foto credits: Karolina Grabowska, Alex Fischer (Pixabay)
The forthcoming elections in Poland hold significant importance for the future of Europe. The ruling coalition comprising the Law and Justice (PiS) and Konfederacja parties has been lambasted for their threats to the rule of law and judicial independence. Moreover, they align with Vladimir Putin’s autocratic stance and criticize EU’s “interference”. The contender from the opposition, Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister of Poland and erstwhile President of the European Council, instills expectations of a reform. The PiS administration embodies social conservatism entwined with nationalism. They focus on emphasising Polish traditions and their role as defenders of Polish identity. However, their alliance with Konfederacja, a coalition of far-right parties, reveals their radicalism. On the contrary, Tusk embodies a conservative stance with a more «European» inclination, diverging from the ultra-right movement. Left-wing parties, such as the illustrious Alliance of the Democratic Left, appear to be overlooked in Polish politics. These elections will ascertain Poland’s direction and its stance within Europe.
Defining elements of PiS
Social conservatism and nationalism
The ruling party, PiS, has characteristics aligned with far-right leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro, including social conservatism and nationalism. PiS promotes traditional values, opposing LGTBI+ rights and advocating for pro-life positions (that is to say: against abortion) . The party also aligns closely with the Catholic Church, making it a strong force in rural areas. Nationalism is another key aspect, with PiS opposing EU values and proRussia. The Polish government controls the media and often focuses on revisionist narratives, particularly targeting EU or Germany, one of Poland’s perceived enemies. Online platforms such as polona.pl propagate ultra-nationalist and revisionist views, including conspiracy theories about “Jewish mafias” and George Soros. PiS also opposes the EU’s policy of not charging tariffs on Ukrainian grain, despite benefiting from Ukrainian refugees. These elections could have a domino effect on the Visegrad group and potentially contribute to a rise in anti-European positions…or not.
There has been a notable increase in populism in Poland, which could have consequential impacts on governance. The populist administration, headed by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, appeals to emotions and nationalism to garner public endorsement. They advocate economic policies that involve interventionism, protectionism, and welfare programs, despite the possibility that these policies may overburden certain groups while favouring others. The government’s tense relations with the EU are emphasized, specifically with regards to the principles of rule of law and democracy. The ruling coalition perceives the EU as a threat to Poland’s independence.
In addition, the PiS government stresses support for the armed forces to reinforce national security, while branding immigration as a perceived issue. However, paradoxically, the government’s interventionist approach undermines the military by bypassing military authorities and using them as scapegoats for failures. This demonstrates the government’s manipulation of the armed forces for political gain.
The meanderings of the Polish government are not new,
but rather their actions led to the erosion of democracy. One of the key elements targeted is the independence of the judiciary. However, this is not the sole sector under threat, as the government is also aiming to manage and limit freedom of expression in the media. Moreover, the imposition of substantial taxes on media advertising stifles media outlets, which are regarded as crucial to funding societal needs. The opposition encounters several hurdles, including reduced space for civil society and targeting by covert agencies. The electoral committee’s composition, in charge of validating elections, is customised to support the ruling party. One can recall Trump’s actions in the United States, which resulted in failing to validate the poll results. This lack of transparency extends to the electoral committee, increasing worries about the opposition’s possible triumph management.
Comparisons can be drawn to similar situations in Hungary under Viktor Orbán and Serbia under Aleksandar Vučić, both of whom have faced criticism for their anti-democratic practices. Poland could become a hybrid democracy like Serbia, which raises concerns about the country’s democratic standards. The European Union (EU) is worried about Poland’s anti-democratic drift, particularly given the crucial moment with the war in Ukraine and Israel’s recent response to a Hamas attack. The European Union must exercise caution while dealing with these matters, citing the recent controversy concerning Hungary’s commissioner for enlargement who made unauthorized statements on behalf of the EU. This resulted in complaints and rectifications from several member states.
Is there anything even more ultramontane than PiS? Yes: Konfederacja
Konfederacja is a controversial coalition partner of the Government of the PiS party and shares comparable ultramontane ideologies. They hold negative stances towards the LGBTI+ and feminism, with scarce female representation on their electoral rosters. Notable member Janusz Korwin-Mikke advocates for the exclusion of women from voting and devalues their worth. Additionally, Konfederacja objects to abortion, including in instances of rape. Whilst claiming to advocate for a free market, Konfederacja is known for harbouring strong anti-Semitic views, accusing Jews of conspiracies (for example, “Jewish mafias”). The party has gained traction amongst Poles who are disgruntled by escalating living costs, increasing migration and the Ukrainian conflict. They seek to transform Poland into a military power, and have a pro-Putin faction spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories. Konfederacja perceives itself as surrounded by enemies, specifically targeting US imperialism and NATO. These elections will determine whether Poland continues along an authoritarian path or restores democracy and aligns with European democratic standards. The outcome will also impact the Visegrad Group, potentially solidifying far-rightpower in the region.
This situation bears similarities to the Balkan conflict and echoes the current division within the EEC-EU 30 years ago, during the war in the former Yugoslavia, where various countries take differing stances on important issues. Hungary and Austria’s individual exploits serve as examples of testing the waters for future actions, raising speculation. The EU is apprehensive about Poland’s anti-democratic tendencies and actions, particularly in the context of ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Israel. Proceed with caution (enlargement fatigue). Await the forthcoming report from organizations like Freedom House, as it may contain surprises. There is a possibility that Poland may be categorised as a hybrid democracy, which could have repercussions for the wider region.
Of course: the Balkan connection
The term «enlargement fatigue» plays a critical role in the EU relation to Serbia’s integration into the EU. Poland was an early supporter to EU integration at the beginning of nineties, but nevertheless, its current position and actions are in direct conflict with European poliies. Consequently, the EU may question admitting a country, such as Serbia, which has aligned itself with Russian policies and ignored EU principles. We can also mention the challenges of managing a problematic member such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a more radical leader as Dodik. With global problems like the Ukraine war, Russian disinformation, the Gaza conflict, the possibility of Trumpism’s resurgence in the US, and rise of China power, the EU requires a reason to remain pertinent.
Tensions between the EU and Poland have the potential to escalate, which could have negative consequences for the EU’s role in the Asian century. Overall, the EU faces challenges and must exercise caution in its dealings with member nations such as Poland and prospective members like Serbia.