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The End of Europe’s Political Deadlock?
Until now the European Union’s political ambition has been marred by the geopolitical deadlock of Poland and Hungary, who have used their veto powers as a political crux to enable their populist behaviours as the diplomatic pariah states within the union. The results of the Polish general election has revealed that although the Law and Justice party (PiS) are on track to win the largest number of seats with 36.27% of the vote (via the Polish National Electoral Commission), their opposition is due to form a majority coalition and take power. The Civic Platform Party, the political party that has defeated PiS is a centre-right party led by Donald Tusk – the Former President of the European Council. Much to the delight of Brussels, this electoral success is likely to return Poland to the EU sphere, and as a result reinforce national institutions that have been threatened – such as the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. Tusk is working to form a coalition with the centre-right Third Way and leftist Lewica parties, which are forecast to have earnt 14.4% and 8.4% of the vote respectively. This will allow Tusk to form a coalition of more than the 231 seats required for a majority, although these results are not yet finalised, due to the record turnout of more than 70% - the highest since the fall of communism. This highlights the salience of Polish attitudes towards Brussels, amongst other more liberal policies that are expected to be implemented. As a by-product, it is also not unreasonable to believe that Polish military spending may decrease from the current high of 4% of the Polish GDP – the highest amongst all NATO countries. This is due to Duda likely using increased military spending as a way of generating support for the elections.
This beckons the question as to whether Tusk’s government will forego using their national veto in EU Council matters to allow decisions to be taken against Hungary’s Orban. Poland and Hungary had previously mutually assured each other, at the frustration of Brussels, to avoid significant legislative action against either for their democratic backsliding. However, the veto has proven useful politically and may not be willingly given up, especially by junior coalition parties – although it is only natural that the government takes on a more Pro-EU stance to reflect the public opinion. The Pew Research Centre (2022) suggests that 89% of poles have a favourable view of the European Union, with young poles having as high as 94% support. This creates the groundwork for the incoming government to radically realign itself – and by doing so creates further opportunity for reform in the EU. This reform would likely be focused around scrapping the veto system, which has frequently stalled decision making, and for further enlargement – to potentially grant membership to candidate countries in the Balkans. This would garner support from the adequately named “Group of Friends on Qualified Majority Voting”, which currently consists of Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain.
To complicate the matter, Slovakia has recently elected Fico’s left-wing populist government which beckons to replace Poland’s PiS party as a means for Hungary to enjoy veto protection. Hungary and Slovakia are both part of the Visegrád Group, and enjoy high levels of diplomatic relations, suggesting that such a diplomatic alliance may develop, although it currently has not come to fruition. However, it does not appear that Slovakia will simply adopt the political outlook that Poland possessed, nor that Poland will completely transform overnight. New relationships, political and diplomatic, take time to develop and to mature and, whilst Orbán maintains power in Hungary, the situation is unlikely to radically change.
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