Donald Tusk is elected Poland’s new PM: Former EU leader (and David Cameron’s old rival) vows to ‘right the wrongs’ amid return to power after eight years of right-wing rule
Former EU chief Donald Tusk has been elected prime minister of Poland by the country’s parliament, vowing to ‘right wrongs’ as he returned to power after eight years of right-wing populist rule.
The ex-leader of the European Council, who clashed with now-Foreign Minister David Cameron over what he called the ‘stupid’ Brexit referendum, has been tasked with forming a new government.
The centrist politician, who was previously Polish premier from 2007 to 2014, returns to the role nearly two months after a national election that was won by a coalition of parties ranging from left-wing to moderate conservative.
The lower house of parliament, controlled by Tusk’s pro-EU alliance, had earlier rejected the conservative camp’s proposed new cabinet, signalling that his rise paves the way for major policy shifts for the historically nationalist government.
‘It’s a great day for everyone who over these long years firmly believed that things would get better, that we would chase away the darkness,’ a triumphant Tusk said after a tight vote which saw 248 MPs vote in favour of him and 201 against.
‘Starting tomorrow we will be able to right all of the wrongs so that everyone can feel at home in Poland,’ added the veteran politician, who repeatedly made a heart shape with his hands – a red and white heart being the symbol of his election campaign.
Donald Tusk speaks to lawmakers after he was elected as Poland’s Prime Minister at the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, Monday Dec. 11, 2023
Tusk celebrated with his supporters after he was elected at the Sejm, the lower house of parliament in Poland
Civic Platform party leader Donald Tusk (C) forms a heart with his hands as he poses with members of Civic Coalition (KO) for a group photo at the Sejm
Tusk previously revealed that he clashed with now-Foreign Minister David Cameron over what he called the ‘stupid’ Brexit referendum
Tusk’s arch nemesis Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS), fired back by accusing Tusk of being a ‘German agent’ – a claim he has made repeatedly.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sent her congratulations to Tusk on X.
‘Your experience and strong commitment to our European values will be precious in forging a stronger Europe, for the benefit of the Polish people,’ she said.
The conservatives had won the most seats in October’s general election but found themselves without viable coalition partners.
In a confidence vote Monday, only 190 lawmakers voted for the right-wing government of Mateusz Morawiecki, with 266 against.
While Tusk’s Civic Coalition political group came second in the election, it secured a majority by joining up with two smaller pro-EU opposition political groups, the Third Way and Left.
The trio had run on pledges to mend strained ties with the European Union and carry out liberal reforms.
members of Civic Coalition (KO) for a group photo at the Sejm gathered after Tusk was elected prime minister by the lower house of parliament
The former EU chief was seen beaming on the day the Polish parliament returned him to power
Tusk on Tuesday is due to present his programme to MPs who will then hold a confidence vote.
The Tusk cabinet could be sworn in on Wednesday, allowing him to travel to Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday and Friday as the new prime minister.
Tusk has promised to unblock billions of euros in EU aid that have been frozen because of long-standing tensions between Brussels and the outgoing government.
Tusk has also said he will restore Poland’s credibility in the EU and give it an important voice amid the ongoing war in neighbouring Ukraine.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed Tusk’s election, calling on his to maintain unity between Kyiv and Warsaw.
‘Ukraine and Poland’s future lies in unity, mutual assistance and strategic partnership in order to defeat our common enemy,’ he posted on X. ‘I am certain that Ukraine and Poland will reemain committed to the cause of defending global freedom.’
Tusk’s arch nemesis Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS), accused Tusk of being a ‘German agent’ – a claim he has made repeatedly
Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was met by the press following the Parliament session in Warsaw
Expectations for the new government are running high but the populists will remain very influential and have appointed allies to key posts during their time in power.
The next government will face daily battles with PiS which ‘will continue to fight’, Jaroslaw Kuisz, a political analyst, told AFP. ‘There won’t be any miracles.’
‘It will be like going through mud’ and quick change will be difficult because PiS has left ‘a judicial minefield’, he said.
Controversial judicial reforms and appointments, which the EU said undermined democratic values, were at the heart of tensions between PiS ministers and Brussels.
PiS still has allies in the presidency, the central bank and the supreme court, as well as in several important judicial and financial state institutions.
‘It’s a great day for everyone who over these long years firmly believed that things would get better,’ a triumphant Tusk said
It also dominates state media organisations, which became government mouthpieces during its rule.
Analysts speak of a ‘spider’s web’ woven by PiS by putting allies in influential roles with mandates that will last long into the new government’s tenure.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the outgoing government, is due to step down ahead of a presidential election in 2025 but could use blocking tactics between now and then, vetoing legislation.
The head of state gave an insight into his intentions by nominating Morawiecki to try to form a government, giving PiS two more months in power.
Analyst Kuisz said the party has used the time ‘to reinforce itself institutionally and financially’.
PiS has named two former ministers to head up important state financial institutions and selected new prosecutors.
The president has also approved 150 new judges nominated by a body that was criticised by the European Union as being too heavily influenced by PiS.
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