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Money and fame: The European Parliament elections in Poland

The European Parliament elections has caused a strange occurrence in Poland. The political parties have chosen candidates that are more celebrity than politician. As Magdalena Skrzypek examines, the question is just how seriously are the parties taking the election? 

Poland is definitely one of the most Euro-enthusiastic countries among EU members. It is, however, also characterised by a high indifference towards EU-related topics. Most of the citizens, particularly among older and non-educated voters, demonstrate low levels of knowledge and show lack of involvement in European matters. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that even parties and politicians themselves do not take the European Parliament too seriously. The trend is clearly visible in the slate of candidates for the European elections in May. Instead of trying to raise awareness of the European Union, the Polish parties continue to treat voters as dim fools, recruiting recognisable names, such as former ministers, celebrities or ex-athletes.

With the European Parliament election approaching, Polish parties start revealing their candidates. Some of the nominations are truly baffling. Scratching their heads in confusion, people wonder if the list of candidates got somehow swapped with the latest edition of a tabloid. Next to the names of experts on EU, the slates reveal a number of celebrities.

The political left has taken a lead in promoting celebrities in their ranks, nominating actress Weronika Marczuk, former captain of national football team Maciej Zurawski, volleyball player Michal Bakiewicz or athlete Anna Jesien. Parties who try to look more professional and sophisticated, stuff their lists with popular, commonly recognizable politicians. The biggest group consists of former ministers, such as two former Ministers of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro and Jaroslaw Gowin, former Minister of Labour and Social Policy Anna Kalata or Minister of Science and Higher Education Barbara Kudrycka.

Why are all these candidates so eager to work in European Parliament? It is not a secret that being an MEP can be particularly lucrative, and definitely more profitable than being a Polish MP. Monthly salary of around 6.000 Euros is usually combined with high allowances for attendance and travel. As a result, the most creative MEPs manage to earn up to 17.000 Euros per month, compared to about 2.500 Euros in Polish Parliament. No wonder the candidates display eagerness. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t like to become a millionaire over a five-year term?

Needless to say, recruiting recognisable names simply aims at attracting undecided voters with limited knowledge about the European Union. Turnout levels at elections to the European Parliament have been decreasing across all member states. Nevertheless, participation in Poland is definitely one of the lowest, with only 25% of the voters showing up in 2009. Consequently, parties will stoop to any means to ensure their victory, often depicted as prelude to national parliamentary elections in 2015.

The setting of the electoral lists requires highly tactical planning, as a two-step method of converting votes into seats is quite complicated. Firstly, votes are divided between political parties, which provide electoral lists for each of 13 regional constituencies. Taking into account attendance, seats are then allocated to the candidates on the regional constituencies according to the number of votes from each region towards the total of votes for party on national scale. On the whole, Poland will elect 51 MEPs. It remains to be seen how many of them will provide a truly valuable addition to the European Parliament.

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