WARSAW (Reuters) - A presidential election in Poland due to be settled in a run-off ballot on July 12 could become a turning point in the country’s troubled relations with the European Union.
The centrist mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, appears to have a shot at unseating conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda, who together with the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government has presided over a deepening rift with Brussels.
Under Duda and PiS, which won national elections in 2015 and 2019, Warsaw has frequently stood alone or in a minority on a range of policy areas that the EU aims to decide by consensus.
While the president has only limited influence on policy of the PiS-led government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a win by Trzaskowski could precipitate a shift.
Warsaw’s drift towards the “illiberal democracy” of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has alarmed western EU members.
In 2017, Poland became the first EU nation to be put under the so-called Article 7 procedure for persistently flouting democratic norms, particularly in its efforts to reform the judiciary. The EU says PiS has politicised courts, and it may impose fines against Warsaw over the issue.
Poland is trying to fight against proposals to make EU budget funding conditional on respecting rule of law norms.
The nationalist PiS government has been at the forefront of efforts by eastern countries to block EU plans to share out the burden of hosting asylum seekers.
Wealthy northern European states such as Germany, and southern states that receive the bulk of migrants, have criticised the ex-communist east for refusing to help while benefiting from generous EU financial aid.
Warsaw’s reluctance to phase out coal has become one of the major flash points in its relations with the EU.
Poland was the only EU state to refuse to commit to the bloc’s 2050 climate neutrality goal in December 2019.
Poland’s western EU allies have expressed concern that its close ties with U.S. President Donald Trump encourage defiance against Brussels.
Poland briefly sought to persuade its western peers to pay more heed to U.S. security concerns over Iran, although it appears to have stepped back to join EU consensus.
Diplomats have complained that Warsaw has become less active in efforts to foster democracy in Ukraine, where Poland was once a leader in implementing EU policy.
Poland has been wary of the EU’s flagship defence pact referred to as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), designed in part to encourage post-Brexit solidarity. Poland has placed more emphasis on its transatlantic relationship, viewing the United States as crucial to defending Europe from Russia.
Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna-Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Peter Graff