Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
This week Platforma Obywatelska’s great hope for a revival in its sagging political fortunes – the return to domestic politics of former Prime Minister Donald Tusk – became a reality. While Saturday’s formal return as acting leader at a meeting of the party’s National Council and a flurry of subsequent media appearances, are a welcome dose of positive news for the party, it remains to be seen whether going back to a past leader, and one certainly far from being universally popular in Poland, will reap the expected dividends.
Tusk may well halt and even reverse Platforma Obywatelska’s haemorrhaging of support in the opinion polls to newcomer Polska 2050. His political skills may also succeed in building a more credible and unified opposition. Whether a second innings as Prime Minister will ultimately be possible, especially coming with the baggage of Tusk’s nearly seven-year term as head of government, before being succeeded by Ewa Kopacz in 2014, only time will tell.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Donald Tusk returns to Polish domestic politics in a bid to revive the political fortunes of Platforma Obywatelska
• Jarosław Kaczyński is re-elected as Prawo i Sprawiedliwość leader for what he says is his last term
• Prime Minister Morawiecki becomes a party vice-president in what’s being viewed as a signal as to the desired succession, and
• Poland’s Olympic Committee launches the team destined for the Tokyo Games.
The past week has been one of major political developments in Poland, setting the scene for the second half of the planned life of the current Sejm and for the next general election. On Friday Platforma Obywatelska leader, Borys Budka, announced that Donald Tusk would be returning to Polish politics and taking on a major leadership role in the party. This was confirmed the next day at a meeting of the party’s national council with Budka resigning and Tusk being named acting leader in his place. Bringing down the curtains on an ill-fated 17 months in charge of the party, Budka said that he was ‘putting the future of the country and the future of Platforma Obywatelska above my own ambitions’ and that he wanted Tusk to lead the party to victory.
Tusk: ‘Today, evil rules in Poland’
Tusk said he was giving up his role as President of the European People’s Party to devote himself fulltime to Polish politics. In strident remarks he commented that ‘today, evil rules in Poland, and we are going out onto the field to fight this evil. The evil that Prawo i Sprawiedliwość has done is so evident, shameless and permanent. It happens every day in every manner’. The former Prime Minister moved rapidly both to cement existing alliances and to attempt to address a major political albatross from his period in government.
Tusk said he wanted to continue Platforma Obywatelska’s alliance with its smaller partners in Koalicja Obywatelska, primarily .Nowoczesna, and the Greens. He conceded that the manner of the controversial 2012 decision taken by the government he headed to raise the retirement age on a phased basis to 67 for both men and women was a ‘mistake’. That decision, since reversed, is seen as having contributed significantly to the party’s loss of office after Tusk had left to become President of the European Council. Tusk pledged to continue with the Pięćset Plus (500 Plus) child benefit payment introduced by the current government. That pledge will be seen as another attempt to blunt a likely ‘socially uncaring’ avenue of attack from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość.
Risks As Well As Benefits for Platforma Obywatelska
A recent opinion poll taken before the weekend’s developments indicated that a large majority of Poles do not expect to see Tusk returning as Prime Minister. That said, his return is undoubtedly a major and very badly needed boost for Platforma Obywatelska, which has struggled to compete with Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, and even more worryingly for the party had seen its opinion poll ratings fall well below those of Polska 2050. Tusk’s return raises numerous questions both within and outside the party.
Perhaps of most immediate relevance within the party will be where it leaves the ambitions of Warszawa Mayor and former presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski. He was already suspected of harbouring political ambitions outside of Platforma Obywatelska, and Tusk’s return probably makes such an outcome more likely. Given the polarised nature of attitudes to Donald Tusk in Poland he’s unlikely to win many new converts to the party from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość or other parties on the right. What he stands a far better chance of doing is galvanising the opposition, and helping Platforma Obywatelska in particular to regain much of the ground lost to Szymon Hołownia’s Polska 2050.
Succession Question Looms Over Kaczyński Re-Election
The weekend also saw the main governing party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość hold it’s congress with elections taking place for top party leadership posts. As long signalled Jarosław Kaczyński was on Saturday overwhelmingly re-elected for a further term. The vote extended his tenure as leader of the party which commenced in January 2003 when he took over from his twin brother and subsequent Polish President, the late Lech Kaczyński. The 72-year-old has stressed repeatedly that this will be his last term as leader, and said that he would stand down if the job ‘becomes too much’ for him.
In his speech to the congress Kaczyński emphasised the importance of high ethical standards on the part of office holders in the party and conceded that there have been lapses in this area. He told the congress that ‘cases of nepotism in our ranks undermine our credibility’ and that ‘politics should be service in the interest of the common good and not for one’s own benefit’, conceding that there had been ‘cases of inappropriate personnel decisions that caused a state of deep frustration and anger among others’.
The question of the Kaczyński succession, even in the medium term, is in the background of many political developments on the right of the political spectrum. An important signal at the weekend congress was provided by Sunday’s election for the first time of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as a vice president of the party. While the appointment is symbolic, for a latecomer to the party who only became a member in 2016, it’s an indication of the succession plan, at least as currently envisaged. Of course such a succession would be far from automatic, and one or more of the other party vice presidents – Mariusz Błaszczak, Joachim Brudziński, Mariusz Kamiński, Antoni Macierewicz and Beata Szydło – could be in the frame. Outside the party itself there is also the controversial figure of Justice Minister and Solidarna Polska leader Zbigniew Ziobro, himself expelled from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość in 2011.
Ex-Minister Nowak Facing Bribery and Money Laundering Charges
On Monday it was reported that the former Transport minister in the last PO-PSL government, Sławomir Nowak, has been formally charged with accepting bribes and money laundering. Nowak served as the head of Ukraine’s State Road Agency (Ukravtodor) after his time in the Polish government. He was arrested last July by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau as part of a joint investigation with Ukraine into allegations of wrongdoing dating from his time there. The Warszawa district prosecutor, Mariusz Dubowski, said that Nowak is facing 17 charges including money laundering and heading a criminal group. He’s alleged to have accepted bribes of 6.5m złotych and solicited a further 4.5m złotych. Throughout the long investigation Nowak has strenuously protested his innocence.
U.S. Firm Makes Play for Polish Nuclear Plant Construction
The U.S. energy giant Westinghouse Electric Corporation says it has started preparatory work in support of Poland’s civil nuclear power programme with financial assistance from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. The company’s Front-End Engineering and Design project is designed to help win the contract for the construction of Poland’s first nuclear power station, and forms part of the implementation of an inter-governmental agreement between the U.S. and Poland on civil nuclear cooperation signed last October.
President Andrzej Duda said in an interview with public broadcaster TVP on Sunday that Poland’s move to include nuclear power in its energy mix would both help the climate and ensure ‘economic sovereignty and security’. He said that ‘We’re moving away from coal, our traditional energy resource, and switching to renewables, but we also need a stable and reliable source of electricity’.
Świątek Out of Wimbledon; Cash Incentive for Polish Olympics Team
Polish tennis star Iga Świątek is out of the Wimbledon championships. The 20th year old Pole, currently number 9, in the WTA world rankings, lost to her Tunisian opponent Ons Jabeur on Monday.
On Tuesday Poland’s Olympic Committee announced the final line-up of the contingent for the Tokyo games which take place from July 23rd to August 8th. Poland will have 215 athletes competing comprising 112 men and 103 women under the Team Polska slogan ‘Jesteśmy Jedną Drużyną’. Not that they will need any extra motivation, but the committee also announced cash incentives for athletes and coaches to secure medals including 120,000 złotych for an athlete winning an individual gold medal. I suspect that after the recent European soccer championship Polish sports fans will be hoping that the country is due some good fortune in Tokyo.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.