Ahead of 2024 European election: Poland in election frenzy
November 17th, 2023
By Aleksandra WRÓBEL – Public Affairs Consultant | Poland
The 2024 European election will take place between the 6th and the 9th of June 2024 – Council of the EU announced late May. For Poland, it signals an addition to the already tight electoral schedule comprising local and presidential elections, to be held in April 2024 and mid-2025 respectively. With the latest October parliamentary election, the country has entered a permanent campaign mode, exposing key political players to heightened scrutiny of their daily work.
Reversing Anti-European Course
The October 15th general election in Poland is commonly regarded as a game-changer.
For the last years, the country has been ruled by Law and Justice (PiS) – a conservative party that to this day enjoys around 30% of support owing to its popular social policies that are thought to have restored dignity to marginalized groups. This agenda was combined with Euroscepticism and revanchism directed at e.g. legal elites, producing and successively deepening the rule-of-law spat with Brussels. The latter eventually resulted in the European Commission triggering “atomic” Article 7 procedure and opening the path for the suspension of Poland’s voting rights within the bloc. Additionally, the conflict led to the freezing of post-COVID recovery funds for Warsaw.
The current state of affairs in Poland’s relations with the EU is very likely to change significantly in the recently began term of the parliament. Following the October general election, the majority has been secured by a coalition of four parties – liberal Civic Coalition (KO), agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), anti-polarization Poland 2050 and progressive The Left – who together pledge to reform the judiciary, combat the politicization of public institutions and restore Poland’s participation in the European-wide dialogue. The latter promise will bear a particular meaning in the light of the 2025 Polish EU Council presidency.
How Will This Shift Affect European Election?
Historically, Poles have hardly presented themselves as the nation that is most eager to cast a ballot in the European election. Quite contrarily, the turnout in three elections between 2004 and 2014 failed to surpass 25% each time.
The big breakthrough came in 2019, when most opposition parties united against the then-ruling Law and Justice, substantially intensifying the public debate and consequently driving polarization. This entailed the highest-ever turnout of 45,68%.
Since then, the rivalry between conservative and liberal blocs has only become fiercer. Given the upcoming sequence of elections, the timing of which does not allow for pauses in campaigning, it can be expected that the mobilization will remain at least as high as five years earlier.
Which Factors Will Drive The Result?
According to a poll conducted after the general election, Poles mainly rely on the incoming government to address economic hurdles that had emerged following the pandemic and the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In a study by SW Research, the top three government priorities identified by respondents include: the fight against inflation, the unblocking of EU recovery funds and the need to lower taxes. Therefore, economic policies will be thoroughly monitored and commented on as part of each of the upcoming campaigns.
Concurrently, it must be highlighted that the liberal opposition’s victory in the parliamentary election, which saw the highest-ever turnout in Central and Eastern Europe (74,38%), constitutes massive mandate in favor of Poland’s stronger place within united Europe. Accordingly, it will matter how the new cabinet will approach the task of improving relations between Warsaw and Brussels. An important aspect of this mission will be to implement judicial reform, causing a stir among defeated Law and Justice and thus fueling polarization ahead of local and European elections.
Finally, as far as the EU is concerned, its future will be yet another important topic of discussion between conservative and liberal camps. This is evidenced by the first reactions to the proposed reform of EU treaties, which the members of the outgoing government already branded as an attempt to deprive Poland of independence and consolidate the bloc under German leadership. Although Donald Tusk – new PM and former president of European Council, who will undertake the mission of improving Poland’s standing within the EU – publicly rejected the idea of changing the bloc’s political system in response to enlargement, his opponents will likely continue suggesting otherwise, weaponizing his previous associations to make political gains. In this context, the topic of migration might also come up. Once again, although there’s a general consensus over the need to better control people inflows and protect the border, politicians will likely embrace this subject as a tool to fight their opponents.
What Will The Polish Delegation In EP Look Like?
Post-Brexit, Poland’s representation in the European Parliament consists of 52 MEPs. In the 2019-2024 term, 26 of them allied with right-wing PiS/ECR, 17 with center-right EPP (which combines two national parties: liberal Civic Coalition and agrarian Polish People’s Party) and 8 with center-left S&D. Since the election, some of them switched parties, with one joining Greens/European Free Alliance and one becoming the only Polish Renew MEP.
While in 2019 most of the now governing liberal opposition ran together, in 2023 these parties will likely form three separate blocs. In the parliamentary election, this proved to be the most effective strategy for them to maximize support.
Based on current polls, it can be predicted that EPP will gain at the expense of ECR following the latter’s member party PiS losing a parliamentary election after 8 years in power. Given the electoral success of Poland 2050 – a new center-right party founded by former TV host and current speaker of the Sejm Szymon Hołownia – Renew may also hope to increase its standing. Finally, taking into consideration the presence of far-right Confederation in the parliament and its links to Identity and Democracy (ID) Group, the fraction will probably also obtain some Polish members.
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