Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Poland has a New Prime Minister

Nicholas Zalewski
Polish President Andrzej Duda swears in Donald Tusk as Poland’s new Prime Minister. Source: Wojtek Radwanski / AFP

As expected, Donald Tusk won the vote of confidence in the Sejm, Poland. This marks a new chapter in Polish Politics; one that will be pro-European Union. Law and Justice, which was previously in power, was notable for its combative nature with the European Union, despite a majority of Poles having a  favorable opinion towards the EU. 53 percent of Polish respondents to the fall 2023 Eurobarometer have a positive image of the European Union. Donald Tusk also announced that Poland would be a strong supporter of Ukraine. While originally being a stronger supporter, Poland’s support has appeared to weaken lately, particularly with the ongoing trucker protests.

Repealing Legislation Passed By Law and Justice 

The European Union and other member states were pleased with the results of the election in part due to Donald Tusk’s commitments to repeal reforms that were considered to be illiberal, such as the judicial reforms. Repealing these reforms will not be straightforward though. While Donald Tusk has the votes in the Sejm, he will potentially face push back from President Andrzej Duda, a member of Law and Justice. This puts Donald Tusk in the uncomfortable position of cohabitation, a term coined in French politics to discuss the situation when the Prime Minister and President are from opposing political parties. Duda has made it clear he will veto legislation. The Sejm can overturn a veto by Duda, with a majority vote that is unfortunately significantly larger than the majority the ruling coalition has in the Sejm. While cannot run for reelection in 2025 as he has already been elected twice, nothing says another member of Law and Justice cannot win this election which would make things even more difficult for Poland’s new government. 

Large protest in Warsaw against judicial reforms passed by Law and Justice. Source: VOA News

Not All Smooth Sailing  

Despite having constructed a coalition government, Tusk will still face several challenges. The first is budget constraints. Due to excessive spending by Law and Justice before they left power, Tusk will now face some difficulties being able to keep all of the campaign promises he made. Since the election on October 15th, Law and Justice new spending grew to equal an entire percentage point of Poland’s GDP. This is an issue for Poland as the nation is already estimated to have a budget deficit of six percent.  

Running a high budget deficit can cause Poland to run into trouble with the European Union yet again. Even though this budget deficit is not caused by Donald Tusk, he will have to find a way out or Poland may face disciplinary action by the EU. Member states are not supposed to have a budget deficit greater than three percent of the national GDP. The European Union was lenient during the pandemic when budget deficits soared as a result of unpredictable drops in GDP occurred. Earlier this year however the European Union made it clear that it still takes budget deficits seriously. In April, the European Commission proposed new rules to ensure that member states obey the three percent budget deficit limit. EU member states are also supposed to maintain a national debt equivalent to less than 60 percent of its GDP. Poland is currently one of the member states in compliance with this requirement, but this can quickly change with a high annual budget deficit.

Poland is currently one of the EU member states with its national debt below 60 percent of its GDP. Source: Eurostat

Besides increasing spending recently, Law and Justice has also caused financial constraints for Poland by causing billions of euros to be frozen by the European Union. Currently 59 billion destined to Poland have been frozen by the European Union. This is no small amount, and is equivalent to seven percent of Poland’s expected GDP of 842 billion dollars this year. While Poland has seen incredible economic growth since it became an EU member state, any additional funds for economic growth would be helpful in the still distant accomplishment of economic convergence with wealthier member states. 

On the bright side, Poland is on track to receive 5 billion euros in frozen funds by the end of the year from the European Union. This is a result of European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen’s faith in Donald Tusk’s dedication to maintaining EU values, but these payments will not continue if Tusk is unsuccessful in repealing reforms if Duda vetoes them. Tusk may have to wait and hope that a pro-EU candidate wins the next Polish presidential election in 2025 if Duda remains stubborn and vetoes any legislation to undue reforms passed by Law and Justice, as he has already indicated. The major risk for Tusk is that voters will be discouraged by a lack of progress and may vote for another president from Law and Justice, even if Law and Justice is culpable for blocking necessary repeals in order to unfreeze funds.


While Donald Tusk had a clear electoral victory, he will have an uphill battle to prove to voters he can keep his campaign promises. While he himself is pro-EU, Law and Justice has set him up for a bumpy first few years in office as Prime Minister. He will need to confront the budget deficit as well in order to avoid yet more disciplinary actions taken by the EU targeting Poland. Poland’s new government can be expected to be different from Law and Justice that prided itself on being combative with the European Union, but there it is important to wait and see how much Donald Tusk is able to truly accomplish before celebrating prematurely over anticipated radical change which exceeds what is practical to be achieved. 

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Florkiewicz, Pawel., Badohal, karol., and Szakacs, Gergely. “New Polish government inherits troubled budget legacy”. Reuters. 13 December 2023.

Baccini, Federico. “Tusk’s new pro-European course in Poland will lead to a “Christmas gift” of 5 billion euros in EU funds”. EU News. 15 December 2023.

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min