Bursting the Bubble

The European elections in Poland: Does no one really care? Not even the politicians?

5 May 2014 | by

It certainly won’t be far from true to say that ‘en masse’, the people of Poland do not have much passion for EU politics. They hardly give it any attention and do not consider it to be an important part of public life.

Sadly though, our politicians seem to be no exception to this rule. One might expect that with two weeks before the EP election, the campaign would be in full speed. Heated debates ought to be taking place on each media channel, vital European issues should have been taken to pieces long ago and opinion polls would expectedly be published at a daily pace.

Thus far, none of the above has come true. Even the anniversary of the EU access only brought a small explosion of summaries on how Poland has benefited from the 10 years of membership. Most of these summaries were exclusively money-oriented and the wide, yet shallow, stream of funds pumped into Poland was the deepest the Polish media managed to dive into the waters of European affairs.

No wonder the society remains, at best, unenthusiastic about the election set to take place on Sunday 25 May. Only 33% declare interest in the election and the turnout is expected to hit record low. This means: very low, when given that the 2004 election set the bar at no higher than 21%.

As a result of the flimsy popular involvement and the low level of interest in the election, opinion polls are rare. At the beginning of May, the most recent survey from a reliable research center dated back to early April[*]. Thus, drawing conclusions about any trends or patterns in the electoral preferences is fairly challenging.

The Civic Platform: Will the incumbent leader persist?

Nonetheless, some developments are evident. Quite clearly, the ruling Christian-democratic PO (Civic Platform) managed to make a swift recovery after a long time of trailing the conservative PiS (Law and Justice). PO got a bump after the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula, proving that a sudden comeback of a military threat can effectively push people to flock around the nation’s leadership.

Yet the PO’s lead is still far from stable, and the main concern remains; will the party uphold the position of power? Last time, PO won the elections, carrying off a convincing 44,5% result. It gave them half of the 50 Polish mandates. To repeat that result, PO would have to do much better than the 25%-30% it’s expected to get this time.

The right wing: suppressing the rebellion

Since 2009, the PO team in the EP successfully maintained its integrity and lost only one MEP, who chose to join a new political initiative. On the contrary, the runner-up PiS (Law and Justice) shrunk in truly dramatic proportions. Its initial number of 15 MEPs dwindled to just 7. That radical decrease was a result of the party’s well-established policy of absolute loyalty. Anyone who disobeys must go.

After detaching themselves from the mother ship, the dropouts such as the MEPs Z. Ziobro and P. Kowal drifted away in various directions. Ziobro’s ‘Solidary Poland’ tried to outdo PiS in witch-hunting and conservative obscurantism, while Kowal’s ‘Poland Together’ made itself known for being passionately pro-life and simultaneously expressing support to death penalty.

Both Kowal and Ziobro have little chance of re-election. Their boats are increasingly taking on water and the struggle to stay on surface in the campaign is quickly becoming desperate. The same applies to the marginal, xenophobic National Movement, which also tried to find some room in the crowded right side of the Polish politics.

After the election, PiS will surely see its EP team rebuilt and disciplined again. The only remaining concern might be their membership in the ECR group along with the Britain’s Conservative Party. Getting along with the Tories, who are increasingly hard on the Polish immigrants and also unacceptably soft on same-sex marriage, can become demanding and might push PiS to change its political affiliation.

The left wing: nostalgic euro-enthusiasm, hysteric variability and the epic green fiasco

The situation on the other side of the aisle is far from thrilling. SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), the party which brought Poland to the EU, eagerly puts that appreciable achievement on its banners. But as the biggest player in the left wing, it should rather be more aggressive than nostalgic, especially when with their forecasted result just above the 5% threshold, it might cost them a few of the 7 seats they won by getting 12% in 2009.

The one to challenge SLD on the left side is an alliance founded by J. Palikot, the controversial leader of the Your Movement party, gathering some merited activists along with many businessmen of dubious reputation. Sailing under the name Europa Plus, the coalition seems to have stranded in shallow water.

Besides the Palikot’s party, Europa Plus boasts a number of reputable politicians, including the former president, A. Kwaśniewski. As the co-author of the Polish EU membership, he could effectively outweigh the bragging done by SLD, but ever since announcing his involvement in the campaign, he remained alarmingly silent.

If the inactivity from its main asset wasn’t enough, Palikot’s party is having serious identity problems. Trying to attract young voters with a progressive stance on soft drugs, the role of the Church and LGBT rights, it failed to build a more general profile of itself. Ever since the party surged into the parliament 3 years ago, Your Movement kept oscillating between a radically socialist agenda and avid liberalism.

Nobody knows where the party is at the moment, as its main candidate R.Kalisz actively promotes the introduction of a universal basic income, while Palikot himself manifestly boasts about his friendship with the ALDE leader Verhofstad. If they make it to the European Parliament, Europa Plus would likely join the liberals, but can anybody know for sure?

Lastly, this election is the first ever to see the Green Party of Poland (Partia Zieloni) run on its own list. Awesome, isn’t it? Not quite. The Polish Greens are running in only 5 out of the 13 constituencies, which means their chances against the powerful political armadas are even lower than usually.

The reason why I’m bringing the Greens up is how close they were from playing in the same league with the giants. In the Polish voting system, a party must collect 10 000 signatures to get its list registered in a single constituency. To run in the whole country, it must collect enough signatures in 7 of them. By doing so in 5, the Greens fell short of a nationwide run by just two districts and a few thousands signatures.

It’s simply embarrassing that the Greens failed to collect enough signatures in a city like Kraków, where many green activists are based and where such issues as air pollution are in the spotlight. The debacle with registering the lists doesn’t only show how far the Polish Greens are from the position they have in other EU states. It shows how much they fall behind in terms of pure political efficacy and motivation to act..

[*] Most of the hardly available reliable numbers were taken from the CBOS opinion poll, published 30 April 2014

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