Poland’s parliamentary election on Sunday upended one of Europe’s most stable political scenes and ousted one of the EU’s longest-serving governments.
Voters had enough of eight years of the Civic Platform. No matter that the economy stayed the EU’s consistently strongest; nor that Warsaw had built good ties with its neighbors or won a front-row seat at the power tables in Brussels. The center-right party looked exhausted, scandal-ridden and out of ideas, and its listless campaign showed it.
The victorious Law and Justice Party — more to the right of Platform on social issues, to the left on economics — built on its surprise victory in May‘s presidential election to secure its hold on government for the first time since 2005. The last PiS government, as Law and Justice is known by its Polish acronym, had a tumultuous and short two-year run. Since then, the party has modernized its pitch and appealed beyond its core of older, religious Poles to young voters in larger cities. If the exit polls from Sunday night are correct, it will be the first time in Poland’s post-communist history that a single party will have an absolute majority in the Sejm, or parliament.
Here are the most significant takeways from this election. [...]
3. Don’t expect a revolution in Polish foreign policy. The outgoing government of Ewa Kopacz wasn’t keen on accepting migrants and battled EU emissions policies while defending the use of coal. Her Poland was a stalwart NATO ally, suspicious of Russia, and in no rush to join the euro. The new crowd is more or less in the same place on every one of those issues — though PiS may be less polite in getting its point across.
One notable difference with the Civic Platform: PiS wants to build stronger ties with the rest of Central Europe, a bloc that Warsaw hopes to lead. The focus will be “region, region, and once again region,” said Witold Waszczykowski, a PiS MP tipped as a potential foreign minister. Last time in power, Law and Justice had frosty ties with Germany, driven in part by Kaczyński’s own distaste for the country; his parents fought the Germans during the war. PiS has mellowed on the western neighbor during its eight years in opposition. Duda’s wife is a German teacher, and Szydło hasn’t made Germany a campaign issue. The external threat is Russia.
4. Poland will be hard to work with in Brussels.
Here are some of the key issues for Poland and the EU:
— Brexit. PiS sits with the U.K.’s Conservatives in the European Parliament’s Reformists and Conservatives grouping and is London’s natural ally when it comes to the defense of national sovereignty. But Warsaw will also look closely after the interests of about a million Poles now living in Britain, and won’t like Cameron’s proposed cuts to benefits for non-British citizens or any other limitations on freedom of movement in the EU.
— Migrants. Poland’s outgoing government was reluctant to take in migrants, and ended up doing so only under fierce pressure, while refusing to accept the idea of mandatory quotas to resettle them. Kaczyński (backed by Duda) has warned that migrants carry diseases. Expect Poland to join the Hungary-led camp of those most fiercely resisting the resettlement of large numbers of Muslim asylum-seekers. [...]
— Donald Tusk. The former Polish prime minister’s term as president of the European Council expires in 19 months. Kaczyński reviles Tusk; the feeling may be mutual. Now Kaczyński has to decide: Is it better to leave an enemy (and a Pole) in a top job faraway in Brussels, or humiliate him by rejecting his candidacy for a second term?
5. Big changes will happen at home. PiS is almost certain to follow in the footsteps of every previous Polish government and purge state institutions, like the central bank, the broadcast authority and the competition watchdog, as well as state-controlled companies. [...]