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Poland - Referendum on UE membership

Referendum on the European Union in Poland a round up just a few days before the election

Referendum on the European Union in Poland a round up just a few days before the election

08/06/2003 - D-7

"I shall vote in the knowledge that on the day of the referendum my fight is over. My life's plan has been achieved. Poland is able to choose. We have managed to attain democracy and I contributed to this," declared Lech Walesa, the historical leader of Solidarity on 30th May. In the daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, the former President of the Republic called on the Poles to vote "yes" to the referendum on Poland's membership of the European Union that is to take place on 7th and 8th June. "It is our dual victory, we overturned the Communist system and vanquished the adversary who finally rejected the Eastern option and adopted our programme: towards the West, NATO and the European Union (...) I do not believe that the Poles, who paid a heavy tribute to their history, are able to waste such a chance," he concluded. The same day in the same newspaper General Jaruzelski, one of the last strong arms of the Communist power in Poland during the 1980's also called on his countrymen to vote in favour of European integration. "I'd like to encourage most warmly all of those with whom we travelled a long and difficult road to participate in the referendum on 7th and 8th June by voting "yes". I would like to reassure those amongst my former comrades who still have their doubts. The European Union is an opportunity for Poland," declared the originator of martial law in 1981 that quashed the first non-Communist union in Eastern Europe: Solidarity.

Just a few days before the Polish referendum the "yes" is still in the majority (75%) within the population (16% would vote "no" according to the latest opinion polls). Nevertheless the participation level remains a source of concern. We should remember that this must absolutely be higher than 50% of those registered for the election to be validated. The most recent surveys indicate that participation should just go over the 50% mark. If the referendum fails Poland's membership of the European Union will have to be ratified by Parliament. Although this referendum should not cause a problem it remains that its invalidation would weaken the legitimacy of the whole procedure and in that case "membership would go ahead but it would leave an unpleasant taste behind", according to Michal Tober a government spokesman.

The President of the Republic Aleksander Kwasniewski (Alliance of the Democratic Left, SLD), the members of Leszek Miller's government (SLD) and numerous non-governmental organisations are circulating around the country at present in order to convince the Poles to go and vote on 7th and 8th June in favour of the country's membership of the European Union. "You are now facing a test of maturity," stressed Danuta Hübner, Minister for European Integration, as she spoke to young voters, "today you are writing your country's history." Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission who went to Poland on 19th May, qualified the referendum as "an historic event for Poland" and confirmed the "vital and essential" role the country had to play in Europe. Finally Tony Blair also visited the country on 30th May in order to convince the Poles to vote "yes" to European integration. "Not only is it important for Poland but also for the good of Europe as a whole that the Poles vote "yes"," maintained the British Prime Minister. For the last two weeks, and on the initiative of the Association of Young Europeans, around thirty young people from ten Union countries have been travelling across the country to explain to the population what life will be like in the European Union on a day to day basis.

The Polish church, an institution of primary importance in this country that is mostly Catholic has also provided its support for the country's European integration. Pope Jean-Paul II called on his countrymen to vote in favour of membership of the Union. "I know that many Poles are against Poland's integration into the Union. I understand their concern to maintain the cultural and religious identity of our country. I share their concern. I must however point out that Poland has always been an important part of Europe and that it cannot abandon the community that, it is true to say, has undergone many crises, but that represents today a family of nations founded on a common Christian tradition. Europe needs Poland. The Church in Europe needs the demonstration of Polish faith," declared the sovereign Pontiff on 19th May as he spoke to 20,000 countrymen - this included President Aleksander Kwasniewski as well as several cardinals and bishops who had met for a special audience in St Peter's Square.

Just a few days from the referendum a new corruption scandal has erupted in Poland. This involves irregularities in the management of wheat stocks. The Agency for National Security (ABW) has revealed the disappearance of great quantities of wheat for the silos managed by the State Agricultural Agency (ARR). The Prime Minister immediately requested his Agricultural Minister Adam Tanski to dismiss the president of the agency as well as his deputies, demanding that the on-going controls continue. The country, that is already suffering, due to a number of scandals involving the parties in power, has now been shaken again. The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen, fears that this political instability will finally have some influence on the referendum .

On 26th May, President Aleksander Kwasniewski declared that he wanted a political reshuffle after the referendum. "After the referendum Poland will need a Parliamentary majority in order to adopt at least the project to reform public finances in time for 2004" (the government coalition is now a minority in Poland since the two parties that comprise it, the Alliance of the Democratic Left and the Labour Union, only have 212 MP's out of the 460 in the Diet, the lower Chamber of Parliament). "It is impossible to complete these reforms without having a parliamentary majority. After the referendum either this majority will be confirmed in the Diet or discussions will be launched to increase it," stressed the President. In April the Prime Minister had already suggested the organisation of early general elections on 13th June 2004, the day of the next European elections, that is one year before the planned date. Leszek Miller also announced in April 2002 that his government would resign if the referendum failed before going back on his declarations.

Those against Poland's membership of the European Union failed in their final attempts to have the referendum cancelled on 7th and 8th June. On 27th May the Constitutional Court authorised Parliament to ratify the membership treaty if the referendum failed. A few weeks ago a few opponents to the country's integration into Europe also tried to have the electoral law on the referendum annulled, saying that the electoral campaign had been partly financed by European funds thereby "endangering national sovereignty". Last week the League of Polish Families (LPR) an ultra-nationalist Catholic movement led by Roman Giertych, that unites the National Party, the National Catholic Party, the Polish Alliance, the Alliance for Poland and other extreme rightwing movements, presented a motion to the Diet aiming to delay the referendum, since according to them, this could not be held before the end of the work of the Convention and the future European Constitution. The motion could not be put to a vote, since the Diet's spokesman Marek Borowski had delayed the session. It will take place next week after the referendum. In the hope of preventing the electoral procedure, MP Bogdan Pek (LPR) also requested 10 minutes daily air time during the electoral campaign on state TV announcing that the referendum could be boycotted if this request was not satisfied.

During the European Council in Copenhagen on 12th and 13th December 2002 when the European Union accepted its enlargement by 10 new members on 1st May 2004, former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki stressed in a letter written together with the former President of the German Republic Richard von Weizsäcker, "that popular support was necessary and that it was the leaders' duty to convey to the population the historical and moral dimension that European integration implied." The authorities have just a few days to convince public opinion that it is experiencing one of the most important moments of its history - the unification of Europe after decades of deadly division.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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