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2019 European Elections in Poland

17 May 2019 - 10:09
A Prelude to the Final Autumn Battle

In Poland, this year's European Parliament elections are dominated by the context of domestic politics. These are the second elections out of four that are taking place between 2018 and 2020. The regional elections of 2018 ended in a draw between the ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) and the opposition. The culmination of the current electoral cycle will be the elections to the Parliament (Sejm), which will take place in autumn 2019. The presidential election in 2020 will be the final act of battle between PiS and the opposition. The stakes in the autumn election are high. Voting will determine the future direction of economic and foreign policy and the organization of the state.

"Polish society is definitely (though rather superficially) pro-European. In March, 91 % of respondents expressed their support for EU membership."

In the current configuration of power, which was formed after the elections in 2015, Jarosław Kaczyński (who will celebrate his 70th birthday in June) is the founder and chief of the Law and Justice party and an ordinary member of the parliament. Informally, however, he is the head of state, having a decisive voice as to the composition of the government, the parliament’s agenda and the president’s actions. Kaczyński's party, despite the pro-European rhetoric in the campaign (the election slogan is "Poland at the heart of Europe"), imposes on Poland a political and economic model that is on a collision course with the EU. This applies in particular to the single-party control over the judiciary, energy policy (mostly based on coal, currently massively imported from Russia), environmental protection (mass deforestation in the Białowieża National Park), migration policy, conservative ideological issues and opposition towards further transfer of competences to the EU. In addition, information programs in the public media taken over by the PiS Party after 2015 spread a negative image of the EU, Germany and France. However, during the current election campaign this message has definitely eased. This easing of the anti-European message has not been accidental. Polish society is definitely (though rather superficially) pro-European. In March, 91 % of respondents expressed their support for EU membership.

"Jarosław Kaczyński, an experienced politician skilfully juggling populist promises, repeatedly imposed narratives in this campaign and pushed the opposition into a corner."

The EU election campaign in Poland has been dominated by internal policy issues. Jarosław Kaczyński, an experienced politician skilfully juggling populist promises, repeatedly imposed narratives in this campaign and pushed the opposition into a corner. The main topic was social transfers to selected groups that are most likely to support the PiS party (pensioners, parents, graduates). Promises of social transfers are not only aimed at buying support for the government, but also to demonstrate that it is Poland, ruled by Law and Justice, which is the source of social welfare, not the EU. Other promises, such as additional payments for Polish farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy, shifted the pre-election discussions in a direction favourable to PiS. The ruling party sounded louder in its promises of social transfers than the opposition. The issue of joining the eurozone, championed by the opposition, was also used by Jarosław Kaczyński to consolidate PiS supporters and push the opposition to the defensive, as polls show that the acceptance of the euro enjoys little public support. In his speech from Lublin in mid-April, Kaczyński announced that Poland would enter the third stage of the Economic and Monetary Union only when the standard of living in Poland equals that of Germany.

"A certain novum on the Polish political scene is the leftist party named “Spring” (Wiosna), founded by the former president of the city of Słupsk and a well-known LGBT activist, Robert Biedroń, in February 2019."

The main opposition force in the European Parliament elections is the European Coalition (Koalicja Europejska), formed in February 2019. It consists of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, the former party of Donald Tusk), and several smaller parties: farmers' party (PSL), liberal social democrats (SLD), liberals (Nowoczesna) and the Green Party. The leader of the coalition, Grzegorz Schetyna, the former rival of Donald Tusk, has lacked ideas for a campaign. So far, the European coalition has also been unable to exploit the numerous corruption scandals, nepotism and incompetence of the PiS members demonstrated during the last 4 years of governance. Furthermore, the European Coalition has been unable to show a specific vision of the development of European integration and to emphasize the role of the EU in improving the well-being of Poles. A certain novum on the Polish political scene is the leftist party named “Spring” (Wiosna), founded by the former president of the city of Słupsk and a well-known LGBT activist, Robert Biedroń, in February 2019. This party decided to run independently. The “Spring” party strongly supports the coordination of social policies at EU level. In the campaign, however, a more expressive message is being forwarded: the aim to punish PiS and Jaroslaw Kaczyński for breaking the law and violating the constitution. The appearance of the “Spring” party also increased the ideological conflict between the coalition and the opposition concerning the rights of sexual minorities. "The Spring" party according to recent surveys can count on about 7 to 10 % of votes. The nationalist, anti-establishment group Kukiz 2015, estimated in polls at around 5 %, is a potential PIS coalition partner in case Kaczynski's party fails to win the absolute majority in the autumn elections. Candidates from the nationalist, anti-European and pro-Russian coalition Confederation (Konfederacja), who are balancing on the border of the electoral threshold (5 %), and the small left-wing coalition ‘Together’ are also taking part in the election.

"The European elections will only be a prelude to the final clash in autumn"

Previous polls have indicated a slight victory of PIS over the European Coalition. Victory in the May election would consolidate the image of PiS as the dominant political force in Poland and would increase its chances of winning the parliamentary elections. One of the main unknowns in Polish politics is the future involvement of Donald Tusk in the autumn elections or his start in the presidential election in 2020. He seems to be the most convenient person able to unite around him a wider front that could block Jaroslaw Kaczynski's stay at the helm of power in Poland. Another four years of Kaczyński in power would mean not only strengthening the influence of the ruling party on the judiciary, but permanent dismantling of the rule of law and a lost decade in economic policy. For these reasons, the European elections will only be a prelude to the final clash in autumn, which will be the most important vote since the first partially free elections that took place in Poland thirty years ago.