Key Challenges

Shifting pre-election rivalries
With the 2023 parliamentary elections ahead, political majorities in Poland are in flux. PiS is still leading in the polls, but inside the United Right, the PiS-led alliance, coherence has been crumbling. The newly established centrist party Polska 2005 presents a challenge to both PiS and PO. Much will depend on how the rivalries between Zbigniew Ziobro and Mateusz Morawiecki (the main contenders to succeed PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński) on the one hand, and between Donald Tusk and Szymon Hołownia on the other will evolve. As the election of the new Polish commissioner on human rights, Marcin Wiącek, in July 2021 has shown, collaboration among the opposition can function and pay out.
Welfare policies creating budget pressure
The PiS government’s current version of its populist economic and social policies, the so-called Polish Deal, represents a challenge for both the governing coalition and the opposition. The combination of additional public spending and tax cuts has further increased budgetary pressures. The tax changes brought about by the “Polish Deal” will hurt many small entrepreneurs and parts of the middle class (i.e., politically vocal and economically important groups). At the same time, however, the government’s measures for pensioners and families resonate well with large parts of the population. Thus, the opposition parties face the problem of how to deal with PiS’s social welfare legacy during the election campaign as well as after a potential victory at the polls.
Deteriorating relations with EU; EU funds are strong enticement
The future economic and political development of Poland has a strong international dimension. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, relations between Poland and the European Union had further deteriorated. On the one hand, the European Commission has opened a new infringement procedure, has imposed hefty fees on Poland for its non-compliance with decisions by the Court of Justice of the European Union, and has withheld payments from the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. On the other hand, the PiS government has so far largely ignored admonitions by the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. The October 2021 ruling of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal questioning the supremacy of EU law has even nourished discussions about a “Polexit.” There are signs that some politicians from the ruling coalition are aware of the dangers of a further confrontation with the European Union and the international community. President Duda’s veto of the government’s controversial legislation on media ownership (“lex TVN”) at the end of 2021 is a case in point. It might also indicate that the president will eventually try to take a more independent position. For Poland’s highly Europhile population, of which 80–90% supports EU membership, a rapprochement with the European Union would be good news. Such a rapprochement would also pave the way to the €35 billion targeted for Poland within the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This money is very much needed to strengthen Poland’s economic recovery and modernization, and limit the country’s fiscal problems.

Party Polarization

Differing interpretations
of recent history;
polarization continues
to grow
The Polish party system used to be dominated by two parties that are both rooted in the Solidarność movement – the centrist Civic Platform (PO), and the populist-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS). The two parties take different approaches toward socioeconomic issues. PO believes in the market as a regulator and sees the provision of equal opportunities for people as a primary goal, while the PiS advocates for greater state interference and broader social welfare. More important than these policy differences, however, are the two parties’ different views of Poland’s post-communist history and differing conceptions of democracy. Whereas PO sees Poland’s economic and political development since 1989 as being a successful transition to a market economy and a liberal democracy, PiS argues that the break with the communist past has been incomplete and that the common people have been betrayed by the liberal elites. Consequently, PiS calls for further efforts to rid the country and all state institutions of anything that has any tinge of communism. Whereas PO subscribes to compromise and pluralism, PiS has sought to eliminate checks and balances. The political polarization between these two camps has been exacerbated by the fact that the PiS government has ruthlessly used its parliamentary majority to expand its power and implement its own projects (Markowski 2019). Exploiting people’s fears and portraying liberals as a threat to Polish society has been central to the PiS’s electoral strategy. The growing party polarization is illustrated by the fact that policy differences between PiS and PO voters in the 2019 parliamentary elections were much greater than in 2015 or, even more so, in 2011 (Markowski 2020).
New centrist party emerging
While the polarization between the governing coalition and the bulk of the parliamentary opposition has remained strong, both political camps have experienced some shifts. PiS has been challenged by the greater assertiveness of its coalition partners – Porozuminie and Solidarna Polska – and the parliamentary representation of a new right-wing and euroskeptic formation, the Freedom and Independence Confederation (KON). With Polska 2050, established by Szymon Hołownia who came third in the 2020 presidential election, a new centrist party has emerged. It has enjoyed relatively strong support in the polls and has gained parliamentary representation through the defection of members of parliament from other parties. (Score: 4)
Markowski, R. (2020): Plurality support for democratic decay: the Polish parliamentary election of 2019, in: West European Politics 47 (7): 1513-1525.

Markowski, R. (2019): Creating Authoritarian Clientelism: Poland After 2015, in: Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 11(1): 111-132.
Back to Top