Prominent Polish MEP joins the political upstarts — in Brussels and Warsaw

Róża Thun has quit the EPP to join Renew Europe, while also ditching Poland's main opposition party for a more centrist outfit.

November 10th 2021

Prominent Polish MEP joins the political upstarts — in Brussels and Warsaw

One of Poland’s best-known MEPs is switching groups within the European Parliament and joining a rising political movement back home, a double swap that illustrates shifting power dynamics within both Brussels and Warsaw. 

Róża Thun, an MEP since 2009, announced on Wednesday she was quitting the conservative European People’s Party — Parliament’s largest group — to join the smaller, more centrist Renew Europe. To do so, she also joined Poland’s third-most-popular political movement, Poland 2050, after she had left Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), earlier this year.

“I would stress how happy I am that I could join this political family together with Polska 2050,” Thun told reporters in a press conference alongside Szymon Hołownia, the leader of Poland 2050, and Stéphane Séjourné, the Renew Europe chairman. “This will be a political family in the center, it is a political family in the center of Europe, in the center of what happens in Europe, what we need in Europe.”

While one MEP’s changing political stripes may seem minor, Thun’s decision could have ripple effects within the EU and back in Poland.

In Brussels, the move is a coup for Renew Europe. The 99-member-strong political group represents French President Emmanuel Macron’s political force within the EU chamber and is angling to grow beyond its third-ranking position behind the EPP and the Socialists & Democrats. 

Thun’s decision gives the group a new foothold in Poland, where opposition parties are seeking ways to displace the country’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party amid accusations it has undermined judicial independence.

By welcoming Thun, Séjourné said, “we complete our European representativeness inside the Renew group.” He added that Warsaw’s controversial judicial reforms were “one of the reasons behind that agreement.”

Conversely, Thun’s defection is yet another blow for the EPP, which lost seats in the last EU election and will soon lose control of its biggest prize, the German government, leaving it with just eight EU leaders around the European Council table. 

In Warsaw, the move gives a boost to Poland 2050. Led by Hołownia, an ex-TV host who finished third in the last presidential election, the party now claims 14 percent support, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls. It will officially join Renew Europe’s ranks as soon as it legally becomes a party. 

The Parliament group transfer mirrors the strategy Poland 2050 is carrying out at home: Since the party was only formed after the last parliamentary election in 2019, it has tried to draw in lawmakers from other opposition parties, mainly PO, or welcomed independent politicians.

Thun herself left PO earlier in 2021 due to disagreements over key policy areas like environmental protection.  

As a result, Poland 2050 now has eight members in the Polish Sejm, the lower chamber of the parliament, and one member in the Senate, as well as several representatives on the local level. 

And on Wednesday, the party scored its first lawmaker in the European Parliament. 

Speaking to POLITICO before the announcement, Hołownia said he wanted to have representation in Brussels, given the EU’s vital role in decisions affecting Poland. 

“We all came to politics with a conviction that it’s a place to solve problems,” he said. “And the truth is, many of the problems today aren’t solved on the national level but also on the European level.”

Hołownia said his association had talked to several European Parliament groups before settling on Renew, created in 2019 from a merger of Parliament’s old liberal cluster, ALDE, with Macron’s new “Renaissance” delegation.

“We really like new organizations because we are ourselves a new organization,” he said.

Hołownia said that the group wants to be closer to the EU’s plans to make the bloc’s economy more environmentally and digitally friendly and to transition it away from fossil fuels. 

Poland 2050’s plan to pull both lawmakers and voters away from PO has become more complicated since Donald Tusk, former European Council president, returned home to become PO leader. Tusk’s return boosted his party in the polls and he is now trying to unite the whole opposition under his lead. 

Hołownia says that for now, he’s not ready to join up. Until the election, he says he’s open to drawing in new lawmakers, both in Warsaw and in Brussels.  

“We’re pragmatic,” he said. “If we think that we need a stronger representation before the election to achieve our goals … then we will think about it.”

(Source : https://www.politico.eu/article/roza-thun-poland-mep-quit-european-peoples-party-epp-join-renew-europe/)
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