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Piotr Maciej Kaczynski : “It can no longer be said that Poland is anti-Russian”

Poland went to the polls on 4th July for the final round of the presidential election brought about by the death of President Lech KaczyÅ“ski in the tragic air accident in Smolensk. In an election campaign overshadowed by this sad events, the moderate candidate BronisÅ’aw Komorowski of Civic Platform, defeated JarosÅ’aw KaczyÅ“ski, candidate of Law and Justice party. Upon taking up office Mr Komorowski resigned from his party the Civic Platform in order to be the ‘President of all Poles’. Piotr Maciej Kaczynski researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels explains the significance of Komorowski’s election and the policy changes that we can expect during his mandate.Â : Was Europe an important issue during the campaign for the presidential election in Poland ? What issues dominated the campaign ?

Piotr Maciej Kaczynski : Europe was definitely not a primary reason behind voters’ choices. In the majority of European countries foreign policy is rarely an issue in national elections, and this was also the case again in Poland. However, there is a certain influence of Europe in this election in that people had to chose between two candidates coming from two camps which are the biggest contestants on the political scene since 2005. The primary reason why the Law and justice party lost power in 2007 and in every election since is linked to their performance internally and externally, notably their European policies which were often controversial. There had been a negative experience of Law and justice party’s time in government on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. The tragedy of Smolensk was also, of course, important as the elections were originally due to be held in fall 2010 and had to be rescheduled for the spring / summer and the campaign was overshadowed by Kaczynski’s death.

TLE : Will Bronisław Komorowski’s election have implications for Poland’s European partners ? What does he intend to do on the European policy front ?

PMK : Komorowski is known as a pro-European politician in Poland. He has no specific European agenda, but as opposed to his predecessor, he will not be systematically contesting Government policy. This is a change of orientation for the Presidency which had been strongly marked by President Lech Kaczynski efforts to thwarts government initiatives. For example, we witnessed embarrassing conflicts over who would represent the country in international situations. This is now over. The first visit of the president elect has been planned in consultation with the Foreign Ministry. All the issues on the agenda and the destinations of his official visits will be prepared in consultation with the Foreign Ministry.

Main political parties in Poland :
Civic Platform (PO) led by Donald Tusk is a centre right conservative party.
Law and Justice (PiS) led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a right wing national conservative party.
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is a centre left wing party led by Grzegorz Napieralski.
Polish People’s Party (PSL) is a centre party.

TLE : Will Komorowski bring Poland closer to Russia ? Will his election have positive consequences for the European Union’s relations with Russia ?

PMK : Both Koromoski and Kaczynski had similar positions and were both in favour of greater rapprochement with Russia. This is one of the consequences of the Russian response to tragedy of Smolensk. Polish policy is not over enthusiastic, it is more pragmatic than anti-Russian. We can definitely no longer talk about an anti-Russian approach in Poland. Poles are not anti-Russian and not engaged in undermining the European negotiations with Russia. Poland would like to help in bringing Russia closer to Europe. It is not about Poland becoming more pro-Russian, it is about convincing Russia to become more pro-European !

TLE : What policies will the new President implement at national level ? Will he introduce cut backs and tough budgetary measures ?

PMK : This will be a big challenge. The government has been in power for two and half years and have a year and a half left before the end of their term in office. This government’s excuse was that it couldn’t take tough measures because Kaczynski would veto their proposals. Now they can propose serious austerity measures. However, the trouble is the proximity of the elections will not encourage them to take tough decisions. During the last elections, one of the pledges was that the age of retirement wouldn’t be increased and that there would only be small changes on pensions reform. The toughest austerity measures are expected in the area of indirect taxation, that is VAT, and in cutting back on waste in the health system. The main policy reforms are streamlinging the health system as soon as possible and cutting other social benefits. Therefore they are proposing some austerity measures but they will only be partial reforms given the proximity to the elections next year.

TLE : This election has opposed two right-wing candidates : do left-wing parties have any power in Poland ?

PMK : The left wing parties are not very significant in Poland. They have about 13% of voter support. They put forward a very young candidate who is a leader who has a lot to learn and is still developing. There is little sign that they are doing to go beyond this low score. They were happy with 13% as the polls were predicting between only 6 and 9 %. They have returned to their 2007 levels. Unfortunately, there is no movement towards a rise to 20% which would allow them to challenge the main parties in the cities or the other conservative party with the vote of the poorer sections of society. The urban younger voters and poorer voters are the potential electorate for the left wing in Poland. Whereas the older and younger voters vote conservative liberal and rarely vote left wing. Among the poorest categories of the population even fewer of them vote for the left as they are attracted by the conservative values of Kaczynski’s party. Any errors on the part of the governing party will benefit the other major conservative party and not the left wing parties.

The parliamentary elections are more important as the real executive powers lie with the Government. The President has enormous power in relation to vetos with Kaczyński used abundantly and which Koromoski has said he will not use. He will constructively participate in government although he is not involved in the direct management of the country. The President cannot be voted out of office therefore he is there to steer the debate and to give direction on the future of polish society. These type of debates will help to become a political figure beyond the short term political objectives. The next parliamentary elections will take place during the course of the Polish Presidency of the European Union so perhaps this time we will see a greater linking of European and national affairs.

Find out more :

Webpage of Piotr Maciej Kaczyński

Komorowski : le candidat libéral devient président de la Pologne -

Marek Beylin : ” Je crains un retour du conservatisme en Pologne…”

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