#EUelections2019 : a diverse European Parliament

Maria Joanico

Last week, from the 24th to the 26th of May, European citizens voted for the Members of the European Parliament, for their future for the next five years. This year, the participation in the elections went up to 51%, which is considered a win for the European Union. Regardless of that, the level of participation, for instance in Portugal, was substantially low (69.3%), lower even than in 2014.

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© European Parliament

As for the results, some were less shocking than others. Most of the predictions were right but we witnessed a rise of the environmentalist parties (not by much but still more significantly than in the past years). The growth of the far-right and Eurosceptic parties was also perceptible in the European Parliament – it is estimated about 57 seats for the far-right parties. Whilst it is not much comparing to the other 694 seats “pro-EU”, it is still something worth stressing. For some surprising results (or not), we can note that Nigel Farage’s new party ‘Brexit’ won, even after all the marches against Brexit; unexpected (for some) were the results from Northern Ireland which, despite the general results in the UK,  pushed up Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, a pro-EU party.


© European Parliament

Furthermore, in Southern Europe, we observed a discrepancy within the region as well. Whilst the right-wing party won in Italy (right-wing to far-right) and Greece, the right-wing parties lost in Portugal, with a major win for the left –  33,38% of the votes, the Socialist Party (focused on strengthening the EU) won one more MEP than in the previous years, like the Left Bloc (focused on  environment and human rights) also managed a major win comparing to the years before, gaining one more MEP. In Spain, regardless of the win of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (a centre-left and pro-European party like the Socialist Party in Portugal), VOX, a right-wing to far-right party, won 3 MEPs, with more 4,63% votes than before. This party is noticeably becoming more popular in Spain.

Herewith, it was made clear that a divergence of thoughts exists within the Member states and it is unclear what the result of the newly diverse European Parliament will be.


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Brexit: a summary of the situation (Part 2)

Barbara Zak

Brussels’ response : you can’t have your cake and eat it too

British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) welcomes President of the European Council Donald Tusk (R) to 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 08 September 2016. May and Tusk held talks on Britain's exit from the European Union. EPA/ANDY RAIN

British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) welcomes President of the European Council Donald Tusk (R) to 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 08 September 2016. May and Tusk held talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union. EPA/ANDY RAIN

Following the announcement of the results of the referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom (UK) to the European Union (EU), it was understood that the EU respected the change of heart of the majority of the UK citizens. EU leaders do not want to go back in time but agree on the UK leaving the EU as soon as possible. Brussels is simply waiting for the formal notification of the UK to trigger the article 50 of the TEU. Even Donald Tusk (the President of the European Council) told Theresa May “the ball is in your court”. However the EU refuses to negotiate with the UK until the government has triggered the article. The reason may be the fear of contagion of a “Brexit” in other EU member states – Brussels is afraid of the ripple effect. With the rise of nationalism and populism, we can expect from far-right ruling parties to claim a referendum about leaving the EU in their countries. Moreover, the current uncertainty around the economy of the UK can have repercussions on the EU’s trade. The decrease of investments in the UK can be contagious to the European continent. There is an economic and ideological cost to the delay of the withdrawal of the UK.

            The heads of the member states, without the head of state of the UK, met informally on the 16th of September 2016 in Slovakia in what is called the Bratislava summit. The aim of this meeting, which was already planned before the referendum, was to discuss the stability and security of the EU. The withdrawal of the UK was not on the agenda of this gathering. However, it was more a way to show the unity and thus the strength and solidarity of the EU. However, on the inside, the EU is at a crisis – it is only a matter of time before another member state reveals its intention to withdraw from the Union. For instance, a referendum on the EU relocation plan will be held in Hungary on the 2nd of October 2016, which goes against the EU refugee policies. This “EU Quotas Referendum” illustrates the fact that some members of the EU disagree with the policies of the EU – it may be the beginning of their rebellion. As a matter of fact, the heads of states of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia recently met several times as the Visegrád Group in order to discuss the issues related to the EU. As a consequence, the EU cannot be too soft towards the UK in order not to incite other member states to do the same. The argument of the economy is the strongest: the single market can be open to the UK only if they accept the free movement of people. Leaving the EU does not mean abandoning its drawbacks while still benefiting from its advantages.

The conundrum of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar

            Even though the “leave” won over the “remain” in the EU referendum, anti-Brexiters still cannot recover from the results, in particular in the parts of the UK where the “remain” was overwhelming: Scotland (62%), Northern Ireland (55.8%) and Gibraltar (95.9%).

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland (Photo: GETTY)

            Many Scots, right after the announcements of the results of the UK referendum, asked for a second referendum on this topic. However, May’s government declared that a second referendum would not be held. There are some possibilities about a second Scottish independence referendum though – but not before the article 50 of the TEU is triggered. Nevertheless, both Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians, along with polls, are against the will of the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon to have a second independence referendum. Actually, the “Reverse-Greenland” concept may be the solution for Scotland as they wish to stay in the UK and in the EU. Parts of the UK can maintain Britain’s membership of the EU. This means that Scotland does not need to apply to access the EU. The Greenland solution refers to the Greenland treaty which entered into force in 1985, following the Greenlandic referendum of 1982: Greenland, at that time part of Denmark, could leave the EU while Denmark was still a member state of the EU. In the case of Scotland, it is the opposite situation. Scotland would have an associate membership of the Union, namely the access to the single market, EU citizenship and free movement of goods/people/workers/students. They will pay membership dues. In a nutshell, they would take the seat of the UK in Brussels.

The case of Northern Ireland is a bit different from Scotland. Leaving the EU would mean too big economic consequences for Northern Ireland in comparison with Britain. There is the fear of losing the agricultural subsidies that are actually much needed and in demand by farmers. In addition, the transaction costs for trading in the EU (that did not exist before) would be overwhelming for Northern Ireland. Instability would resume in Northern Ireland’s situation. Another problem, that is geographical this time, would be the border with Ireland, which is a member state of the EU. Irish people are afraid to turn back in time to the Troubles period (conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century). Thus they aspire to keep the free movement and the customs union across the border – the trade between two states decreases the possibility of them being at war. However, everything is in the hands of May’s government and the EU’s willingness to be flexible during the future negotiations. Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister stays confident – Theresa May should not negotiate a Brexit that simply suits English interests. Yet the best option for Northern Ireland would be the same as Scotland: the Reverse-Greenland solution, that is to say to remain in the UK and in the EU.

Gibraltar was one of the territories where the “remain” vote was strong: nearly 100%. The main reason is the economy: Gibraltar imports exclusively from the EU. The transaction costs for trading with the EU would be utterly crushing Gibraltar. The Reverse-Greenland solution could be effective, only if there was no hiccup – more precisely, a Spanish hitch. In fact, Spain has a sovereign claim over Gibraltar due to its history. If the UK leaves the EU, Spain could isolate Gibraltar from Europe by building a wall alongside the border. Crossing the wall would mean paying border fees. In the case of applying the Reverse-Greenland solution, Gibraltarians are afraid that Spain would not accept it and veto it. The Spanish Government could veto the terms of any Brexit negotiation between the UK and the EU that sought to include Gibraltar. Indeed, Spain is fully entitled to do so: as soon as the UK activates the withdrawal process, the European Council must agree the broad terms of the withdrawal negotiation by unanimity. Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo is resolute and says Spain will not leave the case until it receives at least the joint control of Gibraltar. As a result, Gibraltarians call for a second referendum explaining that the “leave” option was not clear enough – yet it is well understood that it is probably their last hope to stay in the EU.




Brussels’ response















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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. This succes allowed the party to have 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. It is significant to note that the party that came in second place, the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), which is also the party that won the two previous elections, 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. No left-wing party has won any seat in the parliament – a fact that is utterly inconceivable in Western European democracies.

The significant difference between the results is not to be taken lightly since it illustrates the position of Poles towards the administration of their country : they have entirely trusted PiS with its promises and have provided it with 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. The words used in the headlines on French, English, Spanish and Italian newspapers were very negative. The words „Eurosceptic, conservative, nationalist, ultranationalist, populist, extremist, extreme right-wing, far-right party, xenophobic” were used to depict the winner of the elections.

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 explained PiS’ victory as the result of an anti-migration campaign, an anti-internationalisation of the country, a promise to keep young Polish people from moving to other countries because of unemployment, a return to the nuclear family with a ban of the modern Western family, the support of the Roman-Catholic church, a pro-rural campaign and helping 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). Medias have shared their worries about the future of Poland regarding its membership of the EU. The tensions between Paris/Berlin and Warsaw may arise. Since the pro-European Polish government (composed of PO members) is no longer in office, the relations between 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, meaning that it seems to be willing to have an ally against the „permanent Russian threat” they’re facing. Poland asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to focus on providing it with missile shield – as the EU does not have a common army or defence plans, the only solution found by Poland was beyond the Atlantic ocean.


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. The most quoted sentence by Jarosław Kaczyński that can be found in the newspapers is basically that immigrants are like parasites that will bring various diseases. Medias remind the population that this kind of xenophobic speech was used against Jews during Hitler’s ascension to power. The leader of the Polish party is compared to the totalitarian personalities of the XXth century. Authors of these articles say they foresee his eventual coup d’état because of his undeniable thirst of power – Beata Szydło, the current Polish prime minister, is more of a screen to Kaczyński’s actions rather than an independent figure.

After the results of the parliamentary elections were out, Mr Kaczyński’s first words during his speech 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 well-liked late President.They remarked that he did not speak of the promises the party 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 perceived as Hungary’s next dictator, worries the Western European journalists. They are afraid that Poland’s politics and diplomatical relationship with other European countries would 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 in Western 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. French researcher, essayist and political commentator Jean-Yves Camus has said in an interview with Le Figaro (a French newspaper) that member states from the Eastern part of Europe think they are like lower-ranking associates – however it is untrue, he claims, since they are represented by important European commissionners (the former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk (PO) who is now the President of the European Council, is a revealing example of it).

 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 depicted as caring about the interests of Poland and of Polish people. In the public opinion, Poland has indeed received a huge amount of funds but in return their political moves were dictated by the EU’s most powerful governments, which are Western European countries. Poles reckon that the PO government has sold everything (especially banks and supermarkets) to foreigners and speculators, thus Polish little companies have perished. The reason why Polish people have voted for PiS is that they have wished for some changes in the internal situaiton of the country but also in their everyday life. PO being pro-EU was not well-perceived by Poles in the end. Harsh critics has been made against the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the former prime minister Ewa Kopacz, depicted as puppets of the EU. 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 to be heard. 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 accepted that a conservative, Eurosceptic and xenophobic party, as they call it, was allowed to form the new government representing Poland. 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 shaping the public opinion. The position of the media 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 newspapers in Western European countries, it should be called a European crisis, and more specifically a European identity crisis : Poles feel before anything else Polish rather than European. The national values got the upper hand on the European unity. We could sense it during Poland’s new prime minister Beata Szydło’s speech : only Polish white-red flags could be seen. No European flag. Not anymore.









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


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