Poland’s ruling party plans to organise a national referendum asking Poles if they “support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, according to the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy”.
The question is among four that have been unveiled day-by-day by the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) since Friday. The party wants to include them all in a referendum that has not yet been called but may take place at the same time as parliamentary elections in October.
Opposition parties and many commentators, however, have criticised the proposed questions for being leading – designed to evoke a specific response – and have suggested that the real purpose of the referendum is to boost turnout among PiS voters on election day.
The ruling party has submitted a bill that would allow it to hold a referendum on the EU’s migration pact on the same day as elections this autumn.
It argues this would be more cost effective. But opponents accuse it of wanting to mobilise its voters https://t.co/U4bD3DP1NI
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 3, 2023
On Friday, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński unveiled the first proposed question: “Do you support the sale of state-owned enterprises?”
On Saturday, former PiS Prime Minister Beata Szydło announced the second: “Are you in favour of raising the retirement age [that is] currently 60 for women and 65 for men?”
On Sunday, the current prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, revealed the question regarding the EU’s proposed new migration pact.
And this morning, defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced the final question: “Do you support the removal of the barrier [constructed by the PiS government] on Poland’s border with Belarus?”
The ruling party has unveiled the first of four questions it wants to include in a referendum.
It says the vote will let “ordinary Poles” decide what happens in their country rather than “German politicians” who are trying to bring the opposition to power https://t.co/xbben271af
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 11, 2023
Many critics suggested PiS’s first proposed question was hypocritical, given that it last year oversaw the sale of major state energy assets to Saudia Arabia’s Aramco and MOL of Hungary.
PiS, however, argues the previous government, led by current opposition leader Donald Tusk, oversaw mass privatisation.
The second question – regarding the retirement age – was also met with ridicule from opposition figures. They note that PiS already lowered the retirement ages after coming to power in 2015 and that no major party is proposing to raise them again.
Opposition leader @donaldtusk has pledged not to raise the retirement age if his PO party wins elections this autumn.
His comments come after one of his former advisors called for the age to be raised, as it was when PO was previously in power https://t.co/BbVeQQh1B8
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 12, 2023
“Only PiS keeps coming back to this topic – do they want to raise the retirement age themselves?” asked Jan Grabiec, spokesman for Civic Platform (PO), the largest opposition party, which is led by Tusk.
However, PiS figures noted that the previous government, a coalition between PO and another party now in opposition, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), raised the retirement age.
“You cannot believe…the lies of Tusk’s opposition,” tweeted education minister Przemysław Czarnek. “That is why Poles must define the maximum retirement age once and for all in a referendum and indicate that neither Tusk from PO nor [Wladysław] Kosiniak-Kamysz [the leader of] PSL will be able to raise it.”
Kłamstwa opozycji Tuska to codzienność. Wierzyć im nie można. I właśnie dlatego Polacy muszą raz na zawsze w referendum określić maksymalny wiek emerytalny i wskazać, że żaden Tusk z #PO, ani Kosiniak-Kamysz z #PSL nie będą mogli go podnieść.#PolacyDecydują 🇵🇱 https://t.co/UBuVRluUCj
— Przemysław Czarnek (@CzarnekP) August 12, 2023
While unveiling the question on the EU’s migration pact, Morawiecki likewise noted that, during the previous EU migration crisis of 2015, PO leaders had been willing to accept Poland’s quota of relocated migrants assigned by Brussels.
“These politicians wanted to bring us danger,” said Morawiecki. By contrast, “the PiS government has been opposed to the forced relocation of illegal immigrants from the start”. Now “we want the voice of Poles to be heard” in a referendum, added the prime minister.
“We all see what is happening on the streets of western Europe: rapes, murders, arson, destruction” he continued, speaking over a video of rioting and cars being set on fire.
“Tusk is the greatest threat for our safety, for the safety of Poland,” concluded Morawiecki. “We will not allow Tusk, as an envoy of the Brussels elites, to demolish security in Poland.”
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) August 13, 2023
Many commentators, as well as the European Commission itself, have accused PiS of misrepresenting the migration pact. They note, first of all, that it will not force any country to accept relocated migrants. They can instead make a “solidarity” payment of €20,000 per migrant.
Moreover, the migration pact includes an “exception for countries that are under migratory pressure, such as Poland”, noted the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in June. That would mean Poland could not only be exempted from taking migrants or making payments, but could actually benefit from the system.
PiS notes, however, that allowing a country any such exemption would be at the whim of the European Commission, which it argues has regularly victimised Poland under PiS and is not a trustworthy partner.
Poland’s criticism of the EU’s planned migration pact is „incomprehensible” and „untrue”, says Commissioner @YlvaJohansson.
She says Poland would be exempted from receiving or paying for additional migrants because it is hosting so many Ukrainian refugees https://t.co/2j70gylHly
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 26, 2023
Finally, some have questioned the purpose of holding a referendum on this issue at all given that the migration pact has already been approved by a majority of member states, with only Poland and Hungary opposed to it.
The idea is now being finalised in discussion with the European Commission and Parliament – where member states’ governments have no direct say.
Many say that the idea of holding the referendum is to boost turnout among the ruling party’s supporters and to influence the way that people vote.
“They put on a spectacle of revealing questions, attacking PO in each one and suggesting which answer to choose,” tweeted Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, a deputy leader of PO. “It’s really about getting millions more [zloty] for their election campaign. This is the destruction of democracy and pure thievery.”
Hucpa, a nie referendum. Urządzają spektakl z ujawnianiem pytań, w każdym atakują PO i sugerują jaką odpowiedź zaznaczyć.
A tak naprawdę chodzi o wyciągnięcie kolejnych milionów bez kontroli na swoją kampanię wyborczą. To niszczenie demokracji i czyste złodziejstwo.
— Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska (@M_K_Blonska) August 13, 2023
This morning’s announcement of the fourth and final question by Błaszczak followed a similar pattern. He accused the former PO-led government of abolishing military units in eastern Poland and of opposing the building of a wall on the border with Belarus.
By contrast, the PiS government has strengthened the country’s defences in the east, noted the defence minister. “We will not allow more aggression from Putin,” said Błaszczak.
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) August 14, 2023
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Main image credit: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces/Flickr (under public domain)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.