Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
The race for the top spot in Poland's upcoming vote for the European Parliament is tightening as premier Donald Tusk and his centrist Civic Platform party lose ground to the right-wing opposition, largely as the beneficial political effect of Ukraine begins to fade.
Tusk had seen his party scramble up in opinion polls when the crisis in Ukraine became deadly serious, making up more than a year of lacklustre performance due to a slowing economy and voter fatigue with a government in its second term in power.
Tusk and Radoslaw Sikorski, his foreign minister, have become some of the most important voices in the EU on dealing with Ukraine. Sikorski helped broker the deal that helped end the bloodshed in Kyiv earlier this year, while Tusk has been a key partner for France's Francois Hollande and Germany's Angela Merkel in formulating an EU response to Russian aggression.
The serious diplomatic work coupled with the reawakened danger of the Russian threat pushed aside domestic political concerns. Tusk's team has always been better at foreign policy than the right-wing Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which is still reflexively anti-German and suspicious of closer EU integration.
But the halo effect of Tusk's foreign policy successes is beginning to fade.
Polls of Poles
New opinion polls show Law and Justice back in the lead. A survey by the TNS Polska organisation has them at 27% compared with 24% for Civic Platform. In a sign of a right-wing revival, the Congress of the New Right, led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke has the support of 7%, above the 5% threshold to win seats. Korwin-Mikke, who has long between an iconoclastic figure on the right, comparing the European Parliament to a bordello, wondering whether women should have the right to vote, and criticising politicians from across Poland's political spectrum, appears to be hitting a chord with younger disaffected voters.
The elections are crucial for Tusk because they begin a long series of votes over the coming months, starting with regional elections, then next year's parliamentary and presidential elections. Anything more than a narrow loss to Law and Justice could raise questions about the viability of Civic Platform and revive the fortunes of its right-wing opponents.
The government is hoping for some stumbles from Kaczynski. He provided one last week, when he skipped the parliamentary session during which Sikorski laid out Poland's foreign policy priorities for next year, largely focussed on Ukraine. Tusk has been trying to link the vote for the European Parliament – which arouses little interest among Polish voters – to larger questions of national security. “We are really standing before a fundamental problem, that eurosceptics and the European extreme right not gain such strength in the European parliament… that it does not lead to the creation of something that could objectively be called Putin's Fifth Column in Europe,” Tusk said recently.
Jan Cienski is a Senior Fellow at DemosEuropa, a Warsaw-based public policy think-tank
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