Eureporter 27 May 2015
EU becoming less popular in elections but that’s no help to Cameron
The May round of elections are not turning out to be votes of confidence in the existing EU order. David Cameron’s Eurosceptic Conservatives won an overall majority and have now launched the UK on a perilous path of a Brexit plebiscite that may lead Britain out of Europe.
Now elections in Poland and Spain highlight how voters are turning away from the EU-ordained policies in place since the financial crisis. Even in Northern Ireland there is a revolt in the regional assembly there against EU-style austerity measures insisted upon by the Treasury in London using the same language about cuts and fiscal discipline as a member of the EU-IMF-ECB troika might use about the wayward Greeks.
In Poland, the incumbent president was ousted by the nationalist statist catholic party, PiS (Law and Justice.) The new president, Andrezj Duda, is a lawyer MEP who began political life in Krakow with the liberal reformists in the Solidarity movement grouped around Tadeuz Mazowiekci and Bronislaw Geremek. He moved onto PiS and worked closely with the Kaczynski bothers.
The surviving Kaczynski, Jaroslaw, who is hoping to become prime minister in October elections to the Sjem, pushed his protégé to run for President against the Civic Platform incumbent. Civic Platform has been in power since 2007 but PiS is likely to emerge as the biggest party in October though like David Cameron in 2010 without an overall majority.
Duda’s mother has already been on Polish TV saying she has told her son he must be a president for ‘all Poles” and not a party hack but if PiS provides both the Prime Minister and President in the autumn, few doubt Poland will veer off in a more nationalist direction, closer to Viktor Orban’s Hungary than being a poorer version of Germany.
Does this help David Cameron in his search for support for his view on a different Europe and a different set of rules for Britain? Not really. Certainly PiS is in same group in the European Parliament as the Conservatives and the PiS line is for more power for nations in Europe and less for the EU. Duda speaks good English and does modern rather well.
But in terms of politics, Duda and PiS are on the opposite sides of most fences to Cameron other than a dislike of the EU and Brussels. Duda will not support any discrimination against Polish citizens working in the UK or seeking work in the UK which is a core demand in Cameron’s renegotiations with the EU. He opposes economic liberalism, the single market, the presence of foreign banks in Poland, the competition from French supermarket chains in Poland, the sale of Airbus helicopters to the Polish military (he wants a made-in-Poland helicopter), any reform of Poland’s bloated pension system and early retirement for clientalist supporters such as mineworkers.
In his election campaign he made generous spending promises which Polish economists reckon amount to the nation’s annual budget. He has opposed any limits on the use of lignite (brown coal) which provides 90 percent of Polish energy needs so is at odds with the UK government’s stated green energy policy. He wants to see CAP transfers to Polish farmers increased and like most Polish politicians he opposes the UK rebate to which Warsaw is now a significant contributor.
So while he is not in tune with the Brussels economic establishment he is far from being in the same place as British Eurosceptics. This anti-Brussels mood was also seen in Spain where an anti-homeless campaigner became Mayor of Barcelona promising to reduce by 80 per cent the salary of the city’s chief officials. In Madrid, the 25-year reign of the Partido Popular, the current ruling party in Spain, also came to an end. It is not sure if the Podemos candidate, a 67 year old judge, can take office as the Socialist Party is as dismayed by the rise of the anti-EU austerians in Spain as the ruling centre-right.
In Italy, the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, called over the weekend for a ‘Third Way in Europe between the excesses of the Wolfgang Schäuble style austerity ideology on one hand and on the other the flamboyant and never-world promises of Syriza or Italian parties like Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement.
Even in Northern Ireland, the left parties of Sinn Fein and Social Democratic Labour Party are blocking austerity cuts which the protestant unionists parties are willing to impose and as a result the UK finance ministry is now cutting funds to Northern Ireland much as the EU Commission, IMF and ECB are always threatening to cut of cash for Greece unless Athens accepts full-on austerity ideology.
So Europe appears more centrifugal and less cohesive as elections take place. Claims that the new Polish president is a new ally for the UK are as wrong as the idea that Spain is about to move totally to the left. But there is a new political order trying to be born in Europe as voters make clear they want something different but what that new EU should be is far from obvious.