Polish voters have clearly rejected closer integration of the EU in a vote that could just help David Cameron
Although the party is not anti-European Union (as some lazy commentators tend to suggest), it is very much sceptical of deeper European integration as a desirable end in of itself, and it also wants Poland to assert its national interest more forcefully in a number of key areas ranging from energy and climate policies to the EU’s stance towards Russia. The key point is that while Poles still overwhelmingly back EU membership, they want a greater degree of control over its development and direction.
A PiS led government will also break with the previous Civic Platform (PO)-led government’s approach to the refugee crisis which tried to accommodate expectations of “European solidarity” with a sceptical public. The issue dominated the last couple of months of the campaign and the results illustrate there is no appetite to cede sovereignty in such a sensitive area.
A crucial test will be whether PiS will accept the 7,000 or so refugees Poland is due to receive via the relocation scheme agreed last month. Although the decision is legally binding, the government will need to proactively make arrangements to take in these people and it remains to be seen whether PiS will attempt to put in place practical obstacles and what the consequences of that would be.
Overall, the results are good news for David Cameron as they strengthen his argument that EU is at risk of overreaching itself and that it needs to be reformed to become more accountable to its citizens.
PiS shares Mr Cameron’s desire to reassert the primacy of nation states within the EU over the traditional pro-integration drive led by France and Germany. Polish ambivalence towards to single currency also makes it increasingly clear that ‘ever closer union’ is not the desired end-point of every single member-state. PiS could be a strong ally for Cameron in his bid to achieve a more flexible EU with differing levels of integration, including safeguards for non-euro member states.
However, that is not to say that Poland’s new government and the British Conservatives will see eye-to-eye on every EU issue. For example, it is not a given that PiS will unambiguously support the UK’s economic agenda of cutting EU red tape, expanding the single market and striking free trade agreements with other global economies – the party’s policies are more protectionist and interventionist than the Tories’.
Most fundamentally, the two sides will continue to clash over the issue of EU migrants’ access to benefits, and PiS will want to avoid the perception that it has “sold out” Polish expat voters, not least given that Pawel Kukiz, the ex-rock star whose motley populist party came third, made such voters’ concerns a central theme of his campaign.
That said, now that the elections are out of the way, PiS could adopt a more pragmatic stance while as a result of the refugee crisis, Poland has experienced its own heated migration debate which should at the very least lead to a greater understanding of the dilemma Mr Cameron is facing. Given how central this issue is to the credibility of the renegotiation it is not inconceivable there could be some room for compromise, and Mr Cameron is entitled to point out that greater national control over welfare spending is a good example of the kind of EU that PiS claims to support.
Pawel Swidlicki is an analyst at Open Europe