Polish conservatives win boosts eurosceptics camp

AFP , Tuesday 27 Oct 2015

An election banner depicting Law and Justice's (PiS) candidate for Prime Minister Beata Szydlo is seen in Wasaw, Poland October 27, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

The resounding victory of Poland's conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in Sunday's general election has given a boost to European eurosceptics, already buoyed by the backlash against Brussels sparked by the migrant crisis.

The party stormed to victory on anti-refugee rhetoric and promises of generous family benefits, ending eight years of centrist rule by the Civic Platform (PO) party cofounded by EU council president Donald Tusk.

"Poland has given a boost to the eurosceptics camp of countries such as Britain that want to reform the European Union and loosen internal ties" between its 28 member states, analyst Marcin Zaborowski told AFP.

Former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's party has never been overtly anti-European and actually backed Poland's 2004 EU entry, Zaborowski of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a US think tank, pointed out.

But the party, which belongs to the same European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament as Britain's Tories has never concealed its vision of a "Europe of nations" with curtailed powers for Brussels.

Riding high on an absolute majority of 235 out of 460 seats in the lower house of parliament, the party can now set its agenda in motion.

"The PiS will highlight national interests at the expense of European interests. It wants an economic union instead of a political one," said political analyst Kazimierz Kik.

Kik saw the anti-immigration party as being as close to "those on the right like France's National Front" as "those on the left looking to limit Brussels's power."

Unlike Poland's openly pro-Europe Civic Platform (PO), which has been relegated to the opposition benches after eight years in power, PiS puts a greater emphasis on regional alliances.

These include the Visegrad Group, which includes the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia and shares Kaczynski's opposition to taking in migrants and refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

"Kaczynski's party will seek alliances to reform EU treaties and increase the number of 'opt-out' possibilities," said Zaborowski.

"Britain will be its partner of choice on this issue, even if the PiS's list of desired exceptions is not entirely the same as London's," he added.

A first meet-and-greet between the eurosceptics took place in London on September 15 when British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with Poland's new PiS-backed President Andrzej Duda.

"The meeting had in my opinion a really friendly atmosphere, our field of cooperation is immense," Duda said after the talks which covered the migrant crisis, military security and energy.

Zaborowski said Poland could be a key ally for Cameron in his attempts to win back powers from Brussels ahead of an in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership expected by the end of 2017.

"Cameron wants to keep Britain within the EU and Poland could help him obtain concessions to convince Britons to vote 'no' (to quitting the EU)", said Zaborowski.

Kaczynski's party is also expected to back Cameron's position on curbing net migration while defending the interests of the nearly one million Poles living in Britain and around 700,000 living in Germany.

The last time the conservatives were in power was in 2005-2007, when they were known for their openly anti-German and anti-Russian stances and spats with Brussels.

"Suspicious of foreign influence and (big) foreign companies, the designated ruling PiS is also more critical of the European Union in general," Wolf-Fabian Hungerland, an analyst at Germany's Berenberg bank said Monday.

"Some PiS members recently made very confrontational statements. Should this go on, the political mood may discourage some political compromises, especially on the international level."

In comments that critics said recalled Nazi rhetoric Kaczynski said recently that refugees risked bringing "highly dangerous" diseases to Poland, claiming they had already brought cholera to Greece and dysentery to Austria.

Warsaw-based political analyst Eryk Mistewicz said the conservatives, led by Kaczynski's candidate for prime minister, Beata Szydlo, would likely tread more carefully now they had won power.

"The PiS has learnt its lesson and won't make any blanket statements but will focus on effective manoeuvering behind the scenes to avoiding finding itself isolated the way it was back then", when it was last in power, Mistewicz said.

This party "will use the European Union for its best interests. It will exploit it," added Kik.

Sending congratulations to Szydlo on Monday European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker expressed hopes they would "work closely together in building a stronger and more resilient European Union with Poland playing a central role in it."

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