Monday, June 24, 2024

Poland: Tusk not assured victory in EU elections – DW – 06/06/2024

Must read

After six months in office, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his center-left coalition government have been able to implement few of the changes they promised Poland’s liberal and pro-European voters.

Now, with just days to go until the European Parliament elections in Poland, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Tusk’s archrival Jaroslaw Kaczynski has overcome a poor start to its campaign and is ahead again in the polls.

In an attempt to mobilize his supporters for Sunday’s election, Tusk has opted for a tried-and-tested strategy, calling a rally in Warsaw on Tuesday.

About 30,000 people came to the rally in Warsaw on June 4 — much fewer than attended another rally organized by Tusk a year agoImage: Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Wyborcza/REUTERS

About a year ago, he called a mass demonstration that launched the start of his successful campaign for the parliamentary election, which took place on October 15. Back then, hundreds of thousands — some even say a million — heeded his call and took to the streets.

Tusk rallies supporters in Warsaw

June 4 was a highly symbolic date in Poland, as it marked the 35th anniversary of the first partially free elections to be held in the country, an event that heralded the collapse of the communist system in the country in 1989.

Tusk referred to this historic event on Tuesday when he addressed the crowd of about 30,000 people assembled in Warsaw’s Castle Square. “The history of 1989 was the expulsion of the Soviet system from our country. Today we are here to ensure that this system does not return,” he said.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the opposition PiS, has refused to throw in the towel after his party’s defeat in last year’s electionImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP/picture alliance

He warned of the dangers of a victory for pro-Russian parties in the European elections. “Believe me, for the Kremlin, the political conquest of Brussels would be more important than the capture of Kharkiv,” he said, adding: “We must not fall asleep, we cannot rest on our laurels.”

Fear of Russian influence growing

For weeks now, Tusk has been framing the election as a confrontation between Europe and Russia.

He has accused Poland’s national-conservative opposition under Jaroslaw Kaczynski of making a pact with the euroskeptic parties of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Marine Le Pen in France. Tusk said these parties want to weaken the European Union, which would play right into the hands of the Kremlin, and called PiS politicians in parliament “paid traitors and Moscow’s lackeys.”

The fear of hostile Russian activities hasn’t come out of nowhere. Poland’s security forces suspect Russia is behind several recent arson attacks in Warsaw and across the country.

Polish authorities suspect the Polish Press Agency (PAP) was the target of a Russian cyberattack at the end of MayImage: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Cyberattacks have also been on the rise recently. Authorities suspect the Polish Press Agency (PAP) was the most recent target of such an attack. Hackers succeeded in circumventing the agency’s security systems and published a fake report that claimed 200,000 Polish reservists would be mobilized and deployed to Ukraine.

Increased tension at Polish–Belarusian border

The situation at the Polish-Belarusian border — which is part of the EU’s eastern frontier — has also escalated in recent weeks. Despite the barriers built by the previous government, about 300 incidents involving members of the Polish security forces and migrants are being recorded every day. These migrants are trying to cross the border and enter the EU.

There are reports of migrants throwing stones and logs at Polish border guards and attacking them with sharp implements. A week ago, a soldier was seriously injured when he was stabbed in the ribs while trying to stop a migrant.

At the rally in Warsaw, Tusk accused Russia and Belarus of using “organized pressure” to destabilize the situation at the border. “It’s war there — every day, every hour — steered by Lukashenko and Putin,” he told the crowd, calling out the leaders of both countries.

Tusk visited troops at the Polish–Belarusian border in mid-May. At the end of the month, a soldier was injured in a knife attack thereImage: Artur Reszko/pap/dpa/picture alliance

Tusk announced that a buffer zone with restricted freedom of movement would be set up along the border with Belarus. A defense program called “East Shield,” intended to provide security against a threat from Russia, is also in the works.

PiS remains strong despite corruption allegations

The liberal camp’s hope that PiS would become less significant after it was voted out of office and its influence on state media was curbed have not been realized. Party leader Kaczynski survived criticism of his leadership style from within the party and is, for the moment, still the undisputed head of the national conservative camp.

Numerous scandals relating to PiS that came to light after the handover of power do not seem to have dented support for the party among PiS supporters. It has been revealed that politicians close to former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro used money from a fund for victims of violent crimes to support the party’s election campaign.

It is also known that the previous government used Pegasus spyware against political opponents and that corrupt members of the Foreign Ministry sold Polish visas to people in Asia and Africa.

Despite new government, Poland remains polarized

This browser does not support the video element.

Three parliamentary committees have been set up and are working at full steam. But while lawmakers on these committees are getting bogged down in details, the PiS politicians summoned to appear before them are proving adept at defending themselves and trying to sabotage the work of the committees. There have been no concrete results so far, and Tusk’s supporters are becoming impatient.

Most Poles are pro-EU

Support for the EU remains particularly high in Poland. The latest survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 76% of Poles are in favor of European integration, while 21% are critical of the EU. However, years of anti-European rhetoric from PiS — in particular against the EU’s Green Deal and migration policy — have left their mark: Two years ago, support for the EU was as high as 89%.

This Sunday, Polish voters will go to the polls for the third time in just eight months. It’s not clear how voter fatigue will affect turnout, which is unlikely to be as high as it was for the parliamentary election last October when almost 75% of those eligible to vote did so, with some standing in line until late in the night to cast their vote. Turnout for previous European elections in Poland has been somewhere between 20% and 24%. In 2019, however, it jumped to almost 46%.

“Voter turnout will be decisive,” wrote Michał Szuldrzynski in the Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita on Wednesday. This, he explained, was why Tusk was focusing so heavily on anti-Russian sentiment. According to Szuldrzynski, fear of the PiS and Russia are the only tools Tusk has to mobilize voters.

This article was originally written in German.

Latest article