The 2019 European elections are important. There are many issues creating its context. High partisanship does not allow for a proper debate to take place in Poland, but there is a great divide in whole of Europe, too. The united opposition accuses the government of breaking the basic principles of democracy in Poland. The anti-Europeans try to present a unifying front in Europe.
To discuss where are we in the electoral process today I sit with Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw. Mr Trzaskowski is a former MEP (2009-2013), minister of administration and digitalisation (2013-2014) and minister for European affairs (2014-2015). Apart from being a leading face of the Polish opposition, he serves also as a vice-president of the European People’s Party.
This is an electoral marathon. There were local elections last year. Now there are the European elections. Then the parliamentary elections in the fall and the presidential elections in 2020. What do you make of it?
Rafał Trzaskowski: The tempo remains similar. This is a permanent campaign. I see it in Warsaw, where the campaign continues non stop after the October elections.
Are you still the public enemy no.1 for the national television TVP?
RT: Maybe not no.1, but one of the enemies. I became a symbol during the local elections.
Law and Justice started its European elections last December with a splash of a make-over: prime minister Morawiecki with the European flag! Two years ago prime minister Szydło thrown the European flag out of her office.
RT: Who will buy this? This is a government which questions the European laws and EU law supremacy and the capacity to ask the prejudicial questions to the ECJ, the government which breaks the rule of law and basic principles of democracy, the government which refuses to dialogue with the European Commission in good faith. And now they try to wear new clothes. Once Poles have voted for president Andrzej Duda and got Jarosław Kaczyński instead. They voted for prime minister Beata Szydło and got Jarosław Kaczyński instead. Will the Poles do the same mistake the third time? I doubt it. When it comes to the European policy, this government’s credibility has been compromised.
Do you expect the European Coalition to win the European elections in Poland?
RT: I do. This is a broad list and this is why it has a great chance to win the elections.
Manfred Weber is the EPP Spitzenkandidat – will the Civic Platform campaign with Mr Weber?
RT: This is part of the EPP campaign. Five years ago the Spitzenkandidaten campaign in non-German speaking countries had a low-level recognition, about 2%. Will it be more visible in this campaign, not only in Poland? We shall see, but we will support Manfred.
Weber is an excellent candidate. He’s been in Poland many times and he will be back in Poland in the future. He is a friend of Poland. We know each other well. He is against divisions in Europe. I think he is a great candidate.
Weber also defended Viktor Orbán for a long time. With the posters campaign in Budapest he says in Der Spiegel “I expect him to apologize and put an end to the poster campaign. Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual. It has reached a new level; appeals are no longer sufficient. We will take concrete steps very soon.” There are still defenders of Mr Orbán among German EPP politicians.
RT: He is not defending Orbán anymore. He claims, like most of us, that it was better to have some impact on Viktor Orbán, who was, unlike PiS, ready to take steps back. I think we can afford to have one such enfant terrible among us, but this is highly controversial. Yet so far we have not taken a decision to throw Fidesz out of the EPP, but we are discussing it.
What do you expect from the European campaign?
RT: First of all, I would like to see this campaign to be a European one. Frequently the campaign to the European Parliament has very little to do with the European issues. People talk only about the national issues. For Poles the choice is symbolic. This is a choice between a strong, constructive position within the European Union, people who are able to defend the Polish interests and secure them in a wider European narrative on the one hand, and on the other hand the reality of today, inept and unprofessional government, which questions European integration and puts Poland at the margins of the EU. This will be the central issue of this campaign.
And the EPP is expected to win?
RT: I do not foresee any other result. The Social-democrats and the Liberals are weak. The Euro-skeptics have hard time agreeing with one another.
PiS is critical of the Spitzenkandidaten system while they have one of their own. ECR has appointed Jan Zahradil as a Spitzenkandidat. I have the impression this news has hardly arrived in Warsaw by now.
RT: The Spitzenkandidaten system is logical, but is not yet deeply rooted among the European citizens. Zahradil is not a politician who has been active on the European political scene.
Macron is also against the Spitzenkandidaten system.
RT: Simply because he is not rooted in the European political system. En Marche has not chosen its destiny. For awhile it looked they may become part of ALDE, but no decision has been taken. Macron hoped to construct an alternative, but there no one followed.
Europe is based on cooperation. If someone contests the mainstream than it is very difficult to be successful. Various anti-mainstream parties have a variety of ideologies in different states. It is difficult to compare M5S with En Marche or with another anti-mainstream offer of AfD or Kukiz’15. They are all very different.
The turnout in Poland in European elections is traditionally very low. Will it be different this time?
RT: I am certain of it, because we are in a string of elections. It will be another occasion to manifest the opposition to PiS. It is truly about Europe this time. Last time people did not feel that membership in the Union was endangered. Today Poland is marginalised. I expect a much higher turnout.
Those elections are crucial. Who wins the European elections is the favourite to win the national elections in the fall. The local elections brought a mixed result, but the trend has started. It was PiS who was unhappy with the October 2018 results. People were frustrated they had no impact on the government. Now they will seek to confirm their influence.
There is a misconception in Poland about an MEP. A dominant impression is that MEPs are deported from the national politics to the European Parliament, or go there to earn big money or both. There is also the third cynical option – to rest from the real politics, which is national. Why Poles should vote for a good candidate to the EP?
RT: It’s a stereotype. It is a job of a serious political party to chose candidates who go to the EP to work not to enjoy early retirement. Yes, the disproportions with MPs salaries are massive; this makes the European Parliament particularly attractive, also in the context of the 20% cut of the MPs salaries that Jarosław Kaczyński proposed last year to cover up his sins. The Civic Platform always choses serious candidates for the EP. I am sure that the European Coalition list will be a top-league list.
It is a great challenge to fight the stereotype of the European Parliament being weak. To show its real powers. There are even leading academics in Poland who say the Parliament cannot do much. As if nothing changed since 1970s. Today the EP co-legislates all of the Union laws, co-decides on the budget. There is hardly any area where the EP is not equal to the member states.
Recognising the real powers of the Parliament; a strong presence in big political groups and putting forward the candidates who know how and what to do is crucial to promote the interests of a country. This is how the European Coalition recognises the reality today and will work in the future.