June 14. 2024. 2:03

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Polish ‘bad boys’ to join new EU house


Between an oil tycoon embroiled in a visa-selling scandal, an anti-Semitic firefighter and former ministers convicted of abuse of power, the conservative PiS (ECR) party, which came a close second to Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition, is set to bring some controversial faces to the new EU Parliament.

Poland’s conservative PiS party, which governed in Poland between 2015 and 2023 but is now in opposition, came in second for the first time in elections since 2014. Tusk took over the government last year because PiS, while coming in first in the national elections, fell short of being able to form a majority.

In Sunday’s election, however, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO, EPP/Greens) narrowly edged out the PiS with 37.06% of the vote compared to the PiS’s 36.16%.

The election results confirmed pre-election polls, which showed the two parties had virtually equal support in Poland’s highly polarised society.

However, it was the PiS’ strategy was to reject veteran MEPs, such as former European Parliament president Zdzisław Krasnodębski, and instead take a chance on people who have no experience in the EU house but are popular among the party’s loyal voters. Their popularity stems largely from PiS portraying them as facing harassment and unfair criticism from Tusk’s government.

This includes Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, two former ministers sentenced last December to two years in prison for abuse of power in their previous offices.

The two were arrested in January despite attempts by President Andrzej Duda, a former PiS member, to offer them refuge in the presidential palace. While in prison, they were portrayed by the PiS as political prisoners and victims of what the party called ‘Tusk’s regime’. Dozens of PiS supporters gathered outside the prison to demand their immediate release.

The party’s leaders said Kamiński had been tortured in prison by violent attempts to feed him while on hunger strike.

The two were eventually released and pardoned by Duda, but as they had been legally convicted, they were stripped of their parliamentary seats, which the PiS said was illegal.

‘Don Orleone’

Another PiS favourite to become an MEP is former businessman Daniel Obajtek, who served as CEO of state-owned petrol giant Orlen between 2015 and 2023 under the PiS government in Poland.

Under his leadership, Orlen significantly expanded its activities to include clean energy and became the country’s largest sponsor of cultural and sporting events and teams. It also entered new markets, such as Austria.

Obajtek’s reputation as a petrol magnate earned him the nickname ‘Don Orleone’ abroad. But his loyalty to the PiS government was never a secret. Orlen’s takeover of the Polska Press media group led to a change in the editorial line of the group’s local newspapers and other media to a more pro-PiS one.

In recent weeks, Obajtek has been in the spotlight for twice refusing to testify before the parliamentary commission investigating the so-called Visagate scandal, which involved the sale of visas to Poland at market stalls in African countries.

According to a journalistic investigation, he was found in a luxury penthouse in Budapest. He is said to have used his connections with businessmen linked to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Some experts believe that Obajtek is running for the European Parliament primarily to obtain immunity, which would allow him to avoid prosecution for his actions under the PiS government.

Anti-Semitic firefighter

Another ‘bad boy’ to win a seat in the European Parliament is Grzegorz Braun, an openly anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-EU politician who gained international attention last December when he used a fire extinguisher to blow out Hanukkah candles in the Polish parliament.

The candles were being lit as part of the parliamentary Hanukkah celebrations attended by leading Jewish community members in Poland.

Braun was punished for his actions by having his salary as an MP reduced, and a complaint was filed against him with the prosecutor’s office on suspicion of disrupting religious rituals.

The incident with the candles gave rise to an ironic cover song about Braun, which begins: “Oh, Grzegorz Braun, who could blow out the candles like you did.”

Even at the polling booths, Braun was not without controversy when he asked the election commission to remove an EU flag that had been placed next to the ballot box.

(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | Euractiv.pl)

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