The Smolensk tragedy was an event of enormous importance for the Poles, and may also be a key event for the EU as it awaits the results of the Presidential election. How will the deaths affect the result of this vote brought forward by three months, which at one point had looked like a shoo-in for the ruling Civic Platform’s Bronislaw Komorowski?
He is now facing the late Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, whose PiS party had looked out of the running until Lech’s death boosted it in the polls. Jaroslaw’s campaign slogan is “Poland is the most important.” Komorowski is far more pro-European, and wants early adoption of the euro single currency.
The accident has brought two fomer sworn enemies closer: Poland and Russia, and one of the stated ambitions of Poland’s EU presidency, in a year’s time, is to improve relations with the east.
“The Poles feel this acutely, the need to stabilise their relationships with the east, particularly with Russia, and to bring Russia into a more regular dialogue with the European community, with NATO,” says the EastWest Institute’s Andrew Nagorski.
Poland has long been considered pro-American above being pro-European. It hosts US missiles, and its EU membership in 2004 came five years after joining the NATO club. But that is not the whole picture says Poland’s representative at the EU
“The EU is where our future challenges lie. NATO membership was dictated more by our past fears, but both represent our integration into the western world’s institutions.”
Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski agrees;
“I think the circumstances have changed. The USA no longer feels threatened by a European defence identity, quite the contrary, they would like to see a more capable europe to share the burden.”
Poland’s European identity is also bound up in its adoption of the Euro. Warsaw had previously said it would like to make the change in 2012, but the economic crisis has pushed that date back.
Jan Tombinski explains why;
“Two years ago we committed to announcing a timetable but today we’d prefer to wait a little while to benefit from a more stable and confident eurozone, and build the best entry conditions we can. I also don’t think that today the eurozone is ready to take us in.”
Where Poland stands in Europe depends to a large extent on Sunday’s election, because the Polish presidency can veto legislation, and has power in the realms of defence and foreign affairs.