The first weekend of October was election time for some European nations while others undergo internal debate on how to adapt to the challenge to democracy created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Historical differences in political governance of European Union countries make this a painful and complex process. Resolution of these differences is paramount to achieve EU unity in the face of such aggression.
The EU divisions
The divisions in the EU are those between the core Eurozone countries and those with right wing governments openly forming alliances with other like-minded across the EU. Hungary’s Viktor Orban is at the fore of the latter group. He was the first to congratulate Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s first female politician to win an election with 44% of the vote for a coalition including her far right party Brothers of Italy. Orban has also supported right-wing populist Marine Le Pen in France.
Sweden Democrat’s far-right wing leader Jimmie Akesson has had recent success in some areas of the country due to their stance on immigration. In Spain we have far-right Vox arising in Andalucia but slowly spreading its influence. It has links with Georgia Meloni.
In April, elections in Slovenia produced a defeat for right wing populism when the new Freedom Party, a coalition of three smaller parties, snatched a win from the governing party with 34.45% of the vote, a lead of just 11%. Then there is Poland. It deserves closer attention.
Poland’s 2023 election
The current governing party in Poland is Law & Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS) led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has faced EU opposition to his government’s judicial changes and refused to follow EU policy on refugees from Africa and the Middle East. He has followed the autocratic “democracy” style of Viktor Orban. Poland’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and total ban on abortion in October 2020 caused massive public unrest and protest. The EU response to Poland and Hungary’s backsliding on democracy was legislation to link sharing of the EU budget of €1.8 trillion to adherence to EU law. Poland and Hungary threatened to veto the budget but a compromise allowed Morawiecki to survive until the next election due in autumn 2023.
Poland’s main opposition party is Confederation (Konfederacja – KO) is a far-right party led by Janusz Korwin. It is a coalition of four parties. They are:
Coalition of parties
Civic Platform (PO) led by Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister (2007 to 2015), then President of the EU Commission until replaced by Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019. Poland 2050 (Polska 2050) a new right or liberal-centrist party formed in summer 2020 and led by ex-TV presenter Szymon Holownia who came a credible third in Poland’s last Presidential election. (He studied to be a Catholic priest but never became one.) Left (Lewica) formed by a merger of three minor parties. A centre-to-centre left party formed to contest the 2019 parliamentary election. It is supportive of Poland’s EU membership. Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe – PSL) an agrarian centre to centre right party, supportive of Poland’s EU membership.
Donald Tusk has been trying to convince these parties to contest the 2023 election as a single list as Poland uses the proportional representation system (d’Hondt counting method) that could win more seats.
Poland 2050 and PSL are concerned that this may not be attractive to centre-right voters who don’t want to vote for the government and may view a single list as too liberal left. This concern springs from Hungary’s Orban securing a landslide right wing party victory against an opposition that had a wide span of left and right-wing parties. A final decision on which parties join one or more coalition groupings will not be made until at least spring 2023.
Poland and Ukraine refugees
Poland’s citizens opened their arms and homes to Ukrainian refugees with 5.5 million crossing the border since the war begun. Many have since returned but the number of Ukrainians who lived in Poland before the war and refugees who remain there today is 3.37 million. That is 8% of the Polish population. More than 300,000 have found work and 200,000 children are attending school or kindergarten. The Polish people have responded to immigration after their Prime Minister resisted it. It appears they want to renew their relationship with the EU. When I toured Hungary a year ago, with Magdalena as my guide, I saw and heard ample evidence that the Hungarian people feel the same.
Poland has close ties with Ukraine based on deep, historic roots. Despite some conflicts, both have had bad experiences with Russian imperialism. As a result, the opposition and the current government are hand-in-hand regarding the help given to Ukraine and their people.
October Elections in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Latvia
As I write (4th October) elections have just taken place in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Latvia, three countries struggling to renew themselves from a Communist past.
Bulgaria, an ex-Soviet republic, held its fourth election in 18 months due to high level corruption, widespread Russian influence and soaring inflation. The two main parties are GERB (centre-right, previously polled 26%, now 25.4%) led by Boyko Borissov and ‘We Continue the Change’ (pro US and NATO, previously polled 18%, now 20.2%) led by Kiril Petkov. They are both pro-EU but Petkov will not form a coalition with GERB due to their corruption. This opens the possibility that Borissov will seek a coalition with one or two right wing parties who are vulnerable to Russian propaganda, rather than a fifth left wing party. A further period of political instability or another election may ensue.
One day before the election, the European Commission hailed the opening of a new Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline that will reduce dependence of Bulgaria and the Western Balkans on Russian gas by connecting it to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, which supplies natural gas from Azerbaijan through Turkey. Ursula von der Leyen hailed it as a game changer.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is vying to become a member of the EU and NATO. It has three ethnic groups – 50.1% Bosniaks (Muslim), 30.8% Serbs (Eastern Orthodox) and 15.4% Croats (Catholic). The election was held to choose one person from each group who share the role of President for a 4-year term. The country suffered badly during the 1992-95 Bosnian War (when I was serving in NATO Southern Region) culminating in genocide of Bosniaks at Sarajevo in July 1995. The current population of 3.2 million lost 100,000 casualties. This resulted in the establishment of the world’s most complex administration. If you want to explore more of its internal, nationalist tensions and the difficult choices it faces in its election see in Euronews.
Latvia is one of the three ex-Soviet Baltic nations. Its ruling centre party, New Unity, won 19% of the vote, opposition party Greens and Farmers Union 12.5% and new centrist party United List 10.9%. None of the parties supported by Latvia’s ethnic Russian minority secured a single seat. Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins is in a strong position to form a coalition government, allowing Latvia to remain pro-EU, alongside Lithuania and Estonia.
My visit to Maastricht in July made me aware that, in less than an hour, you can cross from Belgium through the Netherlands to Germany with no apparent borders. What better choice of location for the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on European Unity in February 1992 that changed the European Economic Community to the European Community.
John Lennon’s words “Imagine there’s no countries” may still be a distant dream but Europe must put aside the differences stemming from its own, complex imperialist past, embrace the different cultures in the Community and work together to strengthen its democratic principles. This is only possible through free and fair elections, not by bogus annexation.