WARSAW — After eight years in power, the Law and Justice (PiS) party is facing its last day in control on Monday; by evening, Donald Tusk is expected to be in charge of a new government that’s promising a revolution in both domestic politics and in Poland’s relationship with the outside world.
“We must be able to convince ourselves, Poles and the world around us, that we are restoring the rule of law, that this is not another iteration of some civil war between squabbling political forces,” Tusk told a Friday news conference in the Polish parliament after meeting with members of his future Cabinet.
But there are still a few steps that have to happen before Tusk takes power.
The day begins at 10 a.m. when Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has headed the PiS government since 2017, makes a speech to parliament laying out the priorities of his Cabinet. At 3 p.m. the lower house of parliament will hold a vote of confidence that Morawiecki is certain to lose, as his party has 191 seats in the 460-member parliament, while the coalition bloc of opposition parties controls 248.
Morawiecki was placed in the awkward position of building a no-hope government because Polish President Andrzej Duda nominated him two weeks ago based on PiS being the largest party in parliament after the October 15 election, although it is far from a majority and none of the other parties wanted to work with the nationalist grouping.
Once Morawiecki is disposed of, parliament at 4:30 p.m. nominates its candidate to be prime minister — which will be Tusk backed by his centrist Civic Coalition, the liberal Poland 2050 party, the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party and the Left. That decision will be confirmed by a vote of parliament later on Monday.
On Tuesday at 9 a.m., Tusk presents his Cabinet to parliament and lays out his governing program. Parliament is scheduled to hold a vote of confidence at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Duda’s office has said that the president will be prepared to swear in the new government as of Wednesday morning. If possible, Tusk wants to be at the EU-Balkan summit on Wednesday evening, and he certainly wants to be in Brussels on Thursday for the start of the EU leaders’ summit where he will herald a dramatic change in Warsaw’s approach to Brussels and aim to end eight years of conflict.
A man with a plan
Tusk — who served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014 before being European Council president from 2014 to 2019 — laid out his priorities on Friday.
A key aim will be unblocking €35 billion in grants and loans from the EU’s pandemic relief program and another €76.5 billion of regular EU development money. The cash has been blocked by the European Commission until Poland meets agreed milestones on rolling back changes to the justice system that Brussels felt brought judges under political control.
“We’re working non-stop,” Tusk said, saying he’s formed a team with incoming Justice Minister Adam Bodnar and Europe Minister Adam Szłapka to tackle the issue — one of the key promises he made during the election campaign. The new foreign minister will be Radosław Sikorski, a member of the European Parliament who served as Tusk’s foreign minister from 2007 to 2014.
But actually passing new laws on the judicial system will require they be signed by Duda; if he vetoes them, the incoming coalition doesn’t have the votes to override him. And so far, the president has indicated he’s willing to fight to prevent that from happening. During the last week he swore in 76 judges named by the flawed judicial nomination body condemned by the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Commission as not meeting democratic standards.
“What decisions will he make?” presidential Minister Wojciech Kolarski asked about Tusk. “Will he be on this wave of euphoria still lingering on the side of the opposition combined with an obvious need for revenge? Unfortunately that’s the way it looks like now. Or will he seek agreement with the president on the most important issues for Poland?”
But Tusk doesn’t plan to retreat.
“We are working intensively … on a whole set of measures that will restore the rule of law as much as possible,” Tusk said.
Tusk also warned that anyone who broke the law during the past eight years of PiS rule will be held to account.
“There will be no accommodation with evil. If they broke the law, if they stole, if they lied for public money, they must answer for it,” he said.
Tusk was also scathing of Morawiecki’s brief interregnum — the shortest term of office for a government in post-communist Polish history.
“These two weeks are costing Poland gigantic amounts of money,” Tusk said. “It is a waste of money, a waste of time and an attempt to leave a sort of PiS fifth column in all places where it is possible. We will have to start this cleanup rapidly and with very decisive steps.”