Donald Tusk set to take reins with pro-EU agenda in Poland

Outgoing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki loses confidence vote in parliament

Donald Tusk is poised for a second term as Poland's prime minister after outmanoeuvring the ruling nationalists. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Poland’s nationalist government failed in a last-ditch bid to stay in office on Monday, clearing the way for centrist Donald Tusk to assume power.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lost a confidence vote in parliament, as was expected after his Law and Justice (PiS) party lost its majority in an October general election.

MPs voted 266 to 190 to oust Mr Morawiecki in the first session of the new parliament. A second confidence vote on Tuesday is then expected to endorse Mr Tusk, who is waiting in the wings with a three-party coalition that has a majority in the new parliament.

Mr Tusk, who is set to become prime minister for a second time after a 2007 to 2014 stint, has promised to repair Poland’s international standing and relations with the EU.

The former European Council president posted on social media on Monday: “Ready, steady, go.”

The PiS has held power since 2015 and has been accused of eroding democratic standards and packing the media, courts and key institutions with its supporters, leading the EU to freeze funds.

Mr Tusk’s election victory was cheered by liberals and pro-Europeans who hope he will take a more constructive approach on issues such as climate change, on which Poland had filed a lawsuit against key EU policies.

Poland's 80-year-old former president Lech Walesa, an icon of the overthrow of communism in 1989, displayed an anti-PiS slogan on a sweatshirt as he attended the opening parliamentary session on Monday.

President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, gave Mr Morawiecki the first shot at winning a confidence vote on the grounds that the nationalists remain the largest single party.

However, PiS has virtually no allies in the new parliament – guaranteeing the defeat of Mr Morawiecki’s government six years to the day since he became premier.

Overtures to smaller parties brought no results, with one centre-right politician calling Mr Morawiecki’s interim cabinet a farce that was “unnecessarily prolonging the agony of this government”.

In three days of political theatre, Mr Morawiecki first addressed the parliament with a speech on Poland’s “past, future and greatness” before MPs vote on his fate.

He said PiS’s conservative agenda “must win and will win”, although he conceded: “Maybe not yet today, not in this chamber”.

After his defeat, the next step is for MPs to formally nominate Mr Tusk as an alternative, which could happen later on Monday, before he gives his own address on Tuesday and his appointment is put to a vote.

The three-way bloc formed by Mr Tusk’s Civic Coalition and the smaller Third Way and Left parties controls 248 seats out of 460 in parliament.

If he wins, he could be sworn in by Mr Duda on Wednesday – in time to attend an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, set to be dominated by talks on Ukraine’s future.

The outgoing government was long a staunch ally of Ukraine but relations have been strained in recent months. Mr Tusk has promised to defuse a protest by lorry drivers who fear being undercut by favourable rules for Ukrainians.

He has also promised liberal reforms and to unblock the frozen EU money, although the European Commission has said Poland must meet targets on guaranteeing judicial independence before the funds are released.

That could lead to delays because Mr Duda remains in power as Poland’s head of state until 2025 and could use blocking tactics to put the brakes on Mr Tusk’s agenda.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 5:46 AM