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Polish report
by Euro Reporter
2015-05-29 10:31:18
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Duda presidential victory stuns Poland

Before a sea of waving Polish flags and a boisterous crowd of supporters chanting his name, Andrzej Duda heralded his stunning victory in Poland’s presidential election as a seismic shift in the country’s political arena. “Those who voted for me, they voted for a change,” he said, after the first national election victory in a decade for the right-wing Law and Justice party. “Today we can change Poland.” The win for the socially conservative, nationalist, Eurosceptic party, which saw Mr Duda oust Bronisław Komorowski, the government-backed incumbent from the presidential palace, represents a significant lurch to the right in Polish politics. It has sent shockwaves through the country’s political establishment that could ultimately topple the ruling party in October after eight years in power. Backed by both the country’s restless, anti-establishment youth and its conservative pensioners, Mr Duda’s election, which was unthinkable just a few months ago, represents a significant and far-reaching rejection of the ruling Civic Platform party. Despite delivering years of economic prosperity and political stability, it faces the likely prospect of being booted out of power in parliamentary polls just five months away. It is a swing that could lead to significant shifts in Poland’s attitude to the EU, Warsaw’s ties with Berlin, and the country’s fiscal reform agenda.

poland_400“I am convinced that we can be united and that together we can rebuild our country,” Mr Duda, a relative unknown outside of political circles before the election, told his supporters late on Sunday. The 43-year-old member of the European Parliament secured 51.5 per cent of the national vote. While Poland’s president holds a largely ceremonial role, he can veto and propose parliamentary legislation. Mr Duda is expected to take office in early August. His victory, and the potential deposing of the centrist, pro-European Civic Platform before the end of the year, will raise concerns across the EU that its sixth-largest economy may cool relations with Brussels and other western capitals. Civic Platform has built strong ties with Germany and projected Poland as an enthusiastic, willing and outspoken member in the EU. Law and Justice is more sceptical of the EU's agenda. Mr Duda has called for a repatriation of more powers from Brussels to individual member states, an effort that chimes with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Europe ahead of a referendum on its EU membership. Mr Komorowski’s campaign warned that Mr Duda’s party could scupper Poland’s economic gains and its important role in Europe. He reminded voters of the last Law and Justice government between 2005 and 2007, which was marked by poor relations with Germany, strongly conservative social policies and political purges of the bureaucracy.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the last Law and Justice prime minister, will be the party’s candidate for that office again in October, senior party leaders said on Monday, in an election that analysts said Civic Platform would struggle to win given the political earthquake caused by Mr Duda’s victory. “Social emotions are turned away from the ruling party,” said Wojciech Szacki, a political analyst at Polityka Insight, a think-tank. “The demands for political changes and the anger of the young, which ended the Komorowski presidency, in the autumn will hit [Civic Platform].” The vote illustrated deep divides in Polish society. Despite headline growth figures since 2008 that are almost twice as large as any other EU member, the fruits of Poland’s economic boom have not been equally shared.  Strikingly, all of the country’s poorer eastern regions backed Mr Duda, while the more prosperous western regions supported Mr Komorowski without exception. In rural areas, 62 per cent of voters backed Mr Duda, according to an exit poll, while Mr Komorowski carried 59 per cent of votes from the country’s cities. Mr Komorowski, who faces an uncertain political future, used his concession speech to encourage the party to fight to retain power. “We have experienced worse trials, and we have fought worse battles,” said the 62-year-old. “It is only up to us to turn this failure into success. We will win.” The president-elect has also promised to repeal an increase in Poland’s retirement age brought in under his predecessor, raise the country’s income tax threshold and force banks to convert costly Swiss franc mortgages back in local currency, moves that are estimated to cost more than €61bn.


Poland blocks debate on gay civil partnerships

The Polish Parliament has voted against having a debate on the regulation of gay and straight civil partnerships. The Polish Sejm rejected the proposal, put forward by the Democratic Left Alliance, meant that same-sex couples in civil partnerships would be able to pay income tax jointly, the right to inheritance, and social security benefits as a result of a death.

The bill will now most likely be shelved, however, as MPs overwhelmingly voted against discussions on the matter. Just 146 MPs voted for, with 215 voting against. 24 abstained and 75 were not present.

The proposal was submitted in January 2013, and despite the bill being delayed, the Democratic Left Alliance said the party would submit a motion on a discussion of it. Gay rights groups have criticised the motion being dropped, stating that Polish people want a law to formalise same-sex unions.


Poland reserved over EC refugee proposals

In proposals put forward in Brussels, each member state was called on to accept a proportion of the refugees that are crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece. The refugees would be relocated within a two-year period. “The acceptance of refugees should be applied on a voluntary basis,” argued Interior Ministry spokesperson Małgorzata Wożniak in an interview with Polish Radio.

She said that the ministry is maintaining its previously aired position that each member state should decide according to its capabilities. Wożniak stressed that at present, Poland is expecting a further wave of refugees from Ukraine.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for Amnesty International has told Polish Radio that “Poland should accept the refugees in the name of solidarity and responsibility.” Weronika Rokicka of the Polish wing of Amnesty International noted that many of the refugees might have been slain, had they not fled the conflicts in their homeland.


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