Poland ahead of the EU elections

Poland has become increasingly polarized in recent years by liberal and conservative views. The European elections on Sunday, 26 May, will see Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) party face off an alliance of centrist, liberal and pro-European forces – the European Coalition (Koalicja Europejska, KE). In fact, parties included in the coalition are ideologically diverse, from the centric Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), rural conservative Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) to a left-wing Democratic Left Aliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD) and other minor parties like a liberal Modern (Nowoczesna, .N) or the Greens (Zieloni). The goal is one: to beat the Law and Justice party. The third important player – a new left-wing pro-EU party called Spring (Wiosna), led by a famous LGBTQ activist Robert Biedroń, is expected to gather around 5 to 10% of the votes. The right-wing Confederation (Konfederacja) and Kukiz‘15 may also land above the threshold of 5%. The Confederation is yet another coalition movement (composed of the Freedom party and the National Movement party), joined in an effort to bring right-wing ideas to Europe. The new grouping, led by the libertarian former MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, is (as you may expect) an openly anti-EU movement. But what makes these elections even more interesting is that they are dominated by the context of domestic politics.

Following the 2015 Polish parliamentary elections, PiS was able to form a majority government. The European elections will be an important test of popularity for Poland’s government and opposition parties, right before the next parliamentary elections this autumn. Defeat for Kaczyński’s party in May might damage its chances of maintaining its hold on the government. The presidential elections are coming soon as well (2020), and the stakes are high. It will further determine the future direction of Poland and its relationship with the European Union.

With less than a week to go before voters cast their ballots, the two major players go side by side in the polls. Various polls show mixed results among Polish voters, with either PiS or the Coalition on the lead (although several polls give a slight advantage to PiS). For example: Estymator poll (19 May) – PiS (40,3%), KE (38,5%), Wiosna (7,6%) and Kukiz’15 (5,1%) with a voter turnout of 38%; IBSP poll (17 May) – KE (43,63%), PiS (32,94%), Wiosna (9,06%) and Konfederacja (6,86%) with a voter turnout of 50,69%.

Both KE and anti-clerical Wiosna may benefit from the recent Church scandal. More than a week ago the shocking new documentary film “Just don’t tell anyone” (by Tomasz Sekielski) on the child abuse in the Polish Catholic church was released online. The stories of child abuse by several Polish priests have shocked many in Poland. It may be a factor when it comes to voting, as the Church has strong ties with PiS (Jarosław Kaczyński once said: “Whoever raises their hand on the Church, raises their hand on Poland!”). Still, it could also mobilize PiS voters. It will be interesting to see what the impact of the scandal is on the outcome of the elections, not only the European ones but also the national elections.

Poland will continue to be represented by 51 MEPs, but the 52nd MEP will take up his or her mandate immediately after Brexit. In terms of any future groupings, PO and PSL will remain in the EPP, Wiosna may join S&D, and PiS will probably remain in the ECR after indicating it does not feel comfortable aligning itself with Italian League leader Matteo Salvini’s new right-wing group because of his close ties with Russia.