Saturday

17th Apr 2021

Tories risk fresh embarrassment over EU bedfellows

  • The EU parliament - if PiS splits, the Tories' ECR group stands to lose power (Photo: European Parliament)

A split in the Polish Law and Justice party, the British Conservative Party's main ally in the European Parliament, risks further diminishing London's influence in Brussels and causing fresh embarrassment over issues such as homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Three MEPs from Law and Justice (PiS in its Polish acronym) - Adam Bielan, Michal Kaminski and Pawel Kowal - announced on Polish TV on Tuesday (16 November) that they are to form a new "association" called "Poland is the Most Important" together with two ex-PiS MPs, Elzbieta Jakubiak and Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, who were recently expelled from the party over alleged disloyalty to its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The coup comes days before local elections in Poland on Sunday (21 November) and is widely expected to see the rebels leave to form a party of their own.

The group, dubbed the "Spin Doctors" by Polish media, masterminded Mr Kaczynski's recent presidential election campaign, which saw the party adopt a more moderate and centrist rhetoric and which fell just a few percentage points short of victory.

More hawkish members of the party, led by PiS MEP Zbigniew Ziobro, want to take PiS back to its heartland of hard-right supporters in Polish rural regions and amongst older voters however, a perspective that is causing serious tensions within the party.

Analysts warn that if PiS splits in two, the development could have consequences for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament, where the Tories sit with the Poles.

Piotr Kaczynski (no relation to Jaroslaw), an expert at the Centre for European Policy Studies (Ceps), a Brussels-based think-tank, told EUobserver that Mr Kaminski, who is currently the ECR group leader, would have to step down. He added that the PiS reformists might even leave the ECR in favour of more moderate allies, such as the liberal Alde group. Two more Polish ECR deputies - Marek Migalski and Konrad Szymanski - would likely go with them.

"If the ECR falls below 50 MEPs, they stand to lose power in the new allocation of posts that takes place in the mid-term of the legislature. They currently have just one important committee chair, on the internal market. They could lose this," Mr Kaczynski said.

The loss of the ex-PiS-ites would throw open the ECR leadership question, with the PiS rump under Mr Ziobro likely to press for him to become the new leader or co-leader with the Tories.

The Conservative Party in the UK, which rules in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, has already taken flak in left-leaning British media over its association with Mr Kaminski, who allegedly made homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks some years ago.

The PiS rump under Mr Ziobro and Mr Kaczynski would be a different kettle of fish again.

Mr Ziobro has not himself spoken out against gay people or Jews. But his circle of close supporters or so-called "Ziobro-ites" in PiS have between them broken just about every taboo in European politics.

PiS MP Stanislaw Pieta in November compared homosexuality to "necrophilia." Ziobro-ite MP Artur Gorski in 2008 said that Barack Obama is "the end of the white man's civilization," while another follower, senator Ryszard Bender, back in 2000 said Auschwitz was "not a death camp, but a labour camp."

Mr Ziobro also relies for political support on Tadeusz Rydzyk, an openly anti-Semitic and homophobic Roman Catholic TV and radio preacher.

"The split will radicalise PiS into a much more backward-looking form of conservatism. It doesn't mean they are a priori homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-European, but this is the kind of direction the new PiS would be heading in and Ziobro would be the leader of this process," Ceps' Mr Kaczynski said. "If this is not true, let them speak out and say it's not true."

A spokesman for Timothy Kirkhope, the deputy chairman of the ECR group, said: "Mr Kaminski continues to have Timothy's full support as chairman of the group." A spokesman for the ECR group said the PiS changes are a "purely internal matter."

This story was amended at 12.00 noon Brussels time on Wednesday 17 November, adding the quote on Mr Kirkhope

MEPs to declare EU an LGBTI 'freedom zone'

The symbolic move is an attempt to buttress against right-wing governments' increased scapegoating of LGBTI people, particularly in Poland and Hungary.

Analysis

Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves

The debate over Fidesz had become an unbearable political burden on EPP - but it also represented a core dilemma for many centre-right, mainstream parties struggling to deal with their populist challengers.

EPP group moves forward to suspend Orban's Fidesz

MEPs are scheduled to vote on Wednesday to change the rules of procedure of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group to allow the suspension of a member party.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us