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Poland: Donald Tusk's government wins vote of confidence

Published December 12, 2023last updated December 12, 2023

Polish premier-designate Donald Tusk outlined his support for the European Union and Ukraine ahead of the vote, which was delayed after a far-right lawmaker extinguished a Hanukkah menorah in the Sejm.

Donald Tusk after his government won a vote of confidence
Tusk previously served as Poland's prime minister from 2007 to 2014 before taking over as European Council president from 2014 to 2019Image: Aleksandra Szmigiel/REUTERS

The new government of Polish Prime Minister-designate Donald Tusk won a vote of confidence on Tuesday.

It comes a day after a majority of Polish MPs elected Tusk as the country's new prime minister when the proposed conservative government of acting PM Mateusz Morawiecki failed to win lawmakers' backing.

Tusk became prime minister nearly two months after national elections won by a coalition of parties ranging from left-wing to moderately conservative.

Tusk and his cabinet are set to be formally sworn in on Wednesday morning by President Andrzej Duda.

He previously served as Poland's prime minister from 2007 to 2014 before taking over as European Council president from 2014 to 2019.

What did Tusk say about frozen EU funds?

Speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday, 66-year-old Tusk expressed a vote of confidence in the European Union.

"We are all the stronger, all the more sovereign when not only Poland is stronger but also the European Union," he said.

Donald Tusk's pro-EU coalition set to take power in Poland

Tusk has vowed to improve Warsaw's relations with Brussels, which have been plagued by tensions during the past eight years of Law and Justice (PiS) party rule.

PiS repeatedly clashed with Brussels over rule-of-law issues, with the European Union casting doubts over the independence of the judiciary following an overhaul. 

Citing the concerns, the EU has blocked tens of billions of euros in grants and loans from the bloc's COVID pandemic relief program as well as development assistance. 

To get those funds flowing again, Warsaw will need to reverse changes to the judicial system.

On Tuesday, Tusk said he would go to Brussels this week and "bring back billions of euros," referring to the frozen funds.

Major challenges ahead

Still, laws to amend the justice system will need the assent of the president, Andrzej Duda, who comes from PiS ranks.

If Duda vetoes the legislation, Tusk's coalition doesn't have the three-fifths majority in the lower house of parliament to override it.

Duda will remain in office until the next presidential election, which is expected to take place sometime in 2025.

PiS also remains influential, with the outfit being the largest single party in parliament. Over the past eight years, the party has also appointed allies to key posts. 

Furthermore, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Monday that judicial reform legislation which Warsaw needed to pass in order to access the EU funds was unconstitutional.

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As Tusk promised close ties with the EU, he also underlined that he opposes any changes to EU treaties that are not in line with Polish interests.

"Any attempts to change treaties that are against our interests are out of the question ... no one will outplay me in the European Union," he said.

Tusk vows full support for Ukraine

On Ukraine, Tusk said on Tuesday Warsaw will demand the full mobilization of the West to help the war-ravaged country.

"We will ... loudly and decisively demand the full mobilization of the free world, the Western world, to help Ukraine in this war," he said. 

The incoming prime minister also pledged to quickly resolve problems related to a protest by Polish truckers at several border crossings with Ukraine.

Tusk also stressed that Poland would remain a loyal ally of the United States.

He said, after visiting Brussels, he will travel to the Baltic states to strengthen relations.

"After returning from Brussels, I will go to Tallinn to meet the prime ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Topics are obvious: the war, safe borders. We will strengthen cooperation with countries that share our views on this matter."

Far-right Polish lawmaker extinguishes Hanukkah candles

A far-right lawmaker in the Polish parliament used a fire extinguisher to put out the candles on a menorah being lit in the parliament lobby for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

"Someone extinguished the Hanukkah candles and a few minutes later we relit them," Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told Reuters.

"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."

All major political forces quickly condemned the incident by Grzegorz Braun and said there would be no tolerance for antisemitic and xenophobic behavior in the Sejm, the Polish parliament.

The speaker of the parliament, Szymon Holownia, called the act "absolutely scandalous" and excluded Braun from the day's parliamentary proceedings. Holownia said he would report him to prosecutors.

Prime Minister-designate Donald Tusk condemned what he called an "unacceptable" act. "It can't happen again, it's a disgrace," Tusk said as he waited for parliament to approve his pro-EU government, a vote now delayed amid the chaos caused by the incident.

zc,sri,dh/lo,ab (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)