm’s Speaker, Marek Kuchciński, who has extensively abused the government planes to travel with family between Warsaw and his home district. This story is largely humoristic and the Sejm’s Speaker is a subject of memes. Here’s Poland’s No. 1 meme of today:

“Speaker Kuchciński walks his dog”

But the summer campaigns are not as relevant. The real campaign will begin after 18 August and over the next two months it shall be an intensive drive. Or, a flight, if you’d like.

Szczerski: Europe without a soul is dead (Part 2)

Krzysztof Szczerski, the Commissioner-nominee for the Ursula von der Leyen Commission, published a book in 2017 entitled “European Utopia“. I am reading it for you. Today’s part: “Europe without a soul is dead“.

According to Mr Szczerski the European identity is based on Christianity. He seeks a special role for the Poles: “we have a special role to play and we should not run away from it or abandon it due to political correctness or fear generated by the media“.

Many countries await for us, for the fatherland of saint John Paul II, to lead the way. The way leading to a spiritual unity, to respect of fatherlands and tradition. We are predestined to play the role not only because we gave the great son of our nation John Paul II, the saint pope, to the world“, writes the Commissioner-to-be in 2017, “we are predestined because of our geographical location and our territorial and demographic potential“.

Mr Szczerski refers to the Polish in-built dilemma: it is a much smaller country than the larger nations in the EU, but it is equally much bigger than the mid-sized nations of the EU: “We do not threaten anybody: we can’t dominate the small, we can’t knock down the big. Nobody should be afraid of us. This is our great asset“.

He cherishes the European identity based on diversity, but rejects the Brussels bureaucracy attempts to replace it: “One should not be told that the Brussels bureaucracy, due to its international, or, better said, cosmopolitan character, is able to replace the true European identity“.

The Noah’s days” means a situation in which life goes as usual, but there is a major event in sight only Noah knows about and is preparing for. The biblical Noah was preparing for the biblical Flood. Mr Szczerski writes: “Europe we got used to know might truly disappear flooded by mighty waves“, and continues: “[Europe] may disappear if it continues to deliver ‘the European utopia’ over the real needs of nations and the continent’s nations“.

Europe needs renewal. The rules of this renewal should be: “freedom of nations, equality of states, unity of the continent and a base in its centuries-developed identity“.

There is a special role for Poland in this “Europe of the future“. Why? “Poles, in their majority, are a nation who is at the same time attached to its sovereignty and understands the value of having their own state, and at the same time support the membership in the European family“. Mr Szczerski rejects the opposition between “integrationists” and “souverenists“. “It is not true, that if you are a supporter of the integration you have to sign up to the camp advocating the European utopia, which preaches that national state is evil and should be abolished and replaced by a European federal superstate. This vision is one of the most dangerous concepts of the European utopia.”

Mr Szczerski rightly concludes, “it is possible to maintain independence, that is self-reliance and subjectivity, while being part of a common Europe“. Only that, he argues, “this Europe needs to act differently and leave the road of a dangerous utopia, and our state needs to be more effective, more honest and positioned to service the needs of citizens“.

Mr Szczerski writes of the Poland-led coalition, “community of aspirations” between the Baltic, Adriatic and the Black seas. This is a group of nations “who still wants”, as they seek to catch up the economic development from the old days Communist past. The group is composed of nations who are competitive, ambitious and fight hidden protectionism. Many people have left the region, but as the process is negative, at the same time “it shows the dynamics of our, Central and Eastern European societies“. The same applies to CEE scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers.

This dynamism is not in contradiction to traditional values. “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“, argues Mr Szczerski and attacks: “different actors have thrown enormous resources and measures trying to impose a model of modernization by eradication, suggesting this is the common and biding trend, some sort of ‘social physics law’ that should not be debated. In order to be modern one needs to be a multicultural, atheist, devoid of family ties and a very morally loose society“. Mr Szczerski claims that this approach has “almost entire media dominance” to promote such behaviour. He is proud that “most Poles are not convinced” and “their European utopia loses with the Polish attachment to traditions and values” to conclude “our social model is the future of Europe, if it chooses to survive“.

Europe must feel internally strong with its civilisation and its dynamism. Like Poland does.

Krzysztof Szczerski, “The European Utopia”, 2017

Et alors

I agree with Mr Szczerski that there is no contradiction between being pro-European and being a proud citizen of Poland. One does not exclude the other. But I do not see the Brussels-imposed unilateralism that Mr Szczerski calls “European utopia”. I do not see the multicultural imposition of values such as openness and inclusiveness at the expense of traditional values.

Quite to the contrary, the diverse Europe embraces traditions. Europe cherishes and supports cultural events and traditions. Europe respects the member states’ individuality and uniqueness.

I also agree when Mr Szczerski writes, “Modernity does not mean breaking up with identity“. But there is a contradiction in what Mr Szczerski is arguing: on the one hand he advocates for the diversity, but at the same time he seeks for a promotion of traditional Christian values in places where those values are no longer relevant. Why is it not fair to promote atheist values in Poland while it is fair and desired to promote religious values outside of Poland?

He plays into the Polish tradition of seeing Poland as a country with a special historical mission. Poles are taught to believe that about four hundred years ago Poland was the ultimate defender of Christendom against the Ottoman invasion. Again it defended the free world against the Soviet invasion in 1920. This perspective has a name: it’s called “messianism”.

Does Europe need a messiah as a Commissioner?

I may be short-sighted and not see the upcoming Flood. Yet, somehow I cannot escape a thought that if Europe was doomed it was not because of its (lack of) religiosity, but because of climate change.

Mr Szczerski rightly points to the threats of a European super-state, as advocated by some. Ulrike Guerot wrote a book about it: Why Europe Must Become a Republic! A Political Utopia, and the two use the same word. Ms Guerot argues in favour of a European superstate. Mr Szczerski is fundamentally opposed. The two agree: this is a utopia, a dream, NOT a reality. It is strange that Ms Guerot is not quoted once in Mr Szczerski book. What an omission!

Mr Szczerski is not trying to distinguish between the European federalists, some of whom advocate for a European state, and the majority of European federalists, who simply stand by the “ever closer Union”. Here’s a link to what the mainstream European federalists think: they advocate for a Federal Political Union, not a state. They seek policy integration in fiscal and economic policies, in justice and home, migration and asylum policies, in completing the single market. More on the European Federalists here.

I am unsure if this “community of aspirations” truly exits. To put all the countries known as “the new member states” is a risky business. They are as diverse as they come. Estonia and Czechia are among the most secular and least religious nations in Europe. Hungarians are angry with their neighbours, Czechs and Slovaks are not depopulating, unlike Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic nations. Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are in the Eurozone, and Bulgaria and Croatia would like to join it. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia remain outside of the Schengen system. On top, Etc. Etc. Etc.

What does exist is the Three Seas Initiative, since 2016. It is a useful instrument complementary to the European policy of the 12 states. It is political, diplomatic and no alternative to the EU. Clearly the 12 participating EU nations (CEE and Austria) have certain joint interests steaming from the geographical closeness. It is positive Jean-Claude Juncker attended two of those summits. It is important to know that the Americans (Donald Trump attended once) and the Chinese (present at the initial event in Dubrovnik in 2016) are also watching.

Still, as much as the Three Seas Initiative is there, I am quite sure this is not an alternative to the European Union. It could be a useful complementation of the EU membership.

As regards the clash of values in Poland today, between the traditional values and more liberal values, in relation to the role of women, LGBT rights, equality, discrimination, place of religion in the society, etc. this is not some sort of a liberal, conspiracy imposed clash. This conflict is domestic and is serious. It is between various groups of Poles who think differently. Should the religiousness in Poland be on a decrease (it is not) it is not because of some external-led campaign. There is no such campaign. The diversity of Poles is growing. Simply there are people asking for their rights to be respected by the ruling party which stigmatises minorities by instigating the public majority against them.

And no, majority of the media is not anti-traditional. It so happens, Mr Szczerski, that when Law and Justice overtakes a certain medium (TVP, Polish Radio), its viewership or listenership or readership radically decreases. It does not mean that liberals have an upper hand. It means the liberal media are more popular to read, listen to and watch.

Krzysztof Szczerski’s Noah’s Days (Part 1)

In 2017 Krzysztof Szczerski publishes his monumental book on Europe. It is called “European Utopia” and is not popular with the academics or the public in Poland, but is an important manifestation of the views of the leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician. Some even consider him an ideologue of the PiS Europe standing.

The book begins with a Prologue, “Noah’s Days”. According to the author Europe today is a witness of a major change that not everybody is able to see. Mr Szczerski writes: “Before our eyes a certain pattern of the European states integration comes to an end; and rather its formula that has dominated the community policy at the highest point of integration. This highest phase I consider wrong and this is why I am not worried about its end. I would like, however, for us to understand the sense of the end of this period of integration, and use the opportunity of a wave of changes correctly for Poland’s benefit, our neighbours and the whole of Europe. We can impact the shape of European policy so that this policy regains once lost impetus and attractiveness for its citizens“.

Mr Szczerski embraces diversity, but warns: “the European integration retreats on all fronts, and the political elites of the European core have no answer, and what is more, they deepen the crises with some of their decisions and create new causes of crises“. The key problem is that “Brussels is detached from the life of an average European as never before, and at the same time it tries to interfere into the daily lives of a European citizen with its decisions“. Mr Szczerski calls it a European paradox.

At the same time, Mr Szczerski’s Europe is “a voluntary community created by free nations and equal states” where the EU institutions “should play only the servant’s role to member states“. The author likes the subsidiarity principle, that is the “foundation of the system” of the EU.

The European policy begins with democratic governments of member states and they are the source of original validity; only with the agreement of those national communities the supranational institutions and policies can function. Never other way round. The EU institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament can never be the source of their own power and decision-making empowerment. They cannot create new power out of nothing, that is with their own decisions or own competence-demanding actions. This is why the Commission cannot one day announce, according to the spirit of the Union treaties, that it has a right to dictate internal decisions on, for example, the constitutional judiciary in one of its member states, since no state has ever transferred such competences“.

It is the states who are at the source of all decision making. The competences can be uploaded bottom up by states, never other way round. “Today many issues in the European Union are topsy-turvy. There is a chaos in which every institution tries to cut out competences for itself and claims a right to decide for others. The Union political system is the victim of the process, as it becomes illogical, or senseless“. Mr Szczerski claims that the effect is the following: “citizens feel oppressed by the power they cannot impact” and the next stage is coming: “This situation is unsustainable. The social reaction is coming and it can put an end to the united Europe“.

How to recover the stability? A new point of balance is necessary. A balance between “the unilateralism wave” and “the needs of maintaining of the integrated area“. “The European nations want to control their fate and their future, do not want to be steered top down by some international hipper-bureaucracy“, but he agrees that they need to act within a general agreement on a “unity of European interest“.

Unilateralism” according to the writer, is a “superior ideology, that requires to be respected and renounce own objectives and even believes“. This is why there is a growing opposition to this “unilateralism”, “to take back control“.

Fighting “unilateralism” needs to be done delicately, because even if “universalism can be dangerous” one should not give in to all those “who complain about Brussels. Europe shattered and divided becomes easier prey for external empires” and concludes: “it is not in the Polish interest to divide Europe“.

At the same time, there is a bigger challenge than disintegration: it is marginalisation of Poland within the EU. The risk of becoming an exploited periphery is rejected by Krzysztof Szczerski: “The scenario in which the Union disintegrates completely is very bad. The scenario in which the Union persists, but Poland and our region is relegated to a ‘grey zone’, outside of integration, is dramatic“.

Mr Szczerski concludes this part: “our task is to save Poland and Europe from the bad scenarios, which means we need to present a project to combine a greater subjectivity of European nations and states with maintaining their community above borders“.

How to square the circle? Europe today needs to regain its spiritual base. “Policy is an expression of identity, realisation of values, that are common“.

Et alors

Mr Szczerski describes European Union in a over-simplistic way. He argues Europe has no values and this is why it is doomed. He says Brussels over-regulates and imposes. He says Europe can only work with consent of member states.

Mr Szczerski does not recognise that the Treaties are precisely drafted with a list of competences granted, delegated, by the nations, states to the EU level. This is a done deal. As if he was to rediscover a wheel. This has been done long time ago, Mr Commissioner-to-be.

As for values, the European values are also included in the treaties. They include the rule of law. Hence the activity of rule of law defence of the Union is not an interference, but a defence of EU values.

I am missing at least three elements, from the start. First, it is the fact that the Union is a unique political system in the world that escapes a simple classification of an “international organisation”. For once, there is a tremendous jurisprudence of the Court of Justice that no other “international” court has. This political system is alive, hence dynamic, hence there is room for interpretation and re-interpretation. This is what makes it fit for purpose today: its elasticity.

Second missing element is the European citizen as a subject of a European policy. For Mr Szczerski citizens are national, hence the states are in the centre of power. Yet it is the citizen who makes the whole difference. As every European citizen, each of the 513 million this year until UK leaves, can take the issue to the Court of Justice, can elect the European Parliament, is represented in the Strasbourg chamber and indirectly, chooses the European Commission, he or she is at the bottom of the ladder, alongside the states.

This is what makes the EU stand on a double legitimacy: it is the European citizens who elect the Parliament and the national democratically elected governments. The source of legitimacy is double, and no one power can claim “exclusive right”, as Mr Szczerski does for the states.

That is, of course, as long as we do not change the treaties, one could think, as the EU competences are written down in the treaties and every treaty change requires all member states national ratifications. Yet even here there is a trace of the second source of democratic legitimacy: the Parliament’s role in the redrafting of EU treaties is the strongest ever – for once it has to approve the change alongside the states. It chooses the way the treaty is negotiated (convention or not), too.

To disregard the citizen is a grave omission.

Third is the globalisation. Completely not referenced yet, one cannot fully grasp the counter-reaction in democratic nations in Europe or in a wider world without referencing the globalisation processes. The emergence of global markets and global companies, who dictate and demand, who control and are, effectively, undemocratic actors in the democratic arena with states and the EU institutions, is a major reason why so many Europeans feel disenfranchised. EU has a dilemma in this regard: at the same time it is viewed as the “last resort of defence” against global companies, and as an vehicle for globalisation, hence a threat as it pushes a liberalisation agenda with free trade agreements.

The real imposition of the Commission is towards smaller “partner” nations, not towards the member states. The difference of power between Cyprus, that dictates EU policy towards Turkey, and Lebanon is staggering. France has a smaller population than Vietnam. There are more people in Ethiopia than Germany. Individually all European states are small. Poland does not think it is small. Mr Szczerski does not think Poland is small at all.

I shall continue with the second part of Noah’s Days tomorrow.

The Quest for the Commissioner is (not yet) over

Ursula von der Leyen has a busy summer. She is touring the EU capitals searching for her Commissioners. By now she’s been in Paris, Warsaw, Rome and Budapest, among other capital cities. In Warsaw she found her Polish Commissioner.

On her visit to Warsaw on 25 July Ursula von der Leyen underlines that there is a need for a revival of the Weimar triangle (France-Germany-Poland), without calling it such. Ms von der Leyen: “Poland is an important EU member state. (…) It was very important for me to come to Warsaw after Berlin and Paris”.

Her visit is a reaching out to the Polish and Hungarian governments, what the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) calls “an attempt to take Warsaw and Budapest out of isolation in the EU” (4 Aug). This move is an important opening and is welcomed in Warsaw. Suddeutsche Zeitung speculates that in a gesture to the two governments Frans Timmermans will no longer deal with the rule of law topic.

Ms von der Leyen wants a gender parity. This is why observers like me expected Mr Morawiecki, the Polish PM, to offer a female candidate as a future commissioner.

The Commissioner, potentially

Instead, she is offered Krzysztof Szczerski, the chief of the President Andrzej Duda chancellery.

Krzysztof Szczerski’s candidacy is a surprise move in Poland. Maybe it is a part of a power play within the Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling party? Gazeta Wyborcza wonders “why PiS puts forward a candidate everybody knows will be rejected?”. After all, the government of Morawiecki has been signalling for months they are interested in an economic portfolio. Mr Szczerski is not known for his economic experience; he mostly focuses on international affairs (once a deputy FM, advises President Duda on international affairs, and served on foreign affairs and EU affairs committees in the Polish parliament, the Sejm).

Most recently, Mr Szczerski was unsuccessfully promoted as a candidate for NATO Deputy Secretary General. Because of his foreign affairs and security specialisation the media are speculating he’s been already denied a security portfolio in the next Commission (RMF FM radio, 1 Aug).

Witold Gadomski, a liberal commentator for Gazeta Wyborcza, speculates that maybe the PiS mission in the Commission is to balance out Mr Timmermans? Maybe it is a misunderstanding (29 July)? Maybe he is sent as a candidate “to lose”? As GW reports, Law and Justice politicians are also unsure as why Mr Szczerski is sent to Brussels. Agata Kondzińska of GW reports that PiS is expecting for Mr Szczerski to be rejected in the European Parliament (2 Aug), and as the man of President Duda, his loss may create a positive turn for Law and Justice: back to Eurosceptic rhetoric just weeks ahead of the October elections (“Europe is truly against us” kind of narrative) and a space for someone else… who knows, maybe even PM Morawiecki himself?

Well, before September hearings happen, Mr Morawiecki is “certain Mr Szczerski will do brilliantly in the Parliamentary proceedings”, according to his interview in Radio Gdańsk (29 July). Mr Morawiecki on Szczerski: “he’s an excellent candidate”.

The speculators are sleepwalking. No one truly is “in the know” except for the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński and the prime minister, maybe.

The questions ahead

First we will need to wait for Ms von der Leyen to receive all 26 candidates. Britain is not sending a Commissioner, since Mr Johnson, the new British PM, is committed to Brexit by 31 October.

She promised a gender parity. In a Commission of 27, what’s a parity? 13-14 this way or another, most likely. She also mentioned she will send candidates back on this principle, the gender category. So, Ms von der Leyen might be sending back Mr Szczerski should she be short of female candidates.

If not, the next question is the portfolio for Mr Szczerski. Who knows, maybe he receives an economic portfolio, after all. All is discretion of Ursula von der Leyen and the secret negotiations of any government with the Commission President need to be put aside.

The Parliamentary hearings follow next. And this is the biggest challenge for Mr Szczerski, or, truly, any Warsaw government appointee.

Mr Szczerski on Europe in 2012

In the next few blog posts I shall introduce Mr Szczerski views on Europe with his own words.

For example, in 2012 Mr Szczerski wrote an article for Rzeczpospolita. In it, he asks “What Europe without the Union?” and how to prepare Poland for it. Second, he asks a question, “where to set limits, beyond which further membership in the Union will be inconsistent with our raison d’être?”

He writes: “I do not recommend to leave the Union today and immediately. I do recommend to begin a strategic debate about our ability to act and grow if the developments in Europe lead in the disintegration direction; and if the membership conditions and limitations related to it began to outweigh the positive elements”.

Mr Szczerski in 2012 accuses the ruling government of Civic Platform (PO) and the Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the time of “unconditional acceptance” of EU and of being “intellectually unable to work out an alternative plan”.

Mr Szczerski rejects then a simple division between Eurosceptics and Euro-enthusiasts and calls for a rational approach. He rejects the notion that EU will never cease to exist. Alternative options need to be analysed always using one objective: “the optimisation of benefits and minimisation of losses for the Polish national interest”. Mr Szczerski rejects the PO’s policy of “gradual deepening of Polish EU membership” asking “what if this process becomes dangerous?”

It should be understood that the 2012 narrative is different from 2019. Seven years ago the EU Commissioner-nominee was worry of Brexit (scheduled to happen on 31 Oct), inability to support the “countries of the South” (did not happen, yet there are persistent questions as regards Italy) and should Poland “stick to the core of the EU with France and Germany”?

If that debate is a bit old, the following statements still resonate today.

We must prepare ourselves for a situation in which the integration processes not only do not slow down, but, on the contrary, are accelerated. This may happen by taking a direction towards a close political and tax union, and that is established in the way of a pan-European referendum, as German politicians have recently proposed. The development of integration may go towards the increased centralisation of a separate “central belt” comprising the most developed regions of Europe with the other areas being relegated to the periphery states and maintained as a back-up and reservoir of land and human resources. Finally, integration can go radically in the direction of coordination of foreign and security policy, by centralising it, and thus subordinating the behaviour of member states in the international arena with guidelines from the Brussels headquarters, for example with the policy in Eastern Europe or the USA. Then the question arises: what is our, Polish, border of consent for the further development of European integration? Exceeding what “red line” will be unacceptable to us and we will have to say: no, in such a union it is not worth it! What elements should be in that balance of profits and losses, after all it is not only about the financial transfers, after all, membership is not a matter of “Brussels sprout squeezing”, but something much more serious. One can imagine a situation in which Poland should refuse to participate in the further deepening of integration for political reasons. We can not be stuck in the bookshelves and woe to how much money we will not get, if we leave the Union. We must be ready for a scenario in which we do not convert everything into “lost euros”, but we shall decide so in the name of the raison d’état and not the “dough”.

Krzysztof Szczerski, 2012

The last element of Mr Szczerski argument of 2012 is relevant today, too. He asks, “what if the European policy in following regulations does not include our needs” to the extent “the very EU membership becomes a burden for Poland rather that a source of growth”? Mr Szczerski argues “we do not know the real effects of the EU cohesion funds” and talks of “long-term effects” such as local government debt, wrongly invested sources and “most of structural funds money goes in the form of payments of executive contracts to net paying countries”. Maybe the transfers of resources from Western Europe to Poland and the free movement of people are more important than the budgetary support, Mr Szczerski ponders.

The next element in the balance of membership Mr Szczerski is seeking are “the costs of membership in areas where we are unable to secure our national interests”, for example the Polish ship-building industry. Another case is the climate policy, which “will finish off our economy from the other end of the same sharp stick”. This is when a question arises:

Does membership in such a union still make sense?

Krzysztof Szczerski, 2012

He says he asks those questions not because he wishes bad to the European Union, but because he wishes well Poland.

Et alors?

It is important to know what the views of future commissioners are.

It is important, because already some media are praising Mr Szczerski as a “good candidate” (Thomas Gutschker, FAS, 4 Aug).

Before anybody can say Mr Szczerski is a good candidate, his views need to be well known across Europe. I hope this blog will help in this process.

European Utopia

For this purpose I shall be reading and translating parts of Mr Szczerski 2017 book “European Utopia” – “Utopia Europejska” in the upcoming days and weeks.

Mr Szczerski is an important person and should not be rejected out of his Law and Justice affiliation. His 2012 analysis is just and important, even if one disagrees with the questions he asks. Those questions are defensive. The 2012 article signals once again what the EU is for PiS politicians at best: an economic opportunity. Not just the budgetary transfers, but the overall regulatory scheme.

What Mr Szczerski did not internalise back in 2012 is the co-responsibility for the success of the European project. As a European Commissioner he needs to fight for the European interests, not only the Polish one. As a European Commissioner he needs to seek for synergies between the national interests and the European one, not exploit differences between them. As a European Commissioner he is not a representative of a national government, but a part of a large and powerful executive in its own right.

I can only hope for Ms von der Leyen and the European Parliament to seek to make sure that by 2019 Mr Szczerski is able to serve as the European Commissioner.

I do not hope for him to be rejected – I hope before such a decision is taken he needs to be known. I hope he is not rejected by the European Left because of his affiliation to the Law and Justice. I hope – should he be rejected – is for the right reasons. For now the jury should be out listening to the upcoming hearing of Mr Szczerski.

And vetting the candidate.

Polish MEPs in EP Committees

There are 20 Committees in the European Parliament and 2 sub-Committees. There are 51 MEPs elected in Poland. Who sits where? Here is the list of all the MEPs elected in Poland who are either full members or substitutes in the Committees:

Foreign Affairs (AFET): 10 MEPs

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

Development (DEVE): 4 MEPs

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

International Trade (INTA): 4 MEPs

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

Budgets (BUDG): 7 MEPs

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

Budgetary Control (CONT): 5 MEPs

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

Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON): 5 MEPs

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

Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL): 8 MEPs

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

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

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

Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE): 11 MEPs

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

Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO): 7 MEPs

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

Transport and Tourism (TRAN): 6 MEPs

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

Regional Development (REGI): 6 MEPs

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

Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI): 3 MEPs

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

Fisheries (PECH): 1 MEP

  • Jarosław Kalinowski, EPP

Culture and Education (CULT): 5 MEPs

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

Legal Affairs (JURI): 3 MEPs

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

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

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

Constitutional Affairs (AFCO): 2 MEPs

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

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

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

Petitions (PETI): 3 MEPs

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

Human Rights Sub-Committee (DROI): 3 MEPs

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

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

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

Et alors?

The Polish MEPs are marginalised. Not only there is no committee chair elected from Poland, the distribution of Polish MEPs is poor.

The most powerful committees are those engaged in policy-making or foreign policy. This is why committees such as ENVI, ITRE and AFET are the biggest. Also important topics are covered in LIBE, ECON and IMCO committees. Occassionally the TRAN, REGI and CULT, as well as INTA, JURI and EMPL can be relevant. BUDG, AGRI and PECH are thematic. The rest is largely second-class. The only committee that stands out is AFCO, that deals with issues such as Brexit, rules of procedure of the Parliament or the future of Europe questions.

And how Poles look like against the relevant committees? Here’s the share of the members and substitutes in the most and least popular committees among the Polish MEPs:

1. FEMM 10.4% – no legislation
2. SEDE 10.3% – no legislation
3. CONT 8.8% – no legislation
20. AFCO 3.6% (2 MEPs)
21. AGRI 3.2% (3 MEPs)
22. PECH 1.8% (1 MEP)

Among the key committees, ITRE dominates (7.6%), while AFET (7%) and ENVI (6%) are covered at a corresponding level. The key LIBE (6%), JURI (6.2%) lose in popularity to IMCO (7.8%).

It is surprising that only 3 MEPs chose the agricultural committee. Poland is EU’s second largest resource of farmers (after Romania). The Polish farmers, however, are going to be underrepresented in the foreseeable future.

The Quest for a Polish Commissioner continues

Many countries have already appointed next Commissioners. There is a deficit of women. The Polish Commissioner is still missing. For the time being the list is closed. By the time Ursula von der Leyen comes to Warsaw the decision is most likely going to be announced later this week.

The issue is reported in today’s Rzeczpospolita, a newspaper independent of, but close to the government.

I wrote about Jadwiga Emilewicz, Konrad Szymański and Jerzy Kwieciński before. Lately I have urged not to forget Adam Bielan MEP. Ryszard Czarnecki MEP, whom I have mentioned before, is considered again, according to the newspaper. Now it turns out there are two more names.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP and Krzysztof Szczerski complete the list.


Mr Saryusz-Wolski is a controversial figure for his 2017 transfer from the EPP, where he was a leading figure, to the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Today he is an MEP with the ECR. He has long European experience, as a person who once led the work of Poland’s EU accession, helped to establish the College of Europe Natolin campus in Warsaw, where he served as a vice-rector, was secretary of state for EU affairs in the Jerzy Buzek government and MEP since 2004.

Any other year he would be considered an excellent candidate, except for his departure from the EPP back in 2017, when he was made a counter-candidate against Donald Tusk for the presidency of the European Council, made any support for him from the EPP a sort of mission impossible.

Should Mr Saryusz-Wolski be appointed by the Polish government, expect an interesting hearing in the European Parliament. “Interesting” in every sense of the word.

Mr Szczerski, on the other hand, is less known to the European crowd. Lately he has been the head of the Chancellery of President of the Republic Andrzej Duda seeking an international position. He has been named a candidate for the NATO Deputy Secretary General, which was awarded to the Romanian candidate Mr Mircea Geoană.

Since Mr Szczerski is a front-person of the President, he is most likely included on this list pro-forma, so that one of the pre-candidates was a President affiliate.

His chances are limited also by his strong Eurosceptic positions as a PiS politician in the past. Often he argues for re-Christianisation of Europe, would like to distribute “Catholic passports” to the Polish migrants in Western European countries and sees Poland as a “saviour” of Europe.

What the PiS party wants

Rzeczpospolita quotes a PiS politician say: “After the last top jobs rearrangement we do not have too many bridgeheads at the top of the EU. The von der Leyen team will be the most political Commission in the history of integration. We need a political Commissioner who will defend the Polish interests in all areas”. According to this logic Mr Bielan, Mr Szymański or Mr Szczerski would be the best options.

What Ursula wants


What the Parliament does not want

Anti-Europeans: Mr Saryusz Wolski is on a no-go list for the EPP. Mr Czarnecki offended a fellow MEP with a unparliamentary language, for which he lost his job as a Parliament VP. Mr Szczerski is not as known yet, but should he become a Commissioner-candidate more of his past quotes on Europe and Christianity and teachers will soon resurface.

If logic was to preserve, the best chances are with Ms Emilewicz or Mr Kwieciński. Could well be that Mr Szymański marries the two approaches: on the one hand he is a technocrat, and on another a prominent minister and a PiS partisan. Considered a moderate in his own party, he’d be a perfect fit, except for two factors: he is not a woman and…

The decision is between the Prime Minister Morawiecki, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and, apparently, President Duda contributes to the reflection.

So the bottom line is this: Emilewicz, Kwieciński, Szymański or Bielan?

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

Polish democracy: gay rights or gay propaganda?

In the European Elections 46% Poles took part, which is an astounding increase with the previous European votes in 2004, 2009 and 2014 (all with 20-25% participation level).

In October 2018 during the local and regional elections some 55% Poles went to the polls. This was the best turn out in local and regional elections ever.

Poles go to the polls. Will the October 2019 national elections bring a new record in the participation level, too? The current record is 63%, when the Communism has fallen in 1989 elections.

The wider question is, what is the state of democracy in Poland? Clearly there are heated political debates in the country that bring emotional engagement to new levels. Entitlements are debated and defended. Rights are offended and disrespected.

Last June the Warsaw gay pride attracted a 45,000-strong anti-government manifestation. This was the largest gay pride in Poland in history.


On Saturday, 20 June, in the NE Polish city of Białystok, a first gay pride is ever organised. A 1,000 strong crowd is overpowered by right-wing hooligans and other radical groups. The left-wing journalists of OKO.press are present. Their story is dramatic. Read it in full in Polish here.

The police is accused by the hooligans and the gay pride participants alike. The hooligans are surprised the police is arresting them. They feel empowered. Still, 20 people are arrested. But before that happens some pride participants are beaten up. There is a police helicopter involved in the monitoring of the march.

There are many proofs of violence on the social media. I shall share one such video, which is disturbing. A peaceful person who is coming to the gay pride is attacked by hooligans:


The hooligans try to block the march. The pride has to re-route to avoid the blockages. Instead of a celebration of diversity many people end up in hell. Someone comments “I feel like at war”. People who march hear offensive comments and bricks are thrown in their, and the police, direction. The gay pride response: “Come with us”.

The Białystok pride is a clear manifestation of two sides of Poland. One is the open, tolerant, diverse, modern. Another is regressive, aggressive, offensive, with a clear world view that Poland is a place for Poles alone, family consists of a mother and a father, and everybody should go to Church. There is no room for any differentiation from “the norm”.

Both groups feel threatened. The anti-diversity campaign of Law and Justice brought the party victory in the May elections. In it, the LGBT community is demonised. Ahead of the October elections, the party continues to play the same tone.

Will the anti-gay propaganda machine reach its limits?

We are the island of freedom. We need to reject the offensive of evil.

Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, in Katowice, 6 July 2019

Summer likes strange news. The homophobic news from Poland hit front pages of many Western media. No different is with the latest Gazeta Polska campaign, to distribute homophobic stickers.

Gazeta Polska is a small paper with a circulation of about 13,000 copies. Major state corporations support the publication with commercials. The links between the GP and the ruling party are close and well known.

Since PiS scares the general ignorant public with LGBT telling people that gays are “perverts and degenerates” (MP Stanisław Pięta). The fake news that “40% of gays are paedophiles” is taking Poland by storm after two months ago half of the Polish public saw a terrific documentary about the Catholic Church cover-up of the paedophile priests.

Today, PiS and the far-right are putting the two together.

Often it is difficult to distinguish PiS from the far right.

One case when it is possible to distinguish PiS from the far right is the GP anti-gay stickers propaganda case. The US Ambassador, Trump appointee and a colourful diplomat, Georgette Mosbacher twittes in Polish “I am disappointed and concerned that certain groups use stickers to promote hatred and intolerance. We respect freedom of speech, but we must stand together on the side of values such as diversity and tolerance.”

Here when the Trump US government intervenes in the Polish domestic affairs, some of PiS politicians retract. Piotr Muller, the government spokesperson speaks against the anti-gay stickers.

Also, the Interior Minister Elżbieta Witek defends the police defending the gay pride on twitter without calling it “gay pride”: “The officers ensure security regardless of the banners, worldview and beliefs of the citizens. Officers operate on the basis and within the limits of applicable law.”

The End of One Pole

With the heated debates Poles are discovering the obvious: there is no one Pole with identical features. Poles are as diverse as every other nation. What is truly new is that many Poles are nostalgic of old times when life was simpler. Then, the government was promoting a narrative of one Poland inhabited by one nation, with one language and one religion.

PiS will defend the nostalgic, simplistic view. The opposition will dwell on the diversity. This is the outlook for the October elections.

Since the Opposition likes diversity, it chooses to go not in one block, but instead in three blocks. More on them in the upcoming weeks.

New Democratic Instruments

One debate within the Opposition is how party democracy should look like.

The European Coalition that was formed ahead of the 26 May vote was decided behind closed doors in negotiations between party leaders. There were many disappointed ahead of the vote and disenfranchised after the vote.

The soul searching among the Civic Platform (PO), the biggest of all Opposition parties, was an important process, that nevertheless did not lead to increased democratisation of the Opposition lists. What PO learned is that it needs to run a campaign among the people, not only on the web.

Still, the heart of the Polish Opposition is not with the PO. The true heart is with the civil society organisations that organised and led the anti-government protests since 2015: the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP), Free Courts (Wolne Sądy), the Women’s Strike (OSK) among many others.

In the context of the European vote the Citizens of Poland organised a series of citizen panels between the citizens and democratic candidates for the European Parliament. Over all there were 19 panels organised in 6 regions (out of 13 total). 36 candidates participated in the panels.

The panels gave recommendations on who was the best prepared to serve as a Member of the European Parliament.

This was the first attempt of its kind in the context of European vote in Poland.

Paweł Kasprzak

Today, Citizens of Poland campaign for further democratization – greater involvement of the citizens – in the life of Opposition parties. Since coalitions are to be drafting its candidates for MP positions in the next Sejm, Citizens of Poland would prefer for those candidates to be selected in a primary way. “Do not make contracts in closed offices. Break with the tradition of a political trading behind closed doors away from the media and the public opinion. This style of politics […] discredits democracy in the eyes of citizens”, writes Paweł Kasprzak in Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading liberal journal, 5 July.

Idealists as they are, Citizens of Poland’s idea is not shared by the political parties.

Law and Justice has pulled back another ‘softer’ instrument of citizens participation: voting by proxy for people who are abroad has been disallowed since 2018.

Et alors?

Many expect a clash. A clash of society groups. Diversity v homogeneity, small towns v big cities, Church-goers v Church-visitors, believers in open Poland v believers that Poland is under threat.

The turnout will be high. Emotions will fly high. Some sociologists say there may be 4 million new voters compared with the European elections.

Many of the Opposition folks talk of “the last chance” of a democratic Poland. Should PiS continue to rule, they say, PiS will solidify its power, begin a new fight against the last bastion of the Opposition in the cities and regional governments. PiS will rule for many, many years to come.

PiS says to stay calm. PiS runs a campaign to receive a new mandate to change the country. PiS is certain of a win, especially since the Opposition is divided into three camps. The only unknown is the degree of its win.

Should PiS truly win in October it may well be that a new wave of Polish citizens may chose to leave the country. As a participant in the gay pride in Białystok remarked: “As of today I think it is time to think about leaving”.

The thing is that if the current debates and controversies were to be sidelined, there are other groups to be demonised by the PiS machinery.

Difficult first weeks in the Parliament for PiS

Law and Justice has a very difficult period in the new European Parliament. It comes into the chamber as the winner of the Polish vote. Since, there are problems. First small, then big.

The first small problem is the fact that the group of PiS, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is relegated from the 3rd position in the last Parliament to no. 6 in the new one.

The serious problems come when PiS does not see it coming. Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a former vice-president of the Parliament, is expected an easy win, as part of a wider agreement with appointments of the Parliament’s leadership. And he loses to Fabio Castaldo in the final round. This is an unexpected blow, maybe a signal of even bigger problems on the horizon.

0:1 to the European Parliament.

The day after, Karol Karski, a returning Questor, is re-elected to the same position. 1:1, Law and Justice scores.

The following week the parliamentary committees begin to organise themselves. ECR is entitled to two chairmanships. First goes smoothly, as a Belgian NVA politician Mr van Overtveldt is elected by acclamation into the chairmanship of the budgets committee. Then, Beata Szydło, a MEP who is a former PM and elected with over 500,000 votes, is put as a candidate for the chairwomanship of the employment committee.

The candidacy of Szydło is a subject of a successful cordon sanitaire by the left-wing groups in the Parliament. She is rejected once. And second time. 3:1 to the European Parliament.

In the end, PiS gives in. Ms Szydło candidacy is withdrawn. A Slovak MEP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová is elected chair of EMPL.

The next fight

The position of PiS in the European Parliament is bad. The Polish governmental party enjoys widespread support in Poland, respect in the Council since it runs a government, but in the European Parliament those rules do not apply.

And the biggest fights of all comes soon. It is the fight for the confirmation of whoever is the candidate for the European Commissioner from Poland.

There is a speculation about the portfolio I am not going to exploit. Let’s just say there are many wishes and options. Until Ms von der Leyen does not work out a proposed new College, the issue is largely speculative.

In Poland there are two open questions. First, who will take the appointment decision. Will it be the leader of the ruling party Jarosław Kaczyński, or the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki?

Second, who will be the nominee? I have speculated on the names before twice. The star of Ms Szydło is so low now that the chances for her to pass through the EP hearings seem limited. The ideas for Mr Brudziński, Mr Czarnecki or Mr Poręba might be too partisan to swallow, and the chances for ladies are greater anyway. Ms Fotyga is out of the contention, too, due to personal reasons.

Hence there are four names left in the game.

Jadwiga Emilewicz

The best chances today are with Jadwiga Emilewicz. A 44 year old minister of entrepreneurship is also known for not exactly being ‘the best friend of coal’. In the last period she has been talking of a just transition. Here is what she has to say about the coal-dependence of Poland:

Our energy core is based on coal, but it was not our choice.

Jadwiga Emilewicz, Minister of Entrepreneurship of Poland, 19 June 2019

The second option is Konrad Szymański, the Europe minister and a long term MEP (2004-2014), who is considered a moderate among the PiS politicians.

The third option is Jerzy Kwieciński, the investment and economic development minister.

Those are three names mentioned by Mr Krasnodębski a few days ago in an interview for Rzeczpospolita. Mr Krasnodębski did not say that the list is closed at this stage. Among other options one should not rule out Adam Bielan MEP, who is a returning MEP and a close affiliate of the PiS leader who at the same time has decent relations in the EP and in the Commission. Mr Bielan would probably survive the EP hearings.

Since there is only one woman in the set-up as Ms Szydło and Ms Fotyga are not considered at the time being, the odds are quite decent with Ms Emilewicz.

How the Szydło affair keeps Commissioners-nominees hostage

In the chaos of transition between the Parliaments and the Commissions there are some surprise stories, twists and attempted shortcuts. There are unintended consequences and parallel processes that impact one another. Here’s one such story.

26 May, the end of European elections. Among new MEPs are two ex-Commissioners, Andrus Ansip and Corina Creţu.

2 June, President Jean-Claude Juncker says there is no need for a replacement of outgoing Commissioners Ansip and Creţu and that the Commission can cope with fewer members. He says that for the remaining of his College (4 months) there is no need for new people to join the team. Also, it would cost money.

Following his announcement, Mr Juncker proceeds with an adequate proposal for the Council. Clearly the news of savings in EU budget and the ‘no need’ argument are not received in Tallinn and Bucharest. This is a matter of principle. Back in 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the very first formal decision of the European Council was to make sure that the “one state = one commissioner” principle is respected.

1 July, the Estonian and Romanian governments propose new EU Commissioners, Kadri Simson from Estonia and Ioan Mircea Pașcu from Romania. Clearly this is a defeat for President Juncker.

Yet Mr Juncker is not ready to give in.

9 July, there is a re-arrangement in the Commission structure. There are 26 Commissioners, including the President and 5 Vice-Presidents. There are no Romanian and Estonian Commissioners.

Incidentally, the Juncker Commission started with 7 Vice-Presidents. After losing Kristalina Georgieva in 2016 and now Mr Ansip, the number of “vices” goes down significantly.

The new incoming Commissioners-nominees, before they become Commissioners, have to be approved by the European Parliament.

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

12 July, Ms Simson and Mr Mircea Pașcu, nominated against the better judgement of Mr Juncker, receive no portfolio from their boss. This creates a problem for the parliamentary hearings, which normally are organised by the committee or committees thematically responsible for the same portfolio as the Commissioner-nominee.

15 July, the EMPL committee fails to chose its leader for the second time.

In the absence of portfolios, the issue of hearings is delegated to the Conference of Committee Chairs (or, CCC) of the European Parliament. The problem here is, however, that it cannot meet or take any decisions until all EP committees are fully constituted.

So the future of Ms Kadri and Mr Mircea Pașcu depends on the ability of the EMPL committee to elect its chair. This is the unintended consequence. Their political position depends on the simple question: will ECR change a candidate? Should the ECR group continue to push for Ms Szydło, they may face a fierce opposition. Should the ECR group change a candidate, they could be endorsed by an acclamation, like the other ECR committee chair, Mr Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR/NVA) who is leading the work of the Budgets Committee (BUDG).

Should this problem be solved, the next one will be with the CCC to decide what to do about the hearings.

If the situation is not solved by the end of next week, the issue will return in September, to coincide with the other hearings of the new European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, who, by then, will present a full College. Each one of these people will face the European Parliament.

Et alors?

How strange does it look for Mr Mircea Pașcu to be a Commissioner for just a few weeks? At least Ms Simson is supposed to be Commissioner for the entire term of the Ursula von der Leyen College.

It is difficult to escape a thought that being a Commissioner just for a few months simply pays so well: 22,367 Euro a month.

In a positive – and unintended – twist, it is a good delay to delay the process of appointments of two new Commissioners. Juncker is right: it is a nonsensical to appoint someone just for a few weeks. It is a waste of public money (Juncker talks of 1 million Euro savings, including the Commissioner and their cabinets members salaries, other allowances, etc.).

Thank you PiS for pushing for Ms Szydło and everybody else for blocking her. Isn’t this ironic?

“The European Way” of Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula speaks. It is Tuesday, 16 July, Strasbourg’s big chamber. It is early morning and people are coming in. All the MEPs are invited. Most of them arrive. They take seats, they nod and clap occasionally, they welcome into their new house a very new person, Ursula von der Leyen, who claims to be European at her heart. Will she convince the “House of Europeans” to support her?

It is the speech of her lifetime. But at the same time she is an enigma. The European citizens do not particularly know her yet. Who is she? She did not stand in the European elections. Yes, she is a mother of seven, herself born in Brussels, a doctor and a German politician. But “who is she and, will she be good”?

MEPs in the debate that follows mention the 200 million of citizens who voted in the European elections. Many say that there is the disconnect between her, the candidate, and the elections. That the link that was supposed to be there, is missing.

Many speak “on her behalf”. The European Council did. Individual member states’ leaders did. They spoke of deals, they spoke of secured arrangements. The leaders of political groups issue their demands, securities, guarantees. In all this European politicking of the last month one thing is missing: a Commission President candidate who is a leader, a driver of the process, a political actor.

One of the group leaders comments after von der Leyen’s speech: the learning curve of Europe is steep. Yes, it is steep. But, hey, she has Europe in her guts, she says.

And oh, boy, she delivers. She starts slow, with lukewarm greetings in the room. She talks the green agenda. She wants to be credible and to open up to the continent’s biggest challenge: the climate change. She wants to turn the challenge into an opportunity.

She mentions the obvious and the important: she is an embodiment of the feminist politics. “The fathers and mothers” of European integration include Simone Veil, who was the president, la présidente of the European Parliament 40 years ago. “Thanks to all the women before me” we have the Europe of today: of peace, of unity and of values.

When she says that for her children generation, “Europe is a home” she hits all the right buttons for all the federalists in the house. She may, however, soon discover that general federalism may not be enough. Still, it is honey for the pro-Europeans’ hearts.

She speaks clearly from the heart. Yes, she speaks issues, but she shares personal stories, too. She talks of her father, who worked in the Hallstein Commission in the 1960s. This is why she was born in Brussels. She talks of a refugee she welcomed in her house a few years back. Today he is a young man, a community leader who is fluent in German, English and his native Arabic. One day he wants to go home.

You cannot deny her standing on the migration issues. Her credibility cannot be greater on Europe and migration as she is a living proof on both. Those values are real. The problems may begin elsewhere.

Climate Change

The climate. Ursula von der Leyen speaks of challenges of globalisation, digitalisation and the climate change. “The citizens feel them in daily life” and “none of the challenges will go away”.

She embraces multilateralism, rules and fair trade. In doing so the climate challenges and goals will need to be scaled up. The current goals are not sufficient. She supports cutting CO2 emissions by 50%, “maybe 55%” by 2030 and reaching the carbon neutrality by 2050. Ursula calls it “the Green deal for Europe” and promises a European Climate Law for 2050.

We have to do it the European Way

Ursula von der Leyen, Strasbourg, 16 July 2019

Sustainability is important, so a trillion Euro in a decade should be spend on appropriate investments. In the process the European Investment Bank will be turned into a climate bank. Economic activities generating CO2, like aviation and the maritime sector, shall be included in the CO2 emissions cuts. “Emissions must to have a price”. She talks carbon leakage – to make sure that the European production does not migrate away due to the increased costs of emissions. She talks carbon taxes.

For the underprivileged in the transition process there needs to be a transition fund, Just Transition Fund and I hesitate if it is a name already…

When von der Leyen finishes to talk climate it is clear: she says bye-bye to the support of the ECR and reaches out to the Greens, who said “no” last week. But she also reaches out beyond the Greens to the Social-democrats to secure their support.

Social Market Economy

The economy. This is where the economic talk turns to “social market economy”. This is a message mostly towards the S&D and Ms von der Leyen’s home group, the EPP. She says the tech giants need to pay their share. She opts for a “fairer, more equal Union” and that “the fight for fairness never stops”. To which later on the S&D leader will ask for more details.

Ursula von der Leyen talks minimal wage that allows for a decent life. She supports insurance against unemployment, and echoes the EP’s call to triple the spending on Erasmus. She wants to work on the Social Pillar, especially on children education and children healthcare. Women’s rights are important; the Commission President candidate would like the EU to adhere to the Istanbul Convention on action against violence against women and domestic violence.

Women are so important and make half of the society. Hence half of the College of Commissioners shall be female. If member states do not send female candidates, the Commission President candidate says she is ready to send them back home to achieve full parity.

The European Rule of Law

Third, the rule of law. “There will never be a compromise when it comes to respect of the rule of law”, says Ursula von der Leyen and receives stronger support than before. Over last ten days there were suspicions (expectations) towards certain deals she may make with the ECR group in exchange of their support for her. Today ECR later will express their disappointment and the left wing groups’ welcome of her position. Her strong stance may bring her support from some disenfranchised EPP members, too.

Her take on the rule of law is to support a new EU-wide rule of law mechanism, to be complimentary with existing procedures. Interestingly, the candidate talks about the Commission to be “independent” guardian of the treaties: “Lady Justice is blind”.


Credible she is, will she be able to deliver? This was the issue that has shaken the “political” Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker. The reasons are the deep divisions between member states. “We need empathy and decisive action”, says Ursula von der Leyen, but “there are the legitimate concerns for many”. How to square a circle?

Clearly the candidate supports the ambitious agenda, but the problems with ambition in this area are not in the Parliament, but with the Council and its member states.

The Foreign Affairs

“The world needs more Europe”, says the candidate. It may well be true, but how to deliver? Ms von der Leyen supports transatlantic relations and NATO, but does not mention United States, United Nations or enlargement. She does not talk Russia nor China. She talks European defence.

She does talk Brexit. “We regret it and we respect it” and offers a possible extension of the 31 October date, if necessary. “The United Kingdom will remain our partner, our ally and our friend”, overstates the candidate. Let us see how the relations look like with the incoming new British PM.

The Citizens

The candidate was not a Spitzen-candidate. Clearly this generates a new source of a democratic deficit. There is a new ditch that needs to be addressed. There are three elements on how to further democratize the Union.

First is the new Conference on the Future of Europe that shall begin in 2020, and run until 2022. This is a promise delivery for the Renew Europe group.

Second is the promise to work on making the Spitzen-candidate a reality “next time around” in 2024, on its visibility and on transnational lists (idea popular in the European Parliament, most recently promoted by the French President Emmanuel Macron).

Third is the idea of giving the Strasbourg chamber a right of legislative initiative. This would effectively mean that should the European Parliament adopt a legislative resolution the issue will be dealt with politically in the Commission.

The Debate

“Europe is not about war any more”, as our Europe “has grown up, has matured”, claims Ursula von der Leyen. The European Union is like a marriage, in which we argue, disagree, and reconcile. The candidate finishes with “I call on all Europeans to play their parts”, “Long live Europe” and “Vive l’Europe”.

The EPP and Renew Europe give her a standing ovation. Clearly the two groups are in her camp. This is, however, not enough.

Manfred Weber of the EPP says he expects the Social-democrats to deliver on the package, that includes a S&D President of the Parliament and High Representative.

Iratxe Garcia of the S&D quotes Willy Brandt from forty year before, who regretted that the European democracy was moving so slowly. Half of the people watching is wondering: “she is about to agree with Brandt and accept the slow progress, or will she deny the step-by-step progress and demand a jump into the unknown?”. At one point Ms Garcia mentions that S&D does not want a constitutional crisis. The group decision will be taken this afternoon.

The Greens are confused. They said “no” last week, but clearly today’s speech “is a step forward”, says the co-chair of the group Philippe Lamberts. He is still critical on many details, but the confusion among the group leadership is clear. The Green group’s meeting would be interesting to follow, as many individual Green MEPs could actually support the candidate von der Leyen.

The Green leaders listen to von der Leyen

The ID is against, naturally.

Mr Farage is offensive, naturally.

The ECR group is disappointed. Clearly the candidate was reaching out to them in recent days. On Sunday CDU representatives met the Polish ruling party PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński to talk support, but all this has failed on Monday night when Beata Szydło was defeated second time. Her candidacy for EMPL chairwomanship was rejected 19 to 34. In a few days Ms Szydło support has diminished instead of increasing (first vote was 21:27).

Don’t expect the ECR to support Ms von der Leyen.

GUE/NGL also expressed a negative position.

Et alors?

Will she pass? The decision is with the S&D. The reaching out has been made. It was a good speech. With it Ursula von der Leyen has solidified the centrist, pro-European majority. Now this majority should deliver with the evening vote in a few hours.

Another pro-S&D move is the departure of the Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr, announced this morning.

If Ms von der Leyen is confirmed she is voted by the EPP-RE-S&D majority with some individual MEPs breaking the ranks, such as the German SPD, the most outspoken critic of the candidate from within the S&D, and some other incidental support (for example, the individual Greens or M5S, who are independent).

Will she? The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels decision-making and journalistic circles claims:

The self-proclaimed No. 1 opinion leader of the Brussels French decision making and journalistic circles likes the speech, too and asks a question about the Greens being on the same page as the ID, which suggests he would like the Greens to reconsider:

I’d say, Brussels/Strasbourg is ready to say “yes” to Ms von der Leyen. So, what say you, European Parliament?

Will all of EPP support Ursula?

10 July 2019. Meeting of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in Brussels. Main theme: meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The meeting is closed, after the meeting there is a statement that the EPP “fully” supports von der Leyen. After meeting the candidate, Manfred Weber, the EPP leader, leads the internal discussion about the political situation in the European Parliament. He talks about cooperation with ECR, which comprises the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Mr Weber expresses the need to “stand by” ECR candidates for the positions in the Parliament, most notably for Ms Beata Szydło, who is a candidate for chairwoman of the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL).

The Weber’s speech is met with said enthusiasm of Fidesz, the Hungarian governmental party whose politicians sit with the EPP. Fidesz and PiS have the same problem: they are accused of rule of law violation in Hungary and Poland, respectively. The EU treaties’ Article 7 procedure has been launched against both states.

Due to the rule of law situation Fidesz faces EPP exclusion, though this issue is no longer on top of the EPP agenda (at least until November). The agenda is currently dominated by the left-leaning groups in the Parliament.

I talk with a lamenting EPP MEP who says that Weber words of “standing by” were deeply disappointing. Another EPP MEP tells me about a nuance: Weber words were about “standing by the d’Hondt method of distribution of seats”. A person close to Mr Weber tells me that he would defend the GUE candidates too, in light of an upcoming cordon sanitaire against the Polish ECR candidates.

Still, it hurts to hear the positive conciliatory words about a candidate, Ms Szydło, whose government was deeply unpopular with the Polish EPP MEPs for actions such as violating Polish constitution and disempowering the Polish Constitutional Tribunal by not publishing its verdicts, overseeing the removing EU flags from governmental buildings, etc. Now she is a candidate for the EMPL chair and Mr Weber says that EPP should “stand by”.

Mr Radan Kanev, a EPP MEP from Bulgaria, speaks to a sister blog. He says “This is causing tensions among the Polish MEPs who are part of the European People’s Party, but also among other colleagues. It is quite obvious that there is tension even when it comes to personal contacts between MEPs”.

What does it mean for Ursula von der Leyen?

Mr Weber’s commitment to d’Hondt is not only a commitment to high political standards. This is him trying to extend the chances for Ms von der Leyen on the Tuesday late confirmation vote. She needs over 374 votes, since some of MEPs did not take their mandates (Catalans) and a Danish new MEP Jeppe Kofod has been appointed a new foreign minister in Denmark.

Does this mean Mr Weber abandoned his narrative from a few weeks ago? In the campaign ahead of 26 May, he said that if he became the president of the Commission, he would not like to cooperate with PiS. Swedish or Dutch MEPs said that Fidesz’s presence in the EPP deprives them of votes in their countries. From within Mr Weber’s entourage I hear that “there is a difference between campaigning for yourselves and for von der Leyen”. The Commission President vote is nevertheless related to the votes of last week.

Six groups agreed on the cordon sanitaire for the candidates of the far-right parties grouped in Identity and Democracy (ID). Weber apparently was asking other groups to make sure if someone else was “still problematic” ahead of the vote. Apparently the Greens, RE, GUE and S&D said nothing, apart from ID there was no other problematic chair. Then on Tuesday, 9 July Dacian Ciolos, the leader of RE, tweets:

Hence the Weber words of “standing by” are related to the d’Hondt and not joining the Renew Europe and others in voting down the PiS and Fidesz candidates. Sometimes the “defence” is successful as three PiS committee vice-chairs are voted through. The most visibly, however, the PiS chairwoman candidate is defeated.

Following this defeat and the previous week’s EP vice-presidency defeat of Mr Krasnodębski, Law and Justice is offended. They send signals they will not vote for von der Leyen despite PM Morawiecki’s support for the German candidate at the beginning of the month. PiS is disillusioned, cornered and does not want to engage to build trust with other groups. To the extend that the CDU sends emissaries to Poland to talk directly to the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński on Sunday, 14 July, as the PiS chairman revealed.

Mr Weber’s job is to guarantee a safe passage for Ms von der Leyen. The two are ready to go the whole distance. Ms von der Leyen did not meet the ID group, even if the support of La Lega is not completely out of question (Mr Conte voted ‘yes’ for von der Leyen in the European Council). Yet Ms von der Leyen met with M5S, the Five Star Movement, which seats with the non-attached members:

Win-win or lose-lose?

It may well be that some EPP MEPs, including certain Polish MEPs, will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because of her and Mr Weber reaching out to ECR.

It may well be that ECR MEPs will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because they’ve been humiliated twice in the European Parliament over last two weeks.

Or, it may well be that both Polish EPP MEPs and Polish ECR MEPs vote for Ms von der Leyen. This could be possible if by tomorrow Ms von der Leyen strongly holds the ground on the rule of law defence against the governments in Warsaw and Budapest, and at the same time there is a deal that in the following week Ms Szydło is voted through at the next EMPL meeting.

I worry, however, that CDU representatives could not guarantee to Ms Jarosław Kaczyński that Ms Szydło is voted through in EMPL by the end of next week. Maybe a compromise agreement was found for another ECR candidate in the committee?

Tomorrow’s vote is secret.

How cordon sanitaire played out & Beata Szydło lost

The European Parliament has 20 standing committees and two subcommittees. On Wednesday, 10 July, most of them chose their chair people. And as in many member states, the chairs traditionally are distributed among all of the political groups.

Since last week, the list has been circulated with potential sets of heads of committees. According to one scenario, the European People’s Party (EPP) is to have 7 committee chairs, Social Democrats 5, centrists from Renew Europe 3, two committees are to be assigned to the Greens, the European Conservatives and Reformists and the Identity and Democracy group (ID), one chair for the left-wing GUE/NGL.

Since the defeat of Zdzisław Krasnodębski last week, it is obvious that the centrist groups plan to establish a cordon sanitaire around the ID candidates and preventing the far-right politicians from taking leadership positions. Still, if the defeat of MEP Krasnodębski is a surprise, this week it is evident that there is a special situation with two governmental parties with the rule of law situation in their own country: Hungarian Fidesz and Polish Law and Justice (PiS) are deeply unpopular.

On Wednesday morning, a full list of candidates’ names is distributed in the Parliament. According to it, ex-PM Beata Szydło (PiS/ECR) is to assume the position of the chair of the employment committee (EMPL) and a series of other Polish politicians are taking up the job of vice-chairs: Witold Waszczykowski (PiS/ECR) in the foreign affairs committee (AFET), Janusz Lewandowski (PO/EPP) in the budget committee (BUDG), Róża Thun (PO/EPP) in the internal market committee (IMCO), and MEP Krasnodębski (PiS/ECR) – in the industry, energy and research committee (ITRE). Robert Biedroń (Wiosna/S&D) is to be the new vice-chair of the committee on women’s rights and equality (FEMM), Krzysztof Hetman (PSL/EPP), and finally Ryszard Czarnecki (PiS/ECR) is to be a vice-chair the petitions committee (PETI).

The left-wing groups and centrists group, but not the EPP, decide to put a cordon sanitaire around the ID candidates, but also PiS and Fidesz. The confrontation takes place at the first meetings of the committees. There is a situation in the EMPL committee. In all other committees ID politicians are effectively blocked. But Fidesz and PiS politicians are elected vice-chairs despite an attempted cordon sanitaire.

This is a test of power for the left wing coalition and for the PiS politicians led by Ms Beata Szydło, who face a certain unknown: you do not know how many opponents there are and who are they?

The EMPL Committee Chair

There are 55 members of the EMPL committee: 13 are with the EPP, 10 with the S&D, eight are centrists with RE, there are five Greens and as many non-attached members. There are only four ECR MEPs, including Beata Szydło and Elżbieta Rafalska. There are more members of the far right – six, and four MEPs from the leftist GUE. It is obvious that the only chance for Beata Szydło to assume the position of the chair of the committee is the respect for the political agreement between all groups.

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

The meeting begins. MEP Rafalska presents the candidate Beata Szydło. She talks about how the government of Prime Minister Szydło was effective in leading the social dialogue, that social dialogue is essential for settling conflicts. Prime Minister Szydło asks for the opportunity to present herself. The opportunity is granted; MEP Szydło talks about Poland, that her government eliminated poverty in Poland and reduced the unemployment of Polish citizens.

Beata Szydło is the only candidate for the chair position. The politics begins. MEP Gabriele Bischoff (S&D) asks for a secret ballot. MEP David Casa (EPP) opposes. The observers know what is coming: the confrontation is approaching. With a secret vote a cordon sanitaire is the first step. This is happening in other committees, too. Bischoff’s motion is supported by the centrist MEP Dragoș Pîslaru, and then the temporary chair of the meeting states that the rules of the Parliament say that if there are 11 signatures supporting the secret vote, the vote is secret. There are more than 11 signatures, so the matter is clear. Voting is secret.

The result of the vote: 21 votes in green for “yes” to Beata Szydło. 27 votes in red for “no”. The candidacy is gone. The meeting is adjourned; the next will be organized on 24 July.

EMPL Constitutive meeting – Election of Chair and Vice-Chairs

Who voted for Szydło and who voted against? By coincidence the EMPL membership for S&D, RE, Greens and the GUE adds up to 27. Is this the same twenty-seven? We will never know. The vote is secret.

The European People’s Party supported Beata Szydło and did not join the cordon sanitaire. But in today’s Parliament the small majority of the four left winning groups, if they act together, prevails.

After the last week’s defeat of MEP Krasnodębski, the Wednesday rejection of Beata Szydło for the post of chairwoman of one of the EP committees is a signal of the massive image problem this party has in the European Union. While listening to the parliamentary committee meetings, one can be dissonant: the politicians of Law and Justice try to present themselves in a positive light, but in the Polish language; other politicians who spoke all communicated in English, although none of them were chosen in the UK or Ireland. One of the left wing MEPs described Szydło’s candidacy as a “provocation” towards the left parties.

The other ECR candidate was approved as a chair of the budget committee by acclamation.

This is the second humiliation of PiS in the European Parliament within two weeks. Will the party be able to change its strategy and be successful not only in Poland, but also in the EU? If that happens, it would be for the benefit of PiS, the ECR and for all of Poland.

Krasnodębski is NOT a Vice-President. How come?

There are 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. Elected in three rounds on Wednesday, here they are:

The natural thing for the European Parliament in choosing its vice-president is to do so by a consensus between the political groups. Except for, there is no consensus in this new European Parliament.

Cordon sanitaire

There are two important factors. First, the far-right Identity and Democracy Group is hostile to the European integration and as such, other political groups have proposed to employ the ‘cordon sanitaire’ principle in order to prevent the ID politicians from obtaining senior positions in the European Parliament. For more on the cordon sanitaire read on Euractiv here.

Hence the ID candidates for the vice-presidency, Laura Huhtasaari and Mara Bizzotto are voted down. Ms Bizzotto is the group’s only candidate by the time the second vote is to take place. In the first vote 11 vice-presidents were elected.

Non-attached MEPs

Second, the large pool of the non-inscrits, or the non attached members. The Brexiteers and the Italian M5S do not belong to any of the groups, hence they are not bound by any political agreements. They freeride. The candidacy of the Italian MEP Fabio Castaldo is announced – to be a candidate you need support of any of 38 MEPs.

The 14th Vice-President

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

By the time the second vote takes place, there are three slots and five candidates: three of the smaller groups, Greens, GUE and ECR, and two ‘anti-system’ candidates, of ID and a non-attached MEP. It is clear who should win.

The outcome of the second vote is positive for the Green MEP Mr Kolaja and for the GUE MEP Mr Papadimoulis, but not for Mr Krasnodębski of ECR, who already in the second vote scores fewer votes (261) than Mr Castaldo (283). Still with Ms Bizzotto on the ballot (142) there is a need for the third vote.

Then the third vote takes place. The choice is clear, between Mr Krasnodębski of ECR and Mr Castaldo of non-attached. Only 350 MEPs vote, which already indicates that the result might be distorted. And they are!

Who is absent? The EPP, with less than 50% of its members actually taking the task of voting. The other groups’ participation is fine, between 65% and 82%. Why is EPP absent? Ursula von der Leyen is in town meeting the Parliament’s biggest group.

The outcome of the vote is devastating for the ECR candidate: 248 for the Five Star MEP and only 85 for the PiS MEP.

The fallout of the loss

Mr Krasnodębski is disillusioned. He tweets “This is how the rules and commitments are respected in the EP”:

Other PiS MEPs are even more critical. MEP Mazurek writes that the parliamentary democracy rules were broken. She continues that it is a payback for the European Council meeting.

She alludes that the EP Left did not vote for Mr Krasnodębski because of PiS allegedly shooting down the candidacy of Mr Timmermans for the European Commission Presidency. Mr Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, deputy Foreign Minister continues along those lines the next day: “the results of this vote and in general the European Parliament votes are a sort of reflection of not fully satisfied moods of certain member states”.

For Mr Czarnecki MEP this is an anti-Polish vote as he uses a strong word of “revenge” for the last European Council. Mr Czarnecki was once a VP but lost his seat because of his non-parliamentary talk last term. Mr Krasnodębski replaced him.

What happened?

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

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

Three factors come in for his loss. First is the evening meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and the European People’s Party. This is why so few EPP politicians are actually in the room. Do they make a difference? Clearly, with them around Mr Krasnodębski was only 20 votes short of Mr Castaldo in the second round. Without them Mr Castaldo is the winner.

Second, where is the ID? The far-right keeps on putting empty votes into the voting booths. Their votes do not count, hence there is no support for Mr Krasnodębski. Without the ID presence the Parliament is not divided evenly right and left, there is a strong left-wing majority. With the EPP largely absent, the effect is even stronger. Suddenly it is easier for the non-attached coming from a political party which tried to join the GUE, ALDE and ECR over last months.

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

In the choice between two former vice-presidents Mr Castaldo has the upper hand. His way to this vice-presidency goes through years of coming out of a cordon sanitaire of the last Parliament. Back in 2014 the EFDD, the then-group of Mr Castaldo, is subject of a cordon sanitaire of the mainstream groups. Fabio Castaldo takes a low profile, commits himself to work in his committees, where he takes shadow rapporteurships seriously and is even entrusted with a report: on Tunisia, in the Foreign Affairs committee, in 2016. Quite an achievement. On that basis Mr Castaldo competes in November 2017 in a by-election to fill in the empty seat of the Vice President of the European Parliament. He wins against the German liberal candidate Ms Gesine Meissner 325 to 238.

Mr Castaldo is known in the Parliament and liked in the chamber, despite his lack of a political affiliation. He is able to win support of various groups and other nationalities than his own. Clearly the personality matters also in July 2019.

Third is the fact that 61% of MEPs are new to the chamber. Before the votes begin Ms Neena Gill, a Social-Democrat from the UK, asks, “We should have an opportunity to know who the vice-president candidates are. Could we at least have a short statement from them as to why they are standing? I know the candidates from my group but I don’t know all the candidates from the other groups.” This proves impossible as the Conference of Presidents decided against presentation of such candidacies, responds the new President Sassoli. Watch this interaction here.

What does it tell us? Many MEPs receive a voting list with all the candidates and their affiliations. No information about who they are and what do they stand for. Hence the information about Mr Krasnodębski is simply his name, group affiliation (ECR) and the country he is from (Poland). Pretty much everybody knows that all ECR members from Poland are Polish ruling party MEPs, Law and Justice (PiS).

Hence the choice MEPs have is simple: for Mr nice guy from an unpopular party, but largely not a threat, or for Mr who is a representative of an effectively anti-European ruling party back home. And the left-wing leaning House made the choice.

Et alors

European Parliament is not the representation of states. It is the representation of the people, of the citizens of the European Union. When will the Law and Justice politicians learn this obvious fact?

The European Council did not elect the President of the European Parliament. The European Parliament did. In fact, the EP chose a different person that the European Council hoped for. A signal that the appointment of Ms von der Leyen may not be as smooth?

Hence Law and Justice is wrong when they link the results of the last European Council and the Castaldo vote. They should link the performance of Law and Justice in the Warsaw government with the popularity of Law and Justice candidates. They should link the popularity of PiS with the PiS performance in the European Parliament. On the very first day of the new Parliament two PiS politicians provoked others by sitting during the Ode to Joy performance.

The pro-Castaldo vote is not an anti-Polish vote. It is an anti-Law and Justice vote. Clearly it is useful to invest into good working relationships across political parties. Timing of the vote, the negative perception of PiS inside the Parliament and the positive offer of Mr Castaldo resulted with the outcome.

Mr Castaldo is the 14th Vice-President of the European Parliament and Mr Krasnodębski is not. A consolation prize for PiS and a proof the ECR is not a subject of the cordon sanitaire? Mr Karol Karski, a fellow Pole from ECR, is the Parliament’s Questor.