Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Coalition opposition in Poland, speaks during election night in Warsaw.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
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Poland’s election results may not be well received in Moscow, as observers indicate it is a triumph for moderate centrism and a glimmer of hope for improving the country’s chilly relations with both the EU and neighboring Ukraine.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party secured the most votes in Sunday’s election with 35.4% – but opposition parties are likely to form a parliamentary majority.
Donald Tusk – the leader of the center-right Civic Platform party and head of the anti-PiS opposition – sees the vote as an opportunity to restore democratic norms and liberal values in the country after eight years of nationalist, socially conservative rhetoric and policymaking. Given
“Moscow is unlikely to welcome a resounding victory by political parties with firm pro-EU and pro-Ukraine stances,” Andreas Tursa, adviser for Central and Eastern Europe at consultancy Teneo, told CNBC.
While Russia turns its attention to forging closer ties with nations like China and India, EU cohesion remains a source of frustration for Putin as member countries agree on more Russian sanctions and provide military and economic assistance to Ukraine.
Poland, the EU’s fifth-largest economy and population, has been an influential member since 2004. It plays a significant geopolitical role as a NATO base with around 10,000 US troops stationed in the country. It has also welcomed over a million refugees from its close partner Ukraine since the war began, while millions more have transited through its borders.
However, relations with the EU have been strained during the eight-year rule of PiS, which has implemented a near-total ban on abortion and reportedly curtailed media freedom. The bloc has withheld billions of funds from Poland due to concerns about the erosion of judicial independence.
Tensions with Ukraine have risen in recent months, partly due to a dispute over the impact of Ukrainian grain imports on local farmers. Ukraine lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization regarding Polish restrictions on its agricultural produce, which ultimately led to Poland announcing that it would no longer provide arms to Ukraine.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, speaks during the final conference of the election campaign in Kraków, Poland, on October 11, 2023.
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As a former European Council president, Tusk aims to reintegrate Poland into the EU, unlocking bloc funds and potentially making Poland less obstructive on EU policy.
Sili Tian, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said, “From a regional perspective, the opposition’s victory prevents the emergence of a populist Euroskeptic coalition in Central Europe (with Hungary and Slovakia), which could have brought further internal tensions into the EU.” , it said in a note on Monday.
Tian also hopes the outcome will “reposition Poland as a staunch supporter of Ukraine” and that Tusk will advocate for Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
According to Alex Szczerbiak, professor and head of the politics department at the University of Sussex, the recent dispute with the war-torn country was partially fueled by the election campaign.
Szczerbiak said, “Pressure on Law and Justice is increasing because their own polling indicated that while their supporters were pro-Ukrainian, there were issues where Polish and Ukrainian interests clash, and standing up for Polish interests was challenging.” was needed.” phone.
This was amplified by a threat from the far-right Confederation party, which accused Kiev of insufficient gratitude for previously received weapons, pledged to reduce the influx of Ukrainian refugees, and criticized Ukraine’s approach to EU and Polish foreign policies. war.
The Confederation Party was previously seen as a potential kingmaker with whom Law and Justice could form a government, a move that could distance Poland from the EU and harm its relations. However, the party performed below expectations, winning 7.2% of the vote – similar to its achievement in the previous election in 2019.
To what extent would Poland, the former Soviet satellite state, have abandoned support for Ukraine even if the election outcome had been different? This should not be overstated, Szczerbiak said.
“The key thing to remember when looking at Poland and Ukraine is that they have broad strategic shared interests [in countering Russian aggression], and that overrides everything else. Regardless of the fluctuations in the relationship, they will remain key allies in the context of the war,” Szczerbiak said.
Szczerbiak believes Poland will likely continue to play an important role in providing humanitarian aid, supporting sanctions against Russia, and assisting Ukrainian refugees passing through or settling in the country.
He added that there is a portion of the relationship that is beyond Poland’s control.
“There is a perception in Poland that Ukraine is fundamentally shifting its focus from building closer ties with Warsaw to prioritizing relations with Berlin – the practical conclusion being that if they seek EU membership, the more significant player will be Berlin. So, regardless of what Poland does, it will be challenging to restore the relationship to its state during the first 18 months of the war,” he said.
rocky road ahead
Now the question is how soon the opposition will be able to form a government, how unified the administration will be, and how much it will be able to implement its agenda.
“It’s one thing to agree to form a coalition, but it’s another thing to actually govern and have a coherent policy agenda when you have three different groups, all of which are comprised of multiple factions within themselves, and they all hold slightly or significantly different views on a number of issues,” said Stanley Bill, a professor of Polish studies at the University of Cambridge, in a phone interview with CNBC.
This divergence is likely to extend to economic and social matters, including social spending and the liberalization of abortion laws.
Challenges may also arise in the passage of legislation. President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS, possesses veto power, and a constitutional tribunal composed of PiS allies has the authority to strike down laws.
“The president has a reputation for being deeply sympathetic to PiS, but he also wants to establish a somewhat independent position and be a fair mediator if there is strong public support for a policy,” Bill said. “He has also criticized PiS and vetoed some of their policies.”