Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has accused the European Commission of “unacceptable blackmail” after opposition leader Donald Tusk suggested that Brussels would release billions of euros in frozen EU funds if a new government takes power.
Tusk, who is likely to head that new government, said yesterday, following talks in Brussels, that the funds could be unlocked even before legislative steps to restore the rule of law are complete. Morawiecki has pointed out that this would contradict what the EU has demanded of the current government.
“This is very interesting. See what Brussels has been saying for the last few years, that legislative changes are necessary,” Morawiecki said, quoted by broadcaster TVP.
“Meanwhile, we now hear – if, of course, it is true – that legislative changes are not necessary,” he continued. “This is clearly unacceptable blackmail.”
— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) October 26, 2023
The prime minister’s remarks come after Tusk visited Brussels this week, where he met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Afterwards, Tusk made clear that the new government would have to take concrete steps towards restoring the rule of law before funds are released.
However, when asked by the media what exactly would need to be done, Tusk replied that “it will not be necessary to complete the legislative process” before unlocking the funds.
“If the president quickly acknowledges the facts and realities and allows the majority to form a government, I guarantee that it will mean a quick payment of funds,” added Tusk, quoted by Gazeta Wyborcza. “If it is my government, we will take these steps very quickly so that the first payments can be made in December.”
— Dorota Bawolek (@DorotaBawolek) October 26, 2023
Tusk’s remarks relating to the president, Andrzej Duda, pertain to the fact that after elections it is he who has the role of naming a new prime minister. That prime minister must then form a government which is put to a vote of confidence in parliament.
Traditionally, a figure nominated by the largest party – in this case PiS – is chosen by the president. But the 15 October elections saw PiS lose its parliamentary majority while all other parties have ruled out forming a coalition with it.
That has led the three main opposition groups – who together have a parliamentary majority and have declared their willingness to form a coalition government led by Tusk – to call on Duda to give them the first opportunity to establish a new administration.
After meeting all parliamentary groups on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Duda yesterday announced that he had not yet decided whether to entrust PiS or the opposition with forming a government.
Following talks with all parliamentary groups, the president says he needs more time to decide who to pick as prime minister.
He notes that both the opposition and ruling party claim they can form a government. „This is a new situation in our democracy” https://t.co/XdyEGml2ry
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 26, 2023
Tusk’s comments regarding the unblocking of EU funds have also drawn criticism from some other politicians and commentators.
“So, the ‘rule of law’ was a narrative for suckers,” tweeted deputy justice minister Michał Woś. “D. Tusk has just de facto confirmed that the European Commission used political tools (blocking the KPO) to influence the election results of a sovereign state.”
Ben Stanley, a political scientist at SWPS University in Warsaw, wrote that “it’s one thing for Tusk to go to the EU for discussions, and quite another for the Commission president to be seen to be endorsing one prospective candidate for PM”.
“This is one of those moments where the charge of interfering in domestic politics genuinely carries weight,” he added.
It is for President Duda to designate Tusk as prime minister. I’m sure the Commission are anxious to see Tusk confirmed in this post, but appearing alongside a prospective candidate before a designation has been made feels too much like expressing that preference out loud.
— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) October 25, 2023
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Main image credit: Krystian Maj/KPRM (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.