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Poland election: Voters give verdict on four years of right-wing populists

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Poland election: Voters give verdict on four years of right-wing populists 3

Voters in Poland will give their verdict on four years of populist government on Sunday, with the country’s ruling party expected to triumph again.

The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015 promising a heady mixture of social conservatism and increased spending on the welfare state.

In the intervening years PiS has been criticised at home and abroad for undermining the rule of law, including politicising the courts system – but a stream of criticism from Brussels and human rights watchdogs seems to have done little to dent their poll ratings at home.


All polls suggest PiS will increase its vote share on 2015, with one recent survey by Kantar showing them on 43 per cent, far ahead of the nearest opposition party on 28 per cent.

PiS benefits from a fractured opposition split into centre-right liberal, leftist, and agrarian blocs. There is practically no doubt that it will poll first in Sunday’s elections – the question is whether it will be able to win a majority.

Pawel Zerka, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent that there could yet be an upset.

“Mobilisation of voters is the biggest unknown of these elections. On the face of it, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party looks set to win at least 231 seats – an absolute majority – in the country’s lower legislative chamber, the Sejm,” he said.

“But at the same time, PiS supporters seem to be much less motivated to vote than Poles who back the opposition.”

One poll commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations in early September found that just 49 per cent of PiS supporters are committed to voting, compared with between 70 and 75 per cent for the two main opposition blocs – suggesting turnout could be a deciding factor. 

The lack of enthusiasm for the ruling party despite their commanding lead also shows up in other figures. A poll conducted by Kantar at the beginning of October asked voters which scenario they preferred: an opposition victory, a PiS single-party government, or PiS having to rule with another party.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, speaks during the party’s campaign convention in Kielce (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

Just 34 per cent said they wanted PiS to govern alone, while 36 per cent said they wanted the opposition parties to win. Twenty-four per cent of voters said they preferred a PiS coalition with another party. 

But the split opposition means PiS is likely to triumph. Mr Zerka said a majority for the incumbent ruling party was still “the most probable scenario” but that other results should not be ruled out.

“Rather than seeking a coalition partner, [Jaroslaw] Kaczynski’s party [Law and Justice] may then try to recruit from other parties the few parliamentarians it would need to form a stable majority,”  said Mr Zerka. 

“But, at the same time, opposition parties might get an opportunity to build a counter-alternative.”

An opposition coalition could be difficult to build, especially if the agrarian peasants’ party and their anti-system allies win enough votes to enter the parliament. Such a coalition would have to stretch from social and economic liberals, through economic leftists, to social conservatives.

The left-wingers are expected to return to the parliament for the first time in four years, after having been wiped out at the last election. Various left-of-centre parties have formed a single group in order to maximise their chances of winning seats.

The latest voting intention poll by Kantar has PiS and its allies on 43 per cent, the centre-right liberal Civic Platform on 28 per cent, and the left-of-centre Lewica on 13 per cent. 



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Sylvie Goulard: Emmanuel Macron’s pick for EU commissioner blocked by European Parliament

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Sylvie Goulard: Emmanuel Macron's pick for EU commissioner blocked by European Parliament 6

France‘s pick for EU commissioner has been blocked by MEPs, dealing a major blow to Emmanuel Macron’s political ambitions in Brussels.

Sylvie Goulard was rejected in a secret ballot by the European Parliament‘s internal market and industry committees by 82 votes to 29, with one abstention.

The commissioner designate, who needed a simple majority to be confirmed, had faced two difficult hearings before MEPs on the committees where she was criticised for giving vague answers.


She had faced scrutiny over allegations that as an MEP she had used her European Parliament assistant for political work, which is banned under EU rules.

Questions were also raised over her work for the US think-tank Berggruen, and whether she might disclose information to her American employer during the course of her work as Commissioner.

Another factor raised in hearings was whether Ms Goulard portfolio was too broad: it had been planned to encompass industrial policy, defence and technology.

The former Liberal MEP’s rejection represents a flexing of the European Parliament’s muscles after it was effectively ignored by EU national leaders when it came to the question of picking the next European Commission president. 

European Commission president designate Ursula von der Leyen was put before the parliament despite MEPs saying a candidate for president had to have at least campaigned in the European elections. 

The legislature’s political groups had even dropped an earlier stipulation that only pre-designated “lead candidates” could be nominees for Commission president – but were still ignored. Despite this, they confirmed Ms Von der Leyen, though by a narrow margin.

Other than the French candidate, the parliament has also asserted itself in recent weeks by blocking the Hungarian and Romanian candidates for EU commissioner.   

Rovana Plumb, nominated for the transport portfolio, and Laszlo Trocsanyi, nominated to be enlargement commissioner, were barred at the first stage by the parliament’s legal affairs committee in late September over alleged conflicts of interest.

Ursula von der Leyen’s new Commission is due to take office on 1 November (EPA)

France, Romania, and Hungary now have to pick replacement candidates to be their commissioner who are more amenable to MEPs. MEPs are directly elected by the 28 member states every five years at the EU elections, the most recent of which were in May.

Each EU member state gets to appoint one commissioner, though once they are in office they are bound serve the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home member states.

The Commissioners are allocated policy portfolios and meet collectively as the college of commissioners, effectively the Commission’s cabinet.

The latest decision is not the first major blow Emmanuel Macron has faced this year in Brussels. 

In June his pick to lead the new liberal group in the European Parliament, Nathalie Loiseau, was forced to quit the race after she insulted and alienated her allies in an off-the-record briefing.

Boris Johnson has said the UK will not be nominating a commissioner to replace its current one, Julian King, who manages the security portfolio. 



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EU accused of adopting ‘fascist rhetoric’ with new Commissioner For Protecting Our European Way of Life to oversee immigration policy

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EU accused of adopting ‘fascist rhetoric’ with new Commissioner For Protecting Our European Way of Life to oversee immigration policy 9

The EU commission has been accused of adopting “grotesque” and “fascist” rhetoric after it created a new “Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life” role to oversee immigration policy.

Incoming president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new job along with the rest of her cabinet at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, explaining that it would cover migration issues.

But critics said the new job’s Orwellian-sounding name suggested that immigrants were a threat to the European way of life. 


Ms Von der Leyen said the new Commission cabinet was “as diverse as Europe is” – though critics also pointed out that all of its members are white.

Many of the posts in Ms Von der Leyen’s new cabinet, which will serve for five years, have avoided traditional ministerial titles for more goal-orientated names like Commissioner for “A Stronger Europe in the World” and “An Economy that Works for People”.

But it is the migration commission’s rebrand that has raised the most eyebrows. Labour MEP Claude Moraes said that “calling the European Commission migration portfolio ‘protecting our way of life’ is deeply insulting”, adding that the “weird and odd titles’ of the Commission would create “confusion”.

Molly Scott Cato, a British Green MEP, told The Independent: “This looks like the portfolio to fight back against the rise of the fascists, but only by adopting their divisive rhetoric around ‘strong borders’. 

“What Greens value about our European way of life is our role as a beacon of compassion and diversity. We will continue our work to ensure that Europe remains a safe harbour for those fleeing persecution and to champion global human rights.”

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told The Independent: “The very point about the European way of life, is the freedom for individuals to chose their own way of life. We do not need a Commissioner for that, thank you very much.”

“The implication that Europeans need to be protected from external cultures is grotesque and this narrative should be rejected.

“The only threat to “our way of life” is autocrats and populists like Orbán, Kaczinsky or Johnson trampling all over the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy. Instead of creating fake portfolios, the Commission should show some more guts in upholding the values we have laid down in our treaties, laws and case law.”

The job has gone to Margaritis Schinas, former chief spokesperson for Jean-Claude Juncker (EbS)

NGOs also criticised the mode. Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said: “Linking migration with security, in the portfolio of the Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life, risks sending a worrying message. 

“People who have migrated have contributed to the way of life in Europe throughout its history. We trust that Commissioner designate Margaritis Schinas will work hard for an EU in which safe and legal routes allow migrants to continue to contribute to the future of Europe.

The ‘European Way of Life’ that the EU exists to protect is one which respects human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.”

The role was given to Greece’s EU commissioner, Margaritis Schinas, who previously served as the Commission’s chief spokesperson under Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Schinas said in a statement: “I am trilled to be nominated for the position of Vice-President for Protecting Our European Way of Life. 

“From better protecting our citizens and borders and modernising our asylum system, to investing in Europeans’ skills and creating brighter future for our youth, I am confident that we can take great strides over the next five years to both protect and empower Europeans.”



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