The Corner

Poland’s Election (Updated with Links)

Poland has been one of Europe’s success stories in recent years, but Sunday’s election saw the defeat of an incumbent market-friendly government that was, by any measure, successful. CNN has the details:

Poland’s parliamentary election has seen the Eastern European nation edge further to the right, an election official announced Monday. Wojciech Hermelinski, head of the National Electoral Commission, said the centrist-right Law and Justice party, the PiS, won with 37.6% of the vote. The PiS is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother to former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash in 2010. Analysts say the party is more conservative on immigration than incumbent Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’s Civil Platform Party — known as the PO for its name in Polish, Platforma Obywatelska — which results show trailed the PiS with 24.1%.

The CNN report contains a not particularly sympathetic description of what PiS (a party that is socially conservative, but considerably more suspicious of the free market than the outgoing government) stands for, but it’s worth supplementing that with these comments from Dan Hannan on CapX:

Law and Justice are routinely portrayed in Western European newspapers as paranoid anti-German bigots, whose appeal rests on Catholicism and nostalgia. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any mainstream party in the EU that gets a more undeserved press.

And part of the reason for that?

[PiS] is Eurosceptic. However moderate and respectable a party is on other issues, criticising Brussels is – at least as far as The Economist and the FT are concerned – ipso facto proof of extremism. Never mind that, in opposing membership of the euro, Law and Justice has been utterly vindicated. Being right, in Europhile eyes, is no defence.

Writing in the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash, a leftish (as you will see) eurofundamentalist, but a writer who knows Poland very well writes:

PiS represents a large part of Polish society: patriotic, Catholic, conservative inhabitants of small towns and villages, especially in the poorer east and south-east of the country; people who don’t feel they have benefited from the transition to market democracy. It promises a strong state to protect them from the cold winds of economic and social liberalism. It is rightwing in culture, religion, sexual morality (no abortion or in vitro fertilisation), xenophobia (no Muslim refugees please, we’re Polish) and nationalism, but almost leftwing in its economic and social promises to the poor and left-behind. (Orbán conjures something of the same mixture in Hungary.) Simplifying greatly, there are two Polands, and this time this one won.

The Financial Times notes that:

Mr Kaczynski wants to slap new taxes on banks and supermarket chains, both largely foreign-owned. He proposes the central bank should lend the country’s banking system funds worth almost a fifth of gross domestic product in order to make cheap loans available to small and medium-sized businesses. This runs the risk of scaring foreign investors and damaging the country’s nascent financial markets.

And, as is the case elsewhere on the Continent, opposition to the status quo has been given a helping hand by overreach by the EU, most strikingly the decision to force almost every EU country to accept its ‘fair share’ of the current migrant wave, a decision that made a mockery of what little is left of national sovereignty within the EU.  The recent decision by the former Polish government to abandon the country’s Eastern European allies and vote for the mandatory resettlement quotas may have pleased Brussels and Berlin, but it did not play too well at home.

Writing for Open Europe before the results were announced, Pawel Swidlicki:

Expect a lot of lazy analysis in subsequent days especially from international commentators about how Poles have turned ‘away from Europe’. It is true that the makeup of the new parliament will be more sceptical while the most vocally pro-EU parties did poorly, but this is a superficial analysis. For starters, of all the parties, only KORWiN was explicitly anti-EU and it may well fail to obtain any seats, and poll after poll shows that Poles back EU membership by a wide margin – a GfK Polonia poll last month found that 84% of Poles did so compared to only 12% who were opposed.

That said, the result clearly highlights that Poles oppose deeper EU integration in a number of crucial areas. In terms of immediate flashpoints, the refugee crisis was the defining issue of the last couple of months and most of the opposition parties strongly opposed the PO government’s decision to participate in the EU-wide refugee relocation programme. The debate about the refugee crisis certainly triggered a nationalist reflex and EU member states’ decision to force through the relocation of  160,000 refugees last month could have profound and long-lasting implications for Poles’ attitudes towards the EU.

And (of course):

A more distant but no less fundamental issue is that of Poland’s euro membership. Although this question would have been kicked into the long grass even under a PO-led government, PiS has gone even further by arguing that Poland should only join the single currency when living standards have caught up with those in the West. Given that GDP per capita in Poland is 68% of the EU average– compared to 107% for the Eurozone as a whole – this could well be a matter of decades. The party has also pledged that if it forms the next government it will abolish the office charged with preparing the ground for euro membership – a largely symbolic move…

Symbolic, perhaps, but with a very welcome message.

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