Both tone and the content will change. Poland will play a constructive role in the EU, though it won’t be an easy partner.
Assuming that the majority government of Civic Coalition, the Third Way and the Left will take over, we can expect a ‘rupture’ in European policy. All parties of the democratic opposition agreed that healing the relations with the EU is profoundly important. It was also a concern for Polish voters, who clearly expressed their pro-European views. At the end of the election campaign, the democratic opposition frequently invoked the idea of ‘Polexit’, symbolized by the lack of access to EU funds (both recovery and structural funds), and the visa bribery scandal in Polish MFA, which resulted in partial check on the borders of Poland within the Schengen zone.
One of the most immediate promises of the democratic opposition is the fast retrieval of the EU funds. It would strengthen the economy and Poland’s currency. Above all, part of the funds must be spent immediately so as not to be lost. It is not clear, however, what legislative way will be chosen by the opposition leaders to respond to the demands of the European Commission that must be fulfilled before the release of funds. The bill that goes through the parliament will have to be approved by the president, who will be very hesitant in all judicial matters and holds a potential veto (unlikely to be overcome next in the parliament). Ideally, Poland should also, as fast as possible, depart from the procedure of Art. 7 of the TEU, that concerns the rule of law, but it demands that the whole package of judicial reforms is carried out. It will take time.
Coming back to the core?
Poland’s parliamentary election was commonly regarded as the most important in the EU this year, which will impact the EU dynamics. Additionally, it does matter that the most likely candidate to form the government is Donald Tusk, who is a former president of the European Council and the former head of the European People’s Party. The parties who will participate in the government are members of mainstream political families: the EPP, Renew Europe and the Socialists. Therefore Poland’s fast jump into the center of EU decision-making is likely. The window of opportunity will last as from January 2025 Poland will hold the rotating presidency in the EU Council, which offers additional tools to advance its position within the EU.
Therefore, one can expect Poland’s European policy to be devoid of poisonous anti-EU rhetoric, propelled by multilateral advancement of its interest, and willing to take constructive and non-defensive part in the discussion on the future of Europe. Bilateral relations, especially with Germany and France, will also speedily recover. However, a popular hypothesis of Poland’s coming back to the core of Europe is deceptive. The ‘core’ is now much more fragmented than in the past. It is also less clear what stance Poland will take on particular issues. For example, in the election campaign, the opposition parties took a cautious approach regarding the extension of Qualified Majority Voting to new areas of EU decision-making – a hot topic now in Brussels’s discussions, the need to change the Treaty of Lisbonlikewise, the reform of the EU migration pact, or the Fit for 55 climate package of legislation. The same problem stands for EU enlargement. In principle, yes, but no opposition party expressed its view on dealing with the problem of Ukraine’s competitive agriculture or constructing the EU financial support for Ukraine.
A more concrete initiative can be expected from Poland in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). For example, a very lively idea among the democratic opposition parties was that Poland should ‘Europeanise’ its national defence spending. Poland’s eastern border is the EU’s, and Poland does not need to take the protection’s financial burden solely. The same stance can prevail in the migration policy and the use of FRONTEX on the Polish eastern border. In CFSP, there is a general feeling among the opposition parties that the US engagement in Eastern Europe may not last forever, and the risk of Trumpism is too high not to try Europe’s defence to advance. Though certainly, not by contradicting or separating from the US.
Nothing will probably happen regarding Poland’s entry to the Euro zone. Though opposition parties are willing to come close to the Euro’s economic convergence criteria, only Polska 2050 openly stated in the election campaign that membership in the Euro area should be Poland’s aim. The key issue that blocks bold political steps is that to join the Euro, Poland must first change the Constitution. It requires a 2/3 majority vote in favour in the parliament, which is unlikely to occur in the coming cadency.
However, an important pitfall for European policy waits for the democratic opposition within the political system. President Duda has recently announced the priorities of Poland’s presidency in the EU Council while it is clear that the future opposition government can have different ideas in mind. Furthermore, Duda pushed the bill through the parliament that sets the government on a collision course with the president over the European policy of Poland. Without presidential consent, the government cannot now set new presidency’s priorities and nominate candidates to the EU Commission or the Court of Justice of the EU. It is also now unclear who holds primacy in representing Poland in the European Council: the PM or the president. The lawyers rather unanimously call the bill unconstitutional. Surely, it will create conflict and derail the effective carrying out of Poland’s European policy.
Author: Dr Bartłomiej E. Nowak, Senior Advisor at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation and lecturer at the Vistula University.