Tusk’s Hot moves to reorient Polish institutions

  • Donald Tusk became the new PM of Poland in December 2023.
  • Despite not being the most voted candidate, he was able to form an alliance to replace the incumbent populist right-wing party Peace and Justice (PiS).
  • Since his designation, Tusk has implemented measures to restore the impartiality of Polish public institutions.
Silar (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Why is Tusk Hot? 

Answer: Tusk is implementing rigorous policies to reform the Polish media and judiciary system

On December 13, 2023, Donald Tusk was sworn in as the new prime minister of Poland, putting an end to 8 years of ruling by the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS). Since that day, he has been working towards reforming the legal system and the state-owned media, as well as drafting more liberal policies, more aligned with the approach coming from the EU.

The current governmental coalition led by Tusk – the Civil Coalition – has implemented policies to reform key public institutions, which have been under the rule of PiS for two legislative terms. Several state media companies have been regenerated and high-level PiS-appointed public officials have been fired to free the organisations from the remaining control of the right-wing party.

However, Tusk´s stance has been challenged by the country’s President Andrezj Duda, who also belongs to the PiS party. He has continuously criticised Tusk´s government operations, even offering refuge in the presidential palace to two PiS officers accused of abusing the rule of law, and calling them “political prisoners”. 

President Duda has the power to veto all decisions coming from the new cabinet, which may become Tusk´s biggest internal opposition to accomplish his objective of rebuilding Polish institutions from the PiS´ grasp. Furthermore, Tusk must also be cautious with his approach to restore impartiality among the media and the judiciary, since more robust measures can be used by the opposition to alleged “undemocratic measures”.   

What is changing Tusk’s temperature

Answer: Tusk’s alliance’s victory at the Polish national elections of 2023

Back in October, Poland’s citizens were called to vote in the 2023 national parliamentary election. The importance of this election can be observed in the high turnout rate, which was the highest one since the fall of communism in 1989 (74.4%).  

As in the previous election, the governmental party PiS remained the most voted after acquiring 194 out of 460 seats in the Sejm – the lower house of the bicameral parliament of Poland. However, this result implied that PiS had lost its parliamentary majority and thus did not have the required support to remain in power. This transfer of votes towards other parties builds upon the perception that Polish citizens want a deep change towards a more liberal and progressive country.  

On the other hand, Tusk´s party – being the second most voted one, after experiencing an increase of 3.3 points when compared to 2019 – was able to form a political alliance with the centrist Third Way and the social-democratic New Left, which allowed him to win the nomination with 248 in favour.

The elections were influenced by the protests that had been taking place since May throughout the country, following the passing of a law that allowed the exclusion of politicians from public office if agreed by the government. The law came to be commonly known as the “Lex Tusk”, due to the general belief that it aimed to target opposition figures such as former PM Tusk.

It was the last of a series of moves by the nationalist government to seize control over the legislative and judicial branches of power, further endangering the separation of powers in the country. The former government had already been accused of manipulating the legal branch through the appointments for the National Council of the Judiciary, which were accused of being politically motivated to undermine the impartiality of the council. The situation regarding the state of the rule of law in Poland was also closely monitored by the EU, which had been raising the alarm since 2019.

What is driving Tusk?

Answer: Tusk’s pro-European ideas and his desire to comply with his political promise of restoring democratic values to Polish institutions. 

During the entirety of his presidential campaign, Tusk continuously proclaimed his intention of stripping Polish institutions, particularly the media and the judicial system, from the hold of the populist right-wing. 

For the past years, PiS has slowly but steadily infiltrated key institutions, expanding the party’s influence and translating it into national policies and laws. The Polish Supreme Court was entirely formed of PiS-leaning judges, while the Polish state media had been transformed into a PiS propaganda machine. Additionally, reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights have also been affected by these influences, making Poland one of the most restrictive countries within the European Union. All of these issues have been tackled by Tusk during the months leading up to the elections, claiming that he would present more liberal policies for them if he were to become president. 

As the former President of the European Council, Tusk has publicly displayed during the election period his intention of reshaping the country towards a more European-leaning Poland. His more popular electoral promises included restoring the rule of law and the objectivity of the national media station, which had been under heavy criticism coming from EU officials. He is looking to restore Poland as an active member within the EU, and to improve diplomatic ties with other European countries, which had been pushed aside by the previous cabinet.

Lastly, one of the key concerns for Tusk ,as the new head of one of the largest economies in the European continent, was the unblocking of a 76 billion euro fund coming from the European Commission. The payout had been frozen due to the legal concerns regarding the judicial reforms implemented by the PiS. However, if Tusk was able to succeed in his goal to restore proper separation of powers, these funds could finally be mobilised towards Poland. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Tusk’s cabinet is set to take a more EU-centred and liberal approach to government 

After years of right-wing government in Poland, a Donald Tusk electoral victory implies a total switch in the country’s position regarding most public policies, in particular its position concerning the relation with the EU. 

Tusk´s appointment was positively received by EU officials. Considering PiS´s opposing positions concerning EU institutions and mandates, Tusk´s administration expressed a clear disposition to follow directives coming from Brussels. The European Justice Commissioner expressed the Union´s complacency regarding Tusk´s policies to restore “the rule of law”.

His vision for a more progressive and liberal Poland, taking a bigger role within the European Union, has amassed a lot of attention from the European community. If Tusk was to succeed in his approach to “dePiSifying” Poland, the country could revert to their former position as a key EU member, and finally leave behind the populist anti-European faction which it had led – alongside Orban’s Hungary – for the last couple of years.