President vetoes Polish government’s budget plans due to public media takeover

President Andrzej Duda has announced that he will veto a government bill relating to the 2024 budget.

The move marks the first time Duda, an ally of the former Law and Justice (PiS) government, has used his veto powers against Donald Tusk’s new administration. He said that he was doing so due to the controversial takeover of public media this week by the Tusk’s government.

“I have decided to veto the budget-related act, which includes 3 billion zloty for public media,” announced Duda. “There cannot be consent to this in view of the flagrant violation of the constitution and the principles of a democratic state of law. Public media must first be repaired honestly and legally.”

The president added that after Christmas he would submit his own budget-related bill that would retain other spending included in the government’s version, such as pay raises for teachers. He called on the speakers of both houses of parliament to urgently convene sessions so that it could be passed this year.

Prezydent @AndrzejDuda:

Podjąłem decyzję o zawetowaniu ustawy okołobudżetowej na rok 2024, w której znalazły się 3 miliardy złotych na media publiczne. Nie może być na to zgody wobec rażącego łamania Konstytucji i zasad demokratycznego państwa prawa. Media publiczne trzeba…

— Kancelaria Prezydenta (@prezydentpl) December 23, 2023

The legislation in question was an update to the budget that the new government inherited from its PiS predecessor. It was initially adopted by the cabinet on Tuesday.

When Prime Minister Tusk announced the spending plans, he underlined that they did not include funding for public media, which at the time were still effectively under the influence of PiS, which had lost power only a week earlier.

Only a day later, however, Tusk’s government dramatically take control of public media, in a move that was condemned by Duda and PiS as illegal and unconstitutional and which has also been criticised by many legal experts.

For more on the takeover of public media by the government this week – which President Duda declared unconstitutional and many legal scholars have also criticised – see our report from yesterday

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 22, 2023

Yesterday, parliament passed the government’s budget-related bills, which this time included almost 3 billion zloty of financing earmarked for public media (though the government insists the money is conditional, not automatic).

The legislation then passed to the president, who could sign it into law or veto it, and today Duda announced he would take the latter option because providing the funds for public media was “unacceptable in the current situation”.

Duda and the PiS government have themselves been regularly accused of violating the rule of law, including by turning public media into a government mouthpiece despite its statutory obligation to seek balance and neutrality.

Yesterday’s chaotic takeover of public media highlights the difficulty Poland’s new government faces in repairing captured public institutions without resorting to the same dubious methods that degraded them in the first place, writes @StanleySBill

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 21, 2023

In response, Tusk’s chief of staff, Jan Grabiec, told broadcaster TVN that the president’s decision was “absurd and harmful”. Grabiec noted that Duda had been happy to allow billions of zloty to flow to public media under PiS but was now “cutting off funding when changes are taking place and journalists are returning”.

Grabiec also argued that submitting budget-related bills “is not [one of] the president’s competences…It is the government and parliamentary majority that decide what the budget will look like”.

Tusk himself tweeted that “the president’s veto takes away money from teachers”, to which Duda responded on X (formerly Twitter) that if “you convene [parliament] after Christmas and pass by bill, which will included raises for teachers”, then they would not lose out.

Panie Premierze @donaldtusk, cieszę się, że pisze Pan, że sobie poradzicie. To oznacza, że tak jak apelowalem zwolacie Sejm i Senat po Świętach i przegłosujecie moja ustawę, w której będą podwyżki dla nauczycieli itp. ale bez 3 mld na publiczne media.
I wzajemnie – Wesołych…

— Andrzej Duda (@AndrzejDuda) December 23, 2023

Sławomir Dudek, the president of the Institute of Public Finance, an NGO, also criticised Duda’s actions as a “violation of the spirit of the constitution”.

Dudek argued that, because the president is not allowed to veto the main budget law itself, he has got around that by threatening the government’s additional budget-related act.

It is “an unprecedented situation when the president tries to influence public finances, for which the government is responsible”, wrote Dudek.

Prezydent gra budżetem. Kolejna kłoda pod nogi ministra @Domanski_Andrz @MF_GOV_PL

To jest złamanie „ducha konstytucji”. Prezydent nie może zawetować ustawy budżetowej na 2024, to postanowił zawetować ustawę „okołobudżetową”, ustawę pomocniczą służącą realizacji tej właściwej.…

— Sławomir Dudek (@DudSlaw) December 23, 2023

Main image credit: Jakub Szymczyk/KPRP

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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