Donald Tusk hails democratic pro-EU 'rebirth' as he returns to power in Poland as PM

Newly appointed Prime Minister pledges serious tone as he brings end to nationalist rule

Newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk presents his government's programme. Reuters
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Poland's newly appointed Prime Minister Donald Tusk hailed a moment of "rebirth" for democracy on Tuesday as he set out his plans for a liberal, pro-EU government that will end eight years of nationalist rule.

Mr Tusk, 66, was elected by parliament on Monday to replace the nationalist Mateusz Morawiecki, whose government was accused of eroding Poland's democracy.

In his inaugural address, Mr Tusk described the change of power as a historic moment in Poland's history similar to the overthrow of communism that culminated in 1990.

He promised to rally western countries to help Ukraine, after relations soured between the previous government and Kyiv, and "bring back billions of euros" in EU funds frozen over democracy fears.

Rejecting fatigue over the Russian invasion, he said "Poland’s task, the new government’s task, but also the task of all of us, is to loudly and firmly demand the full determination from the entire western community to help Ukraine in this war".

Three parties agreed on a Tusk-led coalition, following an October election in which the Law and Justice (PiS) party lost its majority after eight years in power.

Mr Tusk pledged to bring a serious tone to politics in times of war, migration crises and economic turmoil, after what he described as the "dramas" of recent years.

"The election on October 15 was a day that will go into history as a peaceful rebellion on behalf of democracy and freedom," he said.

"What happened on that date is much more serious than a change of government. On October 15 this year, a new process began, a rebirth."

The rival camps exchanged lively rhetoric, with Mr Tusk hailing an end to years of "darkness" while his arch nemesis, PiS boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski, called him a "German agent".

Mr Tusk is expected to be formally sworn in on Wednesday, in time to attend a key EU summit on Ukraine on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Duda gave the PiS the first shot at winning a confidence vote on the grounds that it remains the largest single party, but it lacks a majority and has few allies in the new parliament.

Mr Tusk's Civic Coalition came second and secured a majority by joining up with the smaller Third Way and Left groups, who both take pro-EU positions.

Returning for a second term as prime minister after a 2007 to 2014 stint, Mr Tusk is also a former president of the European Council and has promised to restore Poland's credibility in the bloc.

Expectations for the new government are running high but the populists will remain very influential because of their allies in the presidency, courts and financial institutions.

With hopes high that Mr Tusk will improve Poland's relations with its neighbours, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent congratulations while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the new leader's "strong commitment to our European values".

Also delighted was Lech Walesa, the icon of Poland's anti-communist revolution, who said the country was "back on the path of development".

Mr Morawiecki lost a confidence vote earlier on Monday, as had been expected, after he failed to bring smaller parties on board.

PiS has cast itself as a defender of Poland's sovereignty and identity that has improved living standards for millions by boosting social benefits and the minimum wage.

However, it has widely been accused of eroding Poland's democracy, packing the courts and media with its supporters and undermining the rule of law, leading the EU to suspend funds.

Mr Tusk plans to seek the release of EU funds but will have to work with President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally who could use blocking tactics to stall the new government's agenda.

Polish politician uses fire extinguisher on parliament Hanukkah candles

Polish politician puts out Hanukkah candles with fire extinguisher

Polish politician puts out Hanukkah candles with fire extinguisher

A far-right Polish politician used a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles in the country's parliament, leading the Speaker to exclude him from the sitting, provoking outrage.

Footage posted on the website of private broadcaster TVN24 showed Grzegorz Braun of the Confederation take the extinguisher before walking across the lobby of the parliament building to where the candles were located, creating a white cloud and forcing security guards to rush people out of the area.

Television footage showed people in the vicinity covered in powder from the extinguisher.

He then took to the podium in the chamber where he described the Hanukkah as "satanic" and said he was restoring "normality".

Asked right after the incident if he was ashamed, Mr Braun replied: "Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed."

Speaker Szymon Holownia excluded him from the sitting and said he would inform prosecutors about his actions.

Mr Braun left the chamber, shaking hands with other far-right MPs.

"There will be no tolerance for racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism ... as long as I am the Speaker of parliament," Mr Holownia told reporters.

Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich said Mr Braun's actions were not representative of the country and that he was "embarrassed" by them.

"Someone extinguished the Hanukkah candles and a few minutes later we relit them," he said.

"For thousands of years, our enemies have been trying to extinguish us, from the time of the Maccabees right through to Hamas. But our enemies should learn, they cannot extinguish us."

Updated: December 13, 2023, 1:18 PM