Five Key Takeaways from the European Elections in Poland

by Daniel Tilles

Poland’s European elections resulted in a clear victory for the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won by an even greater margin than polls predicted. Their 45.5% share of the vote was the highest any party has ever received in an election in post-1989 Poland, and put it seven percentage points ahead of the European Coalition, an alliance of opposition parties, on 38.5%.

The only other party to pass the 5% threshold required to wins seats was the social-democratic Spring, founded by Robert Biedroń earlier this year, which took 6%. That left the far-right Confederation alliance (4.5%), anti-establishment Kukiz’15 (3.7%) and left-wing Together (1.2%) with no representation.

As the dust settles, and following a frantic few days of commentary and debate in Polish political and media circles, here are five takeaways from the vote and a look ahead to autumn’s vital parliamentary elections.

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One year on from the “Holocaust law” dispute, Poland’s government has won


Kancelaria Premiera

The controversial memory law, though amended, is still in place, the Polish government’s historical narrative is stronger than ever, and Israel and the US appear to have accepted it.

One year ago, Poland triggered an international diplomatic crisis and months of bitter debate when, the day before international Holocaust Remembrance Day (HRD), it passed legislation criminalising the false attribution of German crimes to the Polish nation or state. This year’s official HRD ceremony at Auschwitz highlighted the fact that the Polish government has emerged victorious from this dispute. Continue reading

Migration, Demographics and History: Poland and Britain

Panorama Warszawy

By Stanley Bill

Poland is faced with a stark choice: either it will be smaller and poorer or it will be more diverse. This is the inevitable conclusion to draw from the country’s present demographic situation. With a fertility rate of just over 1.3 – one of the lowest in the world – Poland’s population will shrink without increased immigration, bringing negative consequences for economic growth and capacity to support an ageing society. At present, there may be as many as two million Ukrainians working in Poland, filling gaps in the labour market. Many of them could soon leave for other European destinations, with Germany already preparing to liberalize its rules to attract them. Poland will need to find replacement workers from further afield, even if some Polish nationals also return home from Brexit Britain. The problem will only intensify as the effects of the demographic crisis become more severe.

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Polski rząd „antyimigracyjny” przyjmuje jedną z największych fal imigrantów w Europie, ale nie chce tego przyznać

Zbigniew Czernik / Wikimedia PL [CC BY 3.0 (

Polski rząd pragnie czerpać korzyści ekonomiczne z imigracji, jednocześnie przekonywając swoich sprzymierzeńców, że jest jej przeciwnikiem. Biorąc pod uwagę rekordowe liczby obcokrajowców przyjeżdżających do Polski, ta próba pogodzenia sprzecznych interesów przypomina balansowanie na linie, z której akrobata prędzej, czy później spadnie na łeb na szyję – przekonuje Daniel Tilles. (Ten artykuł został przetłumaczony z oryginału w języku angielskim przez Sarę Wacławik.)

W 2016 roku krajem Unii, który wydał najwięcej pierwszych dokumentów pobytowych obywatelom spoza UE była Wielka Brytania. Podczas gdy ta informacja nie jest specjalnie kuriozalna, państwo na drugim miejscu jest z pewnością dla wielu osób zaskoczeniem. Krajem tym jest mianowicie Polska, która wydała 586 000 pozwoleń, czyli jedną piątą wszystkich pozwoleń wydanych w UE,  znacznie przewyższając liczbę pozwoleń wydanych w Niemczech (505 000), które uplasowały się na trzecim miejscu. Continue reading

Poland’s ‘anti-immigration’ government is overseeing one of Europe’s biggest waves of immigration – but doesn’t want to admit it

Zbigniew Czernik / Wikimedia PL [CC BY 3.0 (

by Daniel Tilles (również w języku polskim)

Poland’s government wants to reap the economic benefits of immigration while persuading its supporters that it remains opposed to it. With foreign workers coming to the country in record numbers, this is a balancing act that will inevitably collapse – with potentially dangerous consequences.

In 2016, the UK issued more first residence permits to non-EU citizens than any other member state. That’s not a great surprise; but ask people to guess which country came second in the list and few would get it right. The answer is Poland, which gave out 586,000 permits, almost a fifth of all those issued across the entire European Union and well ahead of third-place Germany, with 505,000. Continue reading

Poland’s ‘insult laws’ and the threat to free speech

Photo: KOD/Twitter

By Daniel Tilles

Critics accuse Poland’s government of seeking to introduce measures that would limit free speech. But it is often overlooked that they already have a powerful set of tools at their disposal to stifle debate, restrict artistic freedom and intimidate opponents.

This month, a 67-year-old man was charged with the crime of insulting a monument for placing a t-shirt reading ‘constitution’ on a statue of former President Lech Kaczyński (pictured above). Last month, prosecutors launched an investigation into whether two men at an LGBT pride parade who added a rainbow flag to the national coat of arms (pictured below) had publicly insulted a state emblem, an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to one year. Earlier this year, a poet, Jaś Kapela, was found guilty of contempt for the nation after changing some words of the national anthem (adding a reference to refugees). Although he successfully challenged the verdict, the appeals court instead found him guilty of contempt for the anthem of the Republic. Continue reading

Law and Justice?: A Brief Guide to Poland’s Judicial Reforms


First President of the Supreme Court Małgorzata Gersdorf addresses protesters in July 2018. Source: Reuters/M. Gocłowski.

By Stanley Bill

Since winning power in October 2015, the Polish government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a raft of changes to all levels of the country’s judicial system. Domestic opponents, along with the European Commission and the Venice Commission, have accused them of undermining the rule of law and flouting the Constitution. Protesters have filled the streets at regular intervals. Yet the abstract nature of the changes and the unappealing involvement of the parliamentary opposition have made it difficult for the resistance movement to gain any real popular momentum. Many Poles find the new laws excessive, but most also feel that the judicial system genuinely needs reform.

My aim in this article is to put the key changes and their consequences together to show the big picture. Both the expert Venice Commission and the European Commission have emphasized that the cumulative effect of the reforms significantly exacerbates their potential consequences. Most of the measures are concerning in themselves, but some are arguably defensible in isolation. Only when the changes are viewed together does the true scale of the threat to rule of law in Poland become clear.

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