Poland's Donald Tusk visits Brussels, seeking initiative in repairing ties with EU, unlocking funds

Polish politician Donald Tusk described a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as informal; he made clear that he was in Brussels as leader of the opposition and not as PM

October 25, 2023 09:19 pm | Updated 09:19 pm IST - BRUSSELS

Polish opposition’s candidate for future Prime Minister Donald Tusk meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium, on October 25, 2023.

Polish opposition’s candidate for future Prime Minister Donald Tusk meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium, on October 25, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Donald Tusk, the opposition candidate who may become Poland's next Prime Minister, sought to repair Warsaw's ties with the European Union during a series of meetings in Brussels that also centred on unlocking billions of euros in funds that were frozen due to democratic backsliding under the outgoing nationalist government.

Mr. Tusk arrived in Brussels a day after he and other leaders of an opposition bloc that collectively won the most votes in Poland’s October 15 parliamentary election announced that they were prepared to govern together with Mr. Tusk as Prime Minister.

“The goal today is to rebuild my country’s position in Europe, to strengthen the European Union as a whole. The results of the elections in Poland and the incredible turnout, including among the youngest voters in Poland, made it clear to all of Europe, I think, that democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, European unity are still important to our people,” Mr. Tusk said.

Depending on whom President Andrzej Duda first asks to try to form a government, the Prime Minister might not get sworn in until December. Mr. Tusk, who served almost seven years as Poland's head of government, made clear that he was in Brussels as leader of the opposition and not as Prime Minister.

He described a meeting on October 25 morning with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as informal.

“I had to take the initiative before the final post-election settlements, because it is necessary to use all methods, even non-standard ones, to save the money that Poland deserves,” Mr. Tusk told reporters.

The aim, he said, was to accelerate the process of restoring Poland's full presence in the 27-nation bloc.

"We are returning to this path with full conviction that this is the will of Polish voters,” he said.

Law and Justice, the nationalist conservative government that has ruled Poland for eight years, won more votes than any other single party in the election but it lost its majority and will not hold enough seats to govern the country. The party has said it considers itself the winner of the election and should be given the first chance to try to form a government.

If Mr. Duda gives Law and Justice the first chance to build a government, as many expect, it could delay the swearing in of a Tusk-led government by weeks.

The opposition groups allied with Mr. Tusk campaigned on promises to restore democratic standards and ties with the EU that worsened during the eight years Law and Justice governed as the party imposed control over courts and other judicial bodies in a way the EU said violated the democratic separation of powers.

The opposition groups together won over 54% of the votes and would have a comfortable majority of 248 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, the Lower House of Parliament.

Election turnout was over 74%, a record high in post-communist Poland, with high participation by youth and women.

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