On October 13th, a parliamentary election will take place in Poland. After four years of the Law and Justice party (PiS) in government, this is a much-awaited ballot. Most probably, however, the result will not determine whether the current political course will continue—but rather how radical it will be. As of today, there is no serious competition to the PiS in sight.
Next month, EU citizens will again cast their ballots to elect their representatives to the European Parliament. This year’s elections have so far received special attention due to the far-from-normal political circumstances. Over the last few years, rising Euroskepticism has grown and it is clear a lot is at stake in May. It is difficult to precisely predict the outcome, but it is clear that there are some tendencies that can significantly affect the results.
This month, the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini of the Lega, travelled in search of possible partners for a ‘European spring’ alliance —‘a new plan for Europe’—comprising similar right-wing, populist, Eurosceptic movements. On his way, he had to stop by in Poland, governed since 2016 by the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which seems a natural partner for this enterprise.
Poland and Hungary tend to be paired up when discussing the political crisis of the European Union (EU). The reason is the emergence of so-called “illiberal democracies” in these eastern member states, which do not comply with some of the founding values of the EU. Viktor Orbán seized power in Hungary in 2010, and he’s just won the elections for the third term. In Poland, the Law and Justice party (PiS) has taken over after winning parliamentary elections in late 2015. Shortly after, in the Krynica Forum in October 2016 both party leaders, Jarosław Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán, announced they would stand together for “cultural counter-revolution” and renewal of the post-Brexit EU. So, how long will it last?
For years Poland was depicted as a success story in the great transformation of Central and Eastern Europe. A democratic system was built swiftly, with stable institutions. At the international level, Poland aspired to be a bridge between East and West. Economic growth continued despite the financial crisis, resulting in improved social conditions and living standards. However, a deep belief in trickle-down economics never really eliminated social inequalities. The latest developments in Poland, including declining rule of law, are directly attributed by some commentators to that unhealed fracture within the Polish society. But as much as incomplete cohesion is a domestic matter, the ensuing institutional destabilisation and political turmoil have become a European issue: a threat to further integration and democratic standards that demands a strong response. Is the EU capable of one?
Last Sunday’s election results left some Poles devastated, but others seem to be if not hopeful, then relieved. The massive victory of the conservative Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) defeating Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO) was, however, not a political earthquake, but rather a self-fulfilling prophecy that finally came true. Perhaps it also is a manifestation of a deeper change within Polish society. The question is if this will turn to good account for Poland – and for Europe, too.