Europe relieved as Poland's Kaczynskis lose grip

WARSAW Mon Oct 22, 2007 12:41pm EDT

1 of 14. A worker covers an electoral poster of Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Health Minister Zbigniew Religa (R) of the conservative Law and Justice party PIS with an advertisement in Warsaw October 22, 2007. The centre-right Civic Platform of Donald Tusk defeated Kaczynski in Sunday's general election after a record number of Poles turned up at the ballot box to reject social conservatism and isolationism.

Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Many European leaders gasped with relief on Monday after Poland's Kaczynski twins suffered an election defeat that should swing the country's pro-Washington outlook more towards Brussels.

Donald Tusk's Civic Platform opposition, a center-right party that plans to patch up relations with Europe and withdraw troops from the U.S.-led force in Iraq, pulled off a crushing victory in a parliamentary election on Sunday.

"It is a good signal for Europe. And things will surely get a bit easier between Germany and Poland," European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering told reporters in Berlin.

"One is always happy when a committed European becomes head of a new government."

During two years in power, the conservative Kaczynskis -- one is president and the other prime minister -- have tumbled into quarrels with EU partners on everything from a new treaty for the bloc to relations with Russia to cod fish quotas to a day to mark abolition of the death penalty.

The lowest point of many lows was when the former child film stars invoked Poland's suffering under World War Two Nazi occupation to argue for a bigger share of EU voting rights.

"I am confident that there will be fruitful cooperation with the next Polish government," Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union's executive arm, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is likely to be replaced by Tusk. His brother Lech, the president, does not face an election until 2010, but pro-EU parties are expected to have enough votes to block his power to veto legislation.

"In terms of style and language the new approach will be completely different. Civic Platform will not make a dramatic change of policy, but they will be most welcome in Europe," said Lena Bobinska of Warsaw's Institute of Public Affairs.

"Probably the policy will be less pro-American, but they (relations with Washington) don't have to be worse than before. Poland's relations with Germany will improve and that is very good for the U.S. It wants a strong Poland in Europe."

HISTORY

With a world view rooted in Poland's suffering at the hands of centuries-old foes Germany and Russia, the Kaczynskis have always made clear they saw the United States as the only ally that matters.

The Civic Platform has said it wants to bring home the 900 Polish troops in Iraq by early next year. It has not said it would end the mission in Afghanistan.

The party has emphasised that it intends to toughen Poland's negotiating position over plans to site installations for a controversial U.S. "missile shield" on Polish soil -- although not to stop those plans.

"The relationship between the United States and Poland is a very close one regardless of the composition of the government," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit in Kiev.

"We clearly are hopeful that the kind of cooperation we have enjoyed recently both in Iraq and Afghanistan ... and in moving toward negotiations and an agreement on missile defence will continue as before," he said.

Moscow, which strongly opposes the missile shield, will be pleased by the election blow to the Kaczynskis.

Poland's relations with its former Soviet overlord have never been very warm since the end of communism, but got even frostier under the Kaczynskis -- complicated by the missile shield, energy issues and a Russian ban on Polish meat.

"Today positive signals are coming from Warsaw about the need to overcome stagnation in relations," said Vasily Likhachev, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of parliament.

"These signals will result not only in improving dialogue between Moscow and Warsaw but also in improving European dialogue."

(Additional reporting by Claudia Kade in Berlin, Marcin Grajewski in Brussels, Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow)

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