Poland’s Election Result Signals a Shift Towards Liberal Centrism
Poland’s recent election outcome may not be well-received in Moscow, as experts predict a victory for liberal centrism and a potential improvement in the country’s relations with the European Union (EU) and neighboring Ukraine.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party, the incumbent, secured the highest percentage of the vote with 35.4%. However, opposition parties are expected to form a parliamentary majority.
Donald Tusk, leader of the center-right Civic Platform party and the figurehead of the anti-PiS opposition, framed the election as an opportunity to restore democratic norms and liberal values after eight years of nationalist and socially-conservative policies.
“Moscow is unlikely to welcome the decisive victory of political parties with a strong pro-EU and pro-Ukraine stance,” commented Andrius Tursa, central and eastern Europe advisor at consultancy Teneo.
While Russia seeks closer relations with countries like China and India, the unity of the EU poses a challenge for Putin, as it continues to impose more sanctions on Russia and provide military and economic support to Ukraine.
Poland, as the fifth-largest economy and population in the EU, has played a significant role since joining in 2004. It also serves as a NATO base with around 10,000 U.S. troops stationed there. Additionally, Poland has taken in over a million refugees from Ukraine and serves as a transit country for millions more.
However, Poland’s relationship with the EU has become strained due to the PiS government’s near-total ban on abortion and alleged restrictions on media freedom. The EU has withheld billions in funding due to concerns about the erosion of judicial independence.
Moreover, tensions have risen with Ukraine over issues such as Ukrainian grain imports affecting Polish farmers. A trade dispute led to Poland ceasing weapon supplies to Ukraine.
As former European Council president, Donald Tusk is expected to work towards reintegrating Poland into the EU, which would unlock funding and potentially make Poland less obstructive to EU policies.
“The opposition’s victory prevents the emergence of a populist Euroskeptic alliance in Central Europe, which could have caused internal tensions within the EU,” explained Sili Tian, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Tian also anticipates a renewed emphasis on Ukraine, with Tusk pushing for EU accession for the country.
According to Aleks Szczerbiak, a professor of politics, the recent tensions with Ukraine were fueled by the election campaign. The far-right Confederation party, which accused Ukraine of ingratitude and criticized the EU and Polish foreign policy, underperformed expectations.
It is important to note that Poland’s strategic interest in challenging Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine would remain unchanged regardless of the election outcome, emphasized Szczerbiak.
Poland would likely continue to provide humanitarian aid, support Russian sanctions, and assist Ukrainian refugees, regardless of any shifts in its relationship with Ukraine.
However, there may be a shift in Ukraine’s focus towards strengthening relations with Berlin, as it sees Germany as a more influential player in its pursuit of EU membership.
Rocky Road Ahead
The speed at which the opposition forms a government, the level of unity within that administration, and the extent to which it can implement its agenda are all uncertain.
Stanley Bill, professor of Polish Studies, highlighted potential disagreements on economic and social issues, including social spending and abortion laws.
Furthermore, passing legislation may face obstacles, as Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the PiS party, holds veto power, and the Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by PiS allies, can strike down laws.
“The president is sympathetic to PiS, but he also wants to establish an independent position and act as a fair mediator if there is strong public support for a policy. He has criticized PiS in the past and vetoed some of their policies,” said Bill.