The elections for the European Parliament, held between 4 and 7 June 2009, have been portrayed by many commentators as a decisive swing to the political right. But despite some signs that European voters are turning away from the left, it is too early to conclude the continent is ripe for a conservative breakthrough.
On the whole, socialist parties fared badly almost everywhere, with notable disappointments in the United Kingdom, France and Austria. The Christian Democrats of the European People’s Party (EPP) cemented their place as the largest political group, securing 265 seats (34.1%) in the 736-member Parliament. The Socialist group, however, still remains the second largest, with 184 seats (25.8%), followed by the Liberals with 84 seats (12.7%). The Greens (55 seats) improved their number of seats. There were also gains for the extreme, nationalist right in several countries.
One of the most interesting developments took place after the election, with the British Tories’ breaking away from the EPP and forming a new conservative, eurosceptic group called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with a total of 54 seats. The Tories’ main allies in the ECR are the Polish Law and Justice party (PiS) and Vaclav Klaus’ Civic Democrats (ODS) from the Czech Republic.
It is too soon to tell whether the newly formed ECR and the slight shift to the center-right will have much influence on EU policies. The centrist mainstream of Christian Democrats, Socialists and Liberals continue to work together on many key issues in the Parliament, and the ECR has failed to attract support from many member states.
The recent European Parliament elections had a positive outcome for one of the CER’s own. Professor Ryszard Legutko (59) was elected to the European Parliament on behalf of the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS). Legutko is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Center for European Renewal. At the Vanenburg Society meeting of summer 2007 in Vienna, Legutko gave a talk on the nature of liberalism, which was later published under the title “What’s Wrong With Liberalism?” in the American conservative quarterly Modern Age (50:01, winter 2008).
A specialist in political philosophy, Legutko has published translations of Plato and several books in Polish and English, including Society as a Department Store: Critical Reflections on the Liberal State (Lexington Books, 2002). During the Communist occupation of Poland, Legutko was involved in publishing the underground magazine Ark. He received his habilitation for a thesis on “Criticism of Democracy in Plato” and was a professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, the oldest university of Poland.
In what he himself has called “the adventure of an old man,” Legutko entered politics in 2005 when he was elected as an unaffiliated member of the Polish Senate, serving as vice president of the Senate, chairman of the Polish-Israeli parliamentary group and member of the Commission on Human Rights and the Rule of Law. In 2007, he briefly served as minister of education in the government of Prime Minister Kaczynski (PiS). The elections held that year were not successful for PiS, which was voted out of government. Legutko himself was narrowly defeated for re-election. Until his election as a member of the European Parliament in June 2009, he served Poland as secretary of state in the office of the president of Poland.
In the European Parliament, Legutko has joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group. He is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Security and Defense.