In one of the EU’s most dynamic nations, the European elections are heavily dominated by domestic political discourse. Poland’s decision on May 25th will set the tone for the country on both the national and European level. By Felix Lettau
Poland’s history as an EU member-state began in 2004 when 77% of Poles voted in favour of membership in a referendum. After a period of scepticism toward furthering European integration, a political change in 2007 saw Poland seeking more inclusion and becoming one of the most dynamic countries of the eastern EU.
Poland boasts some of the most impressive economic figures among the Union’s member states, its economy tripling in size since 1989 as a result of liberal trade policies. What makes the country stand out is an economy which proved largely resilient to the sovereign debt crisis, with Poland’s GDP growth above the EU average for the past ten years. Ahead of the election, there is a discussion about when Poland will join the Eurozone, as the 2004 accessors to the Union have an obligation to do so. However, many argue that the country’s economy still needs restructuring before adopting the common currency. A further much discussed problem on the political agenda is the unemployment rate of 10 percent, soaring to 26 percent among Poland’s youth. When the Polish people vote on May 25th, the country’s domestic problems as well as the nation’s outlook towards the European Union will play roles in a heated election race. 2014 marks only the third time Poland participates in European Parliament elections; 51 MEPs, 6% of seats, will be elected by the Polish population.
The two major parties in Poland are the centre-right Civic Platform, and the conservative Law and Justice. The two parties have dominated the political sphere since 2005, maintaining competition for a majority of votes compared to fractured alternative parties. Law and Justice, famously founded by the Kaczyński brothers in 2001, is sceptical towards Poland’s adoption of the euro. During Law and Justice’s government, Poland was by some considered to be hesitant in its policies regarding European integration. The party has enjoyed great popular support with a conservative agenda, while simultaneously leaning towards economic interventionism. They are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes the UK’s Conservative Party. Meanwhile, Civic Platform is currently in power nationally under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has made a conscious effort to create a more EU-friendly policy in Poland, moving the country away from an association with the Eurosceptic United Kingdom. The party is associated with the European People’s Party.
Among the middling parties in Poland’s political system, the far-right party RN have made headlines for entering the European Parliament elections for the first time. It joins the right-wing party United Poland as part of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping in the elections, yet has hopes to join a coalition of other right-wing parties of Europe such as the Dutch PVV and France’s Front National. The Polish People’s Party – centrist, Christian-democratic and coalition partner with Civic Platform – favours state interventionism and moderation of privatisation. Similar to Civic Platform, the Polish People’s Party is part of the European People’s Party. The European Party of Socialists and Democrats draws three Polish national parties: the Democratic Left Alliance, Labour United and Your Movement. Left-wing and socialist parties have a fractional status in Poland compared to the two main parties, although the recently founded Your Movement currently holds 36 seats in the lower house. Lastly, Poland Together, a party founded in late 2013, runs as part of the European Conservatives and Reformists.
In the lead up to Poland’s presidential election in 2015, many view Polish votes in the European elections as overly concerned with domestic rather than international issues. May 25th, according to some, can be seen as a prelude to the national elections which Law and Justice is likely to win based on recent poll results and the party’s oppositional potential to the center-right Civic Platform. Currently, as a result of the 2009 elections, 25 seats in the European parliament are held by Civic Platform, 15 by Law and Justice, 7 by the Democratic Left Alliance, and 3 by the Polish People’s Party. In the most recent poll conducted by TNS Polska on February 12th, Law and Justice received a majority of 26%, whilst Civic Platform was backed by 20% of respondents. Throughout the last months, Law and Justice came out ahead of Civic Platform in popular opinion polls. This trend can be expected to be reflected in May’s election outcome.
The significance of Poland’s participation in the 2014 European Parliament elections lies within the nation itself, as the country reorientates itself in its position towards the European Union ahead of next year’s presidential election. While with 6% the Polish electorate is not a negligible portion of the Parliament, the real importance in the Polish vote for Europe lies elsewhere. As an economic powerhouse and with a large population, Poland is a leading country among the Eastern European states of recent accession that shares an obligation to sooner or later adopt the heavily troubled euro as its currency. With Europe at a crossroads with the crisis and this year’s election, the Polish vote will stand as both representative and direction-leading among Eastern states of the EU. The outcome of the election, as well as the reaction of the Polish public, will have to inform the European Union’s policies with regards to the role of and interactions with its Eastern members.
Image: “Polish Flag” courtesy of Thomas N. via Flickr. Published under Creative Commons 2.0.