The Global Eye in dialogue with Zofia Kostrzewa, Programme Coordinator, Warsaw Office, European Council on Foreign Relations
The upcoming elections in Poland are an important appointment not only for the country. What are the main differences between the visions of the competing parties?
You can think of the election as a fight between two competing blocs: the liberal opposition, composed of the Civic Platform, Third Way (a coalition of Poland 2050 and the Polish People’s Party), and the Left, and the current ruling, right-wing populist Law and Justice party. In the last few months, a sort of wildcard alternative to these parties emerged and gained significant traction, namely Konfederacja, a far-right, libertarian party.
The differences of these main two blocs boil down to (il)liberal democracy. PiS wants to continue dismantling democratic institutions as it has done for the last eights years in order to cement its power. This will mean a further politicization of judicial institutions, total subordination of public media, and entrenching the use of the public administration for their own, political and financial gain. Jarosław Kaczyński’s dream is to have ‘Budapest in Warsaw.’ The current ruling party, in addition to disregarding the foundational values of the European Union, also wants “less Europe” altogether, especially in areas that it considers central to Polish sovereignty such as migration and climate and energy. Lastly PiS espouses typically conservative values in relation to abortion, minority rights, and the role of religion in the state.
The opposition is a broad coalition – its supporters extend from the very liberal, social-democratic, through the central Civic Platform and Poland2050, toward the agrarian Polish People’s Party. Therefore, on many issues mentioned above such as abortion, minority rights, religion, climate and energy, migration, and economy, the parties differ considerably. However, what unites them in this election is their belief in the restoration of liberal democracy, de-Pis-ifying the government and restoring good relations with the European Union.
On the fringes of these two blocs is Konfederacja – the far-right party that is a catch-all for all those that do not identify with the political mainstream and are against the current political establishment. The party consists of three factions: free market fundamentalists, nationalists and far-right radicals. The party’s more recent pivot towards libertarian economic policy has gained them popularity among the youth and small business owners. Until recently, they were also the only party that was openly anti-Ukranian. With support currently wavering between 8-10%, many think Konfederacja could be a kingmaker of this election, allying itself with either of the blocs. If they indeed end up in a position of decision-making power, the party has a series of economic reforms it would like to implement, mostly related to taxation, as well as a series of Eurosceptic policies mainly in areas of agriculture and migration.
Is the intensity of support for Kiev decreasing and for what reasons? What scenarios could open up depending on the winner of the parliamentary elections?
Polish-Ukrainian relations are currently at their worst since the beginning of the war.
Socially, we see some war and refugee fatigue in Polish society. According to recent polls in September, support for Ukrainian refugees has been the lowest since the beginning of the war – 69% support it, 25% are against. Though this is still quite a high number, it is a decrease from the support we saw at the beginning of the war.
The discontent in Polish society has been growing slowly over many issues, the most important one being what the Poles consider the “privileged” treatment of Ukrainian refugees in Poland. In addition to having equal access to the labor market, education and the healthcare system, Ukrainian refugees are guaranteed food and housing, as well as various social benefits.
The ruling party, Law and Justice, is hoping to capitalize on these sentiments ahead of the parliamentary election, and to gain back their voters who for the last few months have been turning towards the openly anti-Ukrainian Konfederacja. Therefore, on the political level in the last few weeks we have also noted worsening relations. Starting from Poland’s decision to enforce the embargo that was lifted by the European Commission on September 15th the situation escalated quickly – Ukraine’s filed a claim against Poland (and other countries who issued the embargo) in the WTO; Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky exchanged blame-placing remarks following the UNGA and New York and did not hold their planned meeting; Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that Poland will not be sending new weapons to Ukraine; the government spokesperson announced that Poland will end financial support to Ukrainian refugee in Poland starting from 2024. Then recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland did not attend the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council held in Kiev.
For the next few weeks the relationship will certainly be tense. Depending on the outcome of the election things can change, though it is clear that the honeymoon period in Polish-Ukrainian relations has come to an end.
Looking at the current polls, it is unlikely that Law and Justice would gain sufficient support to continue ruling alone, as it has done for the last eight years. A more likely scenario would be a coalition government or minority government supported by the anti-Ukrainian Konfederacja. In such a scenario, it could be difficult to repair the damage that has been caused to the relationship in the last couple of weeks. Furthermore, the anti-Ukranian sentiment in Poland (and the recent anti-Polish sentiment in Ukraine) which has been fueled by this political theater, may be difficult to counter on a societal level. In this scenario, the Polish government would be even more anti-European than before. Some worry that this might mean that Ukraine will begin sidelining Poland and start to build stronger relationships with other, more reliable partners such as Germany.
On the other hand, the opposition, led by Donald Tusk, is not presenting itself as unconditionally pro-Ukranian either. According to Tusk, while victory with Russia is crucial from Poland’s national security perspective, Poland’s support to Ukraine will be conditional on protecting Poland’s other interests – for example, economic. This is indicative that worries surrounding Ukraine’s EU accession and the effect it will have on the Polish economy are becoming more and more pronounced. Furthermore, the leader of the Civic Platform also supports decreasing social support for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. So while there is a chance for a fresh start and a return towards a cooperative approach, Polish national interest will be a clear priority.
After the result of the elections in Slovakia and the divisions within Europe, how do you see the future of continental security?
At least from a rhetorical standpoint, Europe as a whole is still very much in support of Ukraine. This was evidently expressed at the meeting of the European Political Community in Granada last week. However, cracks in this consensus are becoming deeper and we are nearing a potential crisis. In addition to the Polish government’s instrumentalization of growing anti-Ukranian sentiment for political gain, we now have two countries in the EU (Hungary and Slovakia) whose governments are openly pro-Russian and do not wish to support Ukraine’s war effort. If Fico follows the Orban playbook, this could mean significant obstacles for EU decision making on Ukraine.
Furthermore, the rhetoric is not as strongly backed by actions as Ukraine may hope. While at the Grenada meeting President Zelensky thanked Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the UK for more air defense systems that Ukraine will soon receive, European stockpiles are running low and production is not at the level it needs to be.
On top of this, perhaps the most worrying developments are across the Atlantic. The failure to include aid for Ukraine in the stop-gap bill by US Congress due to resistance of the Republican party is concerning to Europeans – as it should be. Most Europeans till see the US as a guarantor of the continents security. While current developments are distressing, the US presidential election in 2024 is even more so. If we are to ensure continental security, our actions need to follow our words.