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Poland’s October 2015 elections: possible implications for Poland’s engagement with the EU

20 Oct 2015


Expectations are high as Polish citizens prepare to go to the polls to elect a new government on 25 October 2015. If the Law and Justice party win the parliamentary elections, they will have succeeded in shifting the Polish political system further to the right, eclipsing the centre-right Civic Platform in both the legislature and the executive.

For the past four years, Poland has experienced political stability under the guidance of a Civic Platform majority government led first by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and then by Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz with Bronislaw Komorowski from the Civic Platform as President until May of this year. In parallel to this domestic political stability, Poland’s stature in the European Union has grown from one of ten ‘new member states’ to that of a regional power with a significant voice in the EU alongside France and Germany. The Civic Platform party has strived to embed Poland in the Western European tradition and to take on a larger role in the EU. The appointment of former Prime Minister Donald Tusk as President of the European Council can be seen as a reflection of their success in this regard.

In May 2015, Andrzej Duda, of the Law and Justice party, was elected President of the Republic of Poland. His term of office began on 6 August 2015. If President Duda’s Law and Justice party also emerges victorious from the parliamentary and Senate elections later this week, Poland will be in a very different political situation than it was at the start of 2015, because of the diverging views of the two parties, particularly in relation to Poland’s role within the European Union.

The Civic Platform and the Law and Justice parties differ considerably on the subject of Poland’s engagement with the European Union. While the Civic Platform is firmly rooted in its larger European Parliament grouping, the EPP, and considers EU policy to be a central part of the Polish policy-making process, the Law and Justice party has been highly critical of the Civic Platform government’s reliance on the EU.

On the whole the Law and Justice party takes more of a eurosceptic, atlanticist approach to foreign policy.  If the Law and Justice party were to succeed in the general elections in October, it is plausible that Poland would take a step back from EU affairs to focus instead on domestic and regional concerns. The importance of regional security in Eastern Europe, which has been heightened by the conflict in Ukraine, could motivate a potential Law and Justice government to prioritise stronger relations with the United States and NATO to the detriment of Polish-EU relations. Since taking office, President Duda has sought to rekindle Poland’s relationship with the U.S. and to reduce reliance on EU structures, especially in relation to security and defence. Although the current coalition government recently announced a boost in defence spending of eighteen percent, the  Law and Justice party, if elected, is expected to expand upon these developments to further increase the country’s defence budget.

Aside from defence policy and expenditure, the two main Polish parties also differ on their views towards European economic and monetary policy.  The Law and Justice party is opposed to Poland joining the Eurozone, arguing that the root of the Greek crisis was the country’s adoption of the euro and that Poland would be in the same situation if it followed Civic Platform government’s advice and joined the currency union. On the whole, Poland weathered the European financial crisis well, largely as a result of having its own currency. The opposition Law and Justice party uses this point to justify distancing itself from the prospect of further European integration.

Polish public opinion towards the EU, although historically high, has declined in recent months. According to Eurostat, the positive view of Polish citizens of the EU has dropped by 8% from 61% to 53% since Autumn 2014, making it the largest decrease in Member State confidence during this period, according to Eurostat.[1] Some analysts argue that euroscepticism in Poland is reflected in the number of Polish citizens who protested against EU quotas on refugees in September 2015. In isolation, this is probably not surprising given the homogenous demographic composition of Polish society, but when seen alongside similar movements in the neighbouring Visegrad countries, or as part of a wider trend of far-right sentiment, it could be a worrying development for the future of European integration. Media reports suggest that the opposition Law and Justice party are likely to take advantage of this discontent with both the EU and the current governing coalition in the run up to polling day. 

Some commentators have already written off the prospects of a second term in office for the current Civic Platform government, but according to Aleks Szczerbiak, an expert on Polish politics at the University of Sussex, the outcome of October’s parliamentary election is more open than many observers think. According to Szczerbiak, although unlikely, it is not inconceivable that Civic Platform could remain in office.[2] Aside from polarising opinions on the subject of migration, the Law and Justice party may struggle to attain an overall majority in order to form a government. Notwithstanding this, a recent opinion poll from 15 October 2015 indicates that the Law and Justice party remains the most likely candidate to form a government in November 2015. The Law and Justice party are, at present, tallying at 36% with a 14% lead over the Civic Platform party, which is running at 22%.[3] While the future remains unpredictable, such opinion polls and the favourable results which led to the election of a President from the Law and Justice party in May this year, indicate the possibility that both Poland’s political landscape and its relationship with the EU may be transformed by the end of 2015.



As an independent forum, the Institute does not express any opinions of its own. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author.

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