Countdown to European Elections
April 30, 2014
Polish voters head to the polls May 25 to elect deputies to the European Parliament in a key test for the country’s political parties ahead of upcoming local, presidential and parliamentary elections.
Poland’s largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), which for several months has led in the opinion polls, is hoping the European elections will allow it to demonstrate its strength and deal a humiliating blow to the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party. The PO and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), coalition partners that have been in government since 2007, have been trying to persuade voters that they are the only parties capable of effectively representing Poland in the EU. The governing parties and PiS are openly treating the European elections as a showdown before Poland’s local elections this autumn and parliamentary and presidential elections in the autumn of 2015.
Explaining the PiS election campaign slogan, “Serving Poland, Listening to Poles,” party leader Jarosław Kaczyński said at a convention in April that “in order to serve, you also need to listen.” The urgent need to hear what voters had to say was, according to Kaczyński, the reason PiS has held a string of conferences recently involving experts on various topics of public concern. The PiS leader believes that Poles above all want to feel secure, especially at a time of tensions caused by the crisis in Ukraine and fears that Russia aims to increase its dominance in the region.
Kaczyński also named wage levels, the labor market and health care as areas that need improvement to ensure that Polish citizens feel secure. He said the government has been failing on all these counts for years.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s PO party also held a convention in April. Jacek Rostowski, a former finance minister in the PO-PSL Cabinet, said during the convention that, in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine, it was vital for Europe and NATO countries to stand united. He added that, due to the crisis in Ukraine, the European Parliament elections would be the most important such vote since Poland joined the EU in 2004, if not since Eurodeputies were elected for the first time in 1979. Rostowski criticized prominent PiS members for regularly insulting Poland’s allies with anti-EU rhetoric and for “saber rattling that won’t scare Vladimir Putin in any case.” According to Rostowski, European unity will to a certain extent depend on whom Poles elect to the European Parliament.
Prominent PO members who came to the convention and encouraged Poles to vote for the party also included former European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek and Janusz Lewandowski, the EU budget commissioner. Buzek told the convention that Europe needed “to be open and diversified” and Lewandowski added that the PO’s candidates would guarantee “a strong Poland in a Europe that is secure.”
In the run-up to the European elections, the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has formed a coalition with the Labor Union party, which has no deputies in the Polish parliament. SLD leader Leszek Miller, who was Poland’s prime minister 2001-2004, said that deputies from the SLD-Labor Union coalition would make Poland “a country of opportunities that have been seized instead of chances that have been missed.” He added that it was under an SLD government that Poland had joined the EU in 2004 at time when GDP was steadily rising and unemployment was falling. The SLD, Miller said, offers Polish voters a natural and attractive alternative to the otherwise limited choice between the “lethargic government of the PO-PSL coalition and the madness of Smolensk.” The latter was a reference to accusations hurled by PiS at the PO and at Prime Minister Tusk ever since President Lech Kaczyński, his wife and 94 other people died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, four years ago. PiS rejects the findings of government commissions that the crash was an accident and instead suspects that foul play was involved.
The run-up to the European Parliament elections has been a tough time for junior coalition partner PSL, which is struggling to hit the 5-percent level of voter support needed to make it into parliament. The party has not been contributing much to the pre-election political debate in Poland other than arguing that measures need to be taken to improve the labor market and that more help is needed for Polish families.
Polish voters will go to the polls May 25 to elect 51 European Parliament members from 13 constituencies. Each party and grouping needed to collect at least 10,000 signatures from supporters in order to be able to register a lineup of candidates. So far, lists of candidates in all constituencies have been registered by nine parties and coalitions—PO, PiS, PSL, SLD-Labor Union, Europa Plus-Your Movement, Polska Razem (Poland Together), Solidarna Polska, Nowa Prawica (the New Right), and Ruch Narodowy (The National Movement).
Recent opinion polls indicate that only three Polish parties will make it into the European Parliament. According to the TNS Polska polling company, these are PiS with a forecast 31-percent level of voter support, the PO with 27 percent, and the SLD with 8 percent. However, 21 percent of respondents were still undecided about whom they would support.