On October 15, Poland’s democratic opposition won the elections. As described in this newspaper, record-breaking Polish voters put an end to a further breakdown in the rule of law and a continuing anti-European stance on the part of the current government. This choice also led to a landslide in Europe. The new Polish government will not only try to solve the problems in Poland, but will also take a completely different European path.
It is tempting now to breathe a sigh of relief, cheerfully celebrate the victory of the democratic constitutional state, and then return to business as usual. After all, there’s enough going on at the moment. Especially in the Netherlands, where politicians are thinking about other things as elections approach. However, that would be a huge missed opportunity and a strategic mistake. The new Poland would soon become a major European player. Also in times of elections, governing means looking forward.
Finished by the author
John Morin He is Professor of Law and Politics in International Relations at the University of Groningen and Fellow of Law and Public Policy at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
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Over the past eight years, which in Poland have been marked by the collapse of an independent judiciary and a free press for ideological reasons, the Netherlands has been rightly at the forefront. But problems with the rule of law in Poland also obscure something important. Internal concerns, which translated into almost permanent European obstruction, made Poland a sleeping giant bystander in the European Union’s decision-making process. This will undoubtedly change soon.
Once Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party and former president of the European Council, succeeds in forming a new government, Poland will suddenly become a very important European player led by an experienced and particularly pro-European politician. The voice of the new Poland, the fifth-largest EU member state with a population twice that of the Netherlands, will be absolutely decisive on issues that are crucial for the Netherlands, such as EU enlargement, immigration, climate and – indeed – defending the rule of law.
Moreover, Poland will also assume the EU Presidency in early 2025. Exactly when will the new European Commission take office after the European Parliament elections in June 2024 and put forward new proposals.
Central European interests
This is why it is important for the Netherlands to strengthen its direct relations with the new Poland. With Poland taking its European role seriously, the European playing field will change immediately. Central European interests will be presented more prominently. The Netherlands credits the winning Polish opposition with its commitment to the rule of law in recent years.
In addition, the two countries have great common interests due to the numerous activities of the Dutch business community in Poland and a large community of Polish migrant workers who work in our economy. The realistic Dutch-Polish-European axis could constitute a useful addition in Europe to the famous idealistic European-French-German axis.
There is also another chapter starting October 15th. I was in Warsaw for the elections. Since these elections were free but not fair, I expected to have to support Polish judges, lawyers, and scholars in dealing with the new blow. But things turned out differently: At a campaign team meeting for former ombudsman Adam Bodnar – now a senator-elect – people were crying at the polls. Some told me that if the outcome had been different, they would have seriously considered emigrating. Suddenly, it became clear that democracy, the rule of law, and connectivity with Europe become particularly tangible once they are at risk.
Shortly thereafter, late in the evening, I was sitting at the kitchen table with someone whose life had changed radically for the better two hours earlier. Igor Tolia, who was publicly attacked for years and was even illegally suspended for two years by the Polish government, is Poland’s most famous judge. He has recently won several cases before European judges in relation to protecting his independence. Now he looked at me thoughtfully through the steam of his instant coffee.
Enough of the misinformation
What is the most important message sent by the voter? “The Polish voter was Polish but also European,” Tolia said. She has indicated that she has had enough of national polarization and misinformation about Europe. It wants politicians who offer solutions. We have learned as judges that it is important to use Europe as an additional layer of protection. This requires that you also invest in Europe. But Polish democratic forces, especially now that they have won and can take responsibility again, must continue to ensure the rule of law.
On November 22, Dutch voters should also benefit from this.
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