Tusk meets von der Leyen in Brussels, pledging to restore rule of law and unblock frozen EU funds

Donald Tusk, who is likely to lead Poland’s next government, met today with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels. Afterwards, he said that Poland must take concrete measures to restore the rule of law before its frozen EU funds can be released.

“During my first speech as president of the European Council [in 2013], I said that I came to Brussels with a strong sense of mission and I think I can repeat these words today: this mission is to rebuild the position of my country and strengthen the EU,” said Tusk, quoted by news website Interia.

“Europe is hungry for a serious conversation and an honest relationship with Poland, hence this unusual meeting,” he added, referring to the fact he was meeting with von der Leyen despite still not having taken office as prime minister.

💬 Przewodniczący @donaldtusk w Brukseli 👇

Trzeba ratować pieniądze, które Polsce się należą! pic.twitter.com/xRwvsuqkKg

— PlatformaObywatelska (@Platforma_org) October 25, 2023

Yesterday, Poland’s three main opposition groups – who together have a parliamentary majority – jointly declared Tusk to be their candidate for prime minister.

However, the choice will be made by President Andrzej Duda, who could pick a candidate from the current ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won the most votes in the election but has no path to forming a parliamentary majority.

Ahead of the 15 October elections, Tusk had declared that he would unblock Poland’s frozen EU funds – which the European Commission is withholding over rule-of-law concerns – immediately after the elections.

The opposition groups that won a parliamentary majority at the elections have declared their desire to form a government and have nominated @donaldtusk to lead it.

They urged the president, who must pick a new prime minister, not to “waste any more time” https://t.co/ADE9mclGlO

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 24, 2023

Ahead of today’s meeting with Tusk, von der Leyen praised the record turnout in Poland’s elections, saying that it “has shown once again that Poles are strongly attached to democracy”. She also hailed Poles as “proud Europeans”.

The European Commission president said that her talks with Tusk would focus on “important issues in which Poland’s voice is crucial”, such as the war in Ukraine, “Europe’s security architecture”, “economic modernisation and future competitiveness”.

Afterwards, Tusk said that there had been a lot of understanding between him and von der Leyen on important issues.

That included the question of Ukrainian grain imports, where Tusk said “our very firm position is that Ukrainian grain cannot be a threat to Polish farmers” but also that ” we have to find a solution that will…help Ukraine”.

Glad to welcome @donaldtusk today.

The record turnout in the elections showed again how strongly attached Poles are to democracy.

We will discuss important issues in which the voice of Poland is crucial ↓

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 25, 2023

Tusk also said that von der Leyen had indicated that Poland “will be able to count on help, significant help, in strengthening the protection of our eastern border, especially with Belarus”, reports news service 300Polityka.

Regarding access to EU funds, Tusk said that “Poland will be able to count on maximum readiness and flexibility” from the EU. He claimed that Brussels has already shown such readiness and flexibility to the PiS government, but that Warsaw failed to take advantage of it.

PiS, however, has argued that the EU was withholding funds from Poland for political reasons, in the hope of helping bring Tusk to power. The ruling party has portrayed the opposition leader as representing foreign, especially German, interests.

In his first remarks since the ruling party lost its majority at Sunday’s elections, Jarosław Kaczyński has suggested that „external forces” – especially Germany and Russia – are behind the opposition parties now set to form a new government https://t.co/iHuHEMmUik

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

Before it can unlock the funds, “the new government will have to demonstrate very quickly that it is capable of restoring the rule of law in Poland, both through legislation and through everyday practice”, added Tusk.

This will include meeting the milestones agreed between the PiS government and the European Commission, he noted.

Tusk acknowledged that the new Polish government will “need the president’s cooperation” if it wants to make such progress as Duda, a PiS ally, has the right to veto legislation.

To overturn a presidential veto, the opposition would need at least 3/5 of the votes in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, with at least half of the MPs present. Assuming the presence of all MPs, this would mean 276 votes, well below the 248 seats held by the opposition.

We answer 12 questions about Poland’s new government, including:

1. How will it be formed?
2. Will it be stable?
3. How will it tackle rule of law and abortion?
4. Can it unlock EU funds?
5. Will it face presidential vetoes?

Read our full analysis here⬇️https://t.co/oLK33waftV

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 23, 2023

Tusk noted that “ideally”, reforms reestablishing the rule of law should be made on a legislative level but he added that the government’s statements and the treatment of judges will also be important.

However, today Poland’s EU affairs minister, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, expressed concern that, “in the absence of being able to come up with a viable plan to formally unblock” the funds, Tusk may agree to concessions elsewhere.

This could include the EU’s new migration pact, which the PiS government has been strongly opposed to, as well as plans for the “federalisation of the EU”, claimed Szynkowski vel Sęk.

However, in Brussels today Tusk declared that under his government “there will be no forced relocation” of refugees. He also said he is “sceptical” about the idea of changing the EU treaties.

Tusk odblokuje #KPO? @PiotrMuller: Gdyby tak się stało, to by oznaczało, że narracja #KE była kłamstwem. Po prostu była to gra polityczna https://t.co/AKLPP0FtXO

— wPolityce.pl (@wPolityce_pl) October 24, 2023


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Main image credit: European People’s Party / flickr.com (under CC BY 2.0 DEED)

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

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