EU PROFILE: POLAND: THE EUROPEAN election campaign in Poland is gearing up to be a particularly Polish mix of enthusiasm and apathy.
Five years after joining the bloc, Poles still lead the pack of EU- enthusiasts with some 85 per cent of Poles saying they support membership.
Scratch that well-intentioned surface, however, and EU ignorance is widespread.
Turnout at the last European elections in Poland was just 20 per cent – the second lowest in the union – and may drop as low as 13 per cent on June 7th.
Not even the launch, in a hail of publicity, of Libertas Polska is likely to boost Polish awareness of the election. “
Poles have problems understanding the European institutions, as in other EU countries,” admits Poland’s European integration minister, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz.
Like their colleagues around Europe, Poland’s political class and intellectual elite appear unable or unwilling to communicate how and why citizens influence the European institutions.
“Polish people still do not understand what MEPs do,” says Dr Agnieszka Lada, European programme director of the Institute for Public Affairs in Warsaw.
“People still think national issues are more important because, even in this European election, the most intensive debate among politicians has been on national issues.”
Polish political leaders have little of practical significance to present to voters in the June poll after the financial crisis put on the long finger any ambition of fast-track euro zone membership.
Faced with dry policy debates, squabbling politicians and an apathetic public, desperate Polish journalists have latched on to the launch of Libertas Polska.
Controversial from the get-go, it launched amid claims that party founder Declan Ganley was side-stepping Polish campaign finance laws by guaranteeing – and eventually paying – Libertas Polska campaign loans. Party officials deny this is the case.
Ten days ago, Libertas scored a coup by securing as a speaker at a Rome party rally Lech Walesa. The former Solidarity union leader and later Polish president told Libertas delegates that they could “change Europe for the better”.
The fuss continued at the weekend, as a newspaper quoted a Libertas Polska officials as saying that Walesa was paid €100,000 for his appearance.
Some in Poland have claimed Walesa’s appearance is just the first stage in a strategy to co-opt the symbols and legend of the Solidarity trade union for its own electoral gain.
Libertas Polska officials are promising more surprises before the June 7th poll, but political analysts in Warsaw are sceptical of the party’s chances.
“The Rome event cost Walesa what was left of his good name in Poland, while Libertas was definitely the winner,” said Jacek Zakowski, columnist with the Polityka news magazine.