“A woman is like a teabag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” So thought Eleanor Roosevelt. Whether she was right, I know not and it seems somewhat ungallant to go round dropping women into hot water just to test the thesis. However, into the hot water of Polish politics women themselves seem eager to dive, with three of the candidates to be prime minister after the forthcoming election being women.
The latest to throw her hat into the ring – not literally, women and men these days seldom wear hats, which is a pity, but I digress – is Barbara Nowacka, the candidate of the United Left Coalition, which brings together five opposition parties, the dominant being the Democratic Left Alliance and Your Movement, joined by the Polish Socialist Party, Labour United and the Greens.
Currently co-chairman (I will not write chairperson or, worse, chair) of Your Movement, Nowacka does not have a seat in parliament. In her speech at her coalition’s convention on Sunday, Nowacka argued that the “war” between Poland’s two largest parties, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’s Civic Platform and conservative opposition Law and Justice, had caused grave damage to Poland. “We have had ten years of war between Civic Platform and Law and Justice……We have had war and divisions, the detachment of the elite from society and a lack of common goals.” Inevitably, she also spoke of the need to strengthen workers’ rights and the role of trade unions.
Funnily enough, the left always seems quite keen on heredity (for themselves, if not for others) and Nowacka is the daughter of the late deputy prime minister Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, who served from 2004-2005 in a government led by the Democratic Left Alliance, and who died in the April 2010 Smolensk air crash. As a coalition, the United Left needs eight per cent of the vote gain a seat in parliament and, if the opinion polls are anything to go by, may only just scrape by.
Meanwhile, the incumbent Ewa Kopacz and the woman most likely to succeed her, Beata Szydło, have been slogging it out over Poland’s energy future. The irony probably lost on her – kopacz means digger in Polish – the prime minister, when answering questions regarding government plans for a nuclear power plant, said that Polish energy security is based on coal. And, even more helpfully for the teabag simile, Kopacz added that she does not have the building of nuclear power plants “simmering in the back of her mind”, despite energy security being the government’s number one priority, along with all the others, no doubt.
In response, Beata Szydło of Law and Justice – currently ahead in the opinion polls – said “there is no future for Polish coal without renewable energy sources”, and urged further funding for research, development, and the testing of new technologies in the energy market. Poland is planning to build a 3,000 MW nuclear power plant, capable of producing some eight per cent of the country’s energy, which will be operational in 2025. Treasury minister Andrzej Czerwiński also defended Kopacz saying that she meant that Poland will not succumb to EU pressure to build nuclear plants. The European Parliament’s goals for 2020, include each member state having at least 20 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions compared 1990, 20 per cent of their energy derived from renewable resources, and 20 per cent increased energy efficiency.
And in one small step to deal with the environmental damage which many associate with burning coal, the president has signed the “anti-smog” law which has been the subject of a long running campaign by environmentalists. The law is designed to give local authorities the discretion to decide whether to impose bans on the burning of environmentally unfriendly substances in domestic properties. This should certainly improve the air quality in cities like Kraków which, according to a 2013 European Environment Agency report, had the third most polluted air of 383 cities across Europe. During the winter some 50 per cent of the pollution in Kraków comes from low emission sources, namely from the burning of coal and other objects in household stoves. Not this winter, perhaps.
Be that as it may, all we can say is that barring some unforeseen calamity, the next Polish prime minister will be a woman. Which may be no bad thing for, as Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”