This past weekend, Civic Platform’s (PO) Bronislaw Komorowski narrowly beat Law and Justice’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the second round of voting for the Polish Presidency. After a race that was closer than most pundits were predicting, Komorowski will formally take control of the presidential office in August, consolidating the leadership of PO Prime Minister, Donald Tusk.
The early election was called following the tragic death of President Lech Kaczynski in April. His twin brother Jaroslaw and leader of the Center-Right Law and Justice Party performed far better than expected. Komorowski’s victory means that the Tusk government will now be forced to make good on its promise of economic reform and spending cuts, which PO had accused President Kaczynski of holding up. These reforms, however, are likely to be unpopular especially in the run-up to next year’s scheduled Parliamentary elections.
Foreign policy will be deeply impacted by the new one-party government. Next July, Poland will hold the Presidency of the EU, and both Prime Minister Tusk and President Komorowski are deeply committed to further European integration. PO supports the EU’s burgeoning defense identity and is planning to take Poland into the failing single European currency as soon as possible. Whereas President Kaczynski was seen as a stalwart Atlanticist, Komorowski is seen more as a resolute Europeanist. As head of the Polish armed forces, he has stated that he wants to end Poland’s commitment to the mission in Afghanistan by 2012. His focus is also likely to fall more on warming relations with Russia, than with shoring up the Polish-American relationship.
Poland is one of America’s closest allies in Eastern Europe, and has emerged as a regional leader and significant NATO ally. However, ties between Washington and Warsaw remained strained following President Obama’s withdrawal from the Third Site missile defense agreement—announced on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Komorowski’s election and commitment to strengthening ties with Brussels means that both Administrations should be mindful not to neglect the transatlantic relationship. President Obama is yet to visit Poland, despite multiple trips to ‘old’ Europe, Turkey, and other NATO allies. Now is as good an opportunity as any.