EP post-Brexit: the End of Centre-Left Majority

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Brexit is looming on the European Parliament. A few days ago the EP’s research service published a simulation showing how the Parliament changes on 1 February 2020, the day EU shrinks to 27 member states.

The main consequence for the delicate balance in the fragmented Parliament is the end of the minimal centre-left majority in the EP. The S&D-RE-Greens-GUE majority in the Parliament of 751 MEPs is just 376. Now in the re-calibrated Parliament this majority shrinks to a minority of 351 out of 705 MEPs.

It may not matter as much to the daily politics of the European Parliament as majorities are formed on ad hoc basis between the seven political groups. But the tiny centre-left majority was clearly in the back on the minds of the European decision makers over the past months: from the election of Mr Sassoli as the Parliament’s president and re-election of Emily O’Reilly as European Ombudsman to the EPP’s internal sentiment that the “left” had an alternative to the “grand coalition” and hence could be outvoted. Also, the cordon sanitaire against the PiS politicians was possible mainly because of the left-wing pressure.

Now the S&D is no longer in the driving seat choosing the majorities in the Strasbourg hemicycle. The “grand coalition” behind the von der Leyen Commission remains dominant and the three elements of it, EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, have no more reasons to double-guess their coalition partners.

Fidesz’s Future

Unless new developments, naturally, take place. In the next weeks or months the probable departure of the Fidesz MEPs from the EPP and their potential alliance with the ECR would bring new dynamics on the right-side of the Parliament.

Fidesz has 12 MEPs and the 13th Hungarian EPP MEP is György Hölvényi, a member of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, a satellite party of Fidesz. Hence there is a slim chance for Mr Hölvényi to remain in the EPP.

Still, 12 or 13 Hungarians is a major force. Hungarians joining the ECR (62 MEPs post-Brexit) would push the group’s size above the Greens (66 MEPs post-Brexit) putting the new ECR on a virtual parity with the Salvini-Le Pen group Identity and Democracy (ID, 76 MEPs post-Brexit).

This could be the new dynamics interesting to watch: between the EPP (187 MEPs post-Brexit, 174 without Fidesz), ECR and ID, as the border lines between the three groups are not set in stone. Not too long time ago Alternative for Germany (now an important member of ID) collaborated with ECR and Law and Justice tested waters to join the EPP. Between ID and ECR there is a competition for who is the “opposition” to the European mainstream. Inclusion of Fidesz into ECR provides this group a new momentum.

A year ago the main fear of pro-European forces was an influx into the Parliament of anti-Europeans who would dominate the landscape. This has not happened, but a tactical alliance between Fidesz, ECR and ID would bring them to over 150 MEPs. Such a united front of the “opposition” remains and will remain for the rest of the term a nightmare for many of the pro-European MEPs.

2 Commissioners missing

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Today there were hearings in the European Parliament. Extra hearings following the rejection of the initial candidates for Commissioners from Romania, Hungary and France.

The replacement candidates who did well are the two: Adina-Ioana Vălean of Romania, who is scheduled to be the Commissioner for transport, and Thierry Breton of France, who will be responsible for the internal market. All provided the von der Leyen Commission gets a green light from the European Parliament.

The Breton’s acceptance is a turn-around of the Social-Democrats. Clearly the new President’s magic worked out well with the left-wingers. Yesterday President von der Leyen announced re-branding some of the portfolios in her College:

  • protecting our European Way of Life is changed to promoting our European Way of Life
  • the jobs portfolio will include social rights
  • fisheries to be added to the environment and the oceans

Well played, Ms Ursula.

Still, there is a problem with the Hungarian candidate. Olivér Várhelyi is invited back to communicate with the foreign affairs committee (AFET). By Monday we shall know if there is another meeting necessary. First, Mr Várhelyi is asked to provide written answers.

Apparently, as Politico reports, Mr Várhelyi problems was to convince his interlocutors that he will be independent from the national governments. In particular, one was worrisome: Budapest.

The last missing puzzle is the British Commissioner. The British PermRep, or Ambassador to the EU, has sent a letter last night (13 November) saying that London will not send a Commissioner before the elections in the UK. The vote is scheduled for 12 December.

Can the Commission be voted without the British Commissioner? That’s the question without an answer for the moment. Clearly the lawyers at the Berlaymont have something to work on in the upcoming days.

For the von der Leyen Commission to take office, the entire College needs to be approved by the Parliament. This vote is now tentatively scheduled for the last week of November.

Wojciechowski gets EP approval on second attempt

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Janusz Wojciechowski will be Ursula’s von der Leyen’s Commissioner for Agriculture, after all.

The Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament just heard the Polish politician for the second time today. After the second hearing was held with Mr Wojciechowski speaking at ease in his native language, the coordinators unanimously agreed to give him a green light.

The EPP coordinator Herbert Dorfmann said after the hearing: “he was much more committed. He was much more prepared. […] It was a completely different performance”.

The Wojciechowski confirmation was pending for a week. The next Commission’s still pending Commissioner is Sylvie Goulard (France). The details about the hearings of new Hungarian and Romanian Commissioners are unknown.

The entire College of Commissioners is to be voted through on 23 October in Strasbourg.

The Hearings Are Coming Up

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The second to last element in the process of establishing the new European leadership is about to take place. The show will begin as each of the individual Commissioners-nominees will face the European Parliament committee or committees. In the committees public hearings are scheduled.

Here is the itinerary of the upcoming shows:

30 September: Commissioners Sefcovic, Hogan and Gabriel as a starter. Do not expect any major fireworks, all Commissioners are returning to the College, so they should know what to expect and how to swim through the murky waters of EP hearings peacefully.

1 October: the day to watch. There are 6 scheduled hearings of first timers: Schmit, Urpilainen, Wojciechowski, Johansson, Trocsanyi and Kyriakides. These people are so new that the EU services are unsure if the Cypriot Commissioner-nominee is Ms Kyriakidou or Ms Kyriakides. Even her Wikipedia page is unsure. One of the first issues to be addressed.

The hearings to watch are that of Mr Wojciechowski (14:30, AGRI committee) and of Mr Trocsanyi (18:30, AFET committee). Both have a potential to be explosive, as both nominees come from countries against which the Article 7 procedure has been initiated. On top of that there is a pending OLAF case against Mr Wojciechowski and Mr Trocsanyi is a former Justice minister in the Orban government, making him directly linked with the Hungarian rule of law situation.

2 October: Another set of first timers, including Reynders, Plumb, Dalli, Goulard, Ferreira and Lenarcic. Of them the most controversial could be hearings of Ms Goulard due to her recent financial misbehaviour. Also Ms Plumb is a candidate for some serious grilling due to her past in Romania. Mr Reynders is under a police investigation, which is not a particularly happy start for someone who should be dealing with the rule of law. The leadership of S&D has already voiced their concerns on the matter.

3 October: a combination of a returning Commissioner (Hahn) and first timers: Gentiloni, Simson, Sinkevicius, Schinas and Suica. On this day expect fireworks during the Gentiloni hearing (an Italian responsible for Italian debt management… conflict of interest?), the Sinkevicius hearing might be entertaining, as Mr Sinkevicius is to be the first European Commissioner born in 1990s. A millennial in the College. Let’s see what it truly means.

A conflict is already playing out about the Schinas portfolio. Clearly it will culminate during the hearing. “The European Way of Life” and migration portfolio prove to be highly controversial for many in the European Parliament, especially the S&D. On the other hand EPP defends the structure of the portfolio as it is.

7 October: two hearings of two vice-presidents: Ms Jourova and Mr Borrell. All could go well, depending on how Ms Jourova answers the questions related to rule of law of the government which has nominated her in the first place (Czechia). Still, she is a returning and experienced Commissioner. As for Mr Borrell the only issue of concern is his age (72) and the job of the High Representative is a job of three people. Can he manage? The former EP President is also known for his undiplomatic language.

8 October: the heavy weights, or – executive vice-presidents: Mr Timmermans, Ms Vestager and Mr Dombrovskis. S&D has some issues with the “executive status” of Mr Dombrovskis. The ECR has issues with Mr Timmermans. The Parliament might be questioning Ms Vestager on the potential review of the competition policy.

The link to the full schedule is here.

And then we will know if Ms von der Layen needs to make some corrections in the College composition.

The last element is the final approval of the entire College. Then the political part is over and only ceremonial elements remain: to swear in the Commissioners and to formally take the positions on 1 November, or soon after.

There might be also a last minute injection of one more Commissioner: if Brexit is delayed again the UK government has a right to nominate a Commissioner (to be heard and given responsibilities by the President, accordingly).

Krasnodębski is NOT a Vice-President. How come?

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

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

Cordon sanitaire

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

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

Non-attached MEPs

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

The 14th Vice-President

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fallout of the loss

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et alors

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

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

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

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

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

The Italian Affair

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The next day starts with the big news of yesterday: Ursula is the new Queen of Europe. Yikes! In Poland the debate is if this is a true win for the Polish government or not so much. Let us put this empty debate aside. Not relevant for the future if you sell something as a success or not. The true question is that this new Commission will enjoy trust of the Warsaw government, at least at first, and how will this play out with the rule of law debate and the energy/climate transition, especially in the looming context of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework? Those are the questions for the future.

The question of the day is the next President of the European Parliament. Early afternoon, after the second ballot, the EP publishes a very unimpressive info:

Is 345 a majority of 751? Clearly not, but there is a twist in the definition of absolute majority for the Presidency of the European Parliament. The rules say clearly that the winner is the candidate who obtains ‘absolute majority of the votes cast‘. Since there are 667 votes cast, the 345 votes for Mr Sassoli is enough.

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

David Sassoli

David Sassoli is the new President of the European Parliament. MEP since 2009, a journalist before that, recently one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament.

In his inaugural address Mr Sassoli draws attention to the important link for the institution, the link between the European Parliament and the European Citizen. “We are different, not better or worse” and all of 512 million of us are equal. He talks about the EU agenda and challenges of social equality, climate change and digital transformation. He warns of the fear of nationalism and says, “we are all children or grandchildren of historical events” that collectively had a strong desire for freedom.

Mr Sassoli quotes Jean Monnet’s “Nothing lasts without institutions” words and proclaims himself a defender of the European Parliament powers vis-a-vis other institutions.

The European Parliament is a house with 40% women and 63% first-time elected MEPs. The debate that takes place following Mr Sassoli’s election already indicates the direction of the future EP dynamics: internal divisions, fighting the Council and its member states and cautious majority formation. Ms Ska Keller of the Greens demands protection of the MEP who is barred from taking the mandate (bad states!), Mr Marco Zanni of far-right Identity and Democracy is worried that other groups will not allow for ID to take leadership of two committees. Politico is already reporting about the plot to stop the ID taking over the AGRI (Agriculture) and JURI (Legal Affairs) committees calling it “cordon sanitaire” of the far-right.

Mr Ciolos of RE ponders the question of “backroom deals” that others are also referring to. What did they all have in mind? Probably the yesterday last moment secret arrangements of new European leaders with the biggest star of Ms Ursula von der Leyen.

There is one element that is difficult to miss: the amount of people who speak Italian! And it turns out they all are Italian. The only person who does not speak her first language is Ms Ska Keller. Congratulations. Others speak their first ethnic tongues. The Italian outgoing President of the Parliament Tajani passes the baton to a new Italian President of the Parliament Sassoli. Following that two of the group leaders speak Italian, the ID and ECR, as both gentlemen are Italian. Mr Raffaelle Fitto is co-chair, to be precise. Tutta l’Europa parla italiano!

The Vice Presidents

There are 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. In the first round 11 are chosen, and here is the top 7 Vice-Presidents with the highest support. Among them two names stand out: Ms Mairead McGuinness has been a VP already and in the election process she voiced an ambition to become the leader of the institution. Clearly this was not possible today, but as the most popular VP in 2.5 years time… Ms McGuiness is Irish and sits with the EPP.

The second name worth mentioning is Ms Ewa Kopacz, who just arrived in the European Parliament and already changes a position. A little over a month ago Ms Kopacz was catapulted from the national politics into the European sphere and appointed a deputy head of the EPP. Ms Kopacz is a former Speaker of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and one of many former Polish Prime Ministers in the Strasbourg chamber (2014-15). Since the Polish is the second-biggest national delegation inside the EPP, and the Germans keep the position of the group leader (Mr Weber’s consolation prize), there might be an appetites for another change of jobs 2.5 years down the line.

Habemus papam… not yet

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

This is the package negotiated by the European Council. No place for Mr Weber. No place for Mr Timmermans. Why?

The European People’s Party got stubborn in their demands for an EPP politician on top of the next European Commission. If Weber was not acceptable for others, than a new name was chosen. By the one and only, dame of European politics Angela Merkel. She truly is a king and queen maker, if this is not derailed (see below).

With Mr Macron on board (Lagarde!), Mr Sanchez got what he wanted from the start (Borrell!), and the EPP happy too there is a relieve in the European Council and dissatisfaction elsewhere. It matters that Mr Timmermans and Mr Rutte (PM of the Netherlands) come from different political families; Mr Rutte did not defend Mr Timmermans as a Dutch candidate.

The liberals and centrists of the European Council wanted the leadership of EUCO, and this is what they got. Read the small print: Mr Charles Michel is the only one ELECTED today. All the other ones are nominees and a proposal.

Hence the ball moves to the European Parliament. This is what the S&D communicated soon after the EUCO decision:

Yes, the European Council did not elect the next European Commission President. The European Council proposed a candidate that will or not be elected by the European Parliament.

Welcome to Strasbourg.

The Parliament is welcoming. It has postponed its deadline for candidates for the presidency of the House to give the European Council more time that it clearly needed. But the outcome of it is unclear.

Will Ms von der Leyen reach the 375 mark? Let’s see what happens. To throw the Spitzenkandidaten system under the bus the way the European Council did at the end of the day is a blow to the European Parliament firmly believing in the process. Hence the decision of the Social Democrats to be sceptical. Also since they were so close just 48 hours before…

As S&D has every right to be disappointed, the question is if there will be a majority in the Parliament able to defend the European Parliament’s future of the Spitzenkandidaten system. Mr Weber said at the EPP meeting tonight: “Macron and Orban killed the Spitzenkandidaten system”. Can it be revived?

The Greens’ are growing their dissatisfaction, too. Bas Eickhout, a leading EP Green tweeted:

Fan fact, the EUCO decision was not unanimous. Germany abstained… Quite a dame Angela Merkel abstaining from voting for a German CDU minister. Or, is she making a statement saying “I win a small war but I might be losing a big war on Spitzen-candidates and I want to remind you that this war is not over quite yet”?

The Polish take

The Poles are ecstatic. Last time the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) politicians were happy about EU? Never. Last time the PiS politicians were as supportive of an EU federalist politician? Never. They are simply happy Mr Timmermans is not the Commission President.

Where is an Eastern European? Absent. Some say this could be compensated at the level of the vice-presidents of the Commission, which is a weak compensation. Ms Merkel is better at the press conference: “There is a prospect of an Eastern European for Parliament president”. There is one at the moment, but it is 8:30 PM and there is still time for new ideas. For the moment Mr Jan Zahradil is ECR’s candidate for the EP’s top job. Was this Merkel’s endorsement for Zahradil? Somehow I am sceptical.

Et alors?

This is a good deal. Two women, all federalists, all competent people. 27 votes in favour of Ms von der Leyen with 0 against and 1 friendly abstention.

This is a bad deal. This is a deal disrespectful of the Parliament’s Spitzen-candidates system. The candidate was not presented in the campaign. Citizens have a right to feel cheated, as the next Commission President is supposed to be running on an increased legitimacy given by the citizens to the Union during the elections process. Instead the President-candidate runs on the European Council legitimacy. For now, that is.

Yes, Ms von der Leyen, maybe we should call her UVDL for short, is a President-candidate for now. She will be President-elect when she receives 375 votes or more in the European Parliament. She will be President once her College is approved later this year.

This process brings me with a few reflections. First, the party politics dominates the European political stage much more than national interests or institutional arrangements, for now at least. This is a sign of maturing of the system.

Second, there is a need to rethink the Spitzenkandidaten process ahead of 2024 and 2029. Clearly the 2009/2010, 2014 and 2019 experiences are rich to draw conclusions from.

Third, it is a pity that the Central Europeans are nowhere to be seen. This solution is a proof that CEE countries, especially Poland and Italy lose power and influence. Mr Morawiecki at the press conference said he was confident that the region will be well represented. But how?

He also supported de-politicisation of the Commission, presented himself as a part of a compromise. This is a positive step in associating Law and Justice for being co-responsible for the European Union and its independent institutions in the future. The vote for UVDL is an investment into building trust of countries like Poland, but also Hungary and Italy.

But Mateusz Morawiecki would not be himself if he did not attack Mr Timmermans again calling him a radical candidate of the extreme left. Personal attacks like this make heroes, do not bury enemies. The popularity of Martin Schulz was built on an offence against him by Mr Berlusconi back in 2003.

Fourth, what will be the role of the conservative, very conservative or sovereignist commissioners arriving from Poland, Italy and Hungary in the new Commission? Prime Minister Conte just said Italy will have a vice-president of the Commission responsible for the competition portfolio. Let’s see how this goes in due time, especially since it is to be La Lega’s candidate. Interesting.

Fifth, something for tomorrow: who will be the next President of the Parliament?

Once we know this we can ponder on how Ms Ursula can get her 375 yeses in the Strasbourg chamber.

The Battle of 2 ex-PMs in the European Parliament is looming

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Two weeks ago the new European Parliament is chosen. Today the politicians and the media in Poland are already focused on the next hurdle, the Sejm and the Senate elections in October. Meanwhile, the new European Parliament is self-organizing, taking shape and taking its first decisions.

The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament, is now established. The new/old leader is Mr. Manfred Weber, and one of his deputies is Ms. Ewa Kopacz (EPP/PO). In the refreshed corridors of the massive building next to the place Luxembourg in Brussels rumours dominate the conversations. Rumours about what may happen in the coming weeks because of the puzzle at the very top – who will become the president of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council, the Central Bank and the High Representative for Foreign Policy? Those big decisions will impact the lower-ranked, but very important positions, such as the chairmen of parliamentary committees.

Some actors play poker. For example, the Commissioners who have been elected to the European Parliament must choose: whether they take an MEP mandate and lose their Commissioner status, or whether they shall continue to work in the Commission hoping to be re-chosen by their government and the new unknown Commission President. In this situation, for example, is Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who decided not to accept the MEP mandate counting on the continuation of work in the College.

The Battle of two former PMs is coming

Another piece of gossip I hear from so many sources is that it should be considered confirmed. Ms. Ewa Kopacz may soon change her new job as EPP vice-chairwoman for the vice-presidency of the European Parliament. In such a situation her party, the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) – two Polish EPP members, that is – may still hope for one committee chairmanship, but of which committee – it is not known. It is too early, as “d’Hondt is decisive for everything”: each of the EP groups has the right to the allocation of positions in proportion and, in turn, positions are allocated one by one to the next group in line. The largest EPP chooses the first position, then Social Democrats from S&D, then liberals from ALDE-R, then Greens? No, EPP (about 180 MEPs) is more than twice the size of the Greens (about 70 MEPs), so the second position for the EPP will be allocated earlier than the first for the Greens.

In the EPP, they estimate that the group shall have six chairmen of parliamentary committees. However, these issues will be clarified only in the coming weeks. All depends on the number and size of the groups – for example, it is not known what will happen on the right side of the Parliament and whether a group is formed between the British Brexit and the Italians from the Five Star Movement. For the group to be created, 25 MEPs from at least seven countries are needed. Apparently, the parties of Mr. Nigel Farage (Brexit) and Mr. Luigi di Maio (the Five Stars Movement) have a problem with completing the seven countries. There are no such problems among the European Conservatives and Reformists (the Polish PiS is the biggest member), which was just joined by new deputies from three countries. Among them is the Forum voor Democratie from the Netherlands. Also the new group created by anti-system MEPs of the Italian League and French from Marine Le Pen should not have problems with attractive 7 states’ MEPs.

“It is being counted,” says EPP MEP Mr. Jan Olbrycht, who may return to the position of a vice-chairman of the EPP if Ms. Kopacz, the former prime minister, is elected as vice-president of Parliament. This is one of the options under consideration, and the EPP is to make its decisions at an away meeting next week in San Sebastian, Spain.

Five years ago the PO and PSL MEPs strategy was different. They did not take the position of EP vice-president considering it insignificant. In exchange, they were able to fill in three positions of less visible but extremely influential chairmen of parliamentary committees: Mr. Jerzy Buzek was chairman of the Industry and Energy Committee (ITRE), Ms. Danuta Hübner became the chairwoman of the constitutional committee (AFCO) dealing with Brexit, and Mr. Czesław Siekierski led the work of the agricultural commission (AGRI). Mr Siekierski was not re-elected.

This time the PO goals are dictated by the national policy: if Law and Justice wants to win the position of the Parliament’s vice-president for Ms. Beata Szydło, the PO will want to show that Ms. Kopacz is more popular than the political star of PiS. Parliament’s vice-presidents are usually elected by acclamation, but their rank depends on who gets more votes. So, what to beat: who will rank higher among the 14th vice-president (there are as many vice-presidents).

A very interesting situation is drawn in the ECR group. Domination of Poles from PiS is total: 27 of about 65 MEPs are elected in Poland. Thus, all the major positions belonging to the group can become Polish: the vice president of the Parliament (Ms. Szydło replacing Mr. Zdzisław Krasnodębski in the previous term) as well as the second vice-president or a quaestor of the Parliament (formerly Mr. Karol Karski), the group chairman (Mr. Ryszard Legutko’s re-appointment was already announced), and one of Parliament’s committees (until now Ms. Anna Fotyga was the head of the SEDE sub-committee on security). Four positions would mean maintaining the quo status of the largest Polish party, although PiS could trade the position of the second vice-president/quaestor with a committee chair.

Will ECR boom?

The probable departure of the Hungarian governmental party Fidesz from the EPP and its possible fusion into the ECR may mean that the group of the Conservatives and Reformists may be entitled to one more committee chairmanship seat, and the EPP might be forced to reduce their aspirations downwards by one, too. Clearly it seems the Hungarians of Fidesz would be virtually taking ‘their’ chairmanship position from the EPP into ECR, should the transfer take place. There are thirteen Fidesz MEPs, and their transfer from the largest group to a smaller group would have a collateral effect: all the ECR positions would be chosen earlier and the right to a position from one group to another.

The Polish radio RMF FM shared a piece of news: PiS is in conversation with Five Star Movement about the M5S future in the Parliament! The options for the Italians are shrinking: the far-right is a no go, the EPP is a no go, the Social Democrats are a no-go, they are not Green, the Liberals said NO two years ago and Macron is heavily criticised by Di Maio. The only options left is GUE and ECR. In the ECR, my interlocutor tells me, the problem are the Brothers of Italy, who have introduced MEPs into the EP. Brothers of Italy have been members of ECR for awhile. Apparently today they are unhappy about M5S joining the group.

Unhappy as they may be, ideology is not a forte of ECR. Strategies of effectiveness might be more important. There are 6 MEPs with Brothers of Italy and 14 MEPs with M5S. Ideally with all of them and Fidesz ECR could grow to some 90 MEPs, outranking the Greens, becoming much larger than the far-right and being more than half of the EPP. Kind of a very different animal than a 5th group of 64 MEPs completely dominated by one ethnicity.

Reality Check

One more unknown: the d’Hondt method is a mathematical formula that is to be confirmed on the democratic agora each time: it will be Parliament plenary where the vote for the president and vice-presidents take place, even if the candidatures will be chosen on behind-the-scenes basis. It is the EP committees that elect their chairmen – and they usually accept the informal agreement resulting from the distribution of seats between the groups.

However, five years ago, the six groups ranging from the leftist GUE to the ECR, agreed that anti-system, anti-European parties should be denied their positions. In this way Mr. Farage’s group did not obtain the position of chairman of the one parliamentary committee it was entitled to (petitions, PETI), and the other six groups made appropriate sllocation among themselves. The chairwomanship was then awarded to the Swedish liberal Ms. Cecilia Wikström.

There were 7 groups at the beginning of the term in 2014.

Will this year be similar? If so, extreme-right groups can expect a parliamentary affront at the very start of the work of the new European Parliament

MEPs elected in Poland 2019-2024

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Here is the complete list of 51 MEPs and 1 in-waiting elected in Poland for the 9th term of the European Parliament 2019-2014.

26 of them will go to ECR (PiS), 17 to EPP (PO & PSL) and 8 to S&D (SLD & Spring).

  1. Magdalena Adamowicz, European Coalition, widow of Paweł Adamowicz, murdered mayor of Gdańsk, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  2. Bartosz Arłukowicz, European Coalition, former health minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  3. Marek Bałt, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  4. Marek Belka, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  5. Robert Biedroń, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  6. Adam Bielan, Law and Justice, a returning MEP 2004-2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  7. Joachim Brudziński, Law and Justice, former interior minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  8. Jerzy Buzek, European Coalition, former President of the European Parliament, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: EPP
  9. Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  10. Ryszard Czarnecki, Law and Justice, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: ECR
  11. Jarosław Duda, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  12. Anna Fotyga, Law and Justice, former foreign affairs minister, MEP 2004-5 and since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  13. Tomasz Frankowski, European Coalition, a footballer (5 times Champion of Poland, national team player), first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  14. Andrzej Halicki, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  15. Krzysztof Hetman, European Coalition, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: EPP
  16. Danuta Hübner, European Coalition, former European Commissioner, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
  17. Patryk Jaki, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  18. Adam Jarubas, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  19. Krzysztof Jurgiel, Law and Justice, former agriculture minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  20. Jarosław Kalinowski, European Coalition, former agriculture minister, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
  21. Karol Karski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  22. Beata Kempa, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  23. Izabela Kloc, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  24. Łukasz Kohut, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  25. Ewa Kopacz, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  26. Joanna Kopcińska, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  27. Zdzisław Krasnodębski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  28. Elżbieta Kruk, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  29. Zbigniew Kuźmiuk, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  30. Ryszard Legutko, Law and Justice, former education minister & co-chair of ECR, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  31. Janusz Lewandowski, European Coalition, former European Commissioner, MEP since 2014 & 2004-2009, likely affiliation: EPP
  32. Bogusław Liberadzki, European Coalition, former transport minister, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: S&D
  33. Elżbieta Łukacijewska, European Coalition, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
  34. Beata Mazurek, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  35. Leszek Miller, European Coalition, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  36. Andżelika Możdżanowska, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  37. Janina Ochojska, European Coalition, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  38. Jan Olbrycht, European Coalition, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: EPP
  39. Tomasz Poręba, Law and Justice, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: ECR
  40. Elżbieta Rafalska, Law and Justice, family and social policy minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  41. Bogdan Rzońca, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  42. Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2004, likely affiliation: ECR
  43. Radosław Sikorski, European Coalition, former foreign & defence minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: EPP
  44. Sylwia Spurek, Spring, first time MEP, likely affiliation: S&D
  45. Beata Szydło, Law and Justice, former Prime Minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  46. Róża Thun, European Coalition, MEP since 2009, likely affiliation: EPP
  47. Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Law and Justice, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  48. Witold Waszczykowski, Law and Justice, former foreign affairs minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  49. Jadwiga Wiśniewska, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR
  50. Anna Zalewska, Law and Justice, former education minister, first time MEP, likely affiliation: ECR
  51. Kosma Złotowski, Law and Justice, MEP since 2014, likely affiliation: ECR.

The 52nd MEP in-waiting is Dominik Tarczyński, Law and Justice, potential first time MEP.

Basic info

The 51 MEPs break-up by gender: 17 women (33%) and 34 men.

There are 20 returning MEPs (39%) and 31 first time elected.

There are 6 former heads of government (12%): Belka, Cimoszewicz & Miller (in S&D), Buzek & Kopacz (in EPP) and Szydło (in ECR). There are two former European Commissioners (Lewandowski & Hübner) and numerous MEPs with governmental experience.

PiS is the winner

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The final results are in. Law and Justice (PiS) wins in Poland for ECR. It shall bring in 26 MEPS, 27th in-waiting until Brexit. The European Coalition’s 22 MEPs could be divided – most likely – into two groups in the European Parliament, 5 would go to the S&D and 17 to the EPP. The Spring has 3 MEPs, including its chairman, Robert Biedroń, who announced that the Spring shall join one of the progressive groups. It may be S&D or the Greens or ALDE 2.0, depending on the talks Mr Biedroń has in the upcoming days.

The numerical results are the following:

  • The turnout: 45,68%, the highest in the history of Polish EU elections, and the biggest increase in the 2019 elections throughout the Union (+22pp). Some 13.6 million people voted.
  • Law and Justice: 45,38%, or 26 (+1) MEPs, and some 6.2 million voters. This is the highest support PiS has ever had in any party elections in Poland.
  • European Coalition: 38,47% or 22 MEPs, and some 5.2 million voters.
  • Spring: 6,06% or 3 MEPs, and 827 thousand voters.

The openly anti-Semitic, homophobic and hostile towards the outside world Confederacy scored 4,55% or 621 thousand voters.

What happened

The European Coalition lost big. The Law and Justice won big. The impact of the turnout is important, too. High turnout has pushed down the support for the smaller parties, the Spring and Confederacy alike, and even more for Kukiz’15 and United Left. Who turned out were the PiS voters.

Law and Justice was able to motivate the electorate to show up, and this is remarkable, for in the past the European elections were not as important for the PiS electorate. Still, the high degree of politicisation has pushed both sides of the political debate to motivate, motivate, motivate. Clearly PiS is more successful in the process.

Roman Giertych, a former anti-European campaigner and a former leader of the League of Polish Families (LPR) and education minister in the Jarosław Kaczyński government in mid-2000s, today is a popular attorney-in-law. He defends, for example, the Austrian businessman in a case against the PiS chairman, and Donald Tusk in many cases against him. Mr Giertych today sides with the European Coalition, though he remains true to his conservative believes. Mr Giertych writes on his Facebook about the results: “In my opinion, the reasons for the failure are three: mass distribution of money, turning TVP into purely party television and a major turn to the left that took place at the opposition. Because for the first two reasons we can not do anything, we need to focus on the third reason” and concludes that the biggest mistakes was the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, progressive interviews given on the issue by a number of politicians, the parades and Leszek Jażdżewski’s liberal attack on the Catholic Church.

This is a popular opinion after the elections. Many publicists, including well known liberal ones, like Tomasz Lis, write disillusioned that the responsible for the loss are Robert Biedroń (for dividing the opposition into two camps) and Leszek Jażdżewski (for launching a ‘war on the Church’). The pro-PiS conservative pundits agree, but are not mourning. Quite to the contrary, they are celebratory.

What happened was a major mobilisation on the day, on both sides. And the countryside made the difference. Five years ago in many rural areas the turnout was in single digits. On 26 May – some 40%, on average. The cities voted, too, but it was not a +30pp increase, about 50-55% in the larger cities and Warsaw’s 62.5% did not topple the overall results.

The cities voted liberal. Warsaw voted 50% for EC, 27% for PiS, 10% for the Spring. Gdańsk voted 60% for EC, 27% PiS. The conservative Kraków – 44% EC and 36% PiS. The liberal Wrocław 50% for EC and 30% for PiS with 9% for the Spring and the very liberal Poznań 54% for KE, 24% for PiS and 11% for the Spring. In Łódź, the last of the big cities – 54% for KE, 30% for PiS and 7% for the Spring.

It matters that 40% of Poles live in the countryside. This time the countryside voted, en masse, over 55%, for PiS. As a leading sociologist Jarosław Flis explains at a Stefan Batory Foundation post-electoral event (or a disillusioned mourning…): “The countryside is twice the size of the six largest cities”. Trying to stay positive, professor Flis says, “there are still major reserves ahead of the fall parliamentary elections” and there are 2-4 million more potential voters out there.

The smaller cities and towns were more nuanced. As professor Flis says, “the middle ground is like like the whole of Poland”.

What’s Next

The October elections. Most likely October, but the final decision on the date has not been taken yet. Few people pay attention to the European Council meeting or the European Parliament struggle for power when it comes to Spitzenkandidate. The real questions are: will the European Coalition survive this way or another? How celebratory Law and Justice can be? It seems the stage is set: Law and Justice fights to continue its mono-rule, a government of one party without a coalition partner. The Opposition’s lines of defence are: (1) to gain a constitutional majority against PiS; (2) to gain a governmental majority against PiS; (3) to force PiS into a minority rule (for example by controlling the Senate); (4) to force PiS into a coalition government with another party; (5) to prevent a constitutional majority of PiS when the party rules on its own.

It seems we are in territory (5). The Opposition is defending the Constitution from being amended by Law and Justice. This is clearly a retreat from other options, which were on the table before. At least those are the moods.

So, Law and Justice, after initial celebrations, re-forming of the government (quite a few of ministers are changing jobs and are leaving for the EP), will fight for a constitutional majority. The ruling party is on the offensive!

It is unclear if the European Coalition will go as one block. The Spring already announced it will not join the Coalition. The Polish People’s Party (PSL) is seriously debating whether it should leave the ranks of the Coalition and go on their own. The only wholeheartedly pro-maintaining the Coalition are the left-wing SLD, who is a clear winner with 5 MEPs within the Coalition.

Elżbieta Łukacijewska

There is a major reflection in the ranks of the Civic Platform. The newly re-elected MEP Elżbieta Łukacijewska was attacked by the party leader Grzegorz Schetyna. First, this 2-term MEP was not positioned as the list leader, as she was a leader back five years ago. Ms Łukacijewska was a candidate no. 10. And she won a seat. Not only that, she carried out Cisna, a commune in the Podkarpacie region, where Law and Justice won with overall 60% support. Mr Schetyna tweeted about Łukacijewska win in Cisna: “People from outside. Externals. Many from Lower Silesia, from Wrocław”, to which Ms Łukacijewska responded “Grzegorz, the inhabitants of Cisna are not ‘people from outside‘, we are all locals here. It is a wonderful community, hospitable, open and entrepreneurial. I am proud that I live in Cisna and I thank all my neighbours for their votes for KE. For sure, we are going for more!”.

It only shows the nervousness in the PO’s HQ.

Will Poles double the turnout?

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In the previous European elections Poles did not vote in big numbers. Turnout never was higher than 25%. This time it looks like things go differently.

The Electoral Commission just informed that the turnout at 12:00 was 14.39%. This is almost double than five years before, when by midday the Polish turnout was at 7.31%.

Last year during the local and regional elections, the turnout at midday was at 15.62%. By the end of the day the turnout was at 54.9%.

The 12:00 turnout suggests that by the end of the day some 40% to 50% may show up to vote.

The high turnout is driven by a high degree of political polarisation and a lack of a clear projected winner ahead of the vote. All leaders called on the voters to turn out to cast their ballot.

In Warsaw the turnout is significantly higher at 16.79% (compared to 10.7% five years before at 12:00). The same can be said of other regions, i.e. in the south-eastern Podkarpacie region the turnout at midday is at 15.96%, compared to 8.72% five years before.

The choice

The European citizens in Poland vote for one of 6 lists:

  1. Confederacy Korwin-Braun-Liroy-Nationalists
  2. Spring of Robert Biedroń
  3. European Coalition PO PSL SLD Modern Greens
  4. Law and Justice
  5. Left United – Razem, Labour Union, RSS
  6. Kukiz’15
The Electoral Commission (PKW)

Tusk goes political & violent incidents in South Poland

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The last weekend before the European elections the Polish campaign is gaining speed. The paedophilia covered in the Catholic Church dominates the debate. With the 18 May march in Warsaw and reinforcement in the person of Donald Tusk, the European Coalition motivates its supporters and hopes to outplay Law and Justice.

18 May, morning, Warsaw: a major storm in the city. Climate change in action, as normally storms like these come in July. This follows a drought earlier this spring, highly unusual, too, to be dry in February and March.

18 May, afternoon, Warsaw: the storm is over. The sun comes out. A major march is planned by the European Coalition and the weather was a major worry for the organisers. Warsaw Mayor is relieved. Rafał Trzaskowski jokes that he fixed the weather so the march can begin. On a serious note: mobilization is the key message of the day.

Some 45 thousand people walk the streets of Warsaw to hear a renewed Donald Tusk speech at the end of their walk. Donald Tusk is in Poland almost daily now. Almost campaigning. His speeches are watched and commented. Remembered. His major speech at the Warsaw University on 3 May is still echoed in the public debate otherwise dominated by the Church paedophilia scandals.

On the day, Mr Tusk goes political. He echoes the European Coalition hashtag, #GreatChoice, or #WielkiWybór with those words: “If 80 percent of Poles want Poland to be in the EU, why would we, all Poles, risk a vote for someone who does not guarantee this position in the EU?”. And continues: “And I say it very openly: is it really worth taking the risk of voting for those who present themselves today as Europeans with extraordinary enthusiasm, but this enthusiasm is only two weeks old? I know well that they will be Europeans for as long as the election demands it. They also know what the Poles want, and therefore, for these two weeks with difficulty, because it is difficult, but somehow the word ‘Europe‘ is declinated. But if they treat our presence in the EU the way they treat the Constitution, which they never said openly, that they want to break it. Shouting ‘Law!’, they violated the Constitution. Shouting ‘Justice!’, they were destroying the Polish courts. Talking about modesty, they shouted loudly: ‘This money simply belongs to us!‘.” He openly points at the ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS).

This is not a vote for a lesser evil, it is a vote for a greater good.

Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw
Donald Tusk in Warsaw at the European Coalition rally, 18 May 2019.

Tusk launches an attack on PiS leader: “in Europe I see many candidates for local chiefs, in the world they call them differently, one is called the chairman, the other is Ayatollah, but the difference is relatively small”. Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS chairman and speaks (17 May) that if someone does not want sharia law introduced in Poland, they should vote Law and Justice.

There are many more of us!

Donald Tusk, 19 May, Warsaw

And the last quote from the President of the European Council who warns about those local chiefs, “for whom the idea, and we know it well from history, of one nation, one state, one religion, one leader, that this is their melody and they also participate in this European election. Europe is diversity, Europe is a union in diversity, kind of like the European Coalition”.

Reactions

The government-run TVP is not shy of anti-Tusk sentiment. On the day they are correct to say, “Tusk threatens with PiS”. Gazeta Wyborcza, the liberal daily, concludes on the day Donald Tusk became the spiritual leader of the European Coalition. Paweł Wroński, a leading GW journalist concludes: “The President of the European Council Donald Tusk gave a deeper ideological sense of the existence of the European Coalition and its role in the elections to the European Parliament”.

Violence incidents

18 May, Busko-Zdrój, Świętokrzyskie region, some 80 km NE of Kraków. Two men attack two policeman, who are injured before the attackers are arrested. One of the attackers is a local town councillor, who in the past was supported by Jadwiga Emilewicz, minister for entrepreneurship and technology.

Attack on a policeman, captured on video, Busko-Zdrój, 18 May 2019.

Questions about the relationship between the attacker and the PiS politicians are raised not only by the opposition in the context of the January murder of the Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz. Beata Szydło, former PM and PiS leading candidate in the region, raises the same questions via Twitter, demanding clarifications from MP Michał Cieślak and Jarosław Gowin, deputy PM. Both belong to a small party Porozumienie (Alliance) that is in a nominal coalition with Law and Justice.

Mr Gowin, the P’s leader, responds saying that none of the perpetrators of the policemen attacks ever was a member of his party.

Róża Thun, the European Coalition leader in the same electoral region as Ms Szydło, is quick to raise the speculation of association of the attacker by twitting a photo of one of the accused individuals with… Beata Szydło on her campaign bus:

By evening, Ms Thun has another violent incident to report. Three of her volunteers are attacked in Kielce, the second biggest city in her electoral region, with a smelly liquid poured on them, while distributing leaflets.

In a written statement she writes that “the escalation of violence is at its best” while “the perpetrators remain unpunished” of the cases against her in recent years. She says: “I thought that hate, hate speech, and punishment affect me personally, but unfortunately the volunteers who help me in the campaign have been affected”. One of the three volunteers, teenagers has been threatened by the very same councillor who attacked the policemen earlier on the day in Busko-Zdrój.

Opinion polls

The latest opinion polls are confusing. According to one, Law and Justice enjoys a comfortable +10% lead. According to another, Law and Justice is trailing the European Coalition by about the same +10%. In every poll, the Spring of Robert Biedroń comes third with about 8-9%. It seems the ultra-right wingers of the Confederation can break the 5% threshold and Kukiz’15 is balancing in the same area, potentially falling short of the threshold.

Effectively, Law and Justice and the European Coalition are going neck-to-neck with an estimate of about 18-25 mandates each (43 total for the two) going either way. The other 8 MEP seats could go to Spring (5) and Confederation (3).

Et alors

The situation is volatile. The emotions are high due to Church paedophilia debate. The parties focus on mobilisation of their electorates. I believe that the ruling party enjoys about 40% support, but I also think that the ruling party may have difficulty mobilising their voters due to the Church paedophilia scandals. By now the Sekielski brothers film has been watched 20 million times on Youtube and it was aired on the private TVN (the most popular station among 16-49 year olds) on Friday.

PiS political problem is the disconnect with the many voices from within the Catholic Church in Poland, who are critical about the covering up of the paedophiles inside the institution. In fact, the top bishops are not speaking with one voice. Archbishop Polak is apologetic and promises to cooperate, counting on the support of Pope Francis. Archbishop Polak is the country primate, and says: “The Church is not under attack in Poland”. On the other hand, other bishops are unmoved with their political agenda. Archbishop Jędraszewski says “There is a war on Christianity and the Church”. There was a small protest against of archbishop Jędraszewski in front of a church in Poznań. Archbishop Jędraszewski is one of the more conservative bishops in the country.

PiS is unsure how to argue on the Church paedophilia since the Church is not united behind archbishop Polak. Hence PiS walks in the dark. The issue is to have an apolitical commission to be established to look into the Church paedophilia scandals. PiS says “yes” but only if the investigations include other “professions”, like artists, lawyers, or bricklayers. As if being a member of the clergy was a “job”. As if a member of the clergy paid taxes. As if any of the members of the clergy committing the paedophilia crimes or covering them up, ever was arrested 6 AM in their bed, like artists are arrested sometimes.

This is why PiS has a problem; it is sleepwalking on the most important political issue of the year. It is still popular due to its policies attractive to wider public. Yet, will they be as motived to turn out to vote? And what if they don’t?

The marching of the European Coalition and the Tusk speech are a good illustration that the motivation on the other side remains high. The EC probably has about 35% of the general support today. Maybe Tusk is right when he says “There is more of us”. By being much more motived, I expect them to come on top next Sunday. Subject to the last week of campaign, naturally.

The big question is the Spring. I and many others expected Spring to benefit most from the paedophilia scandal. Yet this has not been reflected yet in the polls. The party is stagnating at 8-9%, but with PiS not showing up in numbers, this bring them up to teens figures, before the anticipated boost.

In the relative weakness of PiS the biggest winners could be the Confederacy, that becomes increasingly openly anti-Semitic. The lower the turnout the greater the chance of the ultra-far-right.

All subject to the rest of the campaign. Jarosław Kaczyński just promised (19 May afternoon) new support of the people with disabilities.

Only 6 Committees to run in EP elections in Poland

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The Electoral Commission registered all the electoral lists and only six of them are registered in the entire country, hence are entitled to mandates, should they meet the 5% threshold in Poland. They are (with the list numbers next to them):

  1. Confederacy KORWiN Braun Liroy Nationalists
  2. Spring of Biedroń
  3. European Coalition – PO, PSL, SLD, .N and the Greens
  4. Law and Justice
  5. United Left
  6. Kukiz’15

No other committee will have candidates in the entire country, including the Polish’ Polexit or the REM – Real Europe Movement.

The Confederacy is a far right coalition. The Spring is a Macron-type new party that most likely will associate itself with the S&D. The European Coalition is the major opposition block of mainstream European parties: PO and PSL belong to the EPP, SLD is a member of S&D, .N is a member of the Liberal Group and the Greens naturally are members of the Greens. Law and Justice is the governmental party and member of ECR. The United Left is left of GUE; they are in a coalition DiEM25 movement. Kukiz’15 is a right wing alternative party; its European affiliation is with the Italian M5S.

The elections in Poland will take place on 26 May. The citizens of the European Union residing in Poland are entitled to vote in the elections, as well as citizens of Poland living abroad.

There are 13 electoral districts. Poles living abroad will vote for the Warsaw district candidates.

There are 52 MEP mandates allocated to be chosen in Poland; however if the Brexit does not take place before 26 May there will be 51 MEPs elected in Poland.

Marek Jurek has a problem

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

PiS No More

Marek Jurek MEP

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

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

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

The Confederacy is a No-Go

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

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

REM is a long-shot

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

Mirosław Piotrowski MEP

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

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

And the winner is Kukiz’15

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

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

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

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

Et alors?

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

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

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

The Scare v. The Big Lie

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The campaign to the European Parliament in Poland revolves around the weekends, when all the major political blocks try to impose a new narrative. This weekend is no different.

In the recent weeks PiS run an anti-LGBT campaign (failed) and a series of proposals with new spending programme (party successful). The European Coalition response so far is rather weak and reactive. No new proposals are made by the EC and PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna, as if the Coalition still needed to learn how to manage its own diversity first.

“The Scare”

The one idea of the European Coalition that seems to be gaining momentum is the “scare tactics”. The Coalition slogan is: The Future of Poland: the Great Choice. The European elections is a referendum in which Poles are asked to make a choice: “chose your future: us or PiS” and PiS means, for example, “Poland loses its chance to grow”, “Poland is marginalised”, “PiS politicians are decomposing EU”, “PiS – team of people full of complexes”.

The alternative is to catch up with the quality of life with the West, “strong Poland in a solidary EU”, “competent, energetic, efficient representation of Poland” and the “team of the great Polish pride”.

One of the leading candidates of the Coalition is Krzysztof Hetman MEP. He is No. 1 in the Lublin region with a major chance for re-election, as he originally comes from PSL (EPP), the agrarian party that enjoys major support in the rural region. Mr Hetman says that PiS is saying one thing and is doing another. Instead of being pro-European it secretly prepares a Polexit, the exit of Poland from the European Union.

Hetman: “I want to warn the inhabitants of [my] region that such gestures as flag removal show true intentions. I have no doubts about PiS’s intentions“. PiS officials were asked to remove the EU flag from their offices in the regional council. Beata Szydło, when took office of Poland’s PM in 2015, removed the EU flags from her office, too. Mr Hetman says today this is symbolic.

He continues: “They do not say it directly. However, creating such coalitions, or who they talk to, recently with the leader of the Spanish VOX, clearly speaks of intentions. I am most afraid of populists and those who do not talk about their intentions“.

Radek Sikorski, former foreign minister and the Coalition’s No.1 candidate in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie region, says along those lines, too: “Cimoszewicz led us to the European Union and he will not lead us out of it, but – can we be sure that the Chairman [Jarosław Kaczyński] will not do it by doggedness or plain stupidity? There’s a great choice in front of us”. Hashtag #GreatChoice or #WielkiWybór.

“The Big Lie”

PiS, meanwhile, is trying a new narrative. Following the controversial votes on the copyright directive and on the posted workers in transport, it calls on the MEPs of the Coalition as “big liars”. They call the Polish EPP MEPs “European statists” claiming they voted “against the Polish interest” on the copyright directive (labelled ACTA2 in Poland) or the mobility package. They also bring back the 2016 vote on the EP political resolution on the situation in Poland in relation to the rule of law.

Back in 2016 MEP Tomasz Poręba claimed that Mr Trzaskowski, current Warsaw mayor and a former MEP, has edited the EP draft resolution. Today Poręba argues that it was an anti-Polish resolution. Three years ago there was a “list of shame” of MEPs who supported the resolution that empowered certain neo-Nazi group to issue death threats against some of the MEPs back in 2016.

Ryszard Legutko, MEP and co-chairman of the ECR group in the European Parliament, is on fire: “There is a war against PiS, and more importantly against the Polish government. PO politicians have become impotent in Europe” and calls Donald Tusk “a little scout fighting the Polish government“.

The official PiS twitter account quotes Legutko as saying “The stake of these elections is whether the European institutions will be open to everyone or will remain monopolized”. There is the hashtag, too: #BigLie or #WielkieOszustwo.

Et alors

Why politicians lose their mind during the electoral process?

Just the fact check: Poland is growing under PiS and has been growing under PO before. To say by one of the parties otherwise is a pure lie. In 2015 PiS run a campaign under a motto “Poland in ruin”, which was false. The same could be argued today for the European Coalition’s scare tactics – is Poland losing its chance to grow under PiS? Be critical of their social policies, budget deficit, cutting important programs, the teachers strike, etc., but the unemployment is falling and the economic performance is positive. The future might be difficult – but that’s not what the Coalition argues. The Coalition argues with PiS Poland loses a chance to grow. Are they too simplistic or try to scare the electorate?

Mr Hetman might be right that PiS is having a secret agenda. That’s fair to campaign on the issue of Polexit, if someone believes this is a credible threat. Fair enough.

PiS on the other hand is full of lies, once again. The mobility package issue is the issue divisive in many countries and as a European problem it calls for a European regulation. The issue is not settled (yet) and some people are pushing for a fast-tracking of the procedure. As such it is as much in the hands of the Polish government (in the Council) as the MEPs to do their best to block the issue in the Council and/or the Parliament. This is not a done deal yet.

The copyright directive is as divisive in Poland as it is in other EU countries. It seems PiS tries a short-cut to reach out to the Youtubers community failing to communicate its own failings: where is the blocking minority in the Council? It may be noble to lose “for the cause”, but the true standing for someone’s interests is to be effective. The contentious Article 13 of the directive is as much as a failure of the EPP MEPs from Poland who voted the way they voted as of the Polish government which was unable to change the working in the Council. All provided the MEPs do not support the directive as it stands, because there are serious arguments for the directive and its article 13, too, that the PiS politicians conveniently downplay. In either case, this is not a national interest situation. Labelling the issue “EU steals your freedom of expression” is a pure exaggeration.

As for reminding the general public about the allegedly “anti-Polish statements” made in the European Parliament in 2016, the Law and Justice forgets the Parliament is a political and deliberative body, too. The adopted resolution was a political statement, not a legally binding act. As far as democracy and freedom of opinion is concerned, all views are welcome, defending the Polish government and opposing it.

Tadeusz Rydzyk, Mirosław Piotrowski MEP, Zbigniew Ziobro MEP

How PiS tries to lie to the Polish public is clearly manifested in one situation: back in 2012 there was a public hearing in the European Parliament. Speakers included right wing activists and journalists including Jan Pospieszalski and Rafał Ziemkiewicz (video below) who spoke about the situation in Poland criticising the Polish government for wrongdoing. The hosts? Law and Justice MEPs including the current Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro; the guest list include speakers Bronisław Wildstein, Jacek Karnowski, Anita Gardas, Law and Justice MP Beata Kempa and media mogul Tadeusz Rydzyk.

The meeting title: “Freedom of Media in Poland. Case TV Trwam”. The speakers:

List of speakers at a conference in the EP in 2012
Ziemkiewicz is critical about the Polish government in the European Parliament in 2012

So it is OK to be critical of the Polish government in the 2012 European Parliament, but it is not OK to be critical of the Polish government in the 2016 European Parliament. This is a plain double standard, hence a lie.

European Parliament is your Parliament since you elect its Members. It is not “foreign” and there is no “Poland’s delegation” as the PO and PiS like to call the people elected Members of the European Parliament. There is the European Coalition team and the PiS team; some of them will make it to the house in Strasbourg; those who make it have to cooperate this way or another.

The duopoly EC v PiS serves both actors to do well in the upcoming elections. Spring and Kukiz’15 and far-right and far-left are all squeezed out. Only one or two of them have a real shot at the 5% threshold.


Hübner & Boni still fight for the MEP seat

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Two of some of the best politicians in the outgoing European Parliament (judging by the amount of MEP Awards nominations, alone…) have been elected five years before from the Warsaw electoral district.

This spring they both faced a non-inclusion threat on the list of candidates’ of the otherwise crowded European Coalition. The European Coalition puts – like all other competing political actors – 10 candidates in each of Poland’s 13 electoral districts.

The Warsaw MEPs

The Warsaw district is a traditional stronghold for the liberal candidates. In 2004 three Warsaw MEPs were liberal (Geremek), EPP-turned-liberal (Piskorski), or social-democrat-turned EPP a decade later (Rosati). The other two mandates went to the right-wing Law & Justice (M. Kamiński) and League of Polish Families (B. Wojciechowski).

In 2009 three mandates went to the EPP (Hübner, Trzaskowski, P. Zalewski), one to the Social-Democrat Olejniczak and only one to PiS’ Michał Kamiński, who since migrated to the EPP and is an independent MP in the Polish Sejm today.

In 2014 the liberals were outplayed: two mandates for the EPP (Hübner & Boni), two for PiS (Krasnodębski & Jurek) and one for the far-right (Marusik), as Danuta Hübner received 225 thousand votes (down from 311 thousand five years before). The Social-Democrats received more votes than the far-right, but the mandate went elsewhere.

In 2019 Danuta Hübner is no longer the European Coalition leading candidate. She has been downgraded to position no. 4. Here’s the full list of the European Coalition Warsaw list:

  1. Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former PM & MFA, candidate of SLD (69 years old), hence likely member of the S&D group;
  2. Andrzej Halicki, MP & former minister of administration & digitalisation, PO (58 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
  3. Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, MP, PO, former member of .Modern (36 yo), a likely member of the EPP group;
  4. Danuta Hübner, MEP & former European Commissioner, PO, member of the EPP group (71 yo);
  5. Michał Boni, MEP, PO, member of the EPP group (69 yo);
  6. Urszula Zielińska, candidate of the Greens (41 yo);
  7. Paweł Pudłowski, MP, .Modern (47 yo), likely member of ALDE;
  8. Aneta Kalata, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
  9. Anna Brzezińska, PO, likely member of the EPP group;
  10. Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski, who was proposed by PSL, likely member of the EPP group (son of the late Polish WW2 hero and former MFA Władysław Bartoszewski, who died in 2015).

All ten of the European Coalition candidates have a shot at a mandate from Warsaw. How many of those will go to the European Coalition and who will receive the mandate? All depends how the campaign plays out. It is almost guaranteed that the European Coalition will have at least two MEPs from Warsaw, likely three mandates.

Today it is likely that PiS targets 1-2 mandates from Warsaw and 1 mandate is likely for the Spring party. Among the PiS candidates it will be an interesting confrontation between two three-term MEPs and previous vice-presidents of the European Parliament, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (for 13 years an EPP MEP, who just joined the ECR group) and Ryszard Czarnecki. Should Mr Czarnecki (positioned 2nd on the PiS list) did not receive a mandate, he could become the party’s candidate for the EU Commissioner.

The Spring one quasi-secured mandate could go to the party leader, Robert Biedroń. He announced he is not interested in taking up the mandate and is ready to pass it on to No.2. Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus is the No.2 on the Spring list in Warsaw.

The Coalition’s internal rivalry

It is clear that there are 10 candidates for 2-3 spots. The first mandate is almost guaranteed to go to Mr. Cimoszewicz. His only major vulnerability among the PO voters is that the liberal Warsaw electorate could turn to younger and away from the not-as-popular SLD candidate. Still, the former prime minister should prevail on top of the list.

The second mandate is up for grabs. The PO just scored a major victory in Warsaw last fall when mayor Trzaskowski was elected in the first round. He is a former MEP from Warsaw, whose political career took off once he campaigned in 2009 from the 4th place to score the third mandate for PO. People ranked 3-10 on today’s European Coalition list are aiming to repeat his rise. Among them, the experienced MEPs Hübner & Boni.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the author of the electoral list composition and leader of the PO says that “to be on the list is a great distinction and a great opportunity” for anyone. He continues as quoted on TVN24: “I believe that the most experienced MEPs will be able to cope with the election campaign and with the electoral verdict” of the general public.

Et alors?

Why Warsaw? First, because this region has the highest turnout in Poland. Second, because not only the Varsovians vote for the Warsaw list – also those Poles abroad who chose to vote for a Polish list instead of the country they reside in (some 2 million voters). And third, because from among the 40,000 non-Polish EU citizens entitled to vote in Poland, quite a few reside in Warsaw.

It can’t be easy to squeeze in 4 parties on one list of candidates where only 2 or 3 mandates are truly potentially secured. With an amazing campaign and major victory, a 4th mandate could be possible, but for that to happen, only two electoral committees would have to meet the 5% benchmark (unlikely) and the domination of the European Coalition over the Law and Justice would have to be about 3:1 (next to impossible).

So what was important in determining the lists? The attractiveness of the candidates? Their popularity? Their experience? Their European vocation? Hopefully all of those. It is somewhat surprising that the European experience, however, was of so little value for the PO chairman.

More surprising is something else: to include representatives of four major European parties (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens) on one single electoral list feels like a confrontation between the status-quo diverse and open and tolerant Europe on the one hand, and something else on another. This alternative is clear and this is what drives the Coalition into running together against the Law and Justice, the party of the land.

The Coalition v. PiS is a dichotomy both actors prefer. Their dominance pushes other actors, most notably the Spring, Kukiz’15 and the far-right, into defence against marginalisation. For now it seems Spring has the upper hand in the process of convincing the electorate they have the best offer for people, who do not want to make a choice between the Coalition and PiS.


Hübner & Boni out of the European Parliament?

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The European Coalition (KE) has presented its leaders in the upcoming European elections. Only a third of the current Civic Platform (PO) MEPs has a real life chance to return to the Strasbourg chamber in July. Some very well known MEPs are not coming back.

The lead candidates are:

Lewandowski is (almost)
sure to return to the EP

In Gdańsk (region 1) the current MEP and former European Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski opens the list. The second in line is Magdalena Adamowicz, widow of the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz.

In Bydgoszcz-Toruń (region 2) the former foreign minister Radosław Sikorski is likely to take the MEP mandate.

In Olsztyn-Białystok (region 3) the leader of the list is an ex-football player Tomasz Frankowski.

In Warsaw (region 4), which has been a traditional stronghold for the PO and where the European Coalition is expected to do very well, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz is the lead candidate. Mr Cimoszewicz is a former prime minister, who as foreign minister signed Poland’s EU accession treaty back in 2003. Behind him are current MPs, but not the MEPs!

Hübner is out (for now)

Hübner and Boni are out!

Two popular and powerful Warsaw MEPs are not running!

Both Danuta Hübner (AFCO chair, ex-European Commissioner) and Michał Boni are no longer among the candidates for the European Parliament. The information provided is that both were offered too low positions on the list.

Awhile back there was a gossip that there might be room for some liberal-minded and well-known candidates on the lists of the Spring of Robert Biedroń….

Boni tweeted: “I want to run with the European Coalition and do well what I used to do. But I need to have a chance. I was denied one. Poland needs to win. And I will serve Her in every single way! [Civic] Platform, maybe see you soon…”

In Mazowsze (region 5) Jarosław Kalinowski, who is MEP with the PSL, opens the list, followed by Dariusz Rosati, a PO MEP. Only one of them has a realistic chance to return to the European Parliament.

In Łódź (region 6) the European Coalition list leader is Marek Belka, a former prime minister and a great economic mind: a future leading ECON voice.

Kopacz starts her European
campaign. She has a solid
potential as an ENVI member
since she is also a former health minister

In Poznań (region 7) another former prime minister Ewa Kopacz is leading the pack. Just behind her is another former PM Leszek Miller.

In Lublin (region 8) the current MEP Krzysztof Hetman of PSL is the frontman.

In Rzeszów (region 9) another PSL MEP is the European Coalition lead candidate. The chairman of AGRI committee Czesław Siekierski will confront the Law and Justice candidates in their stronghold.

In Kraków (region 10) the leading Polish federalist Róża Thun MEP (PO) is leading the list ahead of Adam Jarubas, a popular PSL politician.

Thun in action. She will be back. Her third mandate can be the most important yet.

The Katowice list (region 11) is led by the former president of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek and ITRE chair, who, if elected, could be among the Parliament’s eldest members (79 years old).

Buzek has been EP
leading voice since 2004

In Wrocław (region 12) a long-time humanitarian activist Janina Ochojska is opening the list.

In Szczecin (region 13) the leader of the list is the current S&D vice-president of the Parliament Bogusław Liberadzki (SLD). Just behind him is a popular former health minister Bartosz Arłukowicz (PO).

Et alors?

The European Coalition has a problem. Last weekend the Law and Justice has forced the Coalition into a defence with a smear campaign of lies about the Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration.

Now this list is a patchwork. There are liberals and conservatives and agrarians and social democrats here. There is only one thing that unites them all: the fear the PiS may want or not a Polexit… Gregorz Schetyna, leader of PO and someone who pulled the strings to arrange the list likes to say that a Polexit may well be an unintended consequence of the PiS rule.

There will be many infighting between the KE candidates. For example in Poznań Mr Miller is highly unpopular with the PO voters; hence less known third (MEP Andrzej Grzyb of PSL) or fourth (Mirosław Stępień of the Greens) or the quite popular but relegated to the fifth place (Adam Szejnfeld MEP of PO) candidates have a shot!

It will not be an easy road for Mr Siekierski in Rzeszów area. The AGRI chair is traditionally linked with another region and the KE has limited arsenal in this PiS stronghold.

Also in Szczecin it will not be a walk for Mr Liberadzki. Mr Arłukowicz is a popular man there and the Civic Platform has potentially an upper hand in the region. However, a constructive rivalry between them could result… with both of them being elected to the EP!

Still, with the absence of Hübner and the age of Buzek the leading faces of the future Polish EPP are Janusz Lewandowski and Róża Thun. Since Ms Thun has not held any major office in the Parliament until now she may well be positioned for one of the leading posts after 23 May. She has been an MEP since 2009. Until now the Polish EPP controlled 3 committee chairman- and chairwoman-ships: Siekierski of AGRI, Buzek of ITRE and Hübner of AFCO. Mr Lewandowski is the head of the national delegation. Mr Grzyb and Mr Zwiefka were EPP coordinators in DROI and JURI, accordingly – their future in the EP remains uncertain.

Future MEP seats

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Come 26 May there are 705 MEPs. We are used to the same or similar number of MEPs being elected from each of the EU member countries. Yet the changes in the MEPs allocation not only reflect Brexit or EU enlargements. The changes in population also are included in the shifting seats.

Degressive proportionality

Seats in the European Parliament are allocated according to the degressive proportionality rule. It basically means that a smaller (by population) country cannot elect more members than a more populated state.

There are also thresholds: no country can elect more than 96 MEPs and the minimum number is 6. Today the extremes belong to Germany and Malta, respectively.

What will it look like in the future? The non-voting population figures of the 0-14 age group reveal an upcoming demographic revolution among member states. Yes, we all know that Europe relatively to the world is losing out; yet how the Union states compare with one another? Below is a table revealing who has a chance to move up the ranks.

Obviously, the future population shifts also depend on the migration flows. But the table below also indicates the issues relevant for different nations: if the electorate is younger it should be expected to be more prone to youth policies and issues; if the populace is relatively older other issues come into play.

MEPS
2019-24
Youth population (0-14)
2017
Rank
change
1France7912,1 million +1
2Germany9610,8 million-1
3Italy768,2 million
4Spain596,8 million
5Poland525,6 million
6Romania333,0 million
7Netherlands292,8 million
8Belgium211,944 million+1
9Sweden211,765 million+4
10Czechia211,628 million+1
11Greece211,530 million-3
12Portugal211,404 million-2
13Hungary211,400 million-1
14Austria191,241 million
15Ireland131,042 million+4
16Bulgaria171,007 million-1
17Denmark14951 thousand-1
18Finland14904 thousand
19Slovakia14836 thousand-2
20Croatia12606 thousand
21Lithuania11419 thousand
22Slovenia8309 thousand
23Latvia8299 thousand
24Estonia7215 thousand
25Cyprus6199 thousand
26Luxembourg699 thousand
27Malta667 thousand

Population data: the World Bank.

With every EP term there should be a new influx of more Irish MEPs. The Swedes, despite going up in the ranks, are among the large group of states of similar size. Interestingly, only in 2019 Sweden catches up with the rest of the 10-million club (21 MEPs each). Also, the crisis-hit nations of Greece and Portugal seem to be paying not only the economic price, but also the demographic one. A new emerging parity is that between the Netherlands and Romania.

And there is the top of the table. France is structurally positioned to close the demographic gap with Germany. Therefore every 5 years there should be an increasing number of the French-elected MEPs.

Poland remains largely flat and unaffected by the demographic changes. Therefore the country will elect its more or less 50 MEPs for the foreseeable future.

Orbán’s days in the EPP are…

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Early March in Brussels is a cloudy weather for Fidesz, the Hungarian EPP member. Fidesz is a powerful national party in Hungary, ruling alone in Budapest since 2010. Fidesz is also a powerful party within the European People’s Party. With 12 MEPs the Hungarian delegation in among the strongest in the EPP group. EPP’s chief whip is József Szájer, a Hungarian Fidesz MEP.

A disillusionment with Fidesz has been growing for years. First among the non-EPP critics. With time, the wave of criticism has reached the EPP shore. The controversies with the Budapest government have been shelved and protected for when the key decisions were taken, Mr Orbán usually delivered and converged with the CDU and alikes: on the election of Mr Tusk or Mr Juncker to the top EU offices, on the support for major legislative proposals or the sanctions on Russia. The only major EU policy with Hungarians in opposition to the Brussels mainstream? The migration policy. There are also the internal developments and the rhetoric of Mr Orbán. As a member of the EPP the internal developments were mainly understood as domestic issues. Until Article 7 has been triggered against Hungary; the political debate moved forwards. Even then, as one senior EPP politician told me back in December 2018: “EPP can afford one such enfant terrible among us”.

Why keeping Fidesz? Pál Csáky, EPP MEP from Slovakia, who represents the Hungarian minority, said that the message to the EPP leadership is simple: 12 MEPs today and a potential increase to “12-13-14 mandates will be for the European People’s Party in the next European Parliament“. It is the leverage and extra seats in the EP that the Hungarians provide. There are more Hungarians in the EPP than all the Scandinavian MEPs (Swedish, Danish, Finnish – 8), or equal to the entire Benelux MEPs (Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourgian – 12).

Budapest 2019, source: dailynewshungary.com

The latest wave of criticism towards Fidesz comes from the campaign in which Fidesz puts the faces of Juncker and George Soros with a warning: “You have the right to know what Brussels is planning to do“. It is one thing to scare the Hungarians with migrants or the Roma or an American billionaire of Hungarian background (the EPP might be indifferent or silent), it is quite another to scare the general public with a leading EPP face. The face EPP is most proud of. The face of the Commission president.

Juncker greats Orbán “dictator” in 2015

Remember when Jean-Claude Juncker joked about his Hungarian partner “dictator”? It was friendly back then. The relationship is unfriendly today.

A number of EPP member parties are already in internal opposition to Fidesz calling for the Fidesz expulsion from the EPP. The Benelux EPP parties are unhappy. The Nordic EPP parties voice concern. There is dissatisfaction with the Portuguese. Even the Bulgarians take a move.

Until the Juncker affair, the EPP largest national delegations, the Germans (34), the Poles (22), the French (20) and the Spanish (17) were largely silent. This starts to change.

Manfred Weber spoke to Der Spiegel. In the interview published in English the EPP Spitzenkandidat says “Viktor Orbán is following the wrong political path” and:

Orbán badly damaged the EPP. That is why I expect him to apologize and put an end to the poster campaign. Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual. It has reached a new level; appeals are no longer sufficient. We will take concrete steps very soon.

Manfred Weber

Mr Weber also announced he will make proposals in the coming days, since “there has been a fundamental change in the handling of Orbán. Enough is enough.”

Mr Orbán responded in his style in Die Welt am Sonntag calling people critical of him “useful idiots”. He also announced the Fidesz campaign with Juncker photo will discontinue on 15 March. Mr Juncker photograph will be replaced with that of Mr Timmermans. On 20 March the EPP political assembly is scheduled. On 7-8 March this week the EPP Group Bureau meets in Warsaw.

Andrzej Grzyb MEP

Andrzej Grzyb, MEP with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) tells me today that PSL is not in favour of taking drastic steps towards Fidesz. This has been communicated already to Mr Daul, head of EPP, as throwing Fidesz out of EPP would create more problems than by keeping them in. Mr Grzyb: “We are in favour of keeping them in”.

Michał Boni, MEP

I also speak to Michał Boni, a leading EPP MEP elected in Warsaw (Civic Platform). He says the EPP should have a two way approach to Fidesz. The first stage should be to have a debate organised with Orbán face-to-face to explain the situation in Hungary, including the CEU expulsion and the smearing campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker.

In the second stage, according to Boni, the motion to remove Fidesz from EPP could be procured. For that seven national parties are needed.

Instead of thinking about how many votes we can lose by throwing out Fidesz we need to ask how many votes we shall lose if we keep them in.

Michał Boni MEP

Et alors?

What few people want to admit today is that with Mr Orbán in the EPP or outside of it he is a potential future king maker in the European political scene. Should a coalition between him, Law and Justice and La Lega of Salvini come into realisation, this new group of like-minded politicians could become a major force in European politics.

Mr Weber may still need Mr Orbán if he wants to become Commission president. Probably Weber is going to look to the left side for support (Macron!), but it may be that Fidesz could be useful again. Hence it is important to see if the divorce takes place and what is the atmosphere the day after. This might be especially relevant in… the European Council. With Orbán, the Polish and Italian governments there are already 3 members of the European Council who could be potentially opposed to Mr Weber presidency. If the divorce is hostile there could be more unwelcoming faces for Mr Weber as head of the next Commission. To block any candidate in the European Council a Visegrad-4 coalition with Italy, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania would be enough: 35.84% of population of EU-27.


Is the Spitzenkandidaten system dead?

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Zahradil

ECR’s in!

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

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

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

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

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

Problems start at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et alors?

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

Go out and vote.