Poland Could Become More Difficult for Rest of Europe

A victory for the right-wing Law and Justice party would give policymakers in Berlin and Brussels headaches.

Polish Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński gives a speech in Białystok, October 23
Polish Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński gives a speech in Białystok, October 23 (PiS)

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party is expected to return to power this weekend after eight years of liberal Civic Platform rule. The right’s populist economic policies and assertive foreign policy are almost certain to cause some alarm in Berlin and Brussels.

Law and Justice promises to raise public spending, protect pensions and introduce a new tax on banks. None of its signature economic policies would be particularly popular in the rest of the European Union where German-inspired fiscal consolidation and liberal economic reform are now the norm.

Strategically, too, a Law and Justice-led Poland would likely distance itself from its western neighbor.

Politico reports that the Civic Platform — which is most popular in the western areas of Poland that used to be German — has cultivated close relations with Western Europe. The conservatives, on the other hand, believe that if Poland can become the main player in Central and Eastern Europe, it will have a stronger hand in its dealings with the rest of the European Union.

The political news website cautions against reading too much into the differences between the two major parties.

Warsaw will still defend the use of coal, resist accepting migrants, be suspicious of Russia and the euro and keen to rely on the US and NATO for its security.

But if the past is any indication, the tone of Polish government could become very different.

Law and Justice’s Andrzej Duda, who surprisingly beat the Civic Platform incumbent in May’s presidential election, has already called on NATO to station permanent military bases in his country and not treat it as a “buffer zone” between Russia and the West. The liberals might agree but would not be so forthright.

Eight years of Civic Platform governments — led by Donald Tusk, then by Ewa Kopacz — have seen Poland play an increasingly important role in the EU with greatly improved relations between Warsaw and Berlin. A [Law and Justice] administration, however, would be more focused on local issues and not afraid of nationalist rhetoric that could annoy its western neighbors.

The party is led by former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of its founder and Poland’s former president, Lech Kaczyński. The last Law and Justice government they led, from 2005 to 2007, was tumultuous, however, and many Poles remember that their occasionally confrontational anti-German policy accomplished very little.

Jarosław wisely nominated Beata Szydło, a previously junior lawmaker, as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Had he stood himself, Law and Justice would likely have maintained its strong support in the Catholic and former Russian-dominated east of Poland but made few inroads into the Civic Platform’s western bastions.

How effective Szydło will be able to govern depends on how big Law and Justice wins. Polls suggest that she will fall short of an overall majority and forced into a coalition with either the agrarian Polish People’s Party or populists on the right.

The former currently supports the Civic Platform government but is ideologically closer to Law and Justice. Not all the polls have the People’s Party clearing the 5 percent election threshold, though.

On the far right, Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s Euroskeptics are also hovering around 5 percent support in the polls.

Another new party, Kukiz’15, is almost certain to enter parliament. But it is led by a punk musician who appears to have little platform beyond raiding against the establishment.

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