The elections for EuroParliament delegates are now going on in the 25 member states, according to when each state prefers to have its citizens go to the polls during the required Thursday-to-Sunday time-frame. (But you already know that, as I recently covered the rise of the UKIP in Britain in this context.) Whoever wins one of the EP’s 786 seats gets – among other rights and obligations – a very decent, tax-free salary-plus-allowances for the next five years. Especially for MEPs from the new member-states of Central Europe, the pay and perks of representing your country in Strasbourg easily rival anything you might be able to earn at home, in either the private or public sector (often including even as president or prime minister). What’s more, the election rules are such that it is common that such legislators are elected off of party lists, rather than on the basis of geographical constituencies. How many of those on the list are elected – i.e. how far down the list the candidates are chosen for office – depends on how much voter support the party itself gets in the given election.
So why not put list-positions up for sale?
Oh, there are the usual reasons you could think of for not recruiting candidates for money, like that a country’s legislative representatives should not be mercenaries. But that has not stopped the radical Polish agrarian party Samoobrona (“Self-Defense”), according to a recent article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw (Polish Party Sells Euro-Seats). The article focuses in particular on one Jan Masiel, who occupies either the first or second place (the article doesn’t make that clear; presumably the very first) on the Samoobrona candidate-list for Wielkopolska, the western region that includes the city of Poznan. And Masiel makes no secret of the fact that he paid “substantially more” than €5.000 for that privilege.
Why would Samoobrona do such a thing? Two reasons are put forward in the article, in fact by Jan Masiel himself. One is that, as he explains, “Samoobrona doesn’t have as much money as the other parties.” OK, but the second reason is more interesting, namely that most of Samoobrona’s functionaries don’t qualify to be sent to Strasbourg, in that they have no higher education and do not speak at least one foreign language. So as long as you have to recruit from outside, why not make some money while you do so? Regular €Sreaders will recall from my past entry on Samoobrona that I don’t think much of this upstart political party, but still I wanted to be careful never to dismiss them as a bunch of ignorant, hot-headed Polish country-bumpkins. (Dutch readers, that’s boerenlummels, or boerenlullen.) But it looks like the facts are starting to inexorably point that way in any case.
HE’S GOT THE SPIRIT, IF NOT THE DETAILS, DOWN PAT
What Jan Masiel (who currently lives in Brussels, teaching French to Poles there, by the way) is not able to advance so convincingly is the party’s positions on a number of key issues. I guess he has yet to be fully briefed, although the Trouw article does report him as back in Wielkopolska, enthusiastically campaigning. But he denies that Samoobrona is anti-EU: “All we want is to re-negotiate the accession agreement: more income-support for Polish farmers, more product subsidies, and higher production quotas.” And anyway, Samoobrona is justified in taking such measures to level the playing field with the other, more established parties. “Take the SLD with Siwiec,” he suggests. (The SLD is the reformed Socialist party, which currently still heads the government, but not really (long story), and Marek Siwiec heads that party’s list in Wielkopolska.) “He’s got plenty of money, but he’s also a Jew and a Communist.” Masiel thus unwittingly confirms that he may very well be quite an ideal Samoobrona candidate for office after all.
I’ve already been over to the Polish on-line press to try to find some mention of this there, so far in vain. Why? Is something like this considered within the range of acceptable electoral options? Or from what the Polish establishment knows of Lepper’s party, does it expect no more?