Poland: what would a new government mean for Europe?

The conservative PiS has won the most votes in Poland's parliamentary elections but failed to secure the majority it needs to continue in government. Instead, three pro-European parties are set to form a ruling coalition: Donald Tusk's liberal Civic Coalition, the centrist Trzecia Droga and the leftist Lewica party. European media assess the ramifications for the EU and Europe.

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Correio da Manhã (PT) /

Europe as an antidote to populism

Donald Tusk's victory is a clear sign that people are still enthusiastic about Europe, says Correio da Manhã:

“This new future for Poland will entail difficult labour pains. The transition of power itself will be difficult and risky, because the populist executive has surrounded itself with compliant institutions that will do all they can to make change difficult. But Europe, old and tired, remains a democratic utopia of peace and prosperity that attracts people in often unexpected ways. The dream of European integration is the best antidote to populism.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Eurocratic instincts must be tempered

National conservative forces will surge back again if the EU doesn't stop meddling in Poland's affairs, The Daily Telegraph believes:

“The EU will almost certainly draw the wrong conclusion from this election. Its interference in the internal politics of Poland was one reason why PiS did so well for eight years. Over the years, the European Commission has charged Poland with failing to uphold the 'rule of law', as defined by Brussels, which the PiS considered a matter of national decision-making. Will Mr Tusk temper his Eurocrat instincts to stop these continued encroachments on his country's sovereignty? If not, his renewed tenure in the job could turn out to be a brief one.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Washington has great expectations

A change of government would be in the interests of the US, Rzeczpospolita believes:

“It was a very awkward balancing act. On the one hand, the White House had to maintain good relations with the PiS government because Poland's strategic importance had increased enormously since the outbreak of the war in the East. On the other hand, in Washington, where they had proclaimed a worldwide crusade in defence of freedom against Chinese and Russian tyranny, they watched with disgust as elements of an authoritarian state were strengthened step by step on the Vistula. ... The Americans expect the new Polish government not only to improve relations with Kyiv, Berlin and Brussels, but also to maintain a clear stance towards America.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

A new European superpower

With a pro-European course, Poland can send important signals to the EU, Jyllands-Posten stresses:

“Under Tusk, Poland would likely retain its considerable national self-confidence. However, it would be able to play a far bigger role as an emerging European power. ... Poland's economic development is impressive, and no other country has been as convincing in expressing the will to stand up to Russia's imperialist aggressions. Poland is getting ready to allocate four percent of its GDP to defence - which puts it in the lead within Nato. ... Now it can make its influence felt at other levels. A good reason to congratulate Poland - and ourselves as well.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Watch and learn

Under Tusk, Poland becomes a laboratory for the reconstruction of tottering democracies, notes Hospodářské noviny:

“For all democratic politicians in Europe it will be instructive to observe how Poland deals with the legacy of illiberalism in its institutions. This is a historical novelty. Europe knows how to build liberal institutions from scratch, as we saw in the example of Germany after the Second World War. But rebuilding after several years in a polarised society dominated by digital social networks that are destroying liberal democracy is an entirely new discipline.”

Denik N (CZ) /

Back to democracy

Deník N heaves a sigh of relief:

“Poland is returning to democracy. Judges will no longer be persecuted for refusing to align their rulings with political orders, public broadcasters will no longer spread propaganda for a political party, women will hopefully soon be able to get an abortion legally and no longer have to fear pregnancy. Political decisions won't be made by an old man in his party's office but by the government and parliament. LGBT people will no longer be called degenerates by the highest authorities, and students will not be graded in religious education. And filmmakers will not be lynched by the prime minister and the government for making a critical film, as recently happened with director Agnieszka Holland.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

DePiSisation is a tough task

Historian Timothy Garton Ash describes the challenge of reversing PiS's capture of the Polish state in La Repubblica:

“I just learned a new Polish word: depisyzacja, that is, dePiSisation, by analogy with decommunisation. But taking the PiS out of the Polish state will be a tough task. It means restoring the independence of the courts, turning state media into proper public service media, undoing deep political penetration of the civil service and state-owned enterprises, redrawing constituency boundaries so they reflect population changes, and more. All this while Duda [Polish president and an ally of PiS] still has extensive veto powers. Restored EU funding will help, but no one knows the true condition of Poland's public finances and there's a war grinding on next door in Ukraine.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Hoisted by its own petard

PiS only has itself to blame for its failure to secure a ruling majority, Der Standard notes:

“In a democracy, successful politics depend on a modicum of communication with differently-minded people. Precisely this capacity has been increasingly absent in PiS in recent years. Above all, by reforming the judiciary and repurposing the public media into a government propaganda machine, it curtailed a vital corrective that ultimately ensures the stability of the state as a whole. Such moves not only scare off voters but - should it fail to obtain an absolute majority - also potential partners. ”

LRT (LT) /

Record turnout sends strong message

LRT points to the high voter turnout:

“According to initial figures almost 73 percent of Polish voters participated in these elections, proving that they are not indifferent to the current geopolitical situation and the government's attitude towards democracy. It's telling that the four referenda held in conjunction with the elections, which were initiated by the ruling party, failed to achieve a sufficient turnout to make their results binding rather than merely advisory. The voters of the opposition forces simply boycotted them outright.”

Népszava (HU) /

Fiasco for Hungary's goverment

The EU will be a lonely place for Viktor Orbán now, Népszava predicts:

“This election is not only a defeat for PiS but a real hammering for Hungary's ruling party. ... The probable change of government in Warsaw means that Hungary will lose its last anti-EU populist ally. We will be alone in EU voting, we will be the only ones trying to blackmail the EU, and if the Hungarian population does not wake up, which hardly looks likely at present, we could find ourselves outside the EU pretty soon.”

Observator Cultural (RO) /

Deep divides remain

The wounds of the election will not heal any time soon, fears Observator Cultural editor-in-chief Matei Martin:

“Regardless of the election outcome and the political reorientation which is about to take place, what remains is the social reality. The turbulent election campaign will probably leave Polish society deeply divided for the foreseeable future. This political polarisation is not something that can be resolved overnight, especially since the new government will be in a hurry to implement the promised reforms. So the social division will remain or grow even deeper.”

wPolityce.pl (PL) /

No coalition options for PiS

The governing alliance lacks coalition options, comments the PiS-affiliated online portal wPolityce.pl:

“The United Right [PiS electoral coalition] has won the parliamentary elections. ... But it was pursuing a different goal, namely a parliamentary majority. Today that seems unrealistic - irrespective of the final result. The [far-right nationalist] Konfederacja's pitiful result also makes the search for a coalition partner a tremendous challenge. The only potential partner seems to be the [Polish People's Party] PSL, but given the current mood in the ranks of the opposition, even this is a mission with little chance of success.”

Interia (PL) /

Presidential blockade not a good idea

If the president adopts a blockade stance vis-à-vis the new government it will not go down well with the people, Interia observes:

“Of course, the PiS can still extend its term a bit. President Andrzej Duda could give the formal winner the order to form a new cabinet, the procedures could drag on, but in the end whoever successfully forms a coalition government will take over, and the opposition can do that. Will the president block all the new government's reforms over the next two years? In the long run, this would not pay off for him, and perhaps he dreams of creating a new centre-right. Breaking away from the PiS would be advantageous for him.”

BBC (GB) /

Poland bucking the trend

The first projections are likely to elicit a sigh of relief across the EU, says the BBC:

“Brussels had been deeply worried about Poland's election. Little was said in public. EU figures don't want to be seen as interfering in national votes, but behind closed doors there was a tonne of euro-nail-biting. ... So far there is only an exit poll to go on, but Brussels is doubly delighted at the expected outcome as it apparently bucks a trend much-feared by the EU - the apparent renaissance of the Eurosceptic hard right across much of the bloc.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Setback for the Visegrád hardliners

Corriere della Sera is thrilled:

“Today the negotiations begin, and with them the attempts to woo newly elected MPs - an art in which old Kaczyński is considered a master. It will take days to get clarity. The counting of votes from abroad, which historically favour moderates and where twice as many ballots were cast as in 2019, will also play a big role. But whatever the outcome, as of yesterday Poland no longer has a Eurosceptic overlord. For one night at least, the Visegrád fortress and the ideological alliance with Orbán's Hungary seem to have receded into the distance.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

A return to good relations

Yuri Panchenko of Ukrainska Pravda writes:

“First of all, the fact that our neighbour's elections are over is a good thing for Ukraine. It means that the campaigning will no longer affect relations between Kyiv and Warsaw. Regardless who wins, we can hope for a compromise on the grain dispute - the Polish government has already described Kyiv's proposals as good, but a final decision was not possible before the elections.”