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  1. The Staggers
12 December 2023

Tusk is back

After eight years, Poland gets a new government. But Brussels shouldn’t celebrate yet.

By Wolfgang Münchau

It has happened at last. Two months after the Polish elections, Donald Tusk was elected prime minister by the Polish parliament yesterday (11 December) after Mateusz Morawiecki’s incumbent government lost a confidence vote in the Sejm, the parliament’s lower house. The Law and Justice party (PiS)’s eight years in power are over, for now. There are high expectations for Tusk from Brussels and other European capitals, but he will be inheriting many problems from his predecessors – and is also unlikely to be as accommodating as the European Union may be hoping. However, the tone of the dialogue between Poland and the bloc will no doubt change. Its government’s anti-German obsession will end, for instance. But can Tusk deliver a change in substance?

He will have a solid majority, with his alliance made up of the centrist Civic Coalition, the centre-right Third Way, and the Left. With 248 lawmakers, compared with PiS’s 194 and 18 others from the far-right Confederation, passing legislation in the Sejm should not be a problem. The Tusk-led coalition has a majority in the Senate too, since it ran on a joint list for the upper house’s elections. A cabinet seems to be agreed upon, and Tusk is likely to represent Poland at the upcoming EU summit this week.

Tusk promised to “chase away the evil”, an eternal fairy-tale theme for all those who want to be seen as the light. But it is a futile promise, and his followers are likely to be disappointed. A return to law and order, which Brussels would like to see, will not be so easy. The PiS remains a serious political force. It has used its two months in power since the October election to appoint party representatives as the heads of different institutions, with often irrevocable mandates, alongside the national prosecutor’s office and around 150 new judges. President Andrzej Duda, a PiS loyalist, will likely also make it harder for Tusk, as he has the right to veto new laws – even ones that the Sejm passes. Duda’s term of office lasts until May 2025.

There is not much hope for change when it comes to EU migration either. On the campaign trail, Tusk surprised most of his fellow opposition politicians with his own harsh stance on the issue. Millions of refugees from Ukraine fled to Poland after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, around a million of whom have stayed. Tusk said Poland should not be forced to accept even more migrants. His government may continue Poland’s position of not contributing to the EU’s migration pact. We also have yet to see how Tusk handles the truckers’ strike at the border with Ukraine – Polish drivers dispute Ukrainians getting permit-free access to the bloc – or the country’s ban on its eastern neighbour’s grain.

Improving the atmosphere in the European Council may bring some benefits, but the differences will not disappear overnight. Berlin and Warsaw will have to reckon with the mistrust that has built up over the years. They need to work out their differences over migration, protectionism and energy policy.

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What will Tusk’s economic policy be? Will Poland prepare to join the euro? We have seen Tusk make serious misjudgements before – such as his hard line on Brexit when he was president of the European Council. What if he were to get the dynamics in the EU wrong? What if he turns out to be more nationalist than Brussels expected? I won’t be joining in the cheerleading for Tusk. It’s better to reach a verdict after we know what he will do.

[See also: The triple betrayal of Israeli women]

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