VISEGRAD BLOG: Poland’s PiS pays for domestic antics with marginalisation in Europe

VISEGRAD BLOG: Poland’s PiS pays for domestic antics with marginalisation in Europe
Former Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo (right) with PiS leader Jaroslav Kaczynski.
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw July 16, 2019

Former Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo failed twice in the past week to become the head of the European Parliament’s (EP's) committee on employment and social affairs in what seems to be the result of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's anti-EU sentiment in domestic politics.

PiS convincingly won the European vote in Poland in late May with promises of exerting a greater influence on EU policymaking to the national benefit. But the party is now facing the reality of EU politicking after years of conflict with the EU over the independence of the judiciary, environmental protection and migration have left it without allies in Brussels.

In addition to Szydlo’s failure to win the votes, the PiS government has come well short of securing any of the top EU jobs so far. Nor is Warsaw likely to receive any major portfolio in the new European Commission, the current speculation goes. 

Poland is not giving up, however. PiS had hinted it would be willing to see a Pole at the helm of crucial portfolios like agriculture, economy, or energy, in return for its support for Ursula von der Leyen, the German candidate for the Commission’s new president. Her candidacy will be decided in a plenary vote in the EP on July 16.

Among the concessions Poland wants of von der Leyen there is a demand to “stop the ridiculous Article 7 procedure” against Warsaw, PiS MEP Patryk Jaki said during the plenary debate on von der Leyen’s candidacy. 

The procedure concerns the Commission’s investigation of Poland’s breaching the EU’s rule of law principle by pushing a judiciary reform, which, the Commission argues, could subject courts to party control. For PiS, the investigation is a top proof of EU’s tireless work to throw the spanner in the works of the Polish government, which poses a challenge to the French-German domination in the EU.
PiS MEPs belong to the sixth largest grouping in the EP, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), which totals 62 lawmakers. While typically on the sidelines of Brussels politicking, the ECR might play a crucial role in the von der Leyen vote as the main groups in the EP – the conservatives and the socialists – are yet to confirm their support.

It is not yet clear if PiS continues to front Szydlo, a rookie MEP, to head the employment and social affairs committee or if it will propose a candidate that MEPs will be less likely to associate with confrontational politics of the Polish government in Europe.

Elzbieta Rafalska, another first-time MEP and former minister of labour and social policy in the PiS government, is rumoured to stand a better chance. Some MEPs continue to say they would not vote in favour of any PiS candidate, however.

Szydlo twice stood as the only candidate to head the committee yet clearly lost on both occasions. The first vote, held on July 10, went 27-21 against the former PM. The second vote, which took place on July 15, saw the support for Szydlo diminish further, as 34 MEPs voted against her with only 19 ayes.