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Battle for Brussels
April 30, 2014   
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European Parliament elections have a reputation as being boring. But not in Poland, not this year. Emotions are running high as the country’s largest parties battle for supremacy. Smaller groupings are fighting just to survive. Euroenthusiasts are warning voters against the Euroskeptics, while the Euroskeptics are rubbing their hands with glee as opinion polls indicate that the new European Parliament will to a much larger extent be made up of politicians cautious about the growing role of the “Brussels superstate.”

Election day, May 25, will see the long-awaited finale of a power struggle between the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party and the opposition Law and Justice (PiS), the two giants that have been dominating Polish politics for the last decade. Over the past year, PiS had gained an advantage of around 10 percentage points over the PO in some polls, but in recent weeks the two parties have been running almost neck and neck. Some political scientists say this is due to the Ukrainian crisis and a flurry of Polish government activity on the international arena. Others say that the PO has won back voters concerned about preventing PiS from returning to power, especially as voters have been offered no attractive alternative by other groups. One way or another, the showdown at the ballot box on May 25 will be the first key test of support for the government and the opposition in more than 30 months. It may also—and this is probably even more important than seats in the European Parliament—influence voter sentiment ahead of Poland’s autumn’s local elections and next year’s parliamentary elections. There’s a lot at stake.

Does anyone have a chance in the race apart from the two front-runners? Again, experts are divided. Some expect surprises, but opinion polls are increasingly relentless. The latest surveys indicate that, apart from PiS and the PO, only the Democratic Left Alliance, Poland’s largest left-wing party, will make it into the European Parliament. It is not even certain if the PO’s junior coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), will manage to cross the 5-percent voter support threshold; support for this party does not exceed 4 percent in the polls.

If the polls prove right, the Polish political landscape may soon look very different. The PSL is not the only party that is struggling. Small groupings such as Solidarna Polska, led by Zbigniew Ziobro, former justice minister in a PiS-led government, and Polska Razem, led by Jarosław Gowin, Ziobro’s successor as justice minister in the PO-PSL government, are careening toward political obscurity. Nor are things looking good for Your Movement, a party led by the scandal-loving enfant terrible of Polish politics, Janusz Palikot. After his spectacular success in the last Polish parliamentary elections, Palikot vowed that his group would win not only the European elections, but also the next elections to the lower house in Poland. Meanwhile, Your Movement is drifting along with its support at between 1 and 4 percent. If the polls prove accurate when voters head to the ballot box, Palikot’s party could turn out to be just another fleeting presence in Polish politics.

Finally, the European Parliament elections are probably the last chance for Poland’s radical right-wingers. The polls give a chance—albeit slight—to only one such grouping, the New Right, led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a political veteran who has run in all possible elections in Poland since 1989. He was in the Polish parliament only once, briefly, in the early 1990s. Korwin-Mikke has vowed that, if he makes it to Brussels and Strasbourg, he will immediately declare war on the “European superstate”, “boot out all those eurocrats” and “punish those thieves.” Come May 25 we’ll find out if this kind of radical Euroskepticism wins Korwin-Mikke enough support to secure him a voice in the European Parliament.
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