When the Council of the EU votes on energy transformation, environmental protection or transport, the PiS government is usually in the minority.
The Eternal Question
Since joining of the EU, Poland is facing the question of its own position in the Union. The question is linked to its size: Poland is the smallest among the so-called “big states”, being demographically e.g. 54% smaller than Germany. At the same time, it is almost four times more populous than the group of numerous EU countries with a population of around 10 million. For example, Poland’s population is larger than the other nine countries that joined the EU fifteen years earlier. The economic potential undermines Poland’s stronger position by the fact that the Polish economy measured at constant prices is comparable in size to the economies of less populated countries of Western (Belgium) or Northern Europe (Sweden).
However, the status of Poland is determined not only by statistics. Over the past several years, Poles – its officials, as well as leading politicians – have learned to use their own advantages and play disadvantages effectively to pursue national interests. “At the dawn of accession, the Spaniards taught us that one should not be ashamed of being poor,” is one of the many lessons of Polish diplomacy testifying to the strategy for Poland’s presence in the EU.
This strategy was based on a delicate balance. Being the smallest of the big and the largest of the small, the Polish EU strategy included incorporating the Central and Eastern European perspective in its own political relations with large partners such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Hence, French President Sarkozy spoke in the middle of 2000s about the need to create a G-6, a group of six major EU countries. Today certain European politicians have similar ideas, including the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who talks about the weaknesses of the Franco-German leadership in Europe and the need to include Italy, Spain and Poland in it.
This delicate balance was an effective approach. One of the leading European think tanks ECFR, placed Poland as the fourth, equal to Italy, among the most influential EU country. A richer Poland has negotiated more funds for its own cohesion policy for the years 2014–20 from a smaller EU budget than in the previous budgeting period. Over the past fifteen years, Poland has not only made up for economic development (from 47 per cent of the EU average GDP per capita in 2004 to 71 per cent in 2018), but also gained many political advantages. Successful negotiations led to a new political opening towards Eastern Europe (Eastern Partnership), and two Poles took key positions in the EU: Jerzy Buzek presided over the European Parliament (2009–11), and Donald Tusk was the European Council president (2014–19) .
The 2015 Change
This strategy was abandoned by the government elected in 2015. The curent Polish government treats the Union as a purely external issue, of foreign policy, so it does not understand the involvement of EU institutions in the issues of legal system reforms in Poland. Since the dismantling of independent judicial institutions, as well as the civil service or independent journalism in public media, Poland’s position in the EU has deteriorated rapidly. In the national debate, the PiS government accuses the opposition of turning the European partners hostile, and that the European institutions are acting in bad faith and want to harm “good” reform for ideological reasons.
Meanwhile, there are objective reasons for launching the infringement procedures. The government under the direction of Mateusz Morawiecki is trying to promote its own version of “Europe of Nations”. These arguments boil down to undermining the independence of the EU institutions from the national governments. The Prime Minister said in the European Parliament that “respecting […] national identities is the foundation for trust in the Union. … every country in the Union has the right to shape its legal system in accordance with its traditions.”
There are many examples of progressing marginalization.
First, votes in the EU Council. The data collected by VoteWatch.eu shows that the Polish government is increasingly losing votes in the Council. By the end of the PO-PSL (EPP) coalition’s government, the rate of losing votes was at 3.1 per cent, placing Poland at comparable levels of Austria and Germany. From PiS’s rise to power in November 2015 to the end of 2018, this ratio increased to 6.6 per cent, and Poland fell to the second to last place. Only the Brexit’s UK achieves worse indicators.
This should be read as the growing incompetence of PiS politicians to substantively resolve controversial issues. Sometimes voting is used in a populist narrative in the country – with the directive on copyright in the digital single market, the Polish government voted against knowing that it is in a minority. The ruling party used a populist argument in the campaign to the European Parliament and to the Polish Sejm: “that’s why we opposed the EU regulations regarding […] censorship on the Internet (ACTA 2).”
Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the PiS government was in a minority in 19 votes, which are most often related to the topics of energy transformation, environmental protection, and transport. Those files concern legislation which was processed mostly in the ENVI (5) and TRAN (4) committees of the European Parliament, while in the Council the most problematic files were addressed by the General Affairs Council (8 files).
Second, the issue of differentiation of levels of integration. Poland has always been against structural divisions between member states, and deeper integration meant deepening of Poland’s involvement in European structures. However, since 2015 Poland has not participated in any new enhanced cooperation. No attempt was made to join the new ones (European Public Prosecutor’s Office, recognition of divorce and separation documents). During this period, Poland also did not join any of the previously initiated forms of enhanced cooperation.
In 2017, the government joined the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which brings together all EU countries except for Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom. In 2019, as part of defence cooperation, Poland participated in 10 projects, while France in 31, Italy in 25, Germany in 16, and Spain in 24. This shows Poland’s position among countries of medium potential – Czechia participates in 9, Hungary in 10, and Slovakia in 6 PESCO projects (out of 47 possible). Moreover, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania have been leading at least one of the projects since 2018. The first project with Poland as a leader was accepted only in November 2019 (The Military Medical Training Center).
The European elections have also accelerated the marginalization of PiS politicians in the European Parliament. The PiS MEPs are with the ECR. This it the sixth largest political group. Before the elections, the ECR was the third force in Parliament. A sanitary cordon against the PiS candidates was applied during the election of the leaders of the new European Parliament: the PiS candidates for the chairmanship of the employment committee (EMPL) and for the vice president of the Parliament failed in voting.
Today’s Poland is at one of the last places in the EU in terms of commitment to European integration and is not particularly interested in deepening the EU in new areas. Thus – standing still – Poland is moving away from other European countries.
The weakening of Poland’s position is not insignificant. The Polish success is the success of the most important European integration process of the 21st century: the unification of Eastern and Western Europe. The Polish failures are a symbol of the failure for the entire region.
Almost two weeks after the Polish general elections the politics in Warsaw is fourfold. There is a fight for the control over the Senate where the united opposition parties snatched a tiny majority (51-49) over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). PiS challenges outcome in six districts with limited chances of success.
The other three processes include the negotiations over the new government as PiS needs to negotiate with its junior coalition partners the details of the organisation of the next government.
The opposition main party Civic Platform (PO) is soul-searching and looking for – possibly – a new leader at their January congress when Grzegorz Schetyna is expected to fight for his re-election as the chairman of the PO.
The fourth is the campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for next spring, most likely in May. President Duda is already campaigning. The opposition is pondering its options and candidates. Most likely there will be 3 candidates for the centrist PO, the conservative democrats of PSL and the Left. The PSL’s and Left’s candidates are semi-obvious: Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and Robert Biedroń MEP, respectively. The PO candidate is “in the talks”, as the strongest options are now Donald Tusk and Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.
In the letter Mr Kaczyński writes to the PiS voters thanking for their support: “to you, who have supported ours during the electoral campaign I would like to express additional signs of gratitude“.
Mr Kaczyński writes about dreams and aspirations: “By voting for Law and Justice you have supported Poland Plus, that is our native version of a welfare state. You have chosen the model of development of our Fatherland, the purpose of which is to ensure that in the not too distant future all Poles can enjoy the same level and quality of life as the inhabitants of the wealthiest European nations.”
He continues: “By standing in favour of Poland Plus, you stood by the great support programs that the Polish families waited for 30 years” and he enlists the 500+ programme of child support, 300+ programme of school support, 13th and 14th payment to the pensioners, the increase of the minimal wage and reduction of the retirement age. “By voting against Poland Minus you have said ‘no’ to the politics of bad governing and inability, the politics of a repeated ‘there is no money and there won’t be any‘”, Mr Kaczyński writes.
By voting the PiS candidates, Mr Kaczyński writes, “you have voted for the Poland of dignified life” and uses adjectives like “solidary” and “just“. Poles have voted “forPoland guided in internal and foreign policy by our raison d’etat and our interests. For Poland, a community of proud Poles boasting about the heritage of their ancestors, nourishing our Christian identity and values fundamental in our cultural circle“, he adds.
Mr Jarosław Kaczyński is PiS omnipotent chairman who rules the party single handedly. He listens and cooperates with his peers, yet he is the ultimate decision-maker.
He seems to write, “Poland is me” like Luis XIV used to say about his state. What does he mean by “our”, is it Polish or PiS’, or – is it the same, in his and Law and Justice, mind?
In his letter to the voters after the vote he continues to divide the nation and the political class into Poland Plus and Poland Minus. “We are better” he seems to argue, not “our offer is better”. “We are better” as humans, “Poland is us”, because our values are “our”, and “our” stands at the same time for Law and Justice and Poland.
Mr Kaczyński argued, upon news that PiS lost the Senate, that maybe there was a way to converse with people who think differently. Some secret negotiations may or may not have taken place with the PSL. But in this letter it is clear that Mr Kaczyński is not about governing. It is about ruling. His letter is judgmental, he argues that only PiS advocates for “justice”, “solidarity” and “dignified lives”, as if the party had a monopoly on the vocabulary that caries heavy emotional and evaluative meaning.
“Poland Plus” and “Poland Minus”, which side are you on? Choose.
Law and Justice four years in power is not one sided litany of negative and wrong policies. It took for years for PiS to convince itself to invest into solar and wind power. By now, year-to-year, the solar panels installations increased in Poland by 100%. A happy minister says Poland may soon overcome sunny Italy in amount of solar panels. Great, you – PiS – learn, you converge to the current global and European standards. Too slow, but you actually seem to turn the ship around over the past four years. And hopefully into the future 4 years the decarbonisation policy will take off fully.
Redistributive policies are hammered in Poland by the liberals, but the social policies work. Not only they buy PiS voters; they elevate some impoverished families and create opportunities for the excluded parts of the society. But PiS social policies are not perfect either. The policies are frequently missing the objectives as the 500+ or the 300+ often go to families who simply do not need that kind of support. Hence the social aspect of the policy is positive, but the demographic aspect is lagging behind. PiS talks of “13th and 14th” pension, but those programmes were only fractions of pensions, not a full 13th or 14th one.
The world is not perfect. The world is not 0-1. The world is not “+” vs “-“. Poland is not “Poland Plus” vs “Poland Minus”. There is one Poland that requires certain stability, progress, unity and… safety. Instead the most powerful man in the country offers divisions where he could offer unity. He could try to comprehend “the other side” rather than to demonise it, or degrade it by calling it “minus”. It is not US v THEM.
Mr Kaczyński has a history of demonising minorities, ethnic, sexual and other, as well as opposition parties. He does not like to talk to people who think differently. He does not like to travel outside of the country. There are many things he does not like. Where is all this hate coming from?
There is a village called Poland somewhere in Kiribati. It is on an atoll island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. Other villages on the island: Paris, London and Banana. There is one church in Poland.
In our Poland there are some 10 000 churches.
It is a Rainbow Friday in Poland today. Another “culture war”, as PiS likes to talk about it.
In a form of a letter, let me try to cover the ongoing political issues related to the European Union. You are free to ask and to comment. You are free to disagree.
Today is the last day of the old world. Today is the first day of the new world. Obviously. So, what’s new?
I am reading that Croatia is reading itself to join the Schengen. How wonderful to enlarge the passport-free to the Croat paradise and integrate the 28th EU country one step more. Did you know, Croatia is the next most likely – if anybody – to join also the Eurozone within the next 4 years? Truly, this is the wunderkid in the EU corridors of power.
I still cannot get over the Macron veto over the EU enlargement to North Macedonia and Albania. The French President is so wonderfully pro-European. Defending the European interest is his objective. Why is he risking the delicate peace in the Balkans over some French stubbornness like this? Sometimes you have to prove you are European, not only talk about it. Fingers crossed for Slovenians not to derail the Croat hopes.
Brexit is eyebrow rising. Prime minister Johnson is Mr Jackal and Dr House at the same time. Clock is ticking, British media are ecstatic, the British Parliament is more fun to watch than the Late Show with Colbert. Most likely Brexit will be delayed again, 5 minutes before midnight. Next?
The US President who truly does not like Europe. Exhibit one: the Kurds and the broken alliance over… what exactly? Is Turkey still in NATO? What is NATO? Some strategists in Moscow and Beijing must be laughing at how fast the American leadership in the world is shrinking.
Exhibit two: US just introduced sanctions against the EU. Allies?
The world is not getting safer when the Germans are planning their security with Russians and the Turks, is it? Well, Mr Trump, counting your days in office for America’s and Europe’s sake. Meanwhile good news come from Canada where Mr Trudeau survived the vote and will continue his government. And from Israel where the populist Netanyahu gave up on forming government.
I do not care if the government is liberal, green, social-democratic or conservative. I care if it is democratic. I am allergic to populism.
In Spain riots. Or, in Catalonia riots. These days even how you write is political. And this issue is for the locals to work out. An interesting thing I have heard the other day and could not verify: that about 7% of Spain is already a desert and the desertification continues and that the Catalan independence move is effectively linked to the distribution of water on the Iberian peninsula. Interesting theory. Greta?
Funny how the liberal media fast forget about difficult places hoping they will self-regulate. Well, they don’t and they come back to you twice worse. Exhibit one: Italy. Ever since Mr Salvini is out of government we hear less of Italy. Peace.
Exhibit two: Poland. Before the elections there was some buzz. There were articles about the country. There was interest. Now it is somehow limited. And imagine this: since yesterday night there is the battle over the Senate. You may remember that last week Law and Justice won the Sejm, but the opposition won the Senate. Well, yesterday the ruling party decided to appeal to the court over a recount in 6 districts where the opposition candidates won. In a normal situation you’d think “recount”, what’s wrong with that? Yes, that is the democratic impulse. But it turns out the recount is going to be managed without a public scrutiny by a chamber of the Supreme Court that was created anew by PiS. There are serious doubts over its independence or the validity of the appointment. One of the ECJ cases against Poland on the rule of law situation is about the National Council of the Judiciary (politically appointed, hence judicial independence compromised?). It was the new NCJ which chose the Supreme Court’s new chamber composition. The chamber’s name is Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs… we’ll see about the judges true independence. Still, no scrutiny?
Mr Schetyna, the leader of the opposition says he wants an international supervision over the recount.
Democracy is a funny system, where some decisions hung on a undemocratically elected official decision. Thinking Poland? Think Florida 2000. Think Boris Johnson. Not voted by the British Parliament. Appointed.
More Polish news: remember the K Towers? The “independent” prosecution just decided there is no case. PiS promised transparency of spouses tax returns before the elections last week. Yesterday the country’s president Andrzej Duda just took the issue for a legal check by the Constitutional Tribunal. When the obvious problems with the law were pointed out by the opposition MPs during the adoption of the act, the ruling politicians rejected every argument. Now they are proven right. But we are a week after elections. Nobody will remember little lies, right?
There is an Austrian angle to the K Towers affair. I guess we will see how that goes in due time.
It seems the influence inside the Law and Justice is changing post-elections. Jarosław Gowin and Zbigniew Ziobro are up (each gentleman has 18 MPs within the ruling majority) and Tadeusz Rydzyk is down. Mr Rydzyk runs his right-wing Catholic media empire based around the Radio Maryja. Listenership of the radio is record-low and now Mr Rydzyk lost two of his prominent MPs, who failed to be re-elected from the PiS lists.
In Switzerland the Greens are making headlines after a major increase of public support. Do you know that 3 Greens made it to the Sejm last Sunday? This is truly good news. With the return of the Left into the Sejm the number of MPs who are responding to the urgency of climate crisis is on a massive increase in Poland. Since this is a long-haul fight, we are in it to win it, right? As Greta says, however, this is also a race against time.
We are absurdly beautiful and warm October in Warsaw. It is 22 October and it is 22 degrees outside. Enjoy the climate change!
The dream for today: a moratorium in Poland for new coal-based power plants. Please someone take this issue to advocate in the discourse! The next battle on the issue is the new power plant in Ostrołęka, north of Warsaw. It is being built, to be based on coal. There are problems with financing of the power plant. Hopefully the power plant is there but not using coal as its resource material.
What is amazing is how this country changes bottom up, not top down. The turnout last week was 61%, the highest in 30 years! In Warsaw the turnout was 77% The highest in the country. Over 1 million people voted in the city. First time ever, too.
The bottom-up civil society organised a protest in my home district yesterday: because of a car crash in which one person died. Clearly changes are necessary in the way roads are build and drivers drive. Now people protest demanding it.
Bottom-up energy: in the first 9 months of 2019 the amount of micro-installed solar panels in Poland increased by 96%! Their power making capacity increased by 100%. Good news. There is also something new on my street, for the electronic waste.
This blog is called “Political Europe” for it shall focus on the new upcoming Commission’s theme, being “geopolitical”. The Commission is late on arrival as 1 November as its commencement date has been thrown by the window by the assertive and somehow unpredictable new European Parliament.
Yes, it was Juncker’s theme, political Commission. As opposed to the administrative one before, I guess. Why? Because of the political mandate the Commission receives from the general public. The general public of some 512 million Europeans chose the European Parliament and the Parliament will chose our Commission.
“Our Commission”, so someone should scrutinize it, right? Here I am and here’s the blog. About the political developments in Europe where I am. Where am I? Who am I? Those who read this blog since the beginning of 2019 may know, it was focused on the European elections. The elections are gone. Next elections will take place in 2024. It seems far away. It is not. I shall do what I can to share information from my Europe and see how the Commission, if the Commission responds.
I am also an affiliate of Team Europe, a group of experts of the European Commission based in Warsaw. I am not paid by the Commission, I am not a Commission employee or representative. Team Europe-Warsaw takes me places like corridors of power in Brussels, but also schools and universities all around Europe. I have been privileged to talk with all kind of groups of Europeans in all corners of our Europe, also when I worked with the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. That’s the past, as I worked there over 7 years ago.
Today I travel to villages and towns and cities on invitation, mostly. This year alone (thus far) I am grateful for the opportunities to talk with the citizens of Douchy-les-Mines (France), Bruxelles, Tallinn, Belgrade, and in Poland: Wejherowo, Słupsk, Kołobrzeg, Ciechocinek, Kwidzyn, Dzierzgoń, Morąg and Biesal, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Załuski and Bończa, Katowice, Tomaszowice, Wrocław and Warsaw. Wherever I go I learn from the people I meet as much as I hope they find interesting what I have to say.
Until the end of the year I know I am speaking in Brussels a few times, as well as in Biecz and Nieporęt in Poland.
Thanks to all those who keep on inviting me.
If you’d like to hear me speak, contact me. I receive some spectacular feedback knowing that those who did not enjoy me speak won’t say it out loud. But it is nice when a group of 60 teenagers (16-17 year olds) listens to you and no mobile phone is in use for good 40 minutes. Another testimonial: “this was the most insightful presentation we have had in 7 years. Thanks” from people dealing with EU affairs.
I love those feedbacks for they show me that there is something I know others don’t and they prove people want to listen.
I also write and talk on the media, sometimes. This year alone Onet.pl and Euractiv.com published a number of my opinion articles. I invite you to read my opinion piece about the Polish elections of 13 October published with the Balkan Insight and on Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel published by Euractiv.com.
Larger reports were published in Madrid by Real Instituto Elcano and in Prague by Europeum.
More from me to come. Please contact me if you’d like to cooperate, either by contributing to the blog “Political Europe“, co-creating it, or in any other matter.
It is a month since the European elections and the Civic Platform (PO) now knows why they lost the vote on 26 May. Here’s what Gazeta Wyborcza published a few days ago on the issue. Those points come from within the PO’s inner study.
The exceptionally high turnout (46%, compared with 24% five years before), especially in the rural areas and small towns (up to 50.000 inhabitants). The bigger the town the turnout increase was smaller.
Rural turnout was at 89% of the average, compared with 128% of the biggest cities: the difference five years ago was 86% to 148%.
The European elections voter became more a “small town voter” rather than a “big city voter”: in 2019 60% of voters were rural or small town voters, compared with 56% in 2014. Law and Justice (PiS) won only in rural areas and in smallest towns (up to 50k).
The increased turnout benefited PiS, as the people who turned up to vote were more rural and small town voters.
The effect of the 13th pension: on 1 May the Polish pensioners received a new, additional payment of 200 Euro. In 2019 EU vote the turnout among the seniors was higher than the 2015 parliamentary elections (51% total) – it was the only social group with such a result;
Reduced turnout among the younger and 30-40 year old voters: their activity benefited the Opposition last year during the local elections.
It is good to know why you lost. Now the PO can start to build up its strategy ahead of the parliamentary elections in October. There is a number of challenges for this. First, the unknown question if the Opposition goes as one, united front. It seems there might be two blocks, centre-right and a progressive one, rather than one, but it is too early to say. Those decisions, however, should be taken fast.
Second, there is a severe criticism against the PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna, and the fact that the European Coalition (EC) did not project a positive offer during the European elections, and people only received a negative offer: “do not vote PiS”, “they are bad”. Will the Opposition overcome those difficulties before October?
Third external criticism is the fact that the EC focused its campaign too much on the Internet, and not enough – offline. Apparently the PiS posters were everywhere and there were very few posters of the EC. Clearly offline still matters in Poland.
In the elections to the European Parliament the Polish Opposition run united as the “European Coalition”. In their rhetoric, the leaders and the candidates warned the general public of the risk of “Polexit” that might be a secret strategy of the Polish government dominated by the conservative/nationalist Law and Justice party.
Returning MEP Krzysztof Hetman of PSL (EPP) and first time elected Radek Sikorski of PO (EPP) warned about the Polexit process. Other candidates, like Władysław Teofil Bartoszewski, son of the former foreign minister and Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner Władysław Bartoszewski (1922-2015), warned, too: “PiS wants to lead Europe out of Poland, but not Poland out of Europe” (RFM Radio interview in April). Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader, continued along the same lines: “I want us to show all those bad people who want Poland out of the European Union a Kozakiewicz gesture“.
The “Kozakiewicz gesture” is a famous 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics situation when Władysław Kozakiewicz displayed this gesture after winning the pole vault gold medal in front of a hostile crowd. It is also known as bras d’honneur. It is a sign of disagreement.
Will PiS open up to Europe?
The European Coalition lost the elections and has been soul-searching ever since. With the campaign based on us vs them, the European Coalition knowingly or not, has been saying to the Polish public: “we are Europe, Law and Justice is anti-Europe“. By presenting themselves as “anti-PiS” the dichotomy was between “Europe” and “non-Europe” as much as “anti-PiS” and “PiS“.
In the process and in the campaign PiS and anti-PiS agreed that the Western European establishment supported the Opposition. Hence Law and Justice campaigned on the notion of change that Europe needed.
Law and Justice won in Poland. Law and Justice lost in Europe. The true anti-Europeans of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini won in places like France and Italy, while the slightly more moderate PiS European allies underperformed. Brothers of Italy, Forum of Democracy in the Netherlands, VOX in Spain and most visibly, the British Tories bring collectively only as many MEPs into the new European Parliament as Law and Justice. Not enough leverage to advance the reform of the EU with more sovereignty for member states and less power for the European Commission.
Since the elections are over there are reports that Law and Justice, the realist party rather than the populist one it is accused of being, is seeking rapprochement with the centre right European People’s Party, or the EPP. Not to join it, for this is not possible for domestic reasons. The Civic Platform (PO) is the cornerstone of the Opposition and together with the smaller party PSL together they are the second largest national delegation inside the EPP.
Since joining the EPP is out of question, the Law and Justice tries to persuade the non-Polish EPP that the European Left is the true threat. PiS does not want Frans Timmermans to become President of the European Commission. This would push the Polish government in the deep corner of European politics, as Mr Timmermans has been the main interlocutor with the Warsaw government on the rule of law. He has been accused by the PiS politicians of being partisan.
Today PiS politicians are said to navigate the corridors of both the Berlaymont and the European Parliament offering support for the EPP in its struggles with the left wing groups.
At the same time in many Western capitals the results of the Polish vote are met maybe with a disappointment, but with no emotion. Just last week I hear a German Christian Democrat say “I don’t understand Poland”. The results from Poland do not change the arithmetic of the European Parliament as long as PiS does not unite with La Lega and the rest of the group known now as Identity and Democracy (ID).
The PiS May results suggest an easy win in October national elections. This means the government in Warsaw is likely to continue its policies and the chance of change in Warsaw is now reduced.
To cut a long reflection short: should there be a new opening between Warsaw and Brussels? and on what terms, seems to be the organising question.
There is a number of issues which suggest a potential rapprochement of the Warsaw government. First, it campaigned and won on a pro-European platform “Poland at the heart of Europe” (yet with an EU critical voice) offering Poles a standard of living similar to those of Western Europeans.
Second, PiS feels cornered in the European Parliament and needs new allies, especially with the Tories soon to be gone (and for now, massively reduced). Hence the opening towards the EPP and a potentially conciliatory candidate for the Commissioner.
Third, the Polish government has not broken the European consensus on issues like a threat of US-EU trade war, the wars in Syria, Iran or the Russian sanctions. Yes, the February Iran summit was probably a mistake from the EU point of view, but also proved insignificant.
Fourth, the US-China cold war over technology comes to Europe. Poland seems to argue within the pro-American camp, but seeks a wider European consensus on the matter of 5G.
Fifth is the rule of law debacle. There is probably no one consensus on what to do next. The Justice Minister would like to advance the reforms and the Polish parliament just amended the penal code. The national Ombudsman warns today that the reform is in violation with human rights. Still, the next chapter in the rule of law story will be the ECJ ruling expected in the upcoming weeks.
The Polish government will almost certainly respect the ruling and is expected to follow the outcome of it. It will not end the process of dealing with the rule of law in Poland, the EU’s Article 7 procedure or with the judiciary reforms, or with the wider issue of independence of judiciary across the EU, but potentially it may turn the process into a dialogue.
Sixth, and the real problem of the last four years of the Warsaw government: the absence of European dialogue. Jean Claude Juncker publicly complained he did not talk with Jarosław Kaczyński for years. Angela Merkel met the PiS leader two-and-a-half years ago in February 2017. Polish leaders need to talk to their European counterparts. The last time a European leader met with Jarosław Kaczyński (besides Mr Orban, that is) was Matteo Salvini in January.
Seventh, the real challenge: climate change and energy transition. Law and Justice slowly realises that the future of Polish energy cannot be only coal. The transition will not be easy or cheap and Poland probably cannot do it on its own. Poland needs assistance for that transition into less CO2 polluting energy production. On the one side there are those who argue that the Polish government should withdraw from the 2020 climate package and the ETS system: it makes the energy prices spike and challenges the competitiveness of the Polish economy. On the other side there should be the option of transforming the Polish energy sector. Since 2014 the renewable energy is on the decline in Poland, according to the Forum Energii 2019 annual report.
The dead end
If Law and Justice talks to Brussels a.k.a. Europe to solve the issues as listed above, most notably the energy transition and the rule of law, then the Opposition may well feel to be cornered. The Opposition logic is “Europe = us” and in that logic Law and Justice is cornered into isolation. Should “Europe” and Law and Justice started to talk over the heads of the Opposition, that could be a disillusionment moment for the Polish Opposition.
The important part of the discussion that the Opposition may only observe is if the West stands by the European values and does not compromise on them when making political deals with the Warsaw government. You can only support one team in a game you do not play.
For Law and Justice additional reason to start this conversation is the MFF negotiations framework and the link with the rule of law situation and payments. To either to decouple the two (for example by linking it with the corruption situation not with the rule of law), or to solve the rule of law situation should ease out a compromise in which the regional policy support for Poland in the next MFF is not as limited as initially proposed by the Commission.
What will it be? Will Brussels negotiate a political compromise with the Warsaw government allowing it to be and break the rule of law, media independence or rights of people belonging to minorities so that it may focus on the bigger fish to fry: Italy?
Last time we wrote about who can be the Polish Commissioner in the next European Commission there were 6 names on the agenda. Four of them are still in play (Szymański, Fotyga, Bielan and Kwieciński), but there are three new names that come out after the European elections.
All depends on the set-up of the next European Commission, it’s structure and organisation. The Polish governing party, Law and Justice, is looking more into the dossier and does not try to impose a specific person, which is a smart strategy.
Still, depending on the portfolio different people are mentioned. Next to Adam Bielan, newly returning MEP, Anna Fotyga, a re-elected MEP, Konrad Szymański, the Europe Minister, and Jerzy Kwieciński, the Economy Minister there are three new names. Two heavyweights, Beata Szydło and Joachim Brudziński, come from the inner circles of power within the Law and Justice.
Ms Szydło, now a first time MEP, is a former prime minister. Since elections she has been tipped for all the important positions: vice-president of the European Parliament (July), President of Poland in 2020 or 2025, and the European Commissioner. The main reason for this resurgence of popularity is Ms Szydło electoral performance: over 500.000 votes.
At the same time, Ms Szydło is remembered for anti-European behaviour when she took office. The problems with the rule of law in Poland begun with her government. She has had the EU flags removed from her office and official meetings. When she addressed the European Parliament she lied about refugees in Poland confusing the Ukrainian immigrants with refugees. It will be interesting to see how the newly-elected MEP will try to put the difficult past behind her. Effectively, she is the face for almost everything Poland has been criticized in the EU for the last four years.
Her chance of being accepted as a Commissioner during the EP hearing: limited. Even Law and Justice recognises the challenge. Not wanting a confrontation, it may well be that someone else is nominated EU Commissioner.
The next heavyweight is Joachim Brudziński, a former interior minister turned MEP. For Mr Brudziński to become a Commissioner it would take a skilful negotiations. He is a close affiliate of the PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, with whom he spends holidays. In 2017, for example, the gentlemen went hiking:
Truly, Mr Brudziński is probably the closest to the Chairman from all of the mentioned potential Commissioners. The political affiliations is his forte. His potential portfolio could be in the security area, which is not exactly the objective of the Polish government (economy, energy).
Still, Ms Szydło’s and Mr Brudziński’s foreign languages are not strong qualifications. Foreign language skills is not a must in the EP; in the College, however, it is.
If Law and Justice would like to avoid controversy, Ms Emilewicz could be a good option. Minister Gowin openly talks about this lady in a specific arrangement. He also points out to her weakness: she is not a member of the Law and Justice.
Who is Jadwiga Emilewicz? Ms Emilewicz is a 44 year old minister of entrepreneurship with the Agreement (Porozumienie), a junior coalition partner of Law and Justice. She could take an energy or environmental portfolio, says Mr Gowin in the Polsat News interview.
Jarosław Gowin, who is a leader of Porozumienie and a deputy PM, says that Ms Emilewicz would fit because of her expertise in the topic (energy transition) and that she is a woman. In the next European Commission the gender balance will be an important argument.
Who’s decision is it?
There is a Polish consensus on the appointment of the next Polish Commissioner. The Law and Justice ruling party’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński will call the shots. The negotiations over the dossier will be led by the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the Europe Minister Konrad Szymański. With whom will they negotiate?
This is unclear as there is no one frontrunner for the position of the Commission President. Earlier this week the Visegrad-4 failed to support one candidate in the European Council.
However, in the preparatory work, the European Parliament’s hearings are frequently downplayed. That may prove wrong, depending whom Mr Kaczyński sends to the Commission.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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!”.
If you think Law and Justice (PiS) is anti-European, anti-systemic, anti-liberal democracy, think again. Not because Law and Justice presents itself as a modern, pro-European party with a logo “Poland at the heart of Europe” and with the European flag behind their backs. Law and Justice is a conservative party arguing in favour of Christian values in modern societies, less tight European integration, favouring the de-politicisation and degrading of importance of the European Commission. You may be critical of Law and Justice for their terrible reforms of the judicial system (challenging the independence of the courts) or the mismanagement of the school system. You may not like their closeness to the Catholic Church or cutting support for liberal NGOs. But this is what democracy is according to PiS: rule of the majority. In this logic there is no room for the respect of the minority rights. You can disagree with that, too.
However, many Poles like what they see. The courts are not important for the average voter. The schools are a problem, but not a reason to take the PiS government down. What’s good about the PiS rule are the give-aways, the 500 zł per child benefit and… the fact they are against those ‘dangerous’ liberal values and policies coming from the West. What comes in the package is a national rhetoric and strong historical links. The omnipresence of history in schools and public debate makes many Poles more aware about what are the important issues of 1944, 1945 or 1946 that of what are the issues of 2019 or 2020.
The focus on history and on the nation’s fate, on the defence of the national sovereignty and the lack of the subtle nuances in the discourse (“no to migrants”, “no to Euro”) gives a paradoxical effect.
Ahead of the Sunday vote the sociologists say there is no fluctuation between the electorate of PiS and of the European Coalition composed of PO, PSL (members of EPP in the European Parliament), SLD (member of S&D), .Modern (an ALDE member) and the Greens. The two blocks are in a virtual deadlock: most opinion polls predict PiS to come out first just an inch ahead of the Coalition (37% to 35%).
For the last four years the Law and Justice has recognised that the liberal opposition is the threat to their rule, especially the biggest party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO). In the last days ahead of the 26 May, however, that’s not exactly the case.
Since there is no fluctuation between PiS and the EC electorates, this means the outcome of the Sunday vote is left to two factors: first is the mobilisation of your own electorate, and second, to the performance of two parties to the right of PiS.
For a long time it seemed that the main party to the right of Law and Justice is Kukiz’15 led by a popular rock star. Mr Kukiz movement prefers direct democracy, but proved futile as it failed completely last year in the local elections. The opinion polls give Mr Kukiz between 3 and 6%.
The real threat for Law and Justice is elsewhere. Every day now gives the Confederacy a greater support, even up to 8%. Confederacy is a coalition in their own right, of extreme views. Openly nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBT (i.e. Kaja Godek talks about same sex couples adoption ‘real purpose’ being to abuse children) and anti-Semitic (what drives the support up in recent days is a protest against the American law Just Act-447 about the Holocaust victims restitution of property).
Sexualisation of children
It is Law and Justice who put the subject of sexualisation of children on the political agenda in February by blowing out of proportion the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Today Ms Godek is more “credible” on the issue and her fellow confederate Grzegorz Braun wants to punish gay people with flogging.
Even worse, the issue haunts PiS with the Church paedophilia scandal that the whole country talks about since it aired on Youtube two weeks ago. The issue demotivates the PiS electoral from showing on Sunday, most likely.
Is Trump’s Americastubbing PiS in the back?
Law and Justice is unquestionably pro-American. Every visit of the Polish officials in Washington is reported with a fanfare in Poland. Earlier this year Poland hosted the US-sponsored anti-Iranian propaganda summit. A few weeks ago the Polish government purchased the HIMARS defence system. For the first time a major defence system like this has been purchased with no off-set financial system to make sure that some of the funds spend would be re-invested in Poland. President Trump is expected back in Poland for the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War 2, come 1 September.
Law and Justice is not anti-American. A few years ago the PiS government withdraw its anti-private TV station campaign (TVN) after the owner of TVN, the American company Discovery Inc., raised the issue with the US ambassador in Warsaw.
And now Confederacy runs protests against the Just Act-447.
Law and Justice tries not to be anti-Semitic and over the previous 18 months has failed in this regard a number of times. Every time the ruling party fails it tries to make amends. This is not as easy since the PiS electorate is unaware with the notion of ‘nuance’ and the Israelis, on their side, also use easy anti-Polish sentiments popular among some sectors of the society. At the same time the business links and tourism between Poland and Israel flourish. The Polish airline LOT offers flights to Israel from 5 airports in Poland.
Another important value PiS tries to use this spring against the European Coalition is freedom. Law and Justice argues that EC is anti-freedom since it wants to censor the Internet (the copyright directive)… Again, Confederacy is more ‘credible’ in defending the ‘freedom’ understood as anarchy and absence of rules. The champion of this topic is Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a leading face of the Confederacy.
Krzysztof Bosak, the Confederacy no. 1 in Warsaw on Thursday: “the climate package should be terminated as soon as possible by Poland”, “the government closes the mines”, “Public opinion is not told this is the fault of EU regulation”. The bad guys? PiS and the EU.
More of Mr Bosak on same sex unions: “We disagree for the EU to dictate to us the conditions. We will defend our cultural autonomy. In our opinion, there can be no consent for the EU to promote deviations and dictate our values. Europe is not multiculturalism and the blurring of our values. No one can censor us”.
If you are a conservative voter, you have a problem. Every time the populist government of Mr Mateusz Morawiecki and the populist party of Mr Jarosław Kaczyński procures a new ‘line to take’ on sovereignty, on LGBT, on Israel, on judges, on freedom, on the Church, on history, on economy, it is the Confederacy who can out-bet the ruling party, not the European Coalition.
The European Coalition survives the attacks from Law and Justice largely untouched. But by focusing on EC, PiS has allowed for the Confederacy to grow in popularity. Only in recent days the government proves how unprepared they are against the Confederacy attacks (especially on the Just Act-447).
Yet the main goal of the European Coalition is to win with Law and Justice. Will they? We shall know for sure only after 9 PM Sunday night. Their struggle has been largely with the consistency of the offer: united in diversity as they are, their may struggle is to remain attractive to a variety of voters, conservative, liberal, centrist and progressive as they may be, as long as they are democratic.
The EC has a liberal challenger, too. Robert Biedroń’s Wiosna, the Spring, has been showing a decent support in the recent weeks, of between 9 to 14%. Yet the last week of the campaign is not as positive for the party, mainly due to a niche-scandal-blown out of proportion about a leading Spring candidate getting rid of her dogs (she gave them away to a shelter; the animal right lovers are in shock). Some polls show Mr Biedroń’s party enjoys only as low as 6% of support. Still, the main messages of the Spring are: to end the dominance of two mega parties, to ‘energize’ the opposition on social issues, women’s rights, gay rights, secularisation of the state and decarbonisation of the Polish energy sector.
Let me play a prediction game. Following the polls and the trends and the public debate this is what I’d like to predict as an outcome (it is NOT a poll). I may be completely wrong, but this is my prediction:
European Coalition 41% (the higher the turnout the better for EC)
Law and Justice 29% (the higher the turnout the better for PiS)
Spring 12% (the higher the turnout the better for the Spring)
Confederacy 10% (the lower the turnout the better for Confederacy)
Kukiz’15 4.5% (the lower the turnout the better for Kukiz’15)
Poland’s EU accession in 2004 is a success story. As such, it has many fathers. Today PiS politicians no longer talk of “imaginary community” or “ruined Poland”. Today they are pro-European. Just listen to the Polish head of state talk.
The EU enlargement of 2004 was the Union’s biggest: 10 new countries joined on 1 May and some 74 million people became the EU citizens overnight. Over 15 years those 10 countries have economically developed, but at the same time today they are depopulating. Fifteen years later they are inhabited by 73 million people.
The largest of the 2004 entrants is Poland. Today, 1 May 2019, Warsaw is home of many political rallies and speeches. The far-right anti-Europeans are “defending sovereignty” while the far-left remind the general public the true meaning of 1 May celebrations, the Labour Day.
The mainstream parties campaign in the European Elections. PiS’ shifting narrative and strategy of late is to become increasingly pro-European. The country president, Andrzej Duda, who last year talked dismissively of the EU, spoke last night.
President Duda: 15 years ago the society decided, accession was the Polish national interest. “Membership in the European Union changed many aspects of our lives; it was a challenge, but also – it brought many benefits”.
The head of state mentions open borders, the single market and the well spent cohesion funds; but the most element in it all – it is the people who make use of those opportunities. “We have used well our chance” and the 15 years of EU membership is a collective success.
Mr Duda surprisingly says: “We are members of the great, European community. We take responsibility for its shape and its future”.
Only last year for Mr Duda EU was “some imaginary community from which little results for us”. Back then he thought of a community this way: “Community is needed here, in Poland, for us – our own, focusing on our matters, because they are the most important matters for us. When our affairs are resolved, we will deal with European affairs. For now, let them leave us alone and let us fix Poland, because this is the most important thing”.
In his address to the nation Mr Duda continues talking about the Central European initiatives (Three Seas, Visegrad Group). He underlines that there are frequently differences of opinion as far as the European challenges are concerned.
We are Europe. European Union it’s us.
Andrzej Duda, 30 April 2019
This is an underlying agreement of all Poles, that “we are Europe” is a major message of the day. In the following statement, the president accuses “those, who try to create anxiety in the society about the EU membership are acting against the Polish national interest”. He most likely means the European Coalition, who is arguing the Polish government is running a secret Polexit plan, or an unintended Polexit, or even a “velvet Polexit” (Leszek Miller, former Social-Democratic PM, who finished the accession negotiations in 2002; today a candidate for the EP) .
The far-right Confederacy is openly anti-EU, hence they also are the addressees of the president’s criticism.
“Our goal is a modern Poland in a united Europe”, explains the head of the Polish state. This corresponds with the statements of other PiS leaders, who are promising Eurozone accession when the Polish and German salaries are equal.
Mr Duda finishes with a positive note expressing a believe in a “strong, secure and just Europe built on the foundation of common identity”.
Can the president be trusted? He seems to be changing his tune depending on the audience and depending on the timing. The closer to the elections we are the more pro-European Law and Justice politicians always are. However, not words, deeds matter when it comes to Europe. I could accept PiS does its best at most policies. I may disagree with some of the policies, yet almost of them are within the line of a democratic decision making. The “almost”, however, is the key. The rule of law in Poland has been compromised. This is a fundamental value of a modern democratic society, this is a foundation of a European democratic nation state. This is a core value of the European Union.
As long as the issue regarding the rule of law in Poland is not addressed properly, there is no chance any PiS politician can be trusted about being pro-European or even pro-democratic.
Should the issue be addressed properly (foreign minister Czaputowicz indicates that most likely Poland shall respect the upcoming ruling on the rule of law of the Luxembourg Court), I can respect the vision of a unified, religious, Christian Europe. I wish it was truly the Law and Justice perspective. I am afraid it is not the case.
“For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed” says Zdzisław Krasnodębski, vice-president of the European Parliament, MEP with ECR/PiS
After elections, there will be more than one group right-of-the-EPP
ECR has a Spitzenkandidat, too!
The Polish ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) is a large party in a populous EU member state. Like all other major national political parties in the EU it should play a major role on the European political scene. Until now, however, it was not the case. In the European Parliament PiS chooses to standby on many issues and periodically engage in “the defence of Polish interests” (usually unsuccessfully) without any major pro-active role. Will it continue to after the May elections?
Since the beginning of the year there were four major events thought to help to position PiS ahead of the May elections to the next Parliament. In January, in the spotlight of the European media, Jarosław Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini, the Italian minister of internal affairs in Italy, who paid a visit to the PiS headquarters in Warsaw. There were words about cooperation, but not much more came out of it. It seems that the paths of those two popular parties on the European political scene, Lega and PiS, have simply detached.
No wonder. On the right side of the European Parliament there is a clear emergence of two major groups, which could be labelled “the souverenists” and “the nationalists”. The nationalists are parties that today sit in with the most extreme group of the Parliament: here are the French of Marine Le Pen, the Dutch of Gert Wilders. There are also the Italians of Matteo Salvini. The common denominator for these parties is a total opposition to the Union. They would like to get rid of the Union altogether. Salvini used to say that Italy should leave the eurozone. On a day Le Pen is in favour of Frexit, or France’s exit from the European Union. Some in Eastern Europe may well remember Gert Wilders’ racist comments about Eastern or Central Europeans working in the Netherlands. What puts them together is not only scepticism towards the EU, many of those parties also share a sentiment towards Russia.
Next to the nationalists there are two other groups. Another major Italian party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) of Luigi Di Maio is trying their best with a “direct democracy” group. No much steam or momentum there; only Di Maio can be certain of a EP representation. Over the last nationalists summit in Milan there was a clash in the Italian ruling coalition about the nationalists’ relativism of history.
Star Movement seems as disoriented as Poland’s Law and Justice. Both parties
are abandoned by their British partners who have lost important founding
functions for both groups (EFDD & ECR, respectively). M5S is an orphan of
the departure of Nigel Farage’s UKIP. For PiS, there are the British Tories who
are struggling to rule in the Brexit era.
preparing for the continuation of the European Conservatives and Reformists
group (ECR), although it tested its chances with the European People’s Party
(EPP). This is where the PiS’ Hungarian friends of prime minister Orban’s Fidesz
reside (still). The idea fell even before it was born and today Fidesz has its big
problems in the EPP.
When asked if
the adjective “souverenists” suits them, MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski asks to use the adjective “conservatives”.
The conservatives of PiS, therefore, meet since January, get acquainted, converse,
and shall make decisions “in due time” regarding the shape of their next group
in the next European Parliament.
“Our conversations have different character. We get to know each other. These are usually smaller, right-wing parties, but closer to the centre of the political scene than the radicals of the extreme right”, says EP’s VP Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a moderate voice among the Law and Justice lawmakers. PiS wants to get to know its partners as they are in reality, not through the lenses of their media representation. PiS distrusts the mainstream media and prefers to make up its own mind about potential partners. An important message: PiS prefers to talk to smaller parties.
Who are the people
PiS talks to, except for the Italian League? In February, the second important “interrogation”
takes place. This time not in Warsaw, but in Paris. By the end of the current
term, the ECR presents itself as a “euro-realistic” group with MEPs from 19
countries. In February, arrival of new parties to the ECR is announced,
including the French Debout-la-France (DLF, which effectively means
“France, rise up!”) under the leadership of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan and
the Forum of Democracy (FvD) from the Netherlands led by Thierry Baudet. The February
Paris summit is important as it means extending the activity of ECR to France
and strengthening its presence in the Netherlands. Ryszard Legutko, who is the
ECR co-chairman in the Parliament, says after the meeting: “[These parties] share our
belief that the EU has overreached and that the days of ever more
centralisation in Brussels must end.”
partners have a problem. In last months they tend to lose out support (from a stable
7% to currently around 4%) and it is not unknown whether they are able to enter
the new EP. In France and in Poland there are 5% electoral threshold.
Meanwhile, the new Dutch party can be a major hit of this transfer season. FvD
won the recent provincial election with 14.5% of the votes. In a fragmented
Dutch system, such a result is enough to win. Recent polls give the Baudet
party even 25% of support.
may be another problem with FvD. The FvD leader flirts with Nexit (the
Netherlands’ exit from the EU), and the PiS avoids this subject like fire. In
February, Baudet spoke with De Volkskrant: “I am ideologically against the EU,
against the internal market, against open borders, against the euro, against
all of it”. Following his adherence to the ECR he tones previous statements: “The
ECR Group have proven themselves to be the only credible voice for a turnaround
in Brussels and for a Europe that respects its Member States”. His popularity can
be explained by the recent Utrecht shooting, when three people were killed. With
freshness, youth (he is 35 years old), the Forum is sucking the energy and
support out of the Gert Wilders’ party. Still, Krasnodębski tells me about PiS
motives: “We want to reform the EU, not to break it”.
MEP Krasnodębski continues: “but I am not opposing to test, to meet, to talk”. It may be that partners from abroad can be excused of more. After all, the Tories introduced same-sex marriages in England several years ago. It is central to know what are the PiS red lines.
The third meeting is another visit at PiS HQ. This time the interviewee is Santiago Abascal, whose new VOX party took Spain by storm last year. In Warsaw Abascal talks about the fight against the loss of sovereignty. Few years back he opposed “Spain to be a vassal of Europe” of likes of Angela Merkel and the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. VOX did not enter the ECR yet, but Abascal is full of hope for further cooperation: “We are big fans of Poland, Spain is Poland’s sister, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary”.
As much as Abascal
is controversial in Spain, where he undermines the rights of women, and wants
to cancel same-sex marriages, in Warsaw he shows a gentler face. Or maybe the
entourage is more accommodating for his views? PiS seems to like what they
hear. There seems to be a community of values and the way of thinking about
Europe between PiS and VOX: Abascal talks about sovereignty and Christian
faith, he respects Poland and the whole of Central Europe, there are no Russian
money behind the Spanish politician.
So far the last foreign visit at Warsaw PiS HQ is of a delegation of a smaller Italian party, Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), the Brothers of Italy. At the head of the party is Georgia Meloni. FdI has been in the ECR since last year. The appearance of a delegation in Warsaw is a clear signal from PiS to Matteo Salvini: “we already have Italian partners”. Salvini’s response is the lack of an invitation to attend the Milan summit. Support for the Italian FdI is about 5%, while in Italy the electoral threshold is at 4%. Their trend is slightly upwards. After the meeting in Warsaw the FdI is very happy, the Brothers talk about “deep harmony” in thinking about society and national sovereignty. It is the Italians who speak of the “family of European souverenists in the next European Parliament”.
five partners. These conversations are not always effective, sometimes discrepancy
reports are drafted. We shall not forget about the other major ECR partners,
among whom there are not only the Tories. There are the Flanders’ NVA (28% in the
regional polls and the first place), there are the Swedish Democrats (SD, 18%,
second place in the polls), or the Czech ODS (13%, third place in the polls).
We shall not
forget about those who have gone ECR and are with Salvini already. The new formation
of the Italian minister is gaining traction and creates a competition for the
ECR renewal initiative. The ECR got rid of the German AFD when the Germans
started to cooperate with the extreme Austrian party of FPO a few years ago.
Today AFD is with Salvini. PiS is abandoned by two smaller but important allies,
the Finns (once “true”), who enjoy about 12% support in Finland and the Danish
National Party (DF) with support of about 14%. Both left the ECR for Salvini.
If on the one
hand a “new” ECR is being prepared with the participation of PiS, Spanish VOX,
Italian FdI, Dutch FvD, French DLF, Swedish SD, Flemish NVA and Czech ODS, on
the other hand the new alliance of Salvini is formed between the League and the
French National Rally (ex-Front), the German AFD, the Austrian FPO, the Finns,
the Danish DF. They will not have it easy: Le Pen did not come to Paris. “As
experience shows, nationalists are able to get along for a week or so and we
are awaiting for some spectacular divisions as in previous terms in the EP”, says
Bartek Lech, a left-wing insider of European politics.
Two big European partners who look for a new contract in this transfer season, and who seem to be within the ECR range, are the Hungarian Fidesz, if there is a divorce with the EPP, and the other big Italian party, the Five Star Movement. As many commentators rightly point out, not all new parties in the upcoming Parliament are right-wing. Poland’s Spring is also looking for a place in the future EP. For today, the party of Robert Biedroń is getting closer to the S&D, but the final decisions will not be taken “before it becomes clear how many groups have seats in the EP, because only then will their impact on top-jobs be known”, says Lech. “Top jobs” includes the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, as well as the High Representative for Foreign Policy and the new head of the European Central Bank. By the end of the year all institutions will have new bosses atop.
MEP Krasnodębski: “Parties such as FPO or AFD will most likely be in their own group”, and the European People’s Party should return to its roots. The PiS in the next Parliament will not only look for partners to form a political group, but will also want to talk with other groups to cooperate on policies. It is possible that in such discussions the Polish governmental party will sometimes be closer to the far-right than to the EPP. Why? It is easier to find a common understanding on issues like the rule of law, which PiS understands as an attempt to limit Polish sovereignty. Nevertheless, the EPP remains an important partner. Among PiS politicians there are hopes that the German CDU will correct the course under the new leadership of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
PiS would like
to set European standards. The pre-conditions for forming an alliance with their
partners is the expected respect for Central and Eastern Europe and for Poland.
There is a different understanding of what European standards are between the
Law and Justice and the outside world. For most people the European standards
are the respect of rule of law. For PiS, this issue is about the EU’s lack of
competence and “limitation of sovereignty”.
Standards in the process of identifying partners is also an important issue. For PiS, an important limitation is the Russian influence, but as Krasnodębski notes, “Russian influence is also in the European mainstream”, and the Second World War fascists are subject of relativity not only by Salvini, but also by the EP President Antonio Tajani of EPP.
“For us, Moscow’s financing is a red line that cannot be crossed”
Zdzisław Krasnodębski MEP
Standards are a
hard and delicate thing. On the one hand, they are broken often. Krasnodębski: “in
Europe various political parties are treated differently, for example those
that exercise power in Italy or Austria”. There are different standards for the
Poles or the Hungarians.
On the other hand, ECR tries a federalist behaviour and nominated its candidate for the European Commission presidency, the “Spitzenkandidat”. There was a debate about the, but the decisive argument was to have one face in the European debate. The ECR Spitzenkandidat is the Czech MEP Jan Zahradil. Mr Zahradil is campaigning like other leading candidates such as Manfred Weber (Bavarian CSU, EPP candidate) or Frans Timmermans (Dutch Labor Party, PES candidate). He is a leading candidate, the voice of ECR in the European public debate. Zahradil will take part in debates of candidates planned for the end of April and in May. “He fulfils his duties”, assures MEP Krasnodębski.
There are many
commentators in Europe who predict there will be one giant group from the far
right to Fidesz leaving the European People’s Party. Others are scared of such
a scenario. Meanwhile, a clear dividing line is emerging between these two
strong camps. On the one hand, there is the Italian deputy prime minister and
minister, a “strong man” Salvini. On the other hand, there is the Law and
Justice, which takes care of its current message in Poland, saying indirectly:
those who accuse us of Polexit are plain wrong. Jarosław Kaczyński once said
about PiS’ alleged Polexit: “Lies, lies, lies”.
Law and Justice tried the possibility of joining the EPP. It did not work. PiS leaders met Salvini to get to know each other in person outside of the media spin. They did not get along. The third remaining option: their own political group with smaller partners in Europe. Together it is necessary to establish a rational group to talks about the future of Europe and EU policies, not to scare others or demand EU’s disintegration. There is no guarantee this idea will prevail. There can be subsequent flows of national parties in either direction. Five years ago the Flemish NVA joined the ECR after leaving the Green Group and the Five Star Movement tried to join the Liberal Group. For now we should assume there will be two groups on the right side of the European Parliament: one around Salvini, the other around the PiS. It cannot be ruled out that one group dominates the other, although a total unification is highly unlikely. It should not be ruled out that Fidesz joins ECR, or even the Five Star Movement. A delayed or cancelled Brexit could mean that the Tories remain in the European Parliament and in the group. Then, the ECR in the new Parliament may aim at even more than 100 MEPs.
Remember the Salvini visit in Warsaw in January? That’s past. On Wednesday, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński met with the delegation of Brothers of Italy, a ECR party from Italy with no MEPs yet.
The Brothers of Italy joined the ECR back in November. This seems to be a pattern: PiS looks for sovereignist partners in other EU member states to build up a new group after the elections. Take the Italian party. FdI does not have any MEPs (yet), but already joined the ECR and it’s support in Italy is on the rise.
After the meeting, the Italians provided feedback from the meeting. Carlo Fidanza, who attended the meeting of FdI leader Giorgia Meloni and Jarosław Kaczyński, says: “It was a very positive meeting that took place in Warsaw […] and during which we recorded a profound harmony on all the main topics on the agenda and a horizon of common values: those of a modern social and national right, which wants to help those who do business and those who produce but do not forget the reasons of the weakest. This is the government sovereignty that we want to build by strengthening the ECR group which will also be the largest family of European sovereigns in the next European Parliament “.
The Spanish sovereignist party Vox, on the other hand, chose not to join the ECR group just yet, even if the recent meeting between two leaders, Abascal and Kaczyński, was quite successful.
Earlier this year in Paris a new popular Dutch party Forum for Democracy was also admitted into the ECR. No audience in Warsaw for Mr Thierry Baudet of FvD or the Frenchman Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debut-la-France just yet.
Souverenist talk Constitutions (national)
FdI wants to remove the EU from the Italian constitution. Meanwhile, the Polish small agrarian party PSL (member of the EPP) just proposed to mention the European Union in the Polish constitution as an attempt to check on the Law and Justice if the party is truly against the so-called Polexit.
Beata Mazurek, PiS spokeswoman reacted: “We do not say ‘no’. Let’s talk about it” before linking the issue of inserting the “EU” in the Polish Constitution with a major Constitutional review. Mazurek: “I think this is a good moment to empower the family, or to write in the Polish state sovereignty over EU institutions involvement into our internal business”. She ended: “We’ll talk”.
The souverenist group is in the making, that is clear. This is a different group from the nationalist group of Ms Le Pen. Those two strings of thought seem to be prevailing on the right side. The “direct democracy” crowd of M5S and Kukiz’15 is losing steam.
A new debate started about the change of the Polish Constitution. Ever since Law and Justice took confrontational positions on many issues, a serious debate on the Polish constitutional law was not possible; no party has had a constitutional majority or a constitutional coalition since 1997, when the law of the land was approved.
As the European elections come closer the issue of its outcome begins to unfold. The next European Commission, whoever is the next Commission President, will continue to have equal number of Commissioners to that of EU member states: 27, should Brexit truly take place.
There are already first speculative names mentioned as potential future Commissioners from Poland. As Konrad Szymański, Poland’s Europe minister (PiS), said recently: “the structure of the new Commission is unknown today, because its shape will be proposed by the new president. This is a very important decision for [Poland], but it is not possible to conduct such negotiations in public, because it would reveal what we care most about”. He continued in the Radio Zet interview: “we want to choose the best place for the Polish Commissioner for the next five years, so it fits well with the policies of the country”.
There needs to be a correlation between the state’s interests and the portfolio, the minister rightly says. It is too early to determine the portfolio and too early to talk the names, nevertheless the “stock market of names” is already out there. Szymański’s name is mentioned, too.
Here we present the people who are mentioned as a potential future European Commissioner:
Konrad Szymański, current PiS Europe Minister (since 2015), is a former MEP (2004-2014). He is known for hard work (considered the best Polish MEP in 2013) and having conciliatory approach. Former member of AFET (Foreign Affairs), FEMM (Women’s Rights) and ITRE (Industry, Research, Energy) Committees. (+) Generally liked and knowledgeable about the EU, could take any policy portfolio (-) Member of the PiS Government involved in the rule of law process; he does not have a strong party position.
Anna Fotyga, current PiS MEP (2004-5 & since 2014), where she chairs SEDE (security & defence). She is a former Foreign Minister (2006-7) and an MP (2011-14). The field for which her experience is recognised is security. Most recently, she was nominated for the MEP Awards 2019. For more, see her interview for the Parliament Magazine. (+) Strong political position in PiS & good SEDE chair in the EP (-) Her experience suggests the position of the High Representative, which is not necessarily where the Polish government interests lie & it seems unlikely for the moment for a PiS politician to take an EU top-job portfolio.
Ryszard Czarnecki, MEP since 2004 and the Parliament’s vice president (2014-18). Currently member of CONT. As vice president he was responsible for Eastern Partnership. He is known for his interests in sports. See the promo video made for Mr Czarnecki when he became VP. In 2018 he was removed from office of VP for his “serious misconduct” towards another MEP Róża Thun (EPP-PL). (+) Strong political position in PiS; could take any portfolio (-) Difficult re-election challenge ahead of him; following the recent removal from the position of VP it would be a challenge for Mr Czarnecki to expect an easy Parliamentary “ok” from hearings.
Tomasz Poręba, MEP since 2009, where most recently he was the deputy chair of the TRAN Committee (transport). The project he has been heavily campaigning for is the highway north-south from the Slovak border to Lithuania in Eastern Poland (S19). He is the author of PiS electoral campaigns, including the current one. (+) Strong political position in PiS; could take any internal policy portfolio, especially transport (-) will he be the first choice for the job of Jarosław Kaczyński?
Adam Bielan, currently senator (since 2015), former MEP 2004-2014, where he was also vice president of the house (2007-9). He is currently running for the MEP position because the EP is important: “majority of our laws are made in the Parliament”. Former member of IMCO (Internal Market) Committee. Recently he denied to seek the position of the European Commissioner, but he probably would not refuse it, neither… (+) Could take any internal policy portfolio (-) Weak political position (member of the Jarosław Gowin party Agreement) & denies the gossip
Jerzy Kwieciński, minister of investment and economic development (since 2018) is a long-time civil servant-turned PiS politician in the current government. The industrial magazine wnp.pl has recently informed that Mr Kwieciński is “the iron candidate” for the position of the next Polish member of the European Commission. (+) decent political position; technocrat, fitting the PiS logic that the Commission is the technocracy of civil servants, could take any internal policy portfolio; (-) probably not the first choice.
Does the speculation matter? First, it does for it shows a certain maturity in the process of determining who should be the Commissioner – not the name but the portfolio should come first. Second, the maturity is confirmed by the recognition that the portfolio allocation will be done in liaison with the next Commission President.
The missing element is the fact that the Commissioner from Poland is barred from “representing Poland”. It is not the job of a Commissioner and should the next Pole to replace Elżbieta Bieńkowska present themselves this way, they are bound to be rejected by the Commission President or the European Parliament.
It is unclear if the decision is political (within PiS) or governmental (as the treaty says). Should the decision be taken by PiS, it shall be the Jarosław Kaczyński call. Should the decision by delegated to the Prime Minister, than Mateusz Morawiecki shall call the shots.
The party strongest candidates are probably Poręba, Czarnecki and Fotyga. The government strongest candidates are probably Szymański and Kwieciński.
In any case, the current speculation does not include the possibility that the new Commission President could negotiate the next College only in the fall this year. After the Polish parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall. Whoever governs in Poland as of November could negotiate and nominate the next Commissioner with the next Commission President. It may well be Law and Justice. It may be, however, another political force that will organise itself only after the European elections 26 May. Until the May vote it is known as the European Coalition and currently it is going neck-and-neck with Law and Justice in the opinion polls (oko.press):
Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish party Vox arrives in Warsaw for a meeting with Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of Law and Justice (PiS). The purpose of the meeting? To meet and study each other, as both actors do not know each other too well. Exploration ahead of the next European Parliament. Vox, after all, entered the European political scene only last December after the surprising Andalusian elections, which saw Vox receive 11% of the vote.
The latest opinion polls suggest Vox can receive over 10% of the Spanish vote in the May European elections as well as a month before in the national poll.
Vox is as a very conservative party protective of the Spanish nation and statehood. It stands against migration and multiculturalism (‘purity’). It voices opposition to same sex marriage (‘tradition’). In Spain it supports recentralisation of power against regions (‘unity’). The party also voices strong anti-feminism and anti-women rights arguments. As for the EU it seems to endorse the sovereignist approach. Mr Abascal in 2015: “Spain must be in Europe without complexes, claiming the historical, industrial and agricultural role that we deserve. We should not be vassals of Merkel or Tsipras.”
On Wednesday the Vox leader met with the leadership of PiS. In the official communication after the meeting it seems there was a mutual understanding. Both parties are interested in defending nation states against the federalists “which implies the loss of national sovereignty“.
Vox statement also voices opposition against Macron’s vision.
A happy face of Santiago Abascal after meeting PiS: “We have a lot in common with Poland, Law and Justice”. Clearly this exploratory meeting shows that those two parties are close to each other. Mr Abascal expresses the conviction that the talks are going “in the right direction” regarding a possible future alliance with PiS in the European Parliament.
Europe moves away from fundamental Christian values, accepts mass immigration and interferes too much in the policy of sovereign states
The Vox leader continues: “We are looking for an understanding and alliances with other parties in other countries. Besides, we are big fans of Poland, Spain is a sister country with Poland, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary.”
Presenting his party in Poland Mr Abascal says about Vox: his party “speaks truth and defends common sense”, which is why many Spaniards identify with this message against “the dictatorship of political correctness of the left”. “In Spain there are many people tired of politicians who dictate what to think and interfere with the Spaniards’ religious, patriotic or family feelings”. “Vox transformed into a huge wave that began in the south of Spain”, he concludes.
In his earlier tweet, Mr Abascal described the Wednesday meeting with the Polish partners fruitful. “A very fruitful meeting with the Polish government aimed at analysing common policies based on respect for the sovereignty of European states, Christian values and migration control”.
So far chairman Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini in January. In February there was an ECR summit in Paris hosted by Debut-la-France of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan. Now Vox leader is in Warsaw.
It is easy to dismiss every party on the continent right of the EPP as far-right. It is easy to be scared of the mass and amount of the far-right in the European Parliament. I won’t, because there are certain key actors within this crowd and there are important limitations for some of the actors. There are reasons why there are two groups in the EP now (EFDD and ENF), not one. There are reasons why some parties were even too toxic for other far-right-wingers out there (Jobbik from Hungary, Golden Dawn from Greece).
In the large pool of right-wing parties the crucial for future EP will be the popular parties in the populous states: AfD in Germany, National Rally (RN), which is the current party of Marine Le Pen in France, the Italians – La Lega and M5S, the Spanish Vox and the Polish main actor: PiS.
Clearly the Hungarian Fidesz enters the pool of seeking potential new allies as of today. Also the Dutch party PVV of Geert Wilders is widely known, the Swedish Democrats and the Austrian FPO, too.
Can we expect a wide coalition including all those actors?
PiS seems to have two major limitations in seeking out new partners. The first problem are the Russian money. It will be very difficult for the Polish governmental party to be associated with a partner who is not only dependent on Russian support, but who is perceived in Poland as an agent of Russian (unwanted) influence in Europe. This means it will be very difficult for PiS to cooperate with actors like RN or La Lega.
The PiS government policy towards Russia is frozen since 2015. The latest stint: invitations for the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2 are out. The war broke out in Gdańsk on 1 September 1939. Vladimir Putin of Russia has not been invited by the Polish head of state Andrzej Duda.
The second argument is a bit more subtle. PiS presents itself as the sovereignist party, but also as the defender of the European integration. That is, PiS wants to change the EU and reclaim sovereignty (especially in the rule of law area), but is far away from advocating exit from the EU or dissolution of the Union. Hence, those who are openly hostile to the membership are not likely to be considered partners.
Last, minor, is the obvious statement, that the Polish party calls for respect. PiS is not going to be associated with parties of anti-Polish rhetoric (PVV).
Unless people make corrections in their policy, that is. Matteo Salvini January visit was an attempt to prove himself in the eyes of Jarosław Kaczyński of being free of La Lega’s Russian links. Two months on it seems the criticism towards la Lega among PiS is growing. Still, it may change by May.
With La Lega (maybe), Vox (probably) and Fidesz (likely) the biggest challenge for PiS in their attempt to win the European elections is to win votes for their group (ECR or a new one) in France and Germany. Relations with AfD are dire since the 2016 split. Today AfD is close with the Austrian FPO – anti-European and sometimes disrespectful of Poles. It is very unlikely for any German MEP to be included in the upcoming PiS-led group.
France is another story. RN is a no-go for PiS, but in Paris Law and Justice announced its large block to include the Debut-la-France party of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan, which is polling currently at 5%.
In the Netherlands passing by the Wilders’ PVV there is a new actor, too, who has been reached out to: it is Forum of Democracy (FvD) of Theo Baudet, who just came second in the Dutch provincial elections beating every party except for the VVD of Prime Minister Rutte. It means there is a reservoir of support for the future PiS/ECR+ group in the Netherlands.
If the four parties (PiS, La Lega, Fidesz and Vox) are the core of the next group in the European Parliament, they come from four different houses: PiS is an ECR party today. La Lega is in ENF. Fidesz is/was in EPP. Vox is not yet associated. Together they could amount to over 60 MEPs with each of the parties contributing at least 10 (Italians and Poles at least 20) members. This could be a good start for building of a larger sovereignist group right-of-the-EPP, including the parties of DLF and FvD and alike.
Yet it is very clear: there will be more than one group on the right side of the European Parliament. The other group, openly anti-European could be based on RN, AfD, PVV and FPO.
Law and Justice runs a campaign against the LGBT+ community accusing the opposition of an ideological war and “sexualisation of children”;
Teachers’ unions go on strike: derailment of the spring exams in sight and maybe even graduation;
The Youth Climate Strikes hit the Polish streets;
The Catholic Church in Poland releases its statistics about paedophilia.
Law and Justice fights the LGBT+
The main theme of the current EP campaign in Poland is not quite what every major political actor wants. The Law and Justice crafted its offer to the public with a major program of give-aways and a campaign of lies against the LGBT+ community. PiS talks of fears of “sexualisation of children”.
Saturday, 16 March Jarosław Kaczyński in Katowice: “Get away from our children” in a response to an interview Warsaw deputy mayor Paweł Rabiej gave to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (DGP). Rabiej in DGP: “Let’s not change the society by force. First the civil unions, then the marriage equality, then the possibility of adoption”. The PiS politicians took to Twitter to show how they agree with their leader. The conservative pundits took it further to the same areas where a week before the speaker of the Senate Stanisław Karczewski took it:
The liberal Gazeta Wyborcza soon accused the PiS Senator for copying the far-right activist and a former priest Jacek Międlar, who tweeted in 2017 using the same motif about the migrants:
PiS accused Rabiej of honesty. Michał Dworczyk MP and head of the PM Chancellery talks about an “idealogical war” that the Polish opposition is leading on the Polish family.
All looks good, except… the teachers’ strike (see below).
The European Coalition: how to manage diversity?
The European Coalition (KE) has a problem. The coalition’s main idea for a unity is its opposition to the Law and Justice rule. In the European elections context, it is the opposition to the Polexit, which could be incidental. The KE wants to fight the Law and Justice on the pro-EU v anti-EU rhetoric.
Instead, the KE confronts a dilemma of how to defend a diversity. Ever since the KE has been created Law and Justice exposes its weakness: lack of coherence on issues. For the Coalition to be successful at the end of the day it will be important to convince the public that diversity is not a handicap, but an advantage. Meanwhile PiS accuses the conservatives of PSL and PO of being pro-gay…
Teachers on Strike
PiS may have led the debate so far with false accusation of the Coalition that wants to “sexually educate” the children, but the real issue is looming. It seems impossible to square two facts. First, apparently the state budget is in excellent condition, since PiS just offered major new proposals with billions being spend on 13th pension, support for first child within the 500+ programme, lowering the taxes, etc. Second, the teachers are asking for a raise. They are negotiating with the education minister Anna Zalewska (also a PiS candidate for the European Parliament) for months.
Teachers are outraged. Why? Apparently the minister offered 120 zł raise per teacher (gross) “this is the optimal amount from the point of view of budget constraints”, according to Sławomir Broniarz, the teacher union ZNP chief. As the negotiations continued, PiS offered 10 billion Euro spending for other programmes… clearly the “budget constraints” are quite flexible, should there be a justified need.
Hence the strike. Currently there is a referendum going on in schools. The general strike is scheduled to begin on 8 April, right ahead of the exams period. In Kraków 15 teachers have been occupying the local Board of Education HQ already for a couple of days.
The teachers strike is expected to be massive. The general public has been confronted with a simple comparison: an educated 26 year old has better salary and financial prospects in a local grocery store than as a teacher. The head of ZNP says on Sunday, 17 March:
A strike is not all. We have a powerful weapon in our hands: the graduation of students. If we do it, the education is faced with a complete cataclysm. We would like the government to be aware.
PiS first response is disbelief. Then denial. Krzysztof Szczerski, head of the Chancellery of President Duda and a former PiS MP: “Teachers don’t have to live in celibacy. The transfers, like 500+, are for teachers, too. PiS gives money to all Poles, teachers included”. Another PiS leader, Marek Suski, head of the Prime Minister Chancellery, proves to be out of touch by comparing salaries of teachers with that of MPs. According to Mr Suski basic salary of a teacher in Poland today is some 5000 zł and an MP’s basic salary is some 8000 zł. “That’s not a big difference”. 37,5% to be precise, should the minister be correct. He is not. The basic salary of a teacher is 3500 zł. Is the difference of 56% small? Mr Suski apologises.
The teachers outrage continues.
The Youth Climate Strike
Teachers on strike, so is the youth. On 15 March in over 30 cities in Poland the youth marches in protest against the climate change.
The protests are global. Once initiated in Sweden, the issue of motivating the young, whose future is stolen by the irresponsible adults, takes Europe by storm. The initiative also arrived in Poland. The local context is apolitical. The youth does not want to be seen political, hence instead of a policy the main focus is awareness raising among the general public. “I am here on strike against the destruction of nature” says an 8-year-old protester in Wrocław.
The Church lurks into its dark side
The Catholic Church has a global problem with paedophilia. Hence the recent meeting in Rome. Meanwhile in Poland the situation is as dramatic. It could be that the Catholic Church in Poland, where over 90% of people identify themselves as Roman Catholics, is exemplary of the problem.
The new official report of the Catholic Church shows the figures of registered cases of paedophilia. Apparently there are 382 cases since 1990, and the trend is not on the decrease. There are about 625 victims in the process:
The Polish experts as well as the Vatican expert as quoted by Wirtualna Polska (WP), denounce the report prepared by the Church. Apparently the archbishop Jędraszewski, who is supposed to lead the work on the issue, is not impartial. The unnamed Italian voice: “This is scandalous. Abp Jędraszewski used to defend abp Paetz accused of molesting young priests. It is simply awful”. He also refers to more recent situation during the last conference convened by Pope Francis: “Archbishop Jędraszewski has just arrived replacing archbishop Stanisław Gądecki. Even before the official ending of the conference he went on a pilgrimage to Fatima! He just left, instead of sitting here to the end together with Pope Francis in a penitential service. So what are we talking about here?”.
Marek Lisiński of the Foundation “Do Not Be Afraid” recently presented a report to Pope Francis showing how 24 Polish bishops, archbishops and cardinals abuse power to cover up for acts of paedophilia. He also talks to WP. In that interview he says there is no way the issue can be dealt with properly within the Church alone. The issue should be addressed by an independent commission with the state authorities involved. The Australian model has been proposed as for how to deal with the situation. The case of sentencing of Australia’s Cardinal Pell comes to mind. Mr Lisiński argues that as long as PiS is in power there is no way such a committee could be convened.
Gay or straight, conservative or liberal, federalist or sovereignist, rich or poor, at the end of the day only one fight matters: the fight for the survival of mankind. The youth takes to the streets of Europe and begins to be heard more than the French Yellow Vests. In Poland children are still children, largely voiceless.
Nobody asks the children about the teachers strike. If families are asked, it’s the parents’ worries that matter. Nobody asks the children about the LGBT rights or if they feel sexualised by the Warsaw Declaration or if there is too many history lessons and not enough classes on Europe. The focus on the paedophilia is about the victims who are now adults and ready (or not) to confront the past. The focus on the current and future victims eludes us all.
The elections to the European Parliament are about the future. Children are the future. Shouldn’t we engage the European youth more often about what kind of world matters to them? At least when they have something to say about the climate and the air quality. Instead the Polish saying “children and fish are voiceless” is as popular as ever.
23 February, Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS chairman enters the stage to present PiS’ new political offer. On the agenda are five key points, which soon are labelled “the Kaczyński Five”. In the following days the details come in.
Are votes for sale? Or the Kaczyński Five:
The most radiant is the extension of the PiS government signature social programme, “500+”. This programme was first introduced in 2016. It offers every family extra 500 zł (circa. 116 Euro) a month for every 2nd, 3rd and subsequent child until the child turns 18. The new extension of the programme will include payments for the 1st child. The new rules are expected to begin in July. Hence this is not a strategy to win the European elections; this is a preparation for the power confrontation in the fall national parliamentary elections. The first point has a title: THE FAMILY.
The second point of “the Kaczyński Five” is a major new give-out. At first even the PiS chair does not know if what he says is a one-off give-out, or a regular programme. When he introduces the 13th retirement payment a year to the pensioners, he adds this should be a permanent programme “if possible”. In the next days it appears PiS is ready to turn this payment into a regular programme. The pensioners should expect an extra payment of 1,100 zł, or 250 Euro already in May 2019, ahead of the European elections.
The third element of what PiS presents as equalisation of income is a tax relief for the young employees. Everybody who is under 26 years old is relieved of direct income tax. This solution is not expected to enter into force before the May elections. THE YOUNG.
The next element is for the general public – the direct income tax is reduced from 18% to 17%. This solution shall be translated into reality for the next fiscal year. LABOUR.
Last element concerns another issue of the society: Mr Kaczyński wants to double the density of bus connections in the country to serve better the countryside. INFRASTRUCTURE.
The costs of all those programmes are estimated at about 40 billion złoty (9,3 billion Euro) additional annual expenditure. Mr Morawiecki, the prime minister is certain the state budget is able to sustain the extra costs. How? Tax tighter controls, economic growth, cutting the bureaucratic and administrative burdens.
Poles like the government plans. According to the latest surveys more than half of the population supports each of the proposals. At the same time they worry about the financing of the new spendings.
The Civic Platform’s response by Izabela Leszczyna MP, former deputy finance minister on the TOK FM radio: “Law and Justice stole and twisted our ideas” about the 13th pension to the pensioners, but the action was “rushed” in order to “cover up” the K-towers scandal. PO most likely will support the extension of the 500+ programme to first children, the relief of the direct taxation of the young and the support for the pensioners.
Following the five proposals a wave of criticism goes through the country: the economists, the political scientists, the Internet memes, the historical vote record of Law and Justice which shows PiS voting down first children back in 2016, the amount of “dislike” buttons on the web: in a rare occasion Law and Justice seems to loose the internet debate. It finds itself on the defensive with a need to continuously justify the costs of the projects.
Leszczyna on TOK FM: “This is no check-mate [for the opposition]. People are smart. Everybody knows PiS has stolen our ideas to cover the scandals of Srebrna and Jarosław Kaczyński [K-towers], Kazimierz Kujda, Marek Chrzanowski, the Polish Financial Supervision Authority, the National Bank of Poland, Adam Glapiński, and all this terribly scandalous society, which unfortunately rules Poland. PiS put our ideas on the table and thought that they can move on”.
Voters to scare in the Heart of Europe:
On 9 March another PiS convention takes place. This time it is about the candidates of Law and Justice in the EP elections. The meeting’s title: “Poland is Europe’s Heart”. There is also the programme in the “European Declaration of Law and Justice” that PiS leading candidates sign. The document reads:
Europe of Freedom: the original EU values
Europe of Family: the right of parents to bring up children;
European support for the Polish Countryside
EU Budget good for Poland
European Internal (Common) Market: equal treatment of Polish companies;
Secure borders of Europe: security and defence of EU’s external borders;
Europe independent energetically
The same quality of goods across Europe
Europe of equal opportunities: equality of nation states in the European Union;
Just climate policy of Europe
Sustainable development – the source for a strong EU: the cohesionpolicy
STOP the illegal immigration
The LGBT scare
The 12 points are accompanied with speeches. Prime Minister Morawiecki: “Our political competitors understand Europeanness as a moral revolution, for us Europeanness is a better life of Poles”.
Jarosław Kaczyński focuses on the family because the family apparently is threatened: “This threat is an attack on the family, an attack on children. A specific social engineering is used. It is difficult to call it upbringing – to change a human. What’s at its core? Very early sexualisation of children, from the earliest age of life”. PiS chairman continues with an awe: “It is unbelievable, but it is to start from the birth of a child up to the age of four. The more you read it, it makes your hair curl. The very issue of boys and girls identity is questioned. This entire process of social preparation of children for the future role of a woman and a man, a mother and a father, is challenged. In the name of what? It’s hard to guess”. Clearly he refers to the Warsaw Declaration of LGBT+ rights.
PiS, like most Poles, is tolerant, but you can not confuse tolerance with affirmation. Affirmation is support.
The latest Jarosław Kaczyński speech is an echo to many previous other Law and Justice politicians’ and conservative organisations’ speeches, comments and statements in the last three weeks. They all are outraged by the declaration the Warsaw mayor signed on LGBT rights. Rafał Trzaskowski signed the Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration [Polish only] on 18 February to fight the discrimination against the LGBT community. Among the items in the declaration most contested is the issue of sexual education according to the WHO standards. Those standards are highly controversial among the PiS politicians. PiS accuses the LGBT+ community, Warsaw mayor and the WHO standards of abnormal sexualisation of children. Some call it directly: paedophilia.
On 6 March the web portal Oko-press accuses the ruling party of running an incitement campaign against the LGBT+ community the same way PiS run a successful anti-migrant campaign in 2015.
The leading PiS politician who is running the accusations and scare tactics is Partyk Jaki, deputy justice minister, a former candidate for Warsaw mayorship and PiS candidate in the European elections. The potential MEP says about his motivation to run for office in the EP: “Last term the European Parliament spoke about 250 times about the LGBT issues. Gigantic resources are invested into something I fundamentally disagree with and I want to fight against”. Also the education minister Anna Zalewska, who is PiS candidate for the EP protested against the LGBT+ declaration: “there is no room for it in the schools“.
Another angle of the anti-LGBT hysteria is to accuse the agrarian, conservative party PSL of siding with its coalition partners of the European Coalition on the issue, even if PSL is not pro-LGBT. This is a PiS classic attempt to scare the voters away with the “guilty by association” logic.
The far-right magazine is warning about the “homo-terror”; the 2012 Olympic medallist Zofia Klepacka accuses the Warsaw mayor of promoting LGBT and she is against it; the Legia fans turn out to be extremely homophobic:
It is impossible to say if PiS is successful. Clearly Law and Justice confuses promotion of LGBT+ issues with prevention against LGBT+ crime and youth suicide, which is high. According to the 2017 report 69% of the members of the LGBT community were confronted with some kind of violence, 64% were verbally assaulted and 13% physically attacked. According to the same report 69% of the Polish LGBT+ youth were thinking about suicide. Are we talking assistance or privilege?
Recent polls suggest Poles are more relaxed about homosexuality. The issue is no longer a taboo. Robert Biedroń is probably the most recognisable gay person in Poland; also the Warsaw deputy mayor Paweł Rabiej (of .Nowoczesna) is openly gay. Mr Biedroń has proven time and time again that he is electable. There are celebrities who are out in music, film, TV and literature industries. Openness towards the LGBT+ among the youth is most visible.
This is what makes the LGBT+ issue so much different from the migration issue. LGBT+ are visible. Migrants were not. If Mr Kaczyński or other PiS politicians believe LGBT+ people are not discriminated against in Poland, they are denying reality. Nor for the first time.
As for the economic pay-outs let me quote a Polish saying: “if they give you something, take it, if they beat you, run away”. To take a gift from the government does not necessarily mean that the voters feel contractually obliged to vote Law and Justice. Maybe PiS can win with the argument that the party always lives up to its promises. More likely the latest moves will change very little in the partisan support: Law and Justice and the European Coalition are in a virtual clinch, each has about 35% support.
Meanwhile, when PiS is busy giving out millions to virtually everyone their credibility is compromised (at least partially) as teachers unions have called for a general strike, demanding a 1000 zł salary increase…
Everyday news is one thing. The Harrold Macmillan words “Events, dear boy, events” rule the politics and the media attention. What grows underneath in the country is not exactly catchy on a specific day. Yet to know why people say what they say is often as important as what they say. Not only the specific context is relevant. The reason, the philosophy is crucial.
In today’s blog post I attempt to present the philosophy of the Law and Justice and its leadership on Europe in the words of the party leaders. Not to inflict “scandal” but to attempt to understand.
What is at stake in European elections come May is the Union’s future and its fate. Before we disagree with the other side one needs to understand why they say what they say. Where do the words come from and why?
It must be that not always the words politicians or political commentators use are cynical and directed only at mischief. There are certain philosophies that are brutally different between two camps in Poland. What is the Law and Justice philosophy, and why?
What Europe needs is a Europe of Nations, not of supranational institutions
Morawiecki is disappointed with Western Europe: “Real fatigue has taken over you. For a very long time, each new generation hoped that it would live better than the generation of their parents; today this hope has disappeared.”
The Polish premier on EU elections: “Europe is completely different from what is thought about it in Brussels. Apparently, there will be quite new forces in it, which the bureaucrats in Brussels have a habit of dismissively describing as ‘populist movements’. As for me, these movements are in their roots democratic, and their voice should be heard”.
His vision of Europe is not a federalist one: “European nations have wonderful cultures. Only by preserving our culture can we enrich the European Union. Although there are European values that we all share – there is no such thing as a universal European identity. Besides, we are realists. We believe that there are so many languages and interests on the continent that we will never be able to become the United States of Europe. Such a possibility is too detached from the desires of nations and far-fetched from reality!”
On the accession to the Euro Mr Morawiecki spoke in an interview for the CNBC in January: “First, employees in Poland must start earning money just like people in developed countries in Western Europe”.
We are the beating heart of Europe. We showed it with our courage, determination and honesty
Mateusz Morawiecki, December 2018
Last summer Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice spoke about the judges not protecting Polish citizens in land disputes in former German territory in Northern Poland. He said: “this is oikophobia, as it is called, or reluctance, even hatred for one’s own country, one’s own nation, it is one of the diseases that affected some of the judges and which leads to woes”.
The same September he spoke on Europe: “We should not care. We have to climb up. Poles know the facts and know how it is. Poles are an ambitious nation… We are going up, towards a better Poland, towards a better fate of Poles. More prosperous and – it is very important – more reliable, with a greater impact on reality, safer.”
And here is the credo of Jarosław Kaczyński thinking about Europe: “We’re lifting weights, but that does not mean we have to repeat the mistakes of the West and infect social diseases that prevail there”.
President Andrzej Duda had his infamous faux-pas last summer, when he said of the European integration in a town of Leżajsk: “imaginary community”. More of the same speech from Mr Duda to the locally gathered people: “minimal wages are raised, pensions will be raised, we will try to help you by all means. Why? Because, finally, we manage to bring honesty and order in our country. Someone has been stealing 40 billion zł a year from taxes”. He expressed his fears that the money were transferred abroad, but the process has stopped “thanks to which the 500+ program can be implemented and many other programs which – I hope – will contribute to the quality of life in Poland and the return of those who left abroad for bread, looking for a normal life, normal work, because there was no possibilities here”.
Duda’s Leżajsk speech was important to understand what Europe is for many voters of Law and Justice. Duda: “We want Poland to be a normal country, the same as the rich countries of the European Union, we strive to achieve such a standard of living”. Poles deserve to have the same standard of living as in the West.
Duda’s vox populi: “We will achieve for people not to say that the courts are unjust in Poland and that the judiciary in Poland does not protect the citizen. We do not allow people to say that Poland is an unjust state, a state for the elite in which one does not see normal human being”.
Then the president said that he wanted the citizens to be convinced that someone was thinking about them, not “about some imaginary community from which little results for us. Community is needed here, in Poland, for us – our own, focusing on our matters, because they are the most important matters for us. When our affairs are resolved, we will deal with European affairs. For now, let them leave us alone and let us fix Poland, because this is the most important thing”.
Former interior (1991-92) and defence (2015-18) minister Macierewicz is no dove in any PiS government. This powerful hawk among PiS leaders (he is the party’s vice-chair) wrote about Europe – as he rarely does – for a right-wing magazine Wpis (Note) back in December: “today everything weighs on the scale of international events and choices, today it is decided if Poland is a state at all or shall Poland lose its statehood. Today it is decided if Poland becomes a fragment of another international structure with a liberal-anti-Christian ideology, or will it win the status of an independent state, an independent political actor in the international arena”.
On his disappointment with the EU today: “In the past the EU has appeared to us as a US ally, an organisation that empowered the strength of national independence defenders, a free economy based on private property and justice guaranteed by a strong nation state, Christian values and democratic principles. This world is gone“.
Macierewicz continued: “Of course, there is the European Union and there is Poland, which has its place there defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The Union, which Poland accepted and for which Poles voted in the 2004 referendum, was a union of sovereign nations and independent states.” He concludes that “Poland is loyal to such a Union and expects reciprocity. But this Union is just going away”
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tells us openly that we are to abandon our independence and national sovereignty. French President Emmanuel Macron announces that a European army to be formed can be used to fight against the US. The Court of Justice becomes the guarantor of a post-communist dictate in the Polish judiciary, and the European Parliament condemns Polish patriotism and wants to force us to abandon Christian values”.
Macierewicz quotes history lessons. He quotes the Polish geopolitical obsession of being located between Germany and Russia. The traditional choice is with Russia against Germany or with Germany against Russia? Macierewicz quotes and agrees with George Friedman: “In the perspective of the Russian-German alliance, only we [Poland] have the chance to focus the countries and nations of Central and Eastern Europe and create a political space that prevents the construction of the Eurasian empire.”
Mr Waszczykowski is a former foreign minister (2015-18) and a prominent speaker and writer for Law and Justice on international affairs. On the recent Franco-German renewed partnership agreement he wrote a comment for Onet.pl: “Germany and France give a signal that they will not change the character of the Union. They will continue to deepen political integration at the expense of the sovereignty of the Member States.” On Brexit he wrote: “It’s crystal clear, there is a noticeable desire to punish and humiliate the British and to signal to everyone in Europe how expensive it is to leave the Union. There is also noticeable haste to use Brexit to change the balance of power in the Union, to promote federal and protectionist practices.”
Witold Waszczykowski writes in his regular commentary about the Polish foreign policy in 2019: “By entering NATO and the European Union, we were hoping that the sandwich dilemma was solved. We have become part of a Western civilization, safe under the umbrella of NATO and the European Union. In recent years, however, the ghosts of the past have returned. We are confident of the growing threat from revisionist Russia and the uncertainty about the adequate response of the West.
The EU is an uneasy thing for Law and Justice. PiS is in open opposition to the federalist and liberal views of the EU. The leadership of the party is worried about the country’s security due to limited trust towards allies. The party is disappointed with the direction EU took in recent years. Why?
PiS is a party of sovereignists. Not only the party wants a strong, powerful state able to solve centuries-long geopolitical problems, but most of all, to bring the wealth Poles deserve. Poles are proud and do not agree to be paid less for the same work as Germans. They do not want to leave and many feel they were forced to leave the country to work elsewhere, frequently below one’s qualifications but with a salary much better than back home. Here’s an anecdote I heard from one medical doctor: he negotiated a salary for a new job in Toulouse. 8000 zł is roughly 1800 Euro. He said no. The person on the other side asked, WHY? It was 8000 Euro… What kind of doctor can expect to be paid 8000 Euro a month salary in Poland?
Poles want to be equal, not second class members, discriminated against. Working below European average is degrading. They want to “buy Polish” – Polish products in a Polish store and, simply, be Polish. Instead there are no Polish cars on the streets (Morawiecki once promised a Polish electric car; the investment stalled) and weekly shopping is done usually in one of the French or Portuguese-owned shopping chains. They want their country to be independent, sovereign, “ours”.
Not all Poles, but many. Not everybody who is poor wants a “Polish car”. Yet there are people with decent-level salaries who want to “shop Polish, not international”.
The Polish society pride is typical for a country that has produced a major middle class. There is a major middle class in Poland of people making decent money (average of over 1000 Euro before tax), but since there is wealth now, there is a new wave of expectations, too.
PiS fits perfectly those desires of an ambitious, yet tired with waiting nation. The people outside, the foreigners, should not tell us how to live. We should rule ourselves by ourselves. Others should respect this. In a private conversation one professor of EU studies told me that “the ECJ is the one that brakes the European law”… another EU affairs professor at a recent conference said publicly that “in the EU Christians are discriminated against”…
There is bad news to those Poles. The world does not allow for that kind of, classical, sovereignty. The world became an intertwined, globalised place and the economic wealth is a result of how well the countries are able to benefit from the process. Clearly the Poles are doing great, as the country has had an economic non-stop growth for the past 25 years. Yet in this open market economy there is a little nostalgia for the paradise lost. Many nations have their “perfect glory” moment in history, when they were great and powerful. This is most disturbing sometimes – for Hungary for example. In Poland it is a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand the country was strong and powerful in 16th and 17th centuries (“the Golden Age”) but it was a joint Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. You think it is long time ago? Tell this to the Greeks. There is also a lot of pride of the interwar Poland (1918-1939) with all its limitations of power, but unlimited aspirations of the day (there was even a movement back then claiming that Poland deserved a colony in Africa…).
United Kingdom’s openness to globalisation is the confusing element today: Brexiters at the same time want to be more free (“EU standards are limiting UK”) and want to be less integrated with the outside world (being afraid of external migration). There is a similar sentiment in Poland: those who have benefited from globalisation are becoming a little bit tired of that openness. And the new generation that does not know different sometimes is demanding even more loudly – defensively even – for more Polish products in Polish shops.
Another bad news for the society, but even worse for the PiS leadership: Europe has decided that inter-governmentalism does not work. It has done so not because of some hidden federalist agenda. It has done so because the only way to secure lasting peace in Europe was to create bonds so strong that would be unbreakable. Brexit shows us how difficult it is to break those bonds.
Macierewicz is wrong when he says Europe of 2004 was a Europe of sovereign and independent states. Back then and much earlier it was already a Europe of shared sovereignty and interdependent states.
And there is the factual error in the minister text: the EU accession referendum in Poland took place in 2003, and the accession happened in 2004.
To change the way EU is one needs to rewrite the Treaties. Clearly an ambitious party like PiS would like to see that happen.
To answer to some specific worries: Macierewicz and Waszczykowski should not be worried about choosing Russia or Germany. Poland is with Germany, also PiS’ Poland. And any Germany is with Poland, none Germany is with Russia. PiS politicians praise Trump and do not see how the American president undermines the transatlantic unity. In this context comes the worry about Macron and the idea for a European army. Poland’s diplomacy might be hoping – against the odds – to be the bridge between Washington and Brussels. And in a way, Brussels should keep fingers crossed for that, even if likes of Macron, Juncker, Merkel and others have already learned this to be impossible.
It is funny to see Morawiecki to use the economic, not geopolitical or security arguments for the Eurozone accession. He reads the opinion polls; half of Poles do not want the Euro ever. Yet even the economic argument of “catching up” does not hold: poorer or as wealthy nations of Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Portugal and Greece use the common currency. It may well be that there could be an economic path of adopting the Euro which could stimulate the Polish economic growth.
It is impossible to answer the general PiS’ disappointment and occasional fear of the Western societies’ liberalism, multiculturalism and secularism. One may only point into the natural tendency of societies to evolve. PiS represents part of today’s Poland – not the entire country – and there are many tendencies within the party that are nostalgic about the glorious past, even if it is not clear what exactly they are pointing to. There are very few – if any – fractions of PiS that would like to see any evolution happen. This is very telling, especially in the context of LGBT rights. In many Western countries the LGBT issues became the issues of the conservative parties, sometimes even the populist right-wingers are pro-LGBT. In those cases it is a result of a certain confrontation between the options of an Islamic religious wave on the one hand and an open and tolerant Western society. PiS rejects both; this alternative is alien to them.
Is PiS secretly pro-Polexit? Not today, but their disappointment with the EU as it is seems so great and there is only one argument today that keeps PiS in the pro-EU camp: the single market argument. For the geopolitics and the security Warsaw looks to Washington. Not even the money transfers are as important any more.
There is however a certain criticism of the Brussels central institutions I would consider agreeing with. The argument is this: the Commission has become detached from the problems of the Member States. It may well be that the “ever closer Union” simply requires a re-definition. Staying true to the European convictions, one could ponder that it is necessary to have the three million Poles, who think like PiS, and their political representation – the party itself – convinced that Europe of today is theirs, too.
For that to happen one would need a certain degree of trust between the Law and Justice and the liberal Western Europeans. The trust is absent. The “Ever closer Union” implies evolution. PiS does not see much room for the society evolution. Against those odds, it is in the interest of the Polish pro-European opposition and the Union institutions to engage with the sovereignist part of the Polish nation.
To answer to the philosophy I turn to the classical quotes from the famous European, Jean Monnet. Monnet was the man behind the concept of the community method and pooled sovereignty. Monnet said on sovereignty: “There is no real peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on a basis of national sovereignty. They must have larger markets. Their prosperity is impossible, unless the States of Europe form themselves in a European Federation.“
On EU institutions: Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions
Monnet many years ago even responded to Morawiecki: “Europe never existed. One must genuinely create Europe” – it takes effort to built solutions, not to complain Europe lacks them. It takes the experience of the first and second world war to come to this conclusion:
There is no future for the people of Europe other than in union.