RIGA - The victory of the united opposition forces in the Polish elections will return the country to the path of liberal democracy, but if the opposite outcome would have taken place, it would increasingly implement policies similar to Hungary and undermine the unity of the European Union (EU) and the West, Michal Baranowski, Managing Director of the German Marshall Fund's East strand, said in an interview with LETA on the sidelines of the Riga Conference.
The election set Poland's trajectory as a liberal democracy in the EU, the expert said, comparing the outcome to "dodging a bullet". If Law and Justice (PiS) were to win, he said, the country would see its media control policies take Poland much further down the road Hungary is currently on.
Although the opposition is a group of disparate forces, Baranowski stressed that the public pressure on these parties to cooperate and form a successful and sustainable government is enormous. "The voters gave the opposition leaders a very clear mandate, both in domestic and foreign policy, to counteract the policies pursued by the PiS government over the last eight years. These voters will not be reconciled to a situation where the opposition leaders fail to find solutions and are ready to punish them in such a case," Baranowski believes.
Baranowski explained that the level of emotion that drove people to the polls is not as visible outside Poland. This emotion puts a lot of pressure on opposition leaders to unite even within such a diverse group. This is partly why the turnout was so high - 74 percent, which is 12 percent higher than in the historic elections in 1989.
He stressed that the government will have a sufficient majority to lead the country for a full term, with 248 seats in a parliament of 460.
"It will be a government that will focus on the reconstruction of the judiciary in domestic politics. Many Polish and foreign observers saw these elections as the last chance to halt the democratic decline in Poland," said the expert.
Baranowski is also confident that the new government will be able to neutralize the tensions with Ukraine, which are also desired by Poland's partners and allies, above all the US.
He reminded that at the beginning of the war, both the Polish government and the public were very supportive towards Ukraine, both in their statements and in their practical assistance. However, since April, Polish-Ukrainian relations were in the deepest crisis since the beginning of the war, triggered by the entry of Ukrainian grain on the Polish market and the consequent impact on grain prices. The crisis soon escalated to the political level, which eventually led to the announcement by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that Poland would no longer supply arms to Ukraine. "This was partly a purely political statement," he said.
He believes that the issue of grain will become less important over time, at least compared to the issue of the mechanisms for delivering Ukrainian grain to the European Union (EU) and to recipients outside the EU.
"I expect a change in rhetoric towards Ukraine and an approach that will focus more on supporting Kiyv from an allied perspective. I very much hope that the restart of relations between Poland and Ukraine will be one of the first tasks that the new government will tackle," Baranowski summarized.
Looking at the relatively opposite election results in Slovakia, he expressed the hope that the Slovak case would not be as severe as that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. "Orban is not only clearly weakening EU values, but also our unity in bilateral relations with Russia. His meeting with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in Beijing is something totally unacceptable from the leader of one EU Member State when Russia is being sanctioned for its brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine," the expert said.
However, he does not expect [Slovak Prime Minister Robert] Fico to follow the same path, expressing the hope that "we will see much more pragmatism". Baranowski added that Fico's rhetoric has not been very encouraging, and is creating a palpable division in the Visegrad bloc, whose unity cannot really be spoken of anymore.
"I think there is a lot of work ahead for the whole of Europe, including the new Polish government, to ensure that Slovakia does not follow in Orban's footsteps, both in building unhealthily close relations with Russia and in undermining the rule of law in the EU by its actions. It is very important to avoid the emergence of a new Bratislava-Budapest axis to replace the Budapest-Warsaw axis," said Baranowski.
He pointed out that the example of Hungary probably demonstrates the need for deeper reforms in the EU, which are also on the way. The expert stressed that one thing has changed and could create a window of opportunity - Budapest will no longer be able to count on Warsaw's support when it breaks EU rules, the rule of law and undermines EU unity in its policy towards Russia.