“Elections remind us not only of the rights but the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.” The words of Robert Kennedy which we do well to remember in an age when dissatisfaction with politicians leads to voter apathy and cynicism. And this, tends to make the position worse not better. The simple fact is that the only way to bring about change is through participation. In Poland, in the run up to the European parliamentary elections, the politicians are certainly trying to engage the voters.
The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) held a convention in Poznań on Saturday at which party leader Jarosław Kaczyński said that EU membership was a “prerequisite of Polish patriotism” adding that “there is no two-speed EU, or two-quality Europe”. He also argued against the euro, saying that its adoption would “strike at the Polish economy and result in losses”. He made the point that despite this, the opposition still supported adoption of the euro. The prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that “the European Parliament needed such a representation that would guarantee a Europe of nations”.
A regional convention of the opposition European Coalition was also held in Poznań, with speeches from the leaders of the parties participating in the Coalition: Civic Platform’s Grzegorz Schetyna, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz of the People’s Party, Katarzyna Lubnauer of Nowoczesna, Włodzimierz Czarzasty of the SLD, and the Green Party’s Małgorzata Tracz. Schetyna also announced that on May 18, a week before the elections, the Coalition will lead a march under the banner “Poland in Europe”, for all those who want “a free, European Poland”.
All of which tends to support the view of EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker who said in an interview on Monday that Poland is unlikely to leave the European Union, even if PiS party wins re-election this year. In response to a question by the Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita on whether there will be a ‘Polexit’ after parliamentary elections in Poland in the autumn, Juncker said: “No.” “Poland is with us (the European Union) because we have common values.”
The opposition has repeatedly warned that Law and Justice could eventually lead the country out of the EU, despite PiS’s statements to the contrary. Although the government has been in conflict with the European Commission over its reforms of the Polish court system, and the Commission’s launching of an unprecedented rule of law procedure under article 7 of the EU Treaty, and notwithstanding clashes with on environmental protection and migration, EU membership remains popular in Poland with no plans to leave. The government knows a good deal when it sees it.
Thus, on Sunday, at a convention in Białystok, Morawiecki promised to seek to send more EU funds to the Podlasie region which he hoped would become “not only the geographic but also the economic centre of Europe”. Jarosław Kaczyński spoke of the Via Carpatia transport route linking ten countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea, saying that it would “change European geopolitics”. As the Prime minister said on Monday, EU subsidies have boosted Poland’s economic development: “We have benefitted greatly from EU membership in terms of the economy”.
Saturday also saw a convention held by the new “Wiosna” (Spring) party lead by Robert Biedroń. Speaking in Wrocław, he likened Poland to “a grounded plane. After 15 years in the EU we should be steering this plane but instead we are scraping the ground and not taking advantage of the opportunity awarded by EU membership”. He declared that his party was “ready to take matters into its hands”.
Be that as it may, an opinion poll by IBRIS for commercial radio RMF FM and daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna gives PiS 38,7 % of votes in the elections to the European Parliament, 33 % to the opposition European coalition, with ‘Spring’ third at 8.2 %. Some 49 per cent of respondents said that they intended to vote in the elections.
The performance of the coalition in the European elections will be of particular interest. If it does well, the question will be whether the leaders of the opposition parties will be able, or willing, to continue some form of coalition into the parliamentary elections, for it seems that PiS will most likely win these, given the popularity of its policies with its core supporters, who do turn out to vote. The opposition parties will have to find something which appears to have eluded them so far if they are to change that.