In Poland, the May 2019 European Parliament (EP) election was fought in the shadow of the country’s upcoming general election, scheduled for 13 October 2019. This context is certainly one factor that increased the electorate’s interest in the European election; the turnout was an impressive 46% -- nearly twice as high as in 2014.
The contest was dominated by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which obtained more than 45% of the popular vote and 26 out of 51 Poland’s seats in the EP. The majority of opposition parties formed a bloc called the European Coalition (KE), comprising the Civic Platform (PO), the Modern (.N), the Polish People’s Party (PSL), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), and the Greens. The bloc obtained 39% of the popular vote and 22 seats in the EP. The remaining three seats were won by Robert Biedroń’s Spring (Wiosna) party, a new actor on the Polish political scene that obtained 6% of the vote. The rest of the registered electoral committees did not clear the threshold of 5%, a sine qua non condition for seats in the EP.
The events following the EP election, including the highly publicized 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War II, could all be considered as further stages of a prolonged campaign before the October national election. In this context, the process of negotiating the composition of the European Commission is far from being center of the public’s attention. Important events regarding these matters, however, occurred during the last week of August. As Poland was offered the position of the EU agriculture commissioner, the initial candidate for a Polish member of the Commission, Krzysztof Szczerski, withdrew his candidacy. Szczerski, a university professor in international relations and a senior advisor to Poland’s president, declared himself ”unsuitable” for dealing with matters of agriculture.
The Polish government thus proposed a new candidate, Janusz Wojciechowski, a member of the EP since 2004. The curious nuance in Wojciechowski’s biography is the fact that, in the years 2004 -2005, he was the leader of one of the parliamentary parties currently opposing the ruling PiS, namely the agrarian PSL. This move of the PiS leadership can thus be interpreted as an attempt to attract support of rural voters at the cost of the PSL. Poland’s current minister of agriculture is Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, who is highly popular among farmers, and clearly one of the faces of the PiS campaign. Furthermore, during the electoral convention of the PiS held on 7 September in the city of Lublin, the party’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński declared that the government would pursue raising the level of the EU-funded subsidies for farmers from the “new” member states to the level enjoyed by those from the “old” ones.
The fact that the ruling party targets rural voters with this sort of intensity puts the PSL in an uncomfortable position. For, meanwhile, the European Coalition that contested the EP election has dissolved, which leaves the PSL effectively alone, supported only by some politicians from Kukiz’15. One recent opinion poll estimated the support for the PSL at just 4.7%. The PSL thus faces the prospect of not entering the parliament for the first time since the collapse of state socialism in Poland.
Apart from matters related to agriculture, it is difficult to distinguish many instances of the campaign touching upon the European issues. Still, the PiS politicians, including Jarosław Kaczyński, repeat now and then in a rather ritual manner that they would not decide about Poland’s entering the eurozone until incomes in the country are at about the same level as in the “old EU”. Curiously, also the Civic Coalition (KO), composed of the PO, the .N and the Greens, does not seem to have this issue high on their agenda, despite earlier declarations that the introduction of euro in Poland was their priority. Also, on the 7 September the KO’s candidate for prime minister, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, asked by journalists about the processes of immigration to the EU, replied that that this was not an issue in the campaign. This might surprise one because Kidawa-Błońska’s party, the PO, is known for its support for the EU’s policy of immigrants’ relocation, based on country quotas.
All in all, it appears that the menu of political issues discussed following the EP elections, focusing on domestic matters and largely ignoring the EU, has been imposed successfully by PiS. The other parties seem to have adjusted, behaving reactively rather than trying to redirect the public’s attention towards Europe.