Friday

22nd Feb 2019

Duda: 'A new chapter of Polish transformation'

Poland’s new president Andrzej Duda took over the presidential palace on Thursday (7 August), heralding a shift toward national conservatism in the country after almost eight years of centrist and liberal governments.

During his inauguration speech Duda said he wants to make Poland “more visible and active” on the international scene.

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  • Andrzej Duda wants to make Poland “more visible and active” on the international scene (Photo: Piotr Drabik)

He also expects greater safety guarantees from Nato, in the form of greater military involvement in the region, and indicated he wants Warsaw to play a greater role in talks on Ukraine – a process dominated on the EU side by France and Germany.

As an intellectual heir of the late president Lech Kaczynski, who died in the plane crash in Smolensk in 2010, Duda also plans to focus on regional cooperation and widening the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) “from the Baltic states to Adriatic”.

“President Duda is a very ambitious politician and it is clear he will be willing to make the most of his time in the presidential palace. But diplomacy doesn’t like rapid changes,” says professor Radoslaw Markowski, a political scientist from the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Meanwhile, the first diplomatic faux pas is deemed to have already been made. Fellow Pole and President of European Council, Donald Tusk, was not invited to the inauguration ceremony.

Duda’s victory marks a shift in political power to Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the controversial leader of the populist Law and Justice Party.

The Kaczynski brothers – Jaroslaw as prime minister and Lech as president - governed the country from 2005 to 2007, and partly until 2010. Their governments marked the times of Polish euroscepticism, anti-German sentiment and the notorious “war for the chair” between the then prime minister Tusk and president Lech Kaczynski during 2008 EU summit.

This political atmosphere is likely to make a return.

The new president already declared a plan for Poland’s “great restoration” and the need for the country’s “moral rehabilitation” in the form of constitutional reforms – mainly to strengthen presidential power.

'Orbanization' of Polish politics

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) may consolidate its power in October, when parliamentary elections take place.

A recent Estymator opinion poll for Newsweek put the PiS in the lead on 43 percent. Civic Platform, currently the ruling party, would be the biggest opposition party (29%). The third party (9%) would be Ruch Kukiza, a nationalistic and catholic far-right populist movement.

“Duda’s inauguration marks Poland’s turn to the right and as an effect the orbanization of Polish politics: strengthening the state and its involvement into the lives of citizens instead of leaving as many spheres as possible to their own democratic choices,”said professor Markowski, referring to Hungary’s controversial leader Victor Orban.

A PiS government is expected to lower the pension age (increased by Civic Platform to 67 years), increase child benefits and introduce new taxes.

Following the “Hungarian example” Beata Szydlo – a prime minister candidate for the PiS party – wants to put turnover taxes on banks and hypermarkets.

In a recent speech, she said “many controversial reforms by Victor Orban turned out to be prosperous for his country” and it is “worth looking at them closely”.

“Such a decision may challenge the country’s GDP growth which would be a great loss because Poland is a leader of regional development,” says professor Stanisław Gomułka, an economist from Business Centre Club.

A difficult EU partner?

European media are sceptical about the changes in Poland. Germany’s left-leaning Sueddeutsche newspaper fears that Poland may distance itself from Germany and become a “more difficult partner” on the European scene.

The UK's Guardian newspaper suggest the new situation will “create a new dynamic with other European countries and possibly usher in a less welcoming climate for foreign investors”.

"For sure the political climate around Poland will change due to such deep changes on the country’s political scene. Law and Justice politicians have always been more defensive, less open. This is a new chapter of Polish transformation," professor Markowski concludes.

Opinion

Poland: Duda victory isn't what you think

Many European commentators have said Duda's victory means Poland has shifted to the right. But the result is more of a protest against an out-of-touch elite.

Rockstar is main winner in Polish elections

The shock results in Poland’s presidential elections has left the governing Civic Platform party scrambling, as a populist right-wing movement takes hold.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life

Simon Busuttil spent 10 years as an MEP before returning to Malta to lead the opposition. He now fears for his life amid probes into high-level corruption in Malta's government.

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