Elections in Poland: Implications for Europe and Ukraine

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice party won a landslide victory this Sunday. 44.4% of voters voted for the political power of former Prime Minister and gray cardinal of Polish politics Jarosław Kaczyński
23:19, 15 October 2019

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Jarosław Kaczyński

Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice party won a landslide victory this Sunday. 44.4% of voters voted for the political power of former Prime Minister and gray cardinal of Polish politics Jarosław Kaczyński - even more than in the previous parliamentary elections in 2015 (37.5%).

Law and Justice will be able to form a one-party government again. The main opponent of the Polish conservatives, the Social Democratic Party Civic Platform, the former Foreign Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, received 26.8%. For the Confederation party, Janusz Ryszard Korwin-Mikke, who stands for rapprochement with Russia and is declared a non-grata person in Ukraine for visiting Crimea, only 6.8% of Poles voted.

The victory of the Law and Justice party indicates that Polish society fully arranges the state course of the government of Mateusz Jakub Morawiecki, who is in difficult relations with the European Commission and is drawing closer to the United States.

Related: Ukraine permits Poland to resume exhume works

For Ukraine, the results of the parliamentary elections in Poland are mixed. On the one hand, Polish conservatives support the territorial integrity of our country and advocate the continuation by the West of a policy of containing Russian aggression. On the other hand, relations between our countries have been overshadowed by historical disputes over recent years.

Secrets of far-right success

The Law and Justice party managed to maintain the reins of government in Poland due to the fact that during its stay in power it increased government spending on the social welfare of citizens. Since 2016, the government has been implementing the Family 500+ program, aimed at increasing the birth rate, the well-being of large families, and resolving the problem of poverty among minors.

Families where mother and father earn less than $ 180 a month receive state benefits of $ 125 per child. If the child is disabled, then the amount of the benefit increases to $ 307 per month.

As of February 2017, about 4 million Polish children participated in this program. The government allocated over $ 5 billion to them.

Social security for newborns in Poland is not a new problem. The talk of the town was the desire of some Polish citizens to have a baby in the UK. In 2012, the British government allocated £ 850,000 for Polish babies. Law and justice is supported by senior citizens. In 2017, the Polish authorities reduced the retirement age from 67 to 65 for men and 60 for women. 2.74 billion dollars were allocated for pension reform in 2018.

The conservatives are not going to stop there. In February 2019, Kaczyński announced plans for the government to pay pensioners $ 282 for retirement, introduce new benefits for families with children and lower the tax rate for workers under 26 years old.

After the victory, Morawiecki declared that the government would continue to build a society of universal social welfare in Poland. In his opinion, new benefits will cost the state budget $ 7.8-10.5 billion a year.

Under conservatives in Poland, the standard of living and business activity increased. According to Kaczyński, one of the tasks of his party is to dispel the complex among the Poles about the fact that they earn less and live worse than in Western Europe.

Related: Poland allocates over one million dollars humanitarian aid to Donbas

Poland became the seventh economy of the European Union. The country's GDP is 524 billion euros (13.5 thousand euros per capita). The unemployment rate in Poland in July 2019 amounted to 3.3% and is one of the lowest in Europe. Since 2016, the minimum wage in Poland has increased from 474 to 576 dollars per month.

Polish authorities do not spare money on construction projects, development of promising areas of business. Poland received 106 billion euros from European funds for the construction of real estate and infrastructure in 2014-2020. A package of transactions in the field of office real estate is estimated at 400-600 million euros.

International companies IBM, Citi Group, Credit Swiss, Capgemini moved part of their activities to Poland. As part of the New Economy program, 300 video game developers are working in Poland and this area has generated a profit of 5 billion euros over the past three years.

Despite the fact that the urban intelligentsia gravitates toward opposition parties, criticizes Law and Justice for restricting press freedom and the independence of the judiciary, Kaczyński, and Morawiecki have earned a reputation as politicians who are responsible for their words and keep their promises.

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Polish PM Morawiecki

They found support among citizens of working professions, farmers, and vulnerable groups of the population, both among the elderly and among young people thanks to their socially-oriented political program. When in 2007-15, the Civic Platform party was in power in Poland, the situation in the country was worse than it is now.

Many Poles chose to seek a better life abroad. After Poland joined the EU in 2004, at least 2.5 million citizens emigrated to other countries for permanent residence; 600 thousand Poles live in the UK.

Related: Poland intends to build new cemeteries in Ukraine

Europe's concern

The presence of the Law and Justice party in power in Poland does not meet the Brussels' interests. Polish conservatives position themselves as moderate Eurosceptics and advocate reducing the European Commission's interference in the internal affairs of member countries.

Poland undermines pan-European unity by acting without regard to EU standards in certain areas. The European Commission condemned the adoption in Poland of a law to reduce the retirement age of judges. Brussels is confident that this will allow the government to carry out purges in the judiciary, and to appoint judges to please people.

Law and Justice believes that their measures will clear the judicial authorities from corrupt officials of the socialist era.

Related: Poland joins boycott of 70th anniversary of PACE

Brussels criticizes Warsaw for refusing to implement the European Commission's plan for the resettlement of refugees. Kaczynski strongly opposes the reception of refugees from Muslim countries, considers them to be carriers of infectious diseases. Polish authorities fear that Islamic extremists may leak into the country along with refugees. “Law and Justice” opposes the promotion of sexual equality, tolerance for LGBT people, considering these values ​​alien to Polish traditions and lifestyles. Also, the Polish authorities reduced the number of state-owned media, which became a pretext for authoritarian charges.

The leaders of Germany and France would be more comfortable if the opposition party Civic Platform won the election, of which the European Council President Donald Tusk is a member of the European-time-tested and reliable candidate who, after the expiration of his duties, could apply for the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs or Prime Minister of Poland.

Kaczyński and Morawiecki scare European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel with their unpredictability and rebellion. Berlin and Paris should be interested that Warsaw should be their junior assistant in the framework of the Weimar format, and not a self-sufficient center of power in the European Union, able to consolidate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that do not agree with the European Commission in everything.

Morawiecki’s government did not succumb to pressure even after the sanctions procedure against Poland was initiated in the EU last year.

Atlantic drift

The tectonic break of pan-European unity exacerbates the drift of the Law and Justice party towards the American shores. US President Donald Trump is betting on the Polish conservatives as America's partner in Central and Eastern Europe.

On the eve of the parliamentary elections, the United States presented Poland with a couple of pleasant surprises. In October, the US State Department nominated Poland for inclusion in the visa-free travel program. In September, Trump decided to transfer a thousand troops to Poland from US military bases in other European countries. Last year, Polish authorities invited their American colleagues to open a military base in their country.

Related: Ukrainian wanted in 190 states was detained in Poland

Trump, Kaczyński and Morawiecki are skeptical about the migration of Muslims to their countries, they have complicated with Germany - the conductor of strengthening European integration. In response to Merkel’s criticism of the “violation of democracy,” the Polish authorities are demanding reparations for the German occupation of Poland during World War II, despite the fantastic nature of this claim.

Trump criticizes Merkel for Germany’s participation in the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, contrary to existing anti-Russian sanctions. Warsaw, like Washington, is opposed to the construction of Nord Stream 2, and supports an increase in the supply of American liquefied natural gas to Europe.

In the context of difficult US-European relations, Poland under conservatives will continue to be one of the few supporters of the Trump administration in Central and Eastern Europe, to use relations with the United States as a cover in the confrontation with the European Commission.

Conclusions for Ukraine

Poland, under Law and Justice party, is the most active political conductor from countries of continental Europe. Poland regularly supports the extension of anti-Russian sanctions, advocates cooperation between Ukraine and NATO in the field of defense, lobbying for the European Union to provide lethal weapons to the Ukrainian army.

In 2017, Ukraine acquired 200 Soviet-made infantry fighting vehicles in Poland. Poland is Ukraine’s bridge in relations with the EU and NATO.

Unlike politicians from other European countries, Polish conservatives realistically perceive the threat from Russia and understand that the lifting or easing of sanctions will not make Russia more pleased about the withdrawal of armed formations from Donbas and the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

The Polish government perceives Russia as a historical adversary, which poses a potential threat to its statehood. Warsaw does not want to return to Moscow’s control, as it was during the years of the Russian Empire and the socialist Polish People’s Republic.

Poland’s opposition to the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline is in our interests, because of this project, Ukraine risks losing the lion's share of Russian gas transit through its gas transportation system.

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Poland is one of the main trade and economic partners of Ukraine. Last year, bilateral trade amounted to 7 billion euros. Poland is an attractive investment partner for Ukraine. To compensate for the shortage of labor in the domestic market, the government attracts labor migrants from Ukraine. About 2.5 million Ukrainians annually go to Poland to earn money.

Not only workers in households, construction sites and poultry farms are in demand, but also Ukrainian metallurgists. According to unofficial information from employees of the Mariupol Primary Health Care Center No. 1, which records registered workers of industrial enterprises in the city, entire brigades of Metinvest Group metallurgical plants prefer to leave for work at Polish steel mills due to dissatisfaction with the current salary level and conditions labor. It is believed that Ukrainian labor migrants who work in Poland for less money than local residents have become one of the factors in the growth of the Polish economy.

Sins of the Fathers of the Nation

Despite mutual interests in the field of security and the economy, relations between Ukraine and Poland are overshadowed by historical contradictions inflated in the interests of individual political forces. The problem is that the ex-president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and the president of Poland Andrzej Duda littered the controversial facts of the Second World War in order to have the support of ultra-right voters.

Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland

President of Poland Andrzej Duda

The events of the Volyn massacre of 1943 were called the genocide of the Polish people, and Ukrainian nationalists  (UPA) were blamed for this tragedy. The Polish parliament passed amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance to impose a fine or imprisonment of up to three years for supporting the actions of the Ukrainian nationalists - OUN and UPA. The Polish far-right began to destroy Ukrainian monuments in Poland. Ex-president Poroshenko did not go far and made the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine the day of the foundation of the UPA on October 14.

Related: U.S. includes Poland to Visa Wavier Program 

The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory introduced a moratorium on the exhumation of Poles in Ukraine in response to vandalism regarding monuments on Ukrainian graves in Poland. The Volyn massacre was an interethnic conflict that claimed the lives of several tens of thousands of people - not only Poles but also Ukrainians.

The situation remains uncertain. In August, President Zelensky visited Warsaw at the invitation of the Polish President and together with Prime Minister Morawiecki, they discussed prospects for cooperation and problematic issues.

The victory of the Law and Justice party means that the train of historical contradictions can spoil the climate of Polish-Ukrainian relations for another four years.

In September, Ukraine allowed Poland to continue the exhumation of the remains of Poles in Ukraine. Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadym Prystaiko said that now we are waiting for reciprocal steps from Poland. As an option, the abolition of controversial amendments about the UPA from Polish law, the restoration of Ukrainian monuments.

Whether Poland agrees to do this is a moot point, because it will provoke indignation of the Polish far-right. Ukraine is unlikely to go beyond the exhumation permit. Transferring the date of the armed forces of Ukraine will spit in the face of many Ukrainians from the western regions, whose fathers and grandfathers defended their land with weapons in their hands in the ranks of the UPA. UPA veterans are given the status of a participant in hostilities.

Zelensky avoids confrontation with the Ukrainian far-right, among which there are some participants in the hostilities in eastern Ukraine, while Poroshenko did not stop flirting with them when being in opposition.

Ukrainian-Polish relations are a clear example of how the transformation of historical events into an instrument of political propaganda can lead to negative consequences for both countries.

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