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Donald Tusk, leader of the centrist Civic Coalition, was elected Prime Minister by the Polish parliament on 11 December 2023 at the head of a government bringing together three separate political coalitions. 

Tusk was previously Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014, and President of the European Council from 2014 to 2019.

Law and Justice in power, 2015 to 2023

The governing Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies had lost their majority in the October election after being in office since 2015. Mateusz Morawiecki led the government as Prime Minister from 2017.

A PiS-ally, Andrzej Duda, continues to hold the Presidency of Poland. He won the presidential election as the PiS candidate in 2015, and was re-elected in 2020. 

The PiS government promoted traditional conservative positions on social and family issues. It implemented a near total ban on abortion and employed anti-LGBT+ rhetoric. Alongside this, the government implemented redistributive tax and spending policies, aimed particularly at families.

Critics of the government complained that it had adopted illiberal and authoritarian practices. This involved control of the judiciary and the media. The European Commission launched several legal actions against Poland in relation to its judicial reform programme, citing concerns about the establishment of political control over the judiciary and the “rule of law” in the country. It also launched a procedure to determine whether Poland was in breach of core EU values.  EU legal action led to several rulings against Poland by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). The EU also blocked Poland from receiving its share of the EU’s post-covid recovery fund, making this conditional on implementing further judicial reforms to address its concerns. 

Poland opposed an EU agreement in 2023 to establish a solidarity mechanism in which Member States have the option of taking a share of asylum-seekers from States receiving large numbers of them. Along with Hungary, the Polish government responded by vetoing EU statements on migration.

In May 2023, the Polish parliament approved the establishment of a commission to investigate Russian political influence in Poland between 2007 and 2022. The opposition expressed concern that this would be used to target its political opponents, notably Tusk who was Prime Minister when deals to supply Russian gas to Poland were agreed.

The Polish government played a leading role in the EU and international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since February 2022, including through provision of military equipment and the hosting of refugees. However, it rowed with the Ukrainian government over its decision to block Ukrainian grain imports in late 2023.

The October 2023 election

During the election campaign, PiS leaders portrayed Donald Tusk as  subservient to Germany and to Russia and a traitor to Polish interests. Tusk described PiS as “poison” and presented the election as a referendum on the future of democracy in Poland. He pledged to repair relations with the EU.

PiS was the leading party at the election with 35.4% of the vote. It was followed by Tusk’s Civic Coalition with 30.7% of the vote and two smaller alliances, the centre/centre-right Third Way on 14.4%, and the Left on 8.6%. The three opposition blocs together won a majority of seats and signed an agreement on forming a coalition government in November 2023.

Four referendums held by the government on the same day as the election, including one asking voters if they supported the “admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy”, failed to reach the 50% voter turnout threshold required for legal validity.

The new government

President Duda initially used his constitutional powers to appoint a PiS-led government under Morawiecki again. But it lost a confidence vote on 11 December, paving the way for the lower chamber of parliament to vote in a government led by Tusk.

Tusk’s government has pledged to unblock EU funding by reversing the judicial reforms of the PiS Government. Tusk visited Brussels within days of taking office and said that Poland would take the rule of law “very seriously”.

Tusk has promised continuing Polish support for Ukraine but has said that this would not come at the cost of Polish entrepreneurs and farmers. He visited Ukraine in January and reaffirmed Polish support for Ukraine’s accession to the EU.

The government has also pledged to overturn the ban on abortion, make anti-LGBT+ hate speech a crime and depoliticise the media.  Shortly after taking office, the government removed the board of state TV, radio and press organisations.

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