Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Poland sends EU reform letter in heated election climate

  • PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski is widely seen as the de facto ruler of Poland (Photo: pis.org.pl)

The EU should give up powers to national parliaments in future, Poland has said - amid simmering tensions in the country over gender politics in the run-up to European elections.

The proposal to create a "red card" system in which national parliaments could veto EU laws was put forward in a letter by the Polish government to the 27 other EU capitals and the EU Council in Brussels on 20 May, according to Rzeczpospolita, a Polish daily.

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  • Poles to vote in EP election on 26 May (Photo: Wistula)

The Polish government's EU reform plan also said migration must be made a national competence under European law, echoing its earlier boycott of EU migrant-sharing quotas.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party depicted its EU blueprint as a grand vision on a par with French president Emmanuel Macron's earlier EU proposals, which - by contrast - envisaged deeper integration.

"Only three EU leaders - [Polish prime minister] Mateusz Morawiecki, Emmanuel Macron, and [Austrian chancellor] Sebastian Kurz, have declared readiness to open the European treaties. Building compromise in this matter will still take a lot of time. So we're trying to show what's possible here," Polish EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanski told Rzeczpospolita.

The other PiS reform ideas sounded less eurosceptic than the red card one.

The EU ought to create a single digital market, consider imposing new taxes on global internet giants, and aim for CO2 neutrality, but in a way that did not harm member states' economies, the Polish letter also said.

It should cooperate with Nato on joint defence and boost the powers of its Frontex border control agency, the text added.

And the ideas already had the support of between 13 and 17 other EU leaders, Szymanski, the PiS minister, told the Polish newspaper.

Tight race

News of the PiS initiative came just five days before Poles elect 51 MEPs in the European Parliament (EP) vote on 26 May.

PiS is set to win with 38 percent, according to one recent poll, by Ibris for the Gazeta Prawna newspaper, which put the European Coalition, a new bloc of pro-EU parties, second on 35 percent.

But the European Coalition might come first with 36 percent, beating the PiS side on 35 percent, according to another survey by Kantar for Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

At the same time, Poland's first openly-gay politician, Robert Biedron, who is campaigning on anti-global warming and animal rights, might come third with eight percent to 10 percent.

And the turnout could be as high as 39 percent to 53 percent - compared to just 24 percent the last time round.

The EP battle will set the scene for Polish parliamentary and presidential elections later this year and early next year.

It will also pit the PiS party's powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, against his nemesis, Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who has chaired the EU Council for the past five years, and who might be planning a comeback to national politics.

The pre-election atmosphere has been drenched in sexual and gender-identity politics, following a viral film about paedophile priests and a PiS attack on an LGBTI activist.

But if the EU reform letter was meant to show the ruling party in a more pro-European light ahead of the EP vote, Kaczynski's recent attacks on EU values showed the party in different colours.

True colours?

The Civic Platform, the main party in the European Coalition, was part of a powerful "anti-Christian current in western Europe" Kaczynski said at a rally last weekend.

Poland had to "defend its values, everything that forms our tradition, which means what it is to be Polish, and which is today under attack" by blocking same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and Muslim migrants, he said.

It also had to defend the Polish national currency, the zloty, from Civic Platform's plan to join the euro, he added, depicting the zloty as another symbol of Polish identity in the face of "leftist politics directed against [our] traditional values".

"This zloty is under threat today," he said.

Kaczynski spoke after a recent documentary, watched millions of times on YouTube, about Polish paedophile priests put questions on values and sexual mores at the centre of the EP debate.

The film saw some voters swing from the pro-church PiS to the more secular European Coalition and to Biedron's party, pollsters said.

But Kaczynski stuck to his core territory, defending the Polish religious establishment.

PiS also defended "traditional" values in recent attacks on an activist who had painted the pro-LGBTI rainbow flag round the head of a Polish catholic icon on stickers and posters.

The EU, which protects LGBTI rights, has been "led astray by liberal-leftist elites", Jacek Sariusz-Wolski, a veteran PiS MEP added this week.

Graphic words

Tusk, for his part, took the anti-clerical side as the polling pendulum swung back and forth.

He told a pro-European Coalition march last Saturday that Kaczynski was trying to build a religious state akin to a Roman Catholic version of Islamic "sharia" law.

He had said earlier that he "could not get [his] head around" the prosecution of the rainbow-flag LGBTI activist by Polish authorities.

He also said on Saturday that PiS had "raped" the Polish constitution.

He used the graphic vocabulary to refer to judicial reforms which handed PiS control of the country's courts and which triggered a subsequent EU sanctions procedure on abuse of rule of law.

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At more than €100bn, Poland has received more EU funding that any other member state since 2004. The European Commission now wants Warsaw to contribute more to EU cohesion funds, join the euro, and stop backsliding on rule of law.

Analysis

Kurz's 'new EU treaty' - election noise or necessity?

Sebastian Kurz's call for a new EU treaty has raised some eyebrows, as policy experts and politicians in his native Austria questioned why the chancellor had not made those reform proposals last year - during the actual Austrian EU presidency.

Happy young Finns don't vote in EU elections

In Finland, only 10 percent of 18-24-year-olds voted at the previous EU elections in 2014. General satisfaction with the status quo of the EU membership could explain why youngsters do not feel like they need to vote.

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

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