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The victory of the liberal bloc in Poland contains the advance of the far right in Europe

Brussels seems relieved about the electoral defeat of the ultra-conservative PiS and the prospect of a center-right coalition in Warsaw led by Donald Tusk

Polonia
Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk flashes the victory sign at his election headquarters in Warsaw on Sunday.JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP)
María R. Sahuquillo

Poland is moving away from the Euroskeptic and far-right positions that have dominated the country in recent years. The liberal coalition led by the center-right Donald Tusk looks set to take power following elections on Saturday, representing an enormous change for the sixth-largest economy in the EU, but also for the Union as a whole. The defeat of Law and Justice (PiS) limits the power of the far right in Europe and returns the Eastern giant to the European path, after years in which the ultra-conservative party transformed Poland, once the top student of the EU’s 2004 enlargement, into a wayward partner that was admonished by Brussels for its violations of the rule of law, its reforms to control the justice system and the media and its opposition to a common migration policy,

The results of the election, in which the PiS won the most votes but did not obtain a sufficient majority to govern, breaks the illiberal axis and the authoritarian regression that Warsaw had formed with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, and which Slovakia’s populist and pro-Kremlin leader Robert Fico was expected to join.

The result is a relief for Brussels, although EU leaders remain aware that hard-right forces are obtaining good results in the polls in Germany, France and Austria.

“We are witnessing Poland’s democratic rebirth,” said European Parliament member Stephane Sejourné, leader of the Renew liberals, who is also part of the coalition led by Tusk. “Having Poland back at the table for constructive negotiations in the EU will make us stronger,” said Terry Reintke, co-leader of the Greens in the European Parliament. “At a time of so many common challenges, that is absolutely crucial for everyone in Europe.”

EU institutions hope to have a more “constructive” partner in the new Polish government, said an EU source. PiS leader nd the current Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, had attacked Brussels policies — such as the common migration policy and the pact to distribute asylum seekers — an important part of the election campaign.

This rhetoric has also included the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the crisis of Ukrainian grain that reaches the EU without tariffs and that Poland, contravening the European agreements, blocks because it claims that it harms its farmers. However, with the election results in hand, that speech has not had the intended impact.

Poland has for many years been considered a core member of the European family. For this reason, the country’s increasingly authoritarian drift has been a headache for the EU, whether over women’s rights, its treatment of minorities and LGBTQ+ people, or its efforts to control the justice system and harass the media outlets that it failed to bring under its control. The EU has frozen €35.4 billion of the post-pandemic Recovery Fund slated for Poland due to its anti-democratic drift.

Since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war against Ukraine, now into its 600th day, relations between Poland and Brussels had eased. Because of its own fear of Russia, the PiS government took an active role in defending Ukraine and hosting refugees fleeing the invasion. However, as the months have passed, and as with the Ukrainian grain crisis, PiS has also used Ukraine to play politics, even blocking key initiatives to try to get Brussels to release the European funds withheld from Warsaw.

“Poland, under the new Tusk government, will be a more constructive actor in EU policy,” Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said in an email. “It will seek to improve relations with key partners and restore confidence in its pro-European credentials.” Tusk, leader of Civic Platform, from the European People’s Party family, is a well-known figure in Brussels, having been president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019.

However, the liberal platform will still have to wait to form a government. And even after he manages to do so, it will not be easy: Tusk will inherit a difficult economic situation, and without the changes that Brussels demands, European funds will not be released, EU sources said. It will also be difficult to draft pro-European policies with a strong opposition led by PiS. A Tusk presidency is also no guarantee that he will get on board the EU’s immigration pact, which the ultra-conservative party has vehemently opposed; The issue is hugely divisive in Poland, although the Civic Platform leader’s positions are much more moderate.

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