To understand the electoral success for five years of the conservatives of Law and Justice (PiS), whose founder Jarosław Kaczyński has become the self-proclaimed guarantor of the Catholic values of European civilization, we must look at how they have dealt with coal mining, key in the recent history of the country and whose hours are numbered by the European energy and economic transformation.
In 2020, President Andrzej Duda (PiS) was re-elected with a closer than expected result – 51.2% – against Rafał Trzaskowski, current mayor of Warsaw and candidate of the main opposition force, the centrist liberal Civic Platform party. (PO), “In the campaign, Duda assured that the mines would not close, that there would be coal for 200 more years,” Polish Social Democratic MEP Lukasz Kohut, a native of the country’s mining heartland, Silesia, tells ABC. However, “after the elections, Duda began to suggest that perhaps there was not as much coal and that there would have to be a roadmap to close the mines,” he adds. The country’s main energy source, coal is responsible for up to 70 percent of the country’s electricity, but where the price of electricity remains stable at least in the bills of Poles. Warsaw maintains a double discourse: it protects the mining sector and the interests of the most powerful union, Solidarność, and at the same time it needs to promote imports of Russian coal, cheaper than the national one.
Polish sovereignty is key in the Law and Justice discourse. Last week marked a milestone in the history of confrontations with Brussels with the ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court, which considered some articles of the European treaties unconstitutional. Kaczynski himself has celebrated the ruling of the court, a body branded by the opposition as a puppet of Law and Justice after the “illegal” appointment according to the European Court of Human Rights of like-minded judges, in which he questioned one of the basic pillars of the European project. : the primacy of community law.
Days before the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court, several regions of the country, which in 2019 had proclaimed themselves free of the ‘LGBT ideology’, had reversed their statements due to the possibility of being left without their corresponding part of the React game. EU (Recovery Aid for Cohesion and Territories of Europe), a package of additional cohesion funds for which Poland has received a total of more than €1.5 billion.
In the background, Brussels is fine-tuning its new rule of law conditionality mechanism, a tool that may mark relations with Warsaw in the coming months.
LGBT Free Zones
Law and Justice’s rivals highlight the party’s conservatism, but above all its economic populism and its ability to retain voter loyalty, especially in rural or less populated areas, with identity issues such as the fight against ‘LGBT ideology’, liberalism from the West and Muslim immigration. If it has to confront Brussels to do so, it will do so, and except for the issue of ‘LGBT-free zones’, it has not suffered major defeats thanks to the rule of unanimity in the Council and the loyalty of its Visegrad partners, especially that of the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban. This week, the front of this group and its allies has suffered two important defeats: that of Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the Czech legislative elections, and on the same day the resignation of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ally of the Visegrad group on key issues such as migration), punctuated by corruption.
In each election, the electoral map shows a fragmented country: the western regions and large urban centers tend to bet more on liberal options, while the east and rural areas, generally poorer and closer to conservative values, represent the main vote granaries of the PiS and parties even further to its right.
Thousands of young Poles – from the liberal centers of the main cities – are eager to go to study outside the country, not so much for their future jobs but for their personal situation. Asked by this newspaper, Kasia, Paulina and Arnold, young people from one of the most cosmopolitan Polish capitals, Katowice (in Upper Silesia), are clear when asked what the EU means to them: «If we were not in the EU , Poland would follow in the footsteps of its neighbors around Russia: Belarus and Ukraine. “We would be much further behind.”
Catholicism and Family
Catholicism represents an important part of national identity in Poland, and PiS has been able to capitalize on that Catholic vote. Poles continue to consider the Catholic Church as a symbol of the fight for independence from the communist regime. “The alliance between PiS and the Catholic Church has dominated the political agenda in recent years and is moving policies towards conservatism and opposing external pressures from the EU,” researchers James F. Downes assess in an article on the Culturico portal. and Horace Wong.
Another of the star measures, the Family 500 plus program, in force since 2016 and since the 2019 amendment, parents can receive monthly income of 500.00 PLN (about 120 euros) for each child, which was intended to boost the birth rate. and reduce child poverty by improving the living conditions of large families. According to data from the public university of Szczecin, throughout Poland, the program covered 55% of all children under 18 years of age in 2017. Among the drawbacks, these policies “can cause women to stay at home instead of going to work,” criticizes the opposition member of the Lower House of the Polish Parliament (Sejm), Monika Rosa.
Support for the EU
Despite the constant clashes between Warsaw and Brussels, the Polish population proudly declares itself pro-European or at least majority supports its membership in the EU. Warsaw does not promote a ‘Polexit’ to the United Kingdom either, but rather wants to be in mass and ringing: it wants to remain in the EU because it is the wish of more than 80 percent of Poles, but they want to ignore the sentences European decisions on the judiciary.
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe (around 5 percent) and as a pole of attraction for multinationals, the country has made rapid progress since entering the EU 17 years ago. European funds have improved infrastructure and are helping to reconvert the country. In mining areas where steel mills and operations have become obsolete, the bulk of the money to look for a ‘plan b’ also comes from Europe.