1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Poland unveils referendum on EU migrant policy

August 13, 2023

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is making migration from the Middle East and Africa a key part of its electoral campaign ahead of a parliamentary vote in October.

Poland's border with Belarus
Poland has ramped up security efforts on its border with Belarus, as migrants from the Middle East seek to enter the EU member stateImage: Michal Dyjuk/AP/picture alliance

Poland unveiled a new referendum question on Sunday pertaining to the EU's policy on asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa.   

The referendum will ask Poles if they back taking in "thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa" as part of an EU relocation scheme, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The referendum is set for October 15, the same day parliamentary elections will take place. 

Although Poland has taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees, the central European country has been less open to asylum seekers from Muslim-majority countries. In recent months, migrants from the Mideast and Africa  have been trying to cross the Belarusian border into Poland, with Warsaw accusing Minsk of using desperate people as a political weapon.   

Can the PiS use migration again for electoral success?

Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) wants to make migration a major electoral issue, as it seeks to keep the opposition Civic Platform from gaining power. The Civic Platform (PO) is led by Donald Tusk, who served as Polish prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and later as president of the European Council.      

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
Poland's prime minister claims Donald Tusk wants to "demolish security in Poland" Image: Radek Pietruszka/PAP/dpa/picture alliance

The PiS used anti-immigration sentiment to acheive an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament, or Sejm, in the 2015 elections. That year, over a million people came to Europe seeking asylum, with many of them fleeing conflicts in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.   

In June, the EU reached a consensus on key asylum and migration laws in the bloc. The agreement means member countries would either have to take in their share of asylum seekers or pay into a joint EU fund. 

Poland, along with Hungary, have rejected the EU asylum seeker proposal. 

The PiS has frequently tied Donald Tusk to EU policies on migration, and claimed that Tusk has done more for Germany than for Poland. Anti-German sentiments tied to World War II are still held by a part of the Polish electorate.  

PO leader Donald Tusk
Tusk has accused the PiS of seeking to erode Polish democracy after a Russian influence law passed by the government put his candidacy at riskImage: Artur Widak/AA/picture alliance

Tusk has earlier said that the migration referendum proposal shows the PiS is fearful for its election prospects. Inflation, along with discontent regarding Poland's strict abortion laws, could cause voters to back the PO this election cycle.    

Further referendums planned

There are also several other referendums set for October 15 set up by the PiS.

Another referendum question is whether Poles support the sell-off of state-owned firms. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said that Germany wants "to embed Tusk in Poland to sell off common property."

Deputy parliament speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska has labeled that referendum "one big PiS scam." She noted that state oil firm Lotos has been partly sold off by the government, with Saudi Arabian state-controlled company Saudi Aramco buying some of its assets. 

Another referendum question slated for October is whether voters support raising the age of retirement. The PiS brought the retirement age down to 65 for men and 60 for women.

During his tenure as PM, Tusk backed an increase of the retirement age for women and men. In 2021, he later considered that decision a mistake. 

The Polish government is expected to reveal a fourth referendum topic on Monday. 

wd/jcg (AP, dpa)