#EU2019 – Battle for deeply divided Poland crucial for EU elections

Regarding the post-election groupings in the EU House, the core of the European Coalition (PO and PSL) will remain in the EPP, while Wiosna is in talks with S&D. [Shutterstock]

Extreme polarisation and sensitive domestic issues – from the rule of law to the role of the Church and a recent paedophile scandal – will play a key role in the upcoming EU elections in Poland, likely to see a much higher turnout than in 2014. EURACTIV Poland reports.

There are three main political forces in Polish politics ahead of the EU election.

The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS/ECR) runs on the platform “Poland is in the heart of Europe”. It’s a Eurosceptic party which often defies the European unity. In Brussels, it’s often criticised for undermining the rule of law and pushing for Polexit.

But with surveys showing Poles as one of the most Euro-enthusiastic nations in the EU, they’ve now adopted a more pro-European tone in their campaign

Another party is the European Coalition, made up of the centrist Civic Platform (PO/EPP), rural conservative Polish People’s Party (PSL/EPP), Democratic Left Alliance (SLD/S&D), some minor parties and notable centre-left former prime ministers. It embraces almost all pro-European forces in Poland and has been set up with one aim: to beat PiS.

The third is the newly established left-wing, pro-EU, progressive Wiosna (Spring). It was created by the former mayor of Słupsk, Robert Biedroń, who used to be an LGBT community activist and now leads a party that aims to “break the deadlock” on the Polish political scene.

What’s the matter with Poland?

The debate over the EU elections in Poland is mostly focused on domestic politics.

The ruling PiS has recently started emphasising the positive role of the EU in the lives of Polish citizens. Jarosław Kaczyński, its leader, said: “The support for Poland’s EU membership is a requirement for anyone calling themselves a good patriot”.

Similarly, President Andrzej Duda, who comes from PiS but is now officially independent, suggested writing the clause about Poland’s EU membership into the country’s constitution.

The idea was not warmly welcomed across the political spectrum and the opposition candidates attacked PiS saying that this rhetoric is only a veil to cover its intentions for a Polexit.

Leszek Miller, former prime minister and leading candidate of the European Coalition, said the aim of the Polish government was “to carry out a soft Polexit, meaning that it wants to keep Poland at the lowest possible level of European integration”.

The European Coalition wants to show that PiS is, in fact, anti-European and keeping it in power will basically mean more years of quarrels with Brussels and Poland’s further slide toward the east.

But the topic that will most probably have the greatest impact on voters is the paedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. Prompted by the new film “Tell No One”, which depicts stories of priests’ victims, it may be a factor when it comes to voting.

In the wake of the scandal, both the European Coalition (EC) and Wiosna seem to benefit from the fact that Pis is close to the Church. Especially Wiosna, which is strongly anti-clerical and voices its opposition to the presence of the Church in public political debates.

Leaders and losers

Most polls give a slight advantage to the Law and Justice (PiS). For example, an RMF FM poll gives 35.1% for PiS and 31.9% for the European Coalition. Also, the latest predictions by the European Parliament indicate that PiS leads with 40.6%, followed by the European Coalition at 36.3%, Wiosna at 8.3% and Kukiz’15 party (5.5%).

In terms of mandates, this results in 23 seats for PiS, 21 for the EC, 4 for Wiosna and 3 for Kukiz’15.

On the other hand, the latest poll conducted by Newsweek Poland places the EC in the first place (41.94%) while PiS comes second (39.04%) and Wiosna third at 9.57%.

Turnout in the previous elections was barely 24% but when asked today, almost 55% said they would vote.

Post-election talks

Regarding the post-election groupings in the EU House, the core of the European Coalition (PO and PSL) will remain in the EPP, while Wiosna is in talks with S&D.

As for the PiS, it is harder to tell. The party is currently in the ECR, but the composition of the group after the elections is not known yet and there are other options on the table.

Willing to form a Eurosceptic coalition, Matteo Salvini has been looking for partners across Europe, but PiS has not embraced his ideas, at least for now – also due to Salvini’s close ties with Moscow.

And then there is also a question about Viktor Orban and the future of his ruling Fidesz party (currently EPP), because it may affect PiS choices. The most likely scenario, however, is that the PiS will remain in the ECR.

Next Commissioner

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced a long rumoured government reshuffle to take place after the polls, due to the fact that several ministers from the ruling Law and Justice party are running in the election.

There have been rumours about former Prime Minister Beata Szydło as the next European Commissioner. However, she is running for an MEP seat and, given her poor performance domestically, is an unlikely candidate.

Rumours have suggested that even Morawiecki himself might be eyeing a Commissioner’s job, but sources close to the government assured this not to be the case.

The other names that regularly pop up include Tomasz Poręba, chairman of PiS’s electoral campaign and an influential person in the party, Konrad Szymański, deputy foreign minister for European affairs, and Adam Bielan, a deputy Marshall of Senate. But there may also be other possible candidates, like MEP Ryszard Czarnecki.

[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos / Alexandra Brzozowski]

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