What to Expect from Poland’s New Government

A better regional cooperation would require improved understanding of national polities and policies.

Jiří Schneider
5 November 2015

Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe has recently argued that the new Polish government formed from the Law and Justice Party (PiS) – out of its conservative nationalist tenets – will change foreign policy in Poland from being “outward-looking and ambitious…to more inward-looking, focused more on the immediate region.” It seems to me that we should not expect a repeat of the PiS era from a decade ago. The PiS 2.0 version features Jaroslaw Kaczynski “steering from behind” while both Prime Minister Beata Szydło and President Andrzej Duda potentially enjoy a certain independence.

Indeed, one can expect that Poland would be more interested in regional cooperation and that it would support a stronger NATO to safeguard Poland against a more assertive Russia. There appear some paradoxes in the policies of the Law and Justice Party. While they didn’t attempt to score points in the election campaign by criticizing Russia, in the future one cannot expect the Polish position on Russia to soften. PiS may be Euroskeptical but definitely not Putin-friendly; on social policy they may be closer to the Hungarian Fidesz but are definitely on a different page concerning Russia. In addition to this, however, Polish policy in terms of Atlantic relations will not be enthusiastically supporting TTIP.

On the EU policy Poland will advocate reform of the Union so that it would be closer to member states while respecting their sovereignty. The PiS Party – that does not belong to mainstream EPP-PES coalition – might be easily ostracized or demonized as yet another national populist movement that combines the “vices” of British Euro-skepticism with Hungarian anti-liberalism. No doubt a new Polish government would be similar to UK efforts to reform the Union but it would not share British interest in economic liberalization nor in limiting free movement of labour.

For a new Polish government, the Visegrad cooperation could be a natural platform for teamwork, although not an exclusive one. Its inclination towards regional cooperation make is suspect of becoming a block to oppose EU immigration or carbon-emission policies. Because the recent positions of Hungary, the Czech Republic or eventually Slovakia on immigration quotas might be perceived as capricious in Brussels, it would be tempting to view a Polish effort to reinvigorate Visegrad cooperation as yet another thwarting exercise. It is perhaps easy to villainize PiS rhetoric in regards to immigration although it does not fundamentally differ from what some Czech or Slovak social democrats have said…

A better regional cooperation would require improved understanding of national polities and policies. Normally, EU political families would provide a framework for such regional political dialogue. But in reality: the Hungarian Fidesz is a part of the EPP, the current Czech coalition parties belong to PES (Liberals and EPP groups respectively), and PiS does not belong to the mainstream duopoly of EPP and PES – but to the ECR group (together with the Czech ODS). Moreover, there are no socialists in the new Polish Sejm. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult to launch a vibrant political dialogue in the region.

Jiří Schneider is currently Senior Fellow and Director of Special Projects at the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI). He recently served as First Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.