Katarzyna Pisarska is a CEPA Senior Fellow and Founder of the European Academy of Diplomacy.
An almost inevitable change of government in Poland — from the conservative and populist Law and Justice Party to a coalition of three center-right-liberal parties — spells a sea change for Poland’s foreign policy. These will include first and foremost:
- A dramatic improvement in Poland’s relations with the European Union (EU). After years of disagreement between Brussels and Warsaw over Poland’s backsliding on democratic principles, the new government will prioritize ending European Court of Justice (ECJ) legal cases against Poland, as well as unblocking the payout of €36bn ($38bn) in loans and grants from the EU recovery fund.
The new government will also have an appetite to co-shape not only the EU agenda but also to engage in the reforms the bloc needs in order to accept Ukraine into the organization.
- Poland’s relations with two important neighbors — Germany and Ukraine — will become more predictable. The PiS has built much of its domestic communication strategy on bashing Germany. A new government led by the opposition parties will see Berlin as more of a partner than a competitor. The pressure on Germany to complete its Zeitewende turning point strategy in security and defense policy will likely remain.
In the case of Ukraine, the new government will continue to be a major provider of humanitarian, logistical, and military assistance to Ukraine and, at the same time most likely striking a more conciliatory tone in areas of potential disagreements (e.g., grain exports.)
- An increased Polish regional role. With a change of government, Poland rejoins the European mainstream as the largest state of the Central and East European region. It will have a much greater weight to build stronger regional coalitions within the existing framework of formats such as the Bucharest Nine, the Lublin Triangle (Poland-Ukraine-Lithuania), and the Weimar Triangle (Poland-France-Germany.) The change in Poland will also see a departure from cooperation with Hungary, leaving Prime Minister Viktor Orbán much more exposed within the EU.
What will most likely remain unchanged is strong relations with the United States. With over 10,000 American troops stationed on its territory, and the country’s pivotal role in NATO’s Eastern Flank defenses, the US is perceived by Warsaw as an ally providing the ultimate line of defense against a resurgent Russia.
Every government will strive for strong relations with America – regardless of who sits in the White House. The opposition has also declared to continue the large investment into defense, which will soon reach 3% of GDP and might move beyond that in the years to come.
Ambassador Paul Jones (ret.) is a CEPA Distinguished Fellow and was US Ambassador to Poland from 2015-18.
A stunning 74% turnout in Poland’s October 15 elections will likely remove the populist/nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS) after eight years in power.
PiS won elections in 2015 with a hard-edged anti-establishment agenda, a harbinger before Brexit and the US election of Donald Trump. After its resounding reelection in 2019, analysts began to worry the party was tilting the electoral environment to such a degree as to make a clear opposition win unlikely, if not impossible.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) electoral observer mission cited misuse of public resources, pro-government media bias, and a highly polarized environment. Polish elites worried that a third term would so entrench PiS control over the judiciary, media, and other democratic institutions that Poland’s democracy would be called into question.
The voters overcame all those worries by turning out in numbers historic for any democratic country. Few expected such a clear outcome, just as few expected back in 1989 that the Polish people would so thoroughly vote out the communists from power when the opposition won every contested seat in the lower house.
There will be much relief in Brussels and in many parts of Europe that Poland’s confrontations with the EU will soon subside. However, the more important message of this election is not to lose confidence in, nor condescend towards, the country of Europe’s oldest written constitution, second in age only to that of the United States. Poland’s democracy continues to inspire.
Marija Golubeva, a CEPA Distinguished Fellow, was a Member of the Latvian Parliament (2018-2022) and Minister of the Interior from 2021-2022
The likely majority for three opposition parties prepared to form a coalition represents a win for liberal democracy in Poland, but it does not mean that the Law and Justice party (PiS) will evaporate or lose its grip on rural voters.
The opposition’s success likely reflects its mobilization of urban voters who decided to draw the line at two terms of PIS dominance. That is underlined by voter turnout, which was especially high among the young and women. More than 70% voted the highest participation rate since the return of free elections in 1989. These voters reject backsliding on democratic values such as independence of the judiciary and media freedom, but most significantly, they resented the PiS’s culture war campaigning on issues like abortion.
There will be relief for the EU, with the hope that arguments over the shared burden of developing world migrants will be easier to resolve. It will be easier for Europe to be a geopolitical player at the time of enlargement and reform if Poland and Germany talk to each other. Dealings with Brussels should be assisted by the previously established relationship with the main Polish party leader, Donald Tusk, who was President of the European Council from 2014-2019.
It also means more commitment to a democratic and free future for Ukraine (where PiS was also supportive) and less leverage for Victor Orbán, the main internal opponent of changes to the EU structure. He will now hope for support from Slovakia’s Kremlin-friendly new government, but this could never replace Poland’s sheer regional muscle.
Katarzyna Pisarska is a Polish social entrepreneur, civic activist, and academic. She is the Founder of the European Academy of Diplomacy, the Visegrad School of Political Studies, a Co-Founder of the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, and the Chair of the Warsaw Security Forum.
Ambassador Paul Jones (ret.) is a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He was US Ambassador to Poland (2015-18), US Ambassador to Malaysia (2010-13), and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (2013-15). He was also Vice President for International Government Relations at Raytheon Technologies (2020-23).
Marija Golubeva is a CEPA Distinguished. She was a Member of the Latvian Parliament (2018-2022) and was Minister of the Interior from 2021-2022. A public policy expert, she has worked for ICF, a consultancy company in Brussels, and as an independent consultant for European institutions in the Western Balkans and Central Asia.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.