Conservatives sweep Polish vote, put EU rule of law to the test

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  • Euractiv.com

14.10.2019.

Euractiv.com

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Before you start reading The Capitals today, take a look at Sarantis Michalopoulos’ story on EU cancer plan will succeed if the right priorities are identified, official says, as well as Georgi Gotev’s story on Bulgaria PM will ask EU leaders to stop criticising Erdogan.

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Right-wing ruling Law and Justice (PiS/ECR) won the parliamentary elections in Poland by a large margin, obtaining 43.6% of the votes, while the main opposition bloc – centre-left Civic Platform (KO) – obtained 27.4%, according to latest numbers published by the National Electoral Commission (PKW).

During the campaign, PiS has mixed nationalist rhetoric with a vast welfare programme financed by an economic boom and drawn support from poorer Poles who feel they have missed out on prosperity in the past decades.

Poland will see a return of left-wing parties into parliament after they lost their seats four years ago due to fragmentation: The Left (Lewica) obtained 12.4% of the votes, while pro-European PSL (EPP) had support from 9.1% of the voters. Far-right KONFEDERACJA passed the electoral threshold with 6.4% and it still remains unclear, whether it will join PiS or contest its rule.

According to projections, PiS will hold the majority with 239 out of 460 seats in the lower house of the Polish parliament, Sejm, and will be able to continue its course without the need to form a coalition. However, PiS fell short of a 276 seats constitutional majority, which would give it the power to reject the presidential veto. Opposition forces KO, PSL and the Left will not have much leverage over the ruling party as they will hold 207 seats altogether.

On a positive note, voter turnout reached about 61.1%, the highest since the first partly-free elections were held after the fall of Communism. This time, Poles gathered to support both main parties PIS and KO, particularly with expats showing up at the voting booths in larger-than-ever numbers.

What’s next after the elections? Although it was mainly social policies that played a role in the campaign, PiS has shifted Poland’s foreign policy away from the European mainstream as the party has become a leader in proposing to take some powers away from Brussels. PiS will continue its path with an approach “EU money first, a continuation of contested justice reforms second”.

“Until the negotiations of the new MFF [multiannual financial framework] are finalised, PiS might be conciliatory, especially for the Polish agriculture with the hands of prospective Commissioner Wojciechowski,” Professor Renata Mieńkowska-Norkiene of Warsaw University told EURACTIV Poland.

“When all the finances are settled, PiS will come back to its illiberal ways in full swing. It already controls the public media, now it’s time for the private media. Rumours suggest that they intend to pay 4 times the price to take over the major Polish private TV channel TVN from the American mass media company Discovery Inc. A Viktor Orbán variation, with Erdogan’s elements. They don’t have a constitutional majority, but will take all they can without it,” Mieńkowska-Norkiene said.

What can the EU do? “The only real tool on the side of the European Commission is the budget conditionality. It can play this strong card,” Mieńkowska-Norkiene added.

Bogusław LIBERADZKI (MEP, S&D) believes, however, that PiS will now have to soften its rhetoric as a number of EU decisions lie ahead. “The conditionality of funds in accordance with the rule of law assessment has been announced. With the new Commission, we will have the rule of law evaluated by Commissioners Reynders, Jourova and partly also by Timmermans, who has a more overarching mandate. Therefore, the urgent task of this new government will be not to do any harm to Poland in the new EU,” the MEP said.

(Karolina Zbytniewska, Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl, Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

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SYRIA

Germany and France are pushing for an immediate end to the Turkish military offensive in Syria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris on Sunday evening to withdraw his troops from Syria.

In response to the Turkish offensive, the Syrian government has sent its army to the north. Macron said that there was a “common will” between Germany and France for the offensive to end. Merkel warned that the humanitarian consequences are “serious” and that were was a risk for the jihadist militia Islamic State (IS) to gain ground again. Before the meeting with Macron, Merkel had spent an hour with Erdoğan over the phone.

On 12 October, Merkel said that Paris and Berlin wanted to reach agreements on a number of issues such as Brexit, Ukraine and Turkey to “present as many common positions as possible” ahead of the next European summit (17-18 October). These issues will be discussed between the two leaders at the Franco-German Council of Ministers, which will take place on Wednesday (16 October) in Toulouse. Merkel also mentioned armaments as another topic of closer cooperation. “This is about the development of future European tanks and a European aircraft,” she said.

Rome will push for a ban on arms exports to Turkey at the EU level, a source in the executive has said. Italy’s diplomatic ‘démarche’ will start today at the Foreign Affairs Council and will continue, if necessary, at the European Council on 17-18 October. The source added that Italy would attempt to counter Turkish action in north-eastern Syria with all means permitted under international law, emphasising that initiatives must be taken to avoid further suffering of Syrian and Kurdish people.

Meanwhile, the Turkish offensive has divided Turks in Cyprus. Mustafa Ackintzi, the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, triggered strong reactions in Ankara after he posted on Facebook: “In Syria, blood is shed, not water”. Erdoğan lashed out against Ackintzi saying that his authority still lies in the hands of Turkey and that he should be careful of what he says: “He should know his limits”, Erdogan warned. Numerous Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot politicians criticised the leader of the community, while only the workers’ unions took his side and questioned Turkey’s statements.

In Bratislava, the general director of the political section at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Marián Jakubócy received the ambassador of Turkey to Slovakia, saying that “the situation requires a political process and diplomatic means in line with the international law and valid resolution of the UN Security Council. We are concerned about the negative political and humanitarian consequences of this military operation on the civilian population, including Kurds in Northern Syria. We are also concerned about the increased risks of new ethnic violence and the emergence of new refugee flows and internally displaced people, and about the consequences on the effective fight against Daish,” the Ministry wrote.

Regarding new refugee flows, as media report that 100,000 Syrians have left their homes, Bulgaria has said it will use force to defend its border. Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said the country would use water cannons and tear gas to protect its border with Turkey if the migratory pressure increases. Previously, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov said the border fence and the army could not save the country from migrants. “Our foreign policy must be delicate, but we must be firm on the border,” Karakachanov said, adding that Bulgaria should be ready to defend its border without external assistance.

[Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de, Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg, Zuzana Gabrižová |EURACTIV.sk, Gerardo Fortuna| EURACTIV.com, Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr]

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In other news from the capitals…

BUDAPEST

Orbán lost in Budapest. With 70% of the votes counted, opposition candidate Gergely Karácsony won with 50.1% while incumbent mayor István Tarlós (Orbán’sFidesz-EPP) obtained 44.8%. Karácsony is a candidate selected by all opposition parties (MOMENTUM-DK-MSZP- PARBESZED-LMP) except for radical right party Jobbik, which did not have a candidate. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán clashed with Jobbik after that party tried to confront him in the 2018 national elections.

Karácsony’s victory will be the biggest political defeat for Orbán since 2010 when he renewed his mandate as PM. Analysts suggest that it also paves the way for real competition in the 2022 national elections. (Željko Trkanjec |EURACTIV.hr)

Read the story: Hungary’s opposition wins Budapest election, makes gains in other cities

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PARIS | BRUSSELS

No futile quarrels, please.“The EU cannot afford the luxury of futile quarrels and small disputes”, Macron told MEPs following a dinner with Merkel at the Elysée. The two heads of state were keen to calm things down after the European Parliament rejected the French candidate, leading to a political crisis.

The French president, who is due to meet the European Commission President-elect on Monday (14 October) at 11 a.m., had sent a message of appeasement after having initially questioned the unexpected rebellion of European political groups and the responsibility of the President of the Commission in this affair. Read the story on EURACTIV.fr

At this time, France, Romania and Hungary are the only member states who have not had their Commissioner picks confirmed by MEPs, even though the new Commission is set to take over on 1 November. EURACTIV.com has learnt that the contracts of the current EU Commission cabinets’ members have been extended to 1 December, which apparently means that more time will be given to those countries.

(EURACTIV.FR, Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)

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LONDON

Brexit ‘sabotage’ by rebel Tory MPs: Former Tory Cabinet Minister Philip Hammond and Dominic Grieve are at the centre of plans to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request an extension to the UK’s Article 50 negotiations with the EU, regardless of whether the Prime Minister secures a deal this week.

Johnson will attempt to agree on a deal at the European Council this week, allowing him to circumvent the recently adopted Benn Act, which would require him to ask the EU for a Brexit extension.

But, reports suggest that Hammond and Grieve think that there is simply not enough time for the UK Parliament to scrutinise a deal brought back to Westminster.

A source close to Hammond told the Daily Mail newspaper yesterday that “there is a distinction between Parliament ‘approving’ the broad outline of a deal in a simple motion and Parliament legislating for a deal.” The fact is that the latter is not possible in the time remaining, so the Benn Act will come into force to allow some time to legislate and finalise the deal. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)

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MADRID

Catalan separatists to be sentenced. Spain’s Supreme Court has agreed to convict 12 Catalan politicians and activists of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal independence referendum but has removed the charge of rebellion, EURACTIV’s partner EFE-EPA reported.

Sources from the Court told EFE on Saturday that the seven judges presiding over the high-profile trial had taken the decision unanimously.

The individual convictions, which include the former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, are expected as early as Monday, although judicial sources do not rule out possible delay in the proceedings.

State prosecutors had requested convictions for rebellion, which would imply the use of violence during the referendum campaign. Sedition can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Judges will apply it to those who are deemed to have incited public disorder to prevent the application of the law. The banned independence referendum took place on 1 October 2017 and brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

In response, the erstwhile Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, enacted a constitutional mechanism to dissolve the regional Catalan chamber and fired the Catalan government en masse. Carles Puigdemont, the former regional president of Catalonia, fled to Belgium to avoid the trial but faces the same charges as his former colleagues. His replacement, Quim Torra, who is also a separatist, has called for peaceful protests in the region. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)

Read also: Rioja president: ‘We will stand behind our wine producers’ in EU-US tariff war

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ATHENS

The right to vote for Greeks abroad. Greece’s conservative government (New Democracy-EPP) pushes for a new law that will allow Greeks living abroad to vote in the national elections. All parties agree that Greeks who left the country during the economic crisis should have the right to vote. Although most parties agree to grant the right only to Greek citizens abroad who have registered to vote, they still agree on methodology (vote by letter, vote to consulates, if expat votes will count toward specific parliament seats etc). The main opposition party, the leftist Syriza, agrees with this in principle but accuses the government of trying to change the electorate. (Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr)

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PRAGUE

Helpful plants. Czech scientist Josef Komenda from the Institute of Microbiology has received a European Research Council grant of €2.5 million for his photosynthesis research project, Czech News Agency reported. Working together with two scientists from Germany and the UK, he will focus on improving plants’ ability to convert light into chemical energy. The research could result in increased food and energy generation as well as in higher CO2 absorption capabilities on Earth. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]

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