The power shift in Warsaw will be good for the European Union and less good for Washington, according to observers around Europe, who seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief that Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was so decisively beaten on Sunday by his opponent Donald Tusk.
Tusk is a free-market man, head of the business-friendly Civic Platform, who has promised to pull Polish troops from Iraq and is widely expected to treat leaders in Europe with more finesse than Kaczynski. "I am confident that there will be fruitful cooperation with the next Polish government," said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, according to Reuters. "I'm pleased by the democratic process in Poland."
The Kaczynski twins, Jaroslaw and his twin brother Lech -- who will serve out his term as president until 2010 -- have steered a stubborn, populist, EU-skeptic course ever since Jaroslaw became prime minister in 2005.
On Monday, Barroso wasn't the only one in Brussels expressing relief. "Poland can now take up its proper position within the EU where it will find goodwill on all sides," said Martin Schulz, head of the Socialist group in the European Parliament according to Reuters. "Poland's future lies in working closely with their European friends rather than adopting anti-European positions at virtually every opportunity."
Inside Poland, Lech Walesa -- former Polish President and head of the Solidarity movement which helped bring down Communism in the country -- was even more outspoken. "We saved our honor," he said on TVN24 television. "The winning party, I think, will focus on programs to take advantage of as much as possible in the European Union, and at the same time will improve our image."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had no immediate statement Monday morning, but she's known to be a friend of Tusk's. A government spokesman said Berlin was hoping for a quick phase of coalition-building in Warsaw. "We have an enormous interest in good, close, neighborly relations with Poland," said spokesman Thomas Steg, according to the dpa news agency. Coalition talks dragged on for months after the last Polish election in late 2005, while Merkel suffered through a German coalition-building drama at around the same time.
'An un-praiseworthy chapter'
EU leaders finally reached a compromise last Friday -- two days before the latest election -- on the so-called Reform Treaty, a new draft of the European constitution which the Kaczynskis had long opposed because of its voting structure. A European voting system based on population size, they argued, hurt Poland, and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a radio interviewer last June -- during German-led negotiations on the Treaty -- that Poland would have almost twice as many people if Hitler hadn't invaded in 1939.
The remark ruffled feathers in Brussels and Berlin, churned up old resentments in Poland, and summed up the Kaczynskis' populism. Reacting on Monday to Tusk's victory, a German paper called the Thüringer Allgemeine wrote, "Poland still isn't lost ... Many of Jaroslaw Kaczynski's fellow citizens were no longer persuaded by his distinctly religious-nationalist politics."
The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in Switzerland took an even harder line. "It's to be hoped that Poland's future government will end an un-praiseworthy chapter in Polish politics," the paper wrote. "What the (Kaczynski) cabinet achieved in its last phase under the motto 'Working for a new morality and fighting against corruption,' beggars description. Spying, denunciations, arbitrary arrests -- these sorts of practices aren't worthy of a constitutional state."
A controversial German politician named Erika Steinbach, president of the German Federation of Expellees, also told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Tusk's victory was "good for Poland, good for Germany and good for Europe." But Steinbach is a polarizing figure because her organization commemorates the forced expulsion during World War II of ethnic Germans from land that now belongs to Poland. "Our neighbor Poland will do us a great favor if they're simply open to discussion on this topic," she said.
Bavaria's State Minister for Europe, Markus Söder, was less complicated. "The Poles have decided that enmity with Germany is the wrong way forward," he said.