Polish Parliamentary Elections seen through Western European Countries’ Eyes

Barbara Zak

Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński (Leader of PiS), JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński (Leader of PiS), JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

It has been almost two months since the results of the Polish parliamentary elections have been revealed to the public. The overwhelming victory went to the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) which earned 37.58% of the total votes. The consequence of this success is translated into the party having 235 seats out of 460 – that is to say that they managed to seize the absolute majority of the Sejm (one of the Polish chambers) which is 230 seats plus another seat. The party also gained the absolute majority in the Senate with 61 seats out of 100. What was also amazing was the fact that the second party on the list of the election results, which is Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), the party that gained the two previous elections, has gained only 24.09% of the votes, namely 138 seats out of 460 seats in the Sejm and 34 seats out of 100 seats in the Senate. The third and fourth parties’ results do not exceed the 50 seats mark and have no seats in the Senate. It is important to note that no left-wing party has won any seat in the parliament – something that is utterly inconceivable for Western European democracies. The significant difference between the results is not to be taken lightly since it illustrates the position of the Poles towards the administration of their country : they have entirely trusted PiS with its promises and have given it all the tools needed to rule the country (we should not forget that the political affiliation of the incumbent President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, is PiS). To sum up, PiS has received enough seats to govern alone.

Every victory shall be congratulated, particularly when it is an overpowering victory. Polish press magazines have mentionned the party PiS as the main winner and have praised its considerable success. However, words of congratulations could not be found in Western European countries’ newspapers. I remember watching live broadcast from the parliamentary election results and my naive feelings of joy as PiS was declared the main winner. Truthfully, I was glad that a party was able to convince the majority of Polish people that they are willing to change Poland and Poles’ lives. But I also remember how this innocent hope of change for the better had been smashed as soon as I saw the headlines in French, English, Spanish and Italian newspapers. The common words that were basically mentionned everywhere in a very negative perception were „Eurosceptic, conservative, nationalist, ultranationalist, populist, extremist, extreme right-wing, far-right party”. Even the harsh word „xenophobic” was used to depict the winner of the elections. I was quite astonished to find such adjectives, but then I understood that the meaning of these words is perceived in a different way between Western and European countries.

The Western European countries’ opinions

(AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Jarosław Kaczyński and Beata Szydło celebrating its victory (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Western European countries’ newspapers have defined the key to victory as the result of an anti-migration campaign, of the anti-internationalisation of the country but rather the promotion of „what is our is better”, of the promise to keep young Polish people from moving to other countries because of unemployment, of a coming back to the nuclear family and a ban of the modern Western family, of the support of the Roman-Catholic church, of a pro-rural campaign and helping promises to poorer areas of the country. They have warned that the possible constitutional reforms could immerse the country into disastrous relations with the European Union (EU). The medias in these countries have shared their worries about the future of Poland regarding its membership of the EU. The tensions bewteen Paris-Berlin and Warsaw may arise. Since the pro-European Polish government (made of PO members) is no longer in office, the relations between the EU institutions and the new „excessively” conservative and nationalist government could be turbulent. Moreover, the fact that PiS claims to be more of a pro-American party is very worrisome in the eyes of Western European countries. Poland is gradually looking towards the United States of America in the sense that it seems to be willing to protect itself from the „permanent Russian threat”. Poland asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to focus on providing it with missile shield on Russia – as the EU does not have a common army, the only solution found by Poland was beyond the Atlantic ocean.

Source: ALIK KEPLICZ / AP

Jarosław Kaczyński (ALIK KEPLICZ / AP)

The media of Western European countries assimilate the electoral campaign of PiS as propaganda, using fear as its main tool. Every means is good to illustrate how dangerous this party is for the sake of the future of the EU. The most quoted sentence by Jarosław Kaczyński that can be found in the newspapers is basically that immigrants are like parasites and that they will bring various diseases. The medias remind to the population that this kind of xenophobic speech was used against Jews during Hitler’s ascension to the power. The leader of the Polish party is compared to the totalitarian personalities of the XXth century. The media say they foresee his eventual coup d’etat because of his undeniable thirst of power – Beata Szydło, the Polish prime minister, is more of a screen to Kaczyński’s actions rather than an independent figure. During his speech after the results of the parliamentary elections were out, Mr Kaczyński’s first words were a tribute to his late twin brother who died along with his wife in a plane crash while he was President of the Republic of Poland. In addition to the fact that their daughter was also present, the media of Europe perceived this as a means to move the population by reminding them of their late well-liked President. He did not speak of the promises they made.

Online version of the Italian nawspaper "La Stampa" right after the results

Online version of the Italian nawspaper „La Stampa” right after the results

The media said his speech was not appropriate for a winning speech. Moreover, Mr Kaczyński’s admiration for the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who is percieved to become Hungary’s next dictator in the occidental part of Europe, worries the Western European journalists. They are afraid Poland’s politics and diplomatical relationship with other European countries will become similar to Hungary’s. The fear of authoritarian government and the weakening of democracy values can be found in every article talking about this subject. The constitutional reforms were the first step Orbán took to cement his position. „Kaczyński’s party is willing to do the same” can be seen in the press of Western Europe. PiS political affiliations that are partisan to sovereignty alerts considerably the West of Europe. Furthermore, the medias tend to remind that Poland needs the European funds in order to develop itself. Thus the idea of electing a Eurosceptic government should be unthinkable for Poles. The French researcher, essayist and political commentator Jean-Yves Camus has said in an interview with Le Figaro (French newspaper) that the member states from the Eastern part of Europe think they are like lower-ranking associates – but it is untrue because they are represented by important European commissionners (the former prime minister Donald Tusk (PO) is a revealing example of it), he says.

 Poland’s response to the accusations

"Indestructible - what will Jaroslaw Kaczynski do now?" says Polish magazine Do Rzeczy

„Indestructible – what will Jaroslaw Kaczynski do now?” says Polish magazine Do Rzeczy

Nevertheless, all of these negative views of the winning party are not shared by the Polish people nor Polish media. In theory, PiS is a right-wing, national-conservative party. PO is also a right-wing party. The true far right, Eurosceptic party of Poland is KORWiN (Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic – Liberty and Hope). But PiS’ campaign was to rather care about the interests of Poland and of Polish people. Poles say that since the integration of the country into the EU, Poland has received a huge amount of funds but in return their political moves were dictated by the EU’s most powerful government, which are Western European countries. Poles say that the PO government has sold everything (especially banks and supermarkets) to the foreigners and speculators, thus Polish little companies have perished. The reason why Polish people have voted for PiS is that they wished for some changes from the PO government. PO being pro-EU was not well-received by Poles in the end. Harsh critics has been made against the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the former primer minister Ewa Kopacz depicted as puppets of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. Poland is starting to refuse the authority of Western Europe, for instance regarding the quotas of migrants it is told to welcome. The new government promised to make the voice of Poland be heard so people are looking forward to what it has in stores. Right after the elections, Polish newspapers have written that Poles are looking at the new government with hope for a better change.

The main motto of the Western European medias is „be aware of PiS governing Poland”. It is not well perceived that a conservative, Eurosceptic and xenophobic party, as they call it, was allowed to form the new government. These are the statements that can be found in Western European countries’ newspapers and their influence on the population is huge. They know they play an important role in forming the public opinion. The position of these medias will divide the EU more and more. However, we cannot hide the fact that this government has been elected in a democratic way. This is the answer of the Polish people towards their difficulties and worries. So rather than being a Polish crisis, as we can read in the medias of the Western European countries, it should be called a European crisis, and more specifically a European identity crisis : Poles feel above all else Polish rather than European. The national values got the upper hand on the European unity. We could feel it during Poland’s new prime minister Beata Szydło’s speech : only Polish white-red flags could be seen. No European flag. Not anymore.

Belgium

http://www.rtbf.be/info/medias/dossier/vu-sur-le-web/detail_des-populistes-remportent-les-elections-polonaises-selon-la-vrt-theo-francken-les-corrige?id=9121033

France

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/25/pologne-la-droite-conservatrice-remporte-les-elections-legislatives_4796630_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/23/pologne-la-fin-du-bon-eleve-europeen_4795312_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/09/15/face-aux-refugies-des-opinions-europeennes-profondement-divisees_4757942_3214.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2015/10/27/l-ue-inquiete-de-la-victoire-du-pis-en-pologne_4797652_3214.html

http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2015/10/27/31002-20151027ARTFIG00346-legislatives-en-pologne-ce-que-revele-la-montee-de-l-euroscepticisme-a-l-est.php

United Kingdom

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34631826

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34640535

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34638483

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/26/poland-election-idUSL8N12Q08J20151026

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/22/polish-elections-2015-a-guide-to-the-parties-polls-and-electoral-system

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6959c838-77fb-11e5-a95a-27d368e1ddf7.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/23/poland-election-law-and-justice-party

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16390574

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21748878

Spain

http://elpais.com/elpais/2015/10/26/opinion/1445893343_097387.html

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/10/26/actualidad/1445861367_552444.html

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/10/25/actualidad/1445764644_924199.html

http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2015/10/26/562e145322601dbc1e8b45bf.html

Italy

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/25/news/elezioni_polonia_-125883255/?ref=search

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/24/news/polonia_intervista_czarnecki-125812685/?ref=search

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/10/24/news/elezioni_polonia-125809157/?ref=search

http://www.corriere.it/esteri/15_ottobre_25/elezioni-polonia-primi-exit-poll-avanti-destra-anti-unione-europea-cccbd0a4-7b53-11e5-901f-d0ce9a6b55d1.shtml

Poland

http://www.fakt.pl/swiat/wybory-parlamentarne-2015-okiem-zagranicznej-prasie,artykuly,586388.html

http://www.wprost.pl/wybory-parlamentarne-2015/

http://www.wprost.pl/ar/523739/Zagraniczne-media-o-wyborach-w-Polsce-Prawicowa-zmiana/?pg=6#strona-komentarzy-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_parliamentary_election,_2015

Newspaper wSieci nr 46 16-22 november 2015 : article „Niezły rząd wielkich nadziei”, Piotr Zaremba

Bonus:

United States of America

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/26/europe/poland-election/

Reklamy

Cultural dimension of the European integration

Emil Wojtaluk

Have you ever thought about the comprehensive analysis of political culture inside EU institutions and the cultural policy of the EU as such? The aim of last week’s conference held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin was to answer these dilemmas.

PTSE

The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

“Political Culture in the European Parliament”

First of all, we have to realize that political culture can be understood as a sphere of influence, the way how politicians gain its power and then how they maintain it.

From the point of view of “neutralization of ideology” we may distinguish two examples referring to this term. First is the initial assumption of the founding fathers of the European Union, where the main goal was the economic integration, which indeed is true if we look at powers of the European Parliament. At that time they were significantly limited and the institution itself had only little influence on decision-making process.

The other example is that inside the EP, each political group gets some position because of the rule of consensus and geographical balance – where there is no competition, unlike national politics.

Another thing is the way of making decisions, where there is no fight for influence on decision-making. When the European Commission proposes legislation, the matter is then governed by the so called shadow rapporteur, who is responsible for particular project. He/she collects opinions, negotiates the draft with the EP and the Council and prepares the project for voting. Rapporteurs give opinion on a project carrying about presenting the view of their own political group, which does not look so transparent.

As a word of conclusion, we should not look at the decision-making process in the EU from the perspective of national politics.

 “Political Culture in the Council of the EU”  

This time it is not about understanding political culture as a formal way of making decisions (legal procedures), but more as a real life model we observe.

Again we have two approaches. According to first the representatives of member states in the Council (both administration and at ministerial level) act by a logic of consequences – meaning what consequences of their choices will be the best from the point of view of their own country. The second approach is about the logic of appropriateness (as a consequence of socialization processes ) so the way of behavior expected by the others.

There are three functions of the Council according to political science – negotiable, representative, and social. Through all of these, the most important one is negotiable function where everyone expects something in return. To be more precise it is again divided into three types of reciprocity: specific reciprocity – concerns specific case which is during negotiation process, in short term perspective; institutional reciprocity –e.g. when each member state has its presidency on rotational basis; diffusional reciprocity – when one member state makes concessions in specific case, remembered by others and repeated in the future.

Another issue is voting by consensus, named as “shadow of the vote”, – where no voting occurs, but it is still taken into account. According to the author we have many negative consequences of consensual voting, which are: 1) inefficiency – because negotiation process is being extended until no one is against; 2) lack of transparency since it’s difficult to define member states’ preferences; 3) inequality of particular member states (it’s hard to assess the influence of each country); 4) uneven impact – larger countries have greater influence while smaller countries have smaller impact.

Finally, the type of culture in the Council can be described as “intercultural”.

The article is based on a conference entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) on 9-10 November 2015. Especially based on the lectures of Marta Witkowska, PhD (The University of Warsaw) and Piotr Tosiek, PhD (Marie-Curie Skłodowska University).

Fighting a losing battle or taking a long view? – The Migration issue and what we can do

Theresa Miniarti Fehlner

Kenya, Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq… just to mention some of the countries from which most of the refugees currently come. They flee due to political and religious persecution, civil war and poverty. The need for help is obvious as the facts show.

 

Photo: U.S. Navy photo, flickr, CC-by-2.0 https://www.lpb-bw.de/fluechtlingsproblematik.html

Photo: U.S. Navy photo, flickr, CC-by-2.0
https://www.lpb-bw.de/fluechtlingsproblematik.html

Facts and Figures

According to the United Nations the number of refugees has risen up to 60 million since World War II – 86% are from developing countries and more than 50% are children. UNHCR distinguishes between refugees, applicants for asylum and internally displaced persons. In 2014, about 625.000 asylum seekers tried to come to Europe and they often do not have any other possibility than to use the questionable help of human smugglers who profit from the misery of other people. As a result, dramatic scenes took place at the external borders of the EU. The Geneva Convention on Refugees from 1951 binds the EU member states, according to article 2 and 35, on the protection of refugees. In practice, the current situation is different as some dramatic events since 2013 have shown: On the 3rd October 2013, one of the first disasters, involving migrants being smuggled to Europe, took place south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. 400 refugees from Somalia and Eritrea drowned. In April 2015, up to 800 refugees lost their lives in a ship accident in the Mediterranean Sea. Since then, the EU has tripled the remedies for sea rescue. In May 2015, the EU foreign ministers resolved on a common military mission against the gangs of people smugglers, with a fund of 12 million Euros from the EU countries. On the 26th June the EU heads of state and government decided to assign the growing number of refugees to all 28 member states – on a voluntary basis.

Our obligation to humanity

The demand for answers seems to be obvious. Nevertheless, this article cannot deal with the whole range of the migration issue. But it can focus on some questions which arise when we look at it from different perspectives. The migration question is by no means solved as the daily news, the media coverage and the pictures of suffering humans going around the world show. It seems to be an impasse which raises the question of whether it might be the problem of a dead-end policy. What remains is a large uncertainty and the feeling of fighting a losing battle.

This article does also not mainly deal with the question if Europe has to help the people in danger and in need – that is beyond all discussion – of course we have to help. So, several countries assume responsibility and try to help by receiving refugees, hosting them or helping them to integrate themselves. And all of this accompanied by prejudices against foreigners, administrative barriers and integration problems due to cultural diversity. In each instance, all those who are helping – a lot of who are volunteers – do humanitarian work and it is indispensable. But it is also quite evident that somehow it is just treating symptoms like bridging the time until most of them get deported again. Thus a lot of voluntary commitment and funding is needed. But it is not only a question of money, medical care, accommodation or dealing with cultural diversity. It is, above all, the question of how to accompany the short-term help with a long-term help.

Empathizing means to sneak a peek beyond the European borders

Photo: European Commission

Photo: European Commission

Against this background, focussing on some questions might be justified. Shifting the attention to the countries from which the refugees come, means to empathize with them. Migration movements from Syria, for example, might be different motivated than those from Serbia or Kosovo. Let´s take, as another example, the continent Africa. It seems to be reasonable to pose the question how Europe treated those African countries. After a long colonial history, European states started a program of development aid to support those countries. “Money” seemed to be the keyword, but let´s risk to ask how long that kind of support continued and how effective it was. In consideration of the status quo of the African countries, the question arises who the money received and in what way the states have used it. Did it change the situation for those countries? Obviously not, as the growing number of emigrants from even stable African countries shows. Financial help is reasonable as long as the supported country has the preconditions to use it in the right way. What kind of preconditions are we talking about? Are they states with a democratic system? How do they deal with corruption? Is there a knowledge of the importance of education and self-responsibility? Furthermore, does their way of understanding politics comply with our European policy?

Taking a look at some Arab countries raises the question: Are the political and cultural systems of countries like Libya, Syria or Iraq compatible with the Western way of political and cultural thinking and could it, at all, be possible to solve their conflicts and problems with our European understanding of governance?

Another example: The Kosovo War from 1998/1999, subsequently claimed thousands of victims. What has changed after the NATO military intervention? There is still discrimination of minorities, a shortage of jobs and poverty in consequence and a high incidence of crime. There was no stable polity until 2014, but even then, a lot of Kosovars claimed asylum especially in Germany and some other European countries.

It seems to be a long shot to write a master plan to find a solution which meets the responsibility we all have, to give a hand to people who ask for help as well as to support the development of their countries. Therefore we have to ask: What does it make worth, for those refugees who flee from economic grievances, to come to Europe? Which kind of incentives do we offer? If we provide a welfare system which is more attractive than the system in their home country, how do we help those states to develop?

Misinterpreted development aid: A Western failure?

Photo: dpa

Photo: dpa

The pros and cons, the discussions concerning the question if and how each European country can take part in helping people knocking on Europe´s door are numerous and more or less helpful. But looking at it from another perspective extends the short-term help a little bit more towards a long-term help. Terminating all the wars on one day might be a dream; alleviate the world hunger, guarantee religious freedom and physical integrity for everyone probably as well, but the dream ends before it starts when the countries in need are empty. On the “Meeting of Pan-African Catholic Youth and Children” in Kinshasa last month, Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola said in his opening speech: “Use your talents and other resources to renew and transform our continent and for the promotion of lasting justice, peace, and reconciliation in Africa. […] You are a treasure for Africa.” [1] This quote expresses what we, from our European point of view, maybe sometimes fail to see: In what way do we help the countries if we integrate each immigrant into our social security system? If we integrate one qualified man or woman successful into a European country, it means conversely that one qualified man or woman is missing in his or her home country. As a result, we deprive these countries the main source of life and thus the possibility to prosper.

Without a doubt: Each one is ethically and humanly obligated to give a helping hand to those who are persecuted, hungry or in danger – even more a community of states, based on a Christian fundament. That is certainly the main issue. But then it might be worth to pay attention to a long-term help which recognizes the differences between individual political systems and cultural backgrounds. And, to the same extent, raising awareness of their own responsibility towards their home countries. Then this dream of a better world where there is no need to flee because of war, persecution or hunger could come true – even though not in one day.

References:

[1]

http://www.fides.org/en/news/38338- AFRICA_DR_CONGO_Bishops_appeal_to_young_Africans_Stay_in_Africa_to_build_a_better_continent

https://www.lpb-bw.de/fluechtlingsproblematik.html

http://www.bundesregierung.de/Webs/Breg/DE/Bundesregierung/BeauftragtefuerIntegration/beauftragte-fuer-integration.html

[Last access: 26.08.2015]