BERLIN — Politicians across Europe cheered Sunday’s projected victory by Polish opposition forces — especially in Germany, the favorite target of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party.
“I expect that Poland will become a constructive partner and that the change in government will strengthen its standing in Europe,” Terry Reintke, a German MEP who is co-leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, told German radio. “Poland is an extremely relevant democracy for Europe.“
German-Polish relations have suffered in recent years amid persistent demands from Law and Justice (PiS) leaders that Germany pay more than €1 trillion in war reparations.
Anti-German sentiment also fueled the party’s election campaign, including regular accusations that Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition Civic Coalition and likely next prime minister, was a “German agent.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sought to improve relations last year, traveling to Warsaw on Germany’s national day as a sign of respect for an important ally and neighbor.
Instead of welcoming the gesture, however, Poland’s leadership presented her with a bill for war crimes.
Given that history of belligerence, which was also palpable during former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure, German politicians from across the spectrum called on their government to seize the moment and take the relationship in a new direction.
“German should start an initiative to revive bilateral relations if there’s a change in government,” Social Democratic MP Metin Hakverdi, a member of the German parliament’s EU committee, wrote on X, adding that strengthening security cooperation should be the focus. “Within the NATO framework, the message should be: Germany feels responsible for Poland’s security!”
Katja Leikert, a member of the German parliament with the center-right Christian Democrats who sits on its foreign relations committee, said the election results “give hope” to Europe.
“To once again have a pro-democratic and pro-European government in Warsaw would be of enormous importance to Europe, especially in this time of crisis,” she said on X.
Rolf Nikel, who bore the brunt of PiS anti-German posturing for many years as Germany’s ambassador to Warsaw, was even more effusive.
“Polish voters have created spring in the middle of October,” he told German public television.
The sentiment was echoed in Brussels where opposition leader Tusk is a well-known figure, having served as president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019.
EU officials and experts are hopeful that Poland’s likely new center-right government will play a more constructive role in Brussels.
“The result should lead to better functioning of the EU where the EU truly reflects its values and principles, particularly solidarity and responsibility,” said an EU diplomat, granted anonymity to speak freely on sensitive internal matters. “The rejection of far-right policies should serve as an example to other people, and this should hopefully lead to the EU becoming stronger in the face of geopolitical threats.”
Tusk will have “tremendous agency in the European Council,” according to Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director of the Eurasia Group consultancy in Europe. He could fill “something of a vacuum in the European Council, of a strong leader who can push the debate forward,” Rahman said.
Tusk’s return to power in Warsaw also comes as a boost for the European People’s Party (EPP), the powerful center-right alliance from which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also hails.
Although the conservative group has the most seats in the European Parliament, its representatives have been driven out of power in large EU countries such as Germany, undermining the EPP’s influence within the European Council where EU leaders gather.
“[Tusk] will be the most important EPP leader” at the European Council, said an EU official, likewise granted anonymity. “EPP has many leaders in [the Council] — but Tusk will be the only one from a big country,” the diplomat said.
The outcome of the Polish election shifts the Council’s balance towards the center — and could ultimately enhance von der Leyen’s prospects of winning a second term as Commission chief after the European election next June.
“Tusk doing well, and the EPP performing well will reinforce the chances of a centrist majority” between EPP, centrist Renew and the center-left Socialists and Democrats, said Rahman.
Matthew Karnitschnig reported from Berlin while Gregorio Sorgi and Jacopo Barigazzi reported from Brussels.