Choosing a president: Two visions of Poland’s future
One favours Washington, the other Brussels and they differ on a controversial reform of the judiciary: the two candidates in Poland’s presidential election on Sunday are at polar opposites on a number of key issues.
President Andrzej Duda, who is supported by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, is being challenged by Rafal Trzaskowski from the Civic Platform (PO) opposition party in the run-off vote.
Here are some of the main differences between the two 48-year-olds on foreign policy, security, and the constitution — the core presidential powers.
– Foreign policy –
During his five-year term, Duda has favoured relations with the United States and in particular with President Donald Trump above ties with the European Union.
Duda has said the relationship with Washington is “the most important” for his country and has called the EU, which Poland joined in 2004, “an imaginary community from which we have little to gain”.
Four days before the first round of the election, Duda visited Washington — the first foreign leader to do so since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump praised him for doing “an incredible job”.
Trzaskowski is known instead as a europhile who has worked in Brussels and previously served as Europe minister.
He has criticised the “destruction” of relations with Brussels during Duda’s presidency and has promised to “restore Poland’s position within the EU”.
Asked which foreign capital he would visit first if elected president, he has said he would first invite the presidents of France and Germany to Poland.
– Security –
Poland has prioritised arms purchases from the United States throughout Duda’s presidency, buying F-35 fighter jets, Patriot missiles, and Black Hawk helicopters.
Warsaw also cancelled a contract with Airbus Helicopters, which damaged relations with France.
Trzaskowski has said the modernisation of Poland’s armed forces has been “frozen” under Duda and is critical of what he calls “purges” in the army.
He has promised a “national security audit”.
Both candidates support the presence of US and NATO troops in Poland, seen as a bulwark against Russia.
They have both also promised to raise defence spending to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 — above the 2.0 percent minimum asked for by NATO.
Both are also strongly in favour of European sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
– Constitution –
The reforms of Poland’s judicial system supported by Duda and the governing party have been heavily criticised by the opposition and the EU, which says they violate both the constitution and European standards.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova earlier this year called them a “demolition”.
Since 2017, Brussels has launched several infraction procedures over the reforms, which Duda says are vital for combating corruption and the influence of former communist officials in Poland’s justice system.
Trzaskowski has criticised the “erosion of the state, the dismantling of public institutions and the trampling of the constitution” under Duda.
He has said he will abide by rulings from the European Court of Justice against the reforms.
During the campaign, Duda has also used anti-gay rhetoric to present himself as a defender of traditional Catholic family values, comparing “LGBT ideology” to a new form of communist indoctrination.
His rival has spoken out in favour of gay rights during his time as Warsaw mayor and says he would favour recognising same-sex civil partnerships although, like Duda, is against adoption by same-sex couples.