V4 – The Future of Europe. Good evening. You are watching Echo TV’s program about the Visegrád alliance. Compared to previous expectations, the first round of the Polish local elections of October 21st brought about surprising results. The governing Law and Justice party (PiS) performed worse than expected, while the Civic Coalition (the KO) created by the opposition parties, achieved better results. Here are the details.
The governing Law and Justice party (PiS) will have the most seats in the regional voivodeship councils, and the party will rule more regional assemblies than in the previous period. Based on the integrated results published by the National Electoral Commission, the PiS won 254 mandates in the 16 voivodeship councils. The Civic Coalition, the opposition alliance of the Civic Platform and the Modern Party, won 194 mandates, while the Polish People’s Party won 70 mandates. The Independents, who are collaborating with the Civic Platform, won 15, and the Democratic Left Alliance won 11 mandates. The PiS holds an absolute majority in 6 voivodeships, and in those three voivodeships where the party does not hold an absolute majority, coalition negotiations have begun.
Miklós Mitrovits, a historian and an expert on Poland, is here with us in the studio. Welcome and good evening.
The local elections were preceded by a very loud campaign in Poland. What do you think the reason was for the PiS to win the first round of the elections?
Since the last parliamentary elections, or rather since the last presidential elections, the PiS has been the majority party, and it enjoys the support of the population. It is not an absolute but rather a relative majority. I think that the results of the local elections are not so surprising, as you said in the introduction. The results show the reality of Polish society. 6–8% more people favor the governing party over the opposition parties, which include the Civic Platform, the .Modern, and the Polish People’s Party. I would rather say that the PiS performed worse than opinion polls had predicted.
Some people say that even though the PiS won the first round, it could still not be in power after the second round on the 4th of November. What does that mean exactly? How surprising can the results be in the second round?
There are two issues at stake here: the composition of the voivodeship councils and the mayors. During the second round of the elections the mayoral positions will be at stake in the localities where there was no absolute majority after the first round. There are 16 voivodship councils in Poland.The PiS won in nine of them, and the opposition won in seven of them.
Are we talking about the mayors?
No, we are talking about the voivodeship councils. So, although the PiS won in nine of the voivodeship councils, it has absolute majority in only six of them, meaning that the PiS does not need any coalition partners in these councils. In the remaining three voivodeship councils, the PiS might not be able to govern because the opposition parties can create a majority by forming an alliance. As a result, the PiS could eventually win only six voivodeship councils, and the remaining 10 would be governed by the opposition parties. We should add, however, that this result can be considered a victory in comparison to the elections four years ago. Four years ago, the PiS held a majority in only one voivodeship council, now it holds a majority in six. So, I think that this is an improvement. On the other hand, the Polish People’s Party won four voivodeship councils four years ago, but this year they did not win in any of them. Moreover, the PiS won most of the councils that were previously ruled by the People’s Party. So, compared to the results of four years ago, this was a victory, but compared to the polls and the government’s expectations, it can be interpreted as a failure that actually is a victory.
What is the reason of the PiS’s strengthening over the past four years? We mentioned that the campaign was very loud; what messages accounted for the victory of the PiS?
There is an objective change compared to the situation four years ago: the PiS was in opposition both in the Sejm and in the parliament four years ago. The Civic Platform basically won everywhere back then and they were governing. Now, the PiS is governing. So, on the one hand there is an “attraction to the winner,” and obviously a lot of people like the Polish government’s social policy, its supports provided for families, and its agriculture policy. On the other hand, I think that it was surprising four years ago that the People’s Party could win in four voivodeship councils, because those are rather the electorate of the PiS. So, the PiS’s victory in the voivodeship councils is not so surprising. As I said, the government’s family and social policies obviously account for a lot of votes, especially in the underdeveloped regions, that is, the Southern and Eastern parts of the country. If we draw a diagonal line on a map of Poland, there seems to be a continuous divide in the electoral behavior of the two imagined halves. A lot of developments were realized in those regions. Of course, the thing that happens in every country happened in Poland too: a previous government begins developments and a new government completes them. I’m sure there will be developments that were started by the present government and will be completed under a different government. But, obviously, people are affected by the developments that were realized under the present government, and the PiS could utilize that very well. It can also be said that the population of the countryside and smaller towns overwhelmingly supports the PiS, and this trend was reinforced under the current government cycle.
How does the Polish population relate to the European Union? To what extent is Poland a euro-skeptic nation? How important are these election results in relation to next year’s EP elections?
I recently saw a survey of Eurobarometer that said that 30% of the Polish population would support an exit from the European Union. I have a hard time believing this data, because my 15 years of experience with Polish issues does not reinforce this. Currently, there is no political party in Poland that would promote this project. I would remind the viewers that Jaroslaw Kaczynski opened his campaign on September 2nd by saying that there will not be a Polexit. So, this matter is not on the table. Poland is part of the Western world, part of the European Union, and its goal is to secure the greatest possible influence. This is not a message about leaving the EU. Being euro-skeptic or having reservations and critiques about the current mechanisms of the EU does not mean that they would want to leave the EU. I can’t even see what part of Polish society would want to quit the EU, since the agrarian population, which makes up most of the voters of the PiS and the People’s Party, is the biggest beneficiary of the EU funds. Of course, you can always ask for more funds, but in European comparison, per capita Poland is an absolute beneficiary. Almost every third family has a member who is working and living in Western Europe. It is thus unclear why they would want to leave the EU. So, I think that we should consider the previous survey results and not these newest Eurobarometer results, as the earlier ones show that the majority of the Polish population is pro Europe. Being euro-skeptic and critical of the EU and of the EU’s sanctions against Poland is a different issue.
Those who are skeptical and critical should vote at next year’s EP elections to express their opinions. The second round of the local elections will take place November 4th. We will follow up on that. Miklós Mitrovits, thank you for coming to the studio.
In contrast, Euro-skepticism is growing in East Central Europe. The Czech population has been critical of the EU’s politics for a long time. Our staff in Prague asked Jan Kovar, an international relations expert, about this phenomenon and about Czech–Hungarian relations.
How skeptical are the Polish people about the European Union?
Czech Euro-skepticism has its historical roots. Since the 1990s, the Czech Republic has been one of the most Euro-skeptic among the newly accessed countries.
What is the reason for that?
It has many reasons. Considering historical reasons, Czechs and Slovaks were always parts of bigger political structures. During the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy, Vienna decided what the Czechs should do. During the Soviet era, Moscow dictated to Prague. Today, it is the EU that wants to play this role. So, now some parts of Czech society feel that Brussels wants to dictate what we do.
What do you think about Czech–Hungarian relations?
Obviously, the Czechs and Slovaks are much closer to each other, because they belonged to the same country for a long time. It is also obvious that Hungarians and Slovaks cannot really get close to each other because of the minority issue. In general, I would say that Czech–Hungarian relations are not bad, but they are not as close as those of the Czechs and Slovaks. Prime Minister Babis respects Orbán in some matters, so the current political elite has some sympathy for how Orbán governs Hungary. I would not like to say whether it is good or bad, but that is the case. On the issue of migration, the two countries are on the same page. The Czech and Hungarian contributions are similar in tone about how the EU handles the crisis. If we consider the issues on the rule of law, Hungary and Poland are kind of covering for each other. This is a very pragmatic attitude, because this way it is more difficult for the EU to launch sanctions against them. To sum it up, the Czechs are not as close to Hungary as the Polish are, but the relations are good in general.
The German chancellor and the French president visited Prague on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s establishment. We are now connecting with our Prague-based correspondent, Péter Balla. Hello Péter! How were Maron’s and Merkel’s visits welcomed in Prague? What is the significance in timing their visits to be present for this occasion?
Hello! French and the German leaders had not been in the Czech Republic for two years. The 100th anniversary was honored with great celebrations, and I think neither the French nor the German leader would have wanted to miss out on that. Macron spent two days here, and he attended many cultural programs. Prior to his visit to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, French newspapers argued that the aim of his visit was to disintegrate the Visegrád alliance and to divide them into good countries and bad countries. By choosing to visit the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Macron wanted to separate them from Poland and Hungary.
Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus gave an interview last week on one of the most popular Czech TV stations. What did he talk about? He usually addresses the V4 with strong criticism. How strong are the voices of those criticizing the EU?
Vaclav Klaus was president until 2003, and even though he retired from politics, he still tries to play an important role. For example, he campaigned for the AFD, the Alternative for Germany, during various German elections. His opinions and critiques are pretty popular in the Czech Republic. However, the answers that he comes up with are less popular, and his influence on Czech society is weaker than it was a couple of years ago. It was interesting when he said that the creation of Czechoslovakia finally brought independence for the Czechs from Vienna. His thoughts are similar to Viktor Orbán’s in saying that now Brussels is trying to create a new empire and limit the Czech Republic’s independence by acquiring more and more competences. So, his critiques are quite strong about the EU.
One more question, Péter. What does the newly appointed Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomas Petricek think about the Visegrád 4?
He is with the Social Democrats. His view is that the Visegrád alliance within the EU is a good thing. So, in this respect he is positive about it. However, we have to see that he is close to MEP Miroslaw Poche, who was the only Social Democratic representative to support the Sargentini report. This means that he will not be overly pro-Hungary. But, it seems that he will not be very influential in foreign politics; this role still belongs to Andrej Babis.
Péter Balla from Prague, thank you! Our next topic is Slovakia. Marek Madaric, who previously resigned from leading the Ministry of Culture, announced recently that he is quitting Smer, the governing party. For more details we are now connecting with our correspondent in Bratislava, Titusz Németh. So, how did Marek Madaric explain his exit from Smer?
Hello, Anett! Madaric’s decision is interesting because it marks the first time that a member is quitting the party since Smer has been in the parliament. Madaric’s explanation was that he could not identify with President of the Slovak National Party and Slovak National Council Andrej Danko’s statements in which he expressed that he agrees with Viktor Orbán’s policies in many respects. So, Madaric said that he couldn’t be a member of a coalition where one of the leaders says such things. We have to see though that the obviously anti-Hungarian Slovak language law can be connected to Madaric. He voted against the government on several occasions before, so his decision was not completely unexpected, as President of Smer Robert Fico said.
Emanuel Macron visited Bratislava not so long ago and talked about the future of the EU. What picture did the French president paint?
He said that Slovakia belongs to the Core Europe by being a member of the Schengen area and of the eurozone. Macron wants this membership to grow, and he also wants to reinforce French–Slovak cooperation.
Titusz Németh from Bratislava, thank you. Dear viewers, this was the news from the Visegrád countries. We will be back in a week with fresh information. Thank you for watching, and goodbye.