Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Tusk voted in as PM, expected to attend EU summit this week

  • Tusk's coalition secured 248 votes, whereas the PiS, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, lagged behind with 181 votes (Photo: Piotr Drabik)
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Donald Tusk (66), a former head of the European Council, and the leader of the opposition to Poland's right-wing, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) government has been voted in as the country's new prime minister terminating PiS's eight-year term in power.

Donald Tusk looks set to be sworn in by Poland's president Andrzej Duda on Wednesday (13 December) which means that he will be attending the EU summit later this week.

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The vote in the Sejm, the country's parliament, on Monday, saw Tusk win 248 votes from his Civic Coalition (KO) together with the centrist Third Way (TD) and left-wing Lewica, while the PiS led by Jarosław Kaczyński (74) – which voted against Tusk — trailed with 181 votes. The nationalist Konfederacja with 18 members of parliament chose to oppose both the Tusk-led coalition and PiS and voted against the new governing coalition.

Lech Wałęsa (80), Poland's legendary Solidarity leader, who had been erased from Poland's school books by the PiS authorities, was in the parliament for the debate and was applauded by the opposition coalition parties.

The vote ended PiS's term in power which saw many rule of law infringements, fraught relations with the EU, multiple cases of nepotism and widespread fraud in state-owned companies and PiS's capture of the public media.

But the party still had 7.5 million Poles voting for them at the October 15 national election. This support should hold up for local elections in the spring and next year's European Parliament election.

Mateusz Morawiecki, the outgoing prime minister, on Monday made a last-minute bid for support in parliament with a speech which saw him ditch many of PiS's more radical nationalist policies.

He replaced them with a forward-looking modernising agenda for Poland which he hoped would serve as a blueprint for the next four years in opposition. He also appealed for an end to the polarisation which had divided Poles over the last eight years.

But several interventions in the debate by PiS's Kaczyński, who warned that the EU was bent on depriving Poland of its sovereignty in favour of control by 'Brussels and Berlin', signalled that there would be no significant change in PiS's polarising policies now that they were in opposition.

At the end of the debate, after Tusk denied the charge often repeated by PiS propaganda that he sympathised with German policies, Kaczyński took the floor to say "I know that you are a German agent".

Tusk's proposed cabinet which includes Radosław Sikorski (60), currently an MEP, who will return as foreign minister, now faces the task of restoring a working relationship with Ukraine amid a row over access to Poland's road transport market to the war-torn country's lorry companies.

Other immediate challenges are to establish several parliamentary commissions of enquiry which will examine suspected wrongdoing by former PiS officials and rebuild the independence of the justice system all of which are demanded by the ruling coalition's supporters.

Tusk has also promised to restore freedom of expression in Poland's public service media "within days of taking power". This is crucial for the new coalition, as Polish radio and TV's one-sided news and comment programmes have been important for building support for PiS in the last eight years.

Poland's new ruling coalition, which together garnered 11 million votes in the election, looks set to stay together as they face two elections next year.

Also, the coalition has to cope with president Duda, a PiS supporter, who has the right to veto new legislation and could thus paralyse government policies. His term ends in mid-2025.

PiS support also looks to be stable as the party will constantly be reminding its voters of the generous social funding PiS provided them when in power. In parliament on Monday, scores of PiS deputies repeatedly referred to how much money their party had pumped into small towns and rural areas in a sign that winning the forthcoming local government elections is a priority.

But in the longer term, PiS faces the question of whether it can survive merely by following the polarising political approach favoured by Kaczyński or the more moderate and forward-looking modernising policies which Morawiecki, the outgoing prime minister, unveiled in parliament on Monday.

Author bio

Krzysztof Bobinski is a board member of the Society of Journalists, in Warsaw, an independent NGO. He was the Financial Times correspondent in Warsaw from 1976 to 2000. He worked at the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs (PISM) and was co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

Opinion

Tusk's difficult in-tray on Poland's judicial independence

What is obvious is that PiS put in place a set of interlocking safeguards for itself which, even after their political defeat in Poland, will render it very difficult for the new government to restore the rule of law.

Investigation

Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

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