Euroscepticism and the rise of right-wing parties in Poland

Ever since the political transition of 1989, Poland had been striving to become a member of the European Union. Accession, framed as a “comeback to Europe” and “the final end of the Cold War”1 was portrayed in a uniformly positive light both by the media and by the country’s political and intellectual elites. However, an analysis of the data collected by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) which capture the general public’s support for joining the EU shows a somewhatless consistent picture (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Support for joining the European Union in Poland (1994-2012). Source: CBOS2.

It is clearly discernible that the supporters of joining the EU constituted about 80% of the Polish population at the beginning of the negotiation process. A few years before the time of the actual accession, the number of supporters had dropped substantially and reached a level of just over 55% of the population in 2000 and 2001. This can be partly explained by an intensification of the public debate on more controversial issues regarding the accession, namely agricultural subsidies, the right of foreign investors to purchase Polish land, the opening of foreign labour markets to Polish workers, among others.

The parliamentary elections of 2001 brought forth a remarkable change on the Polish political scene. The ruling coalition consisting of two parties, the Solidarity Electoral Action (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność, AWS) and the Union of Freedom (Unia Wolności, UW), lost all the seats they had held in Parliament and were replaced by the post-communist left (Democratic Left Alliance/SojuszLewicy Demokratycznej, SLD). Even more important in our context, two populist parties running on Eurosceptic platforms, the Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland (Samoobrona Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej, SRP) and the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR), secured almost 20% of the seats in parliament.

The LPR, a Christian-nationalist party established in 2001, can be characterised as being fundamentally anti-European based on its expressed concerns that foreign influence poses a threat to Polish national identity in domains as diverse as politics (for fear of losing sovereignty), economy (for fear of losing national wealth), and culture and traditional values (for fear of being dominated by Western culture in which abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages are allegedly well accepted). The LPR was strongly supported by right-wing media outlets, e.g. ultra-conservative, catholic Radio Maryja and Nasz Dziennik magazine, as well as by a nationalist right-wing youth organization, the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska, MW). The latter was at the time and still is closely associated with the National-Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR), one of the most extreme right-wing nationalist organizations in Poland.

The LPR’s agenda presents a prototypical manifestation of hard Euroscepticism. The dichotomy of soft and hard Euroscepticism as proposed by Taggart and Szczerbiak (2002) differentiates between an opposition to some of European policies because they are perceived as being disadvantageous to one’s country (soft Euroscepticism) and a more fundamental opposition to European integration combined with the strife to keep one’s country from joining the EU or to leave the union in case this has already happened (hard Euroscepticism)3.

The SRP started up as a farmers’ union in the early 1990s but transformed into a political party soon after. Led by the charismatic Andrzej Lepper, the SRP was fiercely opposed to European integration at first. But with time it became more moderate and switched over to soft Euroscepticism focusing mostly on the accession conditions that the Polish team of negotiators were trying to shape in the interest of their country. Its main line of criticism concerned with agricultural subsidies and the protection of Polish food producers.

The question emerges as to why both SRP and LPR were so successful in the 2001 and 2005 elections and what role they played in mobilizing anti-European social forces in Poland. A cross-temporal analysis of voters’ preferences in 1997, 2001, and 2005 conducted by Markowski and Tucker(2010) on CBOS data provide a very interesting insight in this regard4.
The authors conclude based on voting behaviour and attitudes towards the European Union that the parties mentioned above responded to negative social attitudes towards the EU, which lacked political representation in Poland at the time, and secured nearly a fifth of the vote as a direct result. Thus, Euroscepticism became a driving force in the success of Polish right-wing parties and their entry to the political mainstream.

After losing the general election in 2007, both the LPR’s and the SRP’s influence on the Polish political scene became marginal. PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Law and Justice) is now the largest opposition party. Their soft euroscepticism centres on world-view issues such as abortion, legalization of civil partnerships, and a broadly defined protection of Christian values. They advocate a stronger position of Poland within the EU, are against the fiscal pact but at the same time oppose leaving the union. The far right of the Polish political scene represented by MW and ONR, on the other hand, persists in its fundamentally anti-EU views. The current leader of MW said that “[w]e are a colony of the European Union (…)” while an article published on the official website of ONR, entitled “The real identity of Europe”, reads that the European Union is contradictory to Western Civilization as it has evolved throughout centuries, based on Greek culture, Roman law, and Christianity. The EU is also being referred to as the “Union of European Socialist Republics” implicating that it is an imposed system which should be fought. Anti-European attitudes are at the core of the extreme right-wing parties’ identity which would like to see Poland as an independent superpower.

Anna Stefaniak, Agnieszka Haska


1 A. Szczerbiak, Referendum briefing no 5. The Polish EU accession referendum 7-8 June 2003. European Parties Election and Referendums Network. Source: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/sei/research/europeanpartieselectionsreferendumsnetwork/epernreferendumbriefings Access: 20.12.2012.

 2 Stosunek do integracji europejskiej wśród ogółu badanych [Attitudes towards European integration in the general population], Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej. Source: http://www.cbos.pl/PL/trendy/06_stosunek _do_integracji_UE.php Access: 20.12.2012.

3 P. Taggart i A. Szczerbiak, The Party Politics of Euroscepticism in EU Member and Candidate States, SEI Working Paper No 51/Opposing Europe Research Network Working Paper No 6, April 2002. Brighton: Sussex European Institute.

4 R. Markowski & J. A. Tucker, Euroscepticism and the emergence of political parties in Poland, Party Politics, 16, 2010, pp. 523-548.

Categories Analyses, News, Poland | Tags: | Posted on February 7, 2013

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