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The European Parliament elections as beauty pageant

Polish political leaders see EP election as a chance to trot out attractive future national candidates.

So far Europe and the actual work done by the parliament have been almost absent from the election campaign.

Five years ago, many Poles were fearful of what joining the EU meant for them, particularly farmers, who feared a flood of cheap produce from France and Germany would drive them out of business. Cultural conservatives braced for a wave of secularization, loose morals and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion seeping in from the west.

That drove many of the more worried into the arms of nationalist parties like the League of Polish Families, which came in second in 2004 with 10 seats, and the agrarian populists from the Self-Defense party, which took six seats. Now, however, both of those parties have disappeared from the national scene and Poles are much more comfortable with belonging to the EU, which has meant many more benefits than costs.

“Poles quickly saw that the EU was an enormous opportunity,” said Aleksander Smolar, head of the Batory Foundation think tank. “There is a much wider acceptance of Europe.”

This year, only four parties are likely to win any seats in the European Parliament, with the lion’s share going to PO and PiS.

The wild card is the eurosceptical pan-European Libertas party headed by Irishman Declan Ganley. In a publicity coup, Ganley has managed to recruit Lech Walesa, the former president and Nobel prize laureate, to speak at a couple of his events. But so far opinion polls show Libertas not gaining much ground.

One problem is that many of the party’s more radical supporters view Walesa as a former Communist spy, and not a hero. Also, Ganley’s Polish branch is staffed mainly with out-of-work nationalists from the League of Polish Families, who have a difficult time explaining to their anti-European supporters why they are trying for seats in Brussels.

“There is no serious anti-EU party anymore,” Smolar said.

Read more about the European elections:

Reasons to care about the European Parliament elections

The Irish seek a way back into Europe