|Mr Palikot says his party's biggest problems that its "political formula" has been too narrow|
Courtesy of Palikot's Movement
Ewa Boniecka: Your party, Palikot’s Movement, has been faring poorly in opinion polls and is losing support. How do you plan to turn things around?
Janusz Palikot: Firstly, I do not agree that things are going so terribly, because Palikot’s Movement is in better shape than the media have reported. The most recent Social Diagnosis [a regular sociological survey compiled by well-known psychology professor Janusz Czapiński], which is extremely reliable because it is based on a survey of over 60,000 Poles, found that our party has about 10 percent support – nearly the same amount as we received in the 2011 parliamentary elections.
It is true that some polling institutions and politicians from other parties are trying to convince the public that Palikot’s Movement is losing support. But that’s not the case. I travel around the country and I talk to hundreds of people and I know that voters who want a secular state, one which is less bureaucratic, which secures freedom for sexual minorities, and which limits the Catholic Church’s influence on politics, are staying with Palikot’s Movement.
Still, I have to admit that I expected that support for our party would grow above our election result in 2011, which so far has not happened.
But your parliamentary caucus has seen six members defect. Why was that?
When it comes to these members, two of them were thrown out of the party and the remaining four left the caucus because [the majority governing coalition party] Civic Platform [PO] bought them, offering them some juicy political fruit. And this is one of the problems of our political system, that such political corruption occurs.
Your party’s candidate also recently lost a high-profile city council race in the northern city of Elbląg. Why do you think that was?
Our party was testing a model by which we supported a candidate for city council, Natalia Rodziewicz, who came from outside the political establishment. But Natalia, who was born in Elbląg, failed to gain any support. It turns out that while voters constantly complain about their bad politicians, they nonetheless prefer to vote for local politicians they have known for a long time.
The answers you are giving sound a lot like the same excuses that typical politicians give. But you are not considered a typical politician, and have a reputation for being more frank. Let’s be serious. Doesn’t Palikot’s Movement need to change something?
Well, I’m not claiming that everything is fine in the party. Like I said, our support has not increased. That’s not a disaster, as some commentators like to make it out to be, but it does not foment optimism.
We are taking steps to overcome our present difficulties and I am sure that we will succeed. Certainly we are not being passive. We have built a new political body – Europe Plus [an initiative bringing together various leftist politicians and those from Palikot’s Movement for joint political action] – which according to opinion polls could gain 15 percent and even up to 20 percent support in next year’s European Parliament elections.
While Europe Plus, created under the patronage of [former President] Aleksander KwaÊniewski, is now concerned primarily with the European Parliament elections, its political impact will grow, because it will catalyze close cooperation between center-left, liberal and other strongly pro-European parties and organizations in various domains of political activity.
Europe Plus is preparing for EU parliamentary elections in 2014
Courtesy of Palikot's Movement
Our party is open to new ideas about how to operate. We want to widen our constituency and reach out to new groups of people disillusioned with the status quo. I think that our party’s biggest problem over the last two years has been that our political formula was too narrow. Somehow we could not keep the party from being associated with just three issues: the Church, gender and marijuana. Even while we were dealing with other matters and have presented proposals on both economic and social issues, our message never broke through to the public.
But it was you who demanded the cross in the Sejm chamber be removed, it was you who made gay and transgender members the face of the party, and it was you who threatened to smoke marijuana in public. As the party’s leader and founder, aren’t you responsible for it being pigeonholed like it was?
Maybe, but as the leader of the Palikot’s Movement I am deeply concerned about, and responsible for, my party and its future, so now the question I am faced with is: What kind of other issues do we have to address in order to gain traction, and how do we present the whole program in a coherent way? For that reason, in the fall we are organizing a party congress, which will lead to certain changes. In the months thereafter, we will be introducing those changes.
We hope that our ideas about how to overcome the economic crisis and how to resolve some social problems, as well as our liberal approach for dealing with ethical issues, will bring results in expanding the public debate and will increase the support for our party.
The political identity of your party is generally considered volatile. Is a change of identity one of the major adjustments you plan to make?
I consider most current political labels anachronistic, but if we must continue along that line of discussion, then look at [Poland’s largest opposition party] Law and Justice [PiS], which is a nationalistic and fundamentalist right-wing party, but populist in its approach to social matters.
So when it comes to the political identity of Palikot’s Movement, I would say this: We are certainly not a party on the right. But are we leftist? I would say that our center-left identity includes a lot of liberalism and the “green” philosophy of Europe’s green parties.
We have based our program on what we think should be done to make Poland a more modern state, to provide steady economic growth, proper jobs and better social capital. Whether this is leftist or not is of secondary importance. Palikot’s Movement is not a dogmatic party.
But there is a very public battle going on between you and leftist leader Leszek Miller, which resulted in his party, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), refusing to participate in Europe Plus. The rivalry between you two is widely perceived as bitter, and destructive to the left. Isn’t that important?
There is no personal conflict between Leszek Miller and myself, in spite of many bitter words, which were said on both sides and which are so eagerly reported in media. The paradox of the situation is that there are artificial efforts to wed our parties and these have not succeeded, because we have separate electorates. SLD’s electorate is much older than ours and very conservative in ethical matters. All the research shows that there is a flow of electorate between SLD and PiS, because of their similar approach to social matters, and not between SLD and Palikot’s Movement.
Nevertheless, we are pushed into personal conflicts due to Leszek Miller’s temperament – maybe also mine – even while Palikot’s Movement is less provocative towards his party than he is towards ours.
Maybe it will surprise you if I add that I think Leszek Miller is right to oppose a marriage of our two parties and also to his party joining Europe Plus. He is also right in his diagnosis that the electorate of SLD will not accept cooperation with Palikot’s Movement in any form.
So it is nonsense to saturate public opinion with speculation of such an agreement, because it will never happen. Each of our two parties will shape their future in their own ways.
You have decided to include Palikot’s Movement in the Europe Plus initiative. Are you considering rebranding the party and shaping its future under that new political umbrella?
That is a very difficult question. Currently, we have to decide on how to maintain the political character of Palikot’s Movement, with its very liberal and progressive ideas about ethical matters and stance towards the Church, and at the same time we must also decide how to expand our electorate. In another words – we must figure out how to move forward in a way by which we don’t lose those who voted for us and who want us to be ourselves, and at the same time we have to change and build cooperation with some other progressive and strongly pro-European political forces within the framework of Europe Plus.
At present, myself and other members of our caucus are traveling around the country and talking with members and sympathizers of Palikot’s Movement about those possible changes. If at the end of August we come to the conclusion that deep changes in our movement are necessary, I will not exclude the possibility of implementing them.
We will present the results of our discussions at our congress in September and I am not excluding possible changes in our party’s formula. The question is whether to do it by introducing new elements to our program or whether even to change the name of the party.
But the list of candidates that you will present for the European Parliament elections will be under the Europe Plus banner?
Yes, and I am sure that we will build an excellent common list under that name. The question is what we do after the election and whether our movement will function as a permanent part of Europe Plus. But it is too early to answer that now. However, the fact that we will put more emphasis on European issues – Poland’s role in the EU, our foreign policy – will enhance our program.
Therefore, even if we keep the name Palikot’s Movement, it will be a different movement. We are in favor of deep integration with the EU; we think that Poland’s security, autonomy and independence depends on the strength of the European Union. We favor building a federal European Union and we think that Poland should adopt the euro.
In European and economic issues, Palikot’s Movement has some common ground with PO. So, are you considering the possibility of close cooperation or even a coalition with PO if it achieves good results in the next parliamentary elections?
What is sure is that however the election results turn out, we will never form a coalition with PiS.
PO is in decline – it has lost 15 percentage points from its previous level of support. If PO fails to win the next [parliamentary] election [currently scheduled for 2015], it will lead to significant changes in our political scene. I would not exclude the possibility of forming a coalition with PO, but it needs to change. I cannot agree with Donald Tusk’s philosophy that he will continue to govern without setting any economic and social goals, and just keep spending money from the EU. The distribution of EU funds resembles a simple give-away instead of investment in order to stimulate economic growth.
I will give you an example. We have spent the €1 billion in EU funds on the development of rural areas and on helping farmers purchase tractors. Even those farmers who own only two or three hectares of land have received large amounts of money from the EU for the purchase of such machines. However, no food-processing factories have been built. Poland is a huge producer of tomatoes and peppers, but we sell them as raw products at low prices instead of processing them in our country and creating jobs.
Soon, the government will open a public debate about how the zł.400 billion that Poland will receive in EU funding from the bloc’s next multiyear budget should be spent. What priorities will your party argue for?
How we invest EU funds for the next seven years is a fundamental issue for Poland. And while I praise Donald Tusk for winning that money for Poland, I am very worried about how it will be allocated in the coming years.
Certainly, it should not be distributed for mostly unproductive ventures, like renovating parks in small places, but set aside for investments. I will point out that, for example, renovating historical castles can help to increase the development of hotels and local tourism. The most important thing is to think about how to use the money strategically. It could be the last such amount Poland ever receives from the European Union.
New legislation is needed to create the operational programs for using those funds and the current government was not doing this. Ireland provides a good example of how to invest EU funds wisely. The country invests a lot in developing technology, innovation and education linked with business. Spending EU funds should not be done for the political benefit of the governing party, but based on objective economic calculations, and I will emphasize this in the debate.
But for Palikot’s Movement it’s not only about talk – we are acting. We have set up an office in Brussels, where together with EU employees of Polish background we are working on proposals for investing EU funds in Poland. We will present these in the debate, which we expect the government to begin by the end of this year.
You entered the political establishment quite some time ago, first as a member of PO, later as creator and leader of Palikot’s Movement. You present yourself as an eccentric, unconventional politician. Now that you want to change your party, do you also want to change your public image?
Yes, I want to change my public image – and I am already doing this, but it takes time. As the leader of the party, I have to match my authentic personality and colorful language with the style and dignity that should come with leadership. That change of my public image is already happening, although it may not have been widely noticed so far.
But I want to underline that I do not intend to completely change my colorful public image, because it is a part of what gives Palikot’s Movement its strength. So I want to preserve my authenticity, which is shown in my language, but certainly my party and myself are evolving towards a more balanced image.
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