At Large

New Team in Poland

An economically freer Poland is now less likely to be an unhesitating tool of Washington.

By 11.2.07

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There's a new dominant party in Poland that is not automatically going to approve the much argued-about American anti-missile base in that country. It would appear that the future of the U.S. basing to protect Europe from a possible Iranian missile attack shifts from Putin's propagandistic objections to the new reality of Poland's elected government.

It was a victory for old time political debating when the televised contest between Poland's dogmatic and vindictive prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, squared off against the steadfastly centrist liberal Donald Tusk, head of the opposition party, Civic Platform. To everyone's surprise the normally reticent Mr. Tusk reportedly blew away his usually domineering opponent.

The clear television victory carried on to the general election. Led by huge numbers of younger voters who detested the bumptious Kaczynski twins who have held the offices of prime minister and president, the Polish electorate turned out in droves to vote against the continuation of the domination of the quixotically led Law and Justice Party of the two brothers.

Most surprising was the shift in the conservative middle class of Polish cities from the L&J Party to the CP. So shocked and disappointed in the personal rebuff to his family was President Lech Kaczynski that he withheld the traditional congratulations that is expected from the head of state to the new head of government.

If Tusk and his Civic Platform can arrange an effective coalition, Poland will be moved to a more cooperative and diplomatically balanced relation with their European Union partners. At the same time, however, Warsaw's new leadership is expected to be more questioning of Washington's plans to base a ten anti-missile battery in Poland.

Along with a platform that included withdrawing Polish forces from Iraq, Tusk has indicated that the only way he and his party could approve the American basing scheme would be after far more serious controls and advantages given to his country. This new tough stance, however, hasn't seemed yet to bother the White House.

The definition of "liberal" in the character of Civic Platform and Donald Tusk clearly carries classical liberal connotations and not left-leaning government ownership of business and industry with which the term is usually associated. The party's stated desire is to pursue energetically a privatization policy of over 1,000 state industries, something in which the supposedly more right wing Law and Justice Party was quite uninterested. For this reason Tusk has received strong support from business that is looking forward to a swift growth of the Warsaw Stock Exchange.

If they are to be taken at their word, Civic Platform wants to take serious steps in reforming taxation by introducing a flat tax of 15%, corporate and personal. At the same time they have urged the adoption within five years of the euro as the national currency. All in all the impression being given by Donald Tusk and his senior advisors is that they intend to act as a catalyst for private business development and investment. But here they have a problem.

Civic Platform with 209 seats in parliament is still short of the 231 necessary for a clear majority in the 460-member body. Negotiations are underway with the Peasants Party and its pivotal 31 seats to join in the coalition. This is going to be a difficult task because the normally leftist PP will drive a hard bargain when it comes to cutting federal subsidies and other state-supported instruments.

Under the new national leadership there can be expected little change in Warsaw's attitude toward Moscow. Unless there is a dramatic shift by Putin, being held hostage by Russia's energy supply dominance will result only in Tusk's leadership remaining firmly in an unbending attitude.

Donald Tusk's good English language skills and non-confrontational personal manner will be a pleasant change from the limited ability, or indeed willingness, to communicate which has marked the Kaczynski twins political style with the EU. This should be greeted with applause by the Germans who believed, perhaps rightly, that they have been ill treated by the brothers who appeared committed to reliving Germany's World War II crushing occupation of Poland.

The assertiveness of which the Kaczynskis have made such political capital will not be necessarily absent from the new government, according to most European commentators. Nonetheless, Civic Platform as a party is quite divided on many issues. In addition to needing votes outside of its own party members to pass legislation, PM Tusk may be expected to have difficulty keeping his own members in line.

The bottom line for Washington will be that Poland will continue to be a loyal member of the European community of nations while remaining characteristically committed to its own full sovereignty. In the same manner Warsaw's pro-American instincts and tradition will be tempered by its own self-interest. Poles never have enjoyed being anyone's vassal, nor even being perceived as such. Certainly they will not begin now.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.