Poland: the EP campaign is a good time to introduce new actors onto the party scene By Micha? Syska

Policy Study

09/10/2014

For the last six years the Polish political scene has been dominated by two right-wing parties: the ruling liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO, European People’s Party) and the oppositional, conservative-national Law and Justice (PiS, European Conservatives and Reformists). The remaining political circles will attempt to break this bipolar division in the coming European Parliament elections. Under Polish conditions, the EP campaign is a good time to try and introduce new actors onto the party scene, as it does not require the financial resources and organisational effort typical for national parliament elections. What is more, the voters are more likely to make risky decisions and act against the principle of making each vote count and not “wasting” it on new, small groups.

Shifts on the right-wing

The Polish Peasant Party (PSL, European People’s Party), the smaller coalition partner of the Civic Platform, is trying to include residents of large cities into their electoral base and is offering mutual tickets to well-known politicians from the right-wing, who have in recent years left the ranks of PiS or PO.

Extreme, nationalist right-wing circles, fascinated with the success of the Hungarian Jobbik party, are trying to gather under a common Nationalist Movement and ensure access to political capital through anti-European slogans and by preventing Poland from entering the Eurozone.
This competition on the right will most likely lead to PiS becoming increasingly radical as it fervently defends its hegemony in national and traditionalist right-wing circles.

Shifts on the left-wing

A new group is struggling for hegemony on the left. It has quite unexpectedly entered the Polish parliament in 2011. Although the Palikot Movement (RP) is a group founded by a millionaire and former PO parliament member (the name of the Movement comes from his last name) and is related to Thatcherism rather than social democracy in its economic postulates, it is constantly referred to as a left-wing party in mainstream media due to the anti-clerical element of its programme and postulates supporting the rights of women and sexual minorities. Palikot is intent on enabling his party to run for the EP as part of a broader coalition with Greens, liberal politicians once related to the social democratic SLD and centre-right groups. Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the former social democratic president of Poland, is being convinced to lead the “Europa Plus” coalition (the name has been announced a number of days ago).

Janusz Palikot is open about the initiative being directed mostly against the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats), which is trying to rebuild its position on the political scene since its fiasco in the last parliamentary elections (8%). A couple of days ago, Leszek Miller, the leader of the SLD, announced that the party will run for the EP on its own and will invite the representatives of non-partisan social movements to share its ticket. The potential emergence of a competitor in the form of the “Europa Plus” coalition is not the only challenge faced by SLD before the EP campaign.

Axis of Conflict

It seems that the European debate in Poland will revolve around the issue of the fiscal pact and the replacing of the national currency with the Euro. PO, PSL, RP and SLD will vote in the Polish Parliament for the ratification of the fiscal pact. These parties see that rejecting the pact may lead to Poland becoming marginalised as a second-class European Union member, with no influence on key decisions regarding the fate of the entire community.

PiS and the Solidarity Poland (SP, a small party brought to life after a split in PiS) will vote against the ratification as they oppose further integration within the EU. The growing reserve among citizens towards the idea of introducing a European currency will definitely make things easier for these parties.

The political scene will thus be divided between the advocates of European Union integration and its opponents. SLD will end up in one camp with neoliberal groups and will act in opposition to PiS, which will once again try to mobilise voters from social groups who do not benefit from contemporary capitalism. This type of political dispute logic will prove most functional for the two greatest actors: PO and PiS, who will lead both camps, further fortifying the bipolar division on the political scene.

The fact that European problems are not in the heart of interest of Polish voters and tabloidised media may be an opportunity for the left. National issues have the greatest impact on the results of the European elections, and these are not heading in the proper direction in Poland. Recession in the economy, rising unemployment, the dismantling of the public services sector through the marketisation of health care and education—these phenomena are becoming increasingly prominent. The solution for SLD to break free from the deadlock is to formulate a social democratic programme alternative for the current government’s policies and to focus the political dispute around social and economic issues. This is the only way to regain a relevant position on the political scene. It is also a chance for success in the European Parliament elections.

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