The present leader of the European People’s Party and former President of the European Council and former Polish PM Donald Tusk gave the inaugural lecture at the “Diplomatic Festival” in Białystok on Monday. He used it to attack the ruling party and urge support for the opposition ahead of Poland’s Presidential election in May.
Mr Tusk began his address by saying “I’m not a diplomat, but I learned recently that being too frank about those currently in power could come with a three-year sentence”. He teased the audience that as a result he might then attempt to be a diplomat and would not say everything he might about the government.
He did not keep to his word. He lambasted the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) for its problems over the head of the National Audit Office (NIK) Marian Banaś and the former anti-corruption agency (CBA) office Tomasz Kaczmarek. The office of Mr Banaś has been searched by the CBA and his son was recently detained. NIK in turn have sent inspectors into the Ministry of Justice. Tomasz Kaczmarek, has been detained after he made a series of allegations against the former head of the CBA and current Minister of the Interior, Mariusz Kamiński.
Tusk said that this was a ruling party of people who wanted to accuse and arrest each other. He also attacked the present deputy minister of Justice for making light of a physical attack on a judge in Rybnik.
The former PM said that his own dislike for the present government was justified because the governing elites were attempting to “take Poland into the past”. He hoped that the Presidential election would bring the opportunity to change Poland’s politics.
Tusk backs Kidawa-Błońska, President’s supporters pleased
Donald Tusk at the weekend declared his support for the Civic Platform’s (PO) Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska in the coming Presidential contest and published a photo of them together on social media. In doing so he has backed one party which is in the EPP and its candidate against another, The Polish People’s Party (PSL) and its leader and Presidential candidate Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz.
President Andrzej Duda’s campaign reacted mockingly. The spokesman for his campaign Adam Bielan MEP tweeted “thank you” and a deputy minister of digital affairs Adam Andruszkiewicz called Tusk’s support “the kiss of death”. Other supporters of President Duda took to social media to demonstrate satisfaction that Tusk will help to “mobilize Andrzej Duda’s electorate” and pointing out how he declined to contest the Presidency because he felt he carried too much baggage that would be a burden for the opposition in Poland.
A Festival of Diplomacy was a curious place to make such a speech. Maybe it was because of the location, Białystok. The site of the public prosecutors office which is investigating the Banaś case. But then Mr Tusk’s memory may be rather short. Białystok was also the place where the police detained young football fans for unfurling banners which claimed that football fans would bring down the government.
Mr Tusk taunted the ruling party by saying he might be prosecuted for criticizing it. During the life-time of the present government not a single demonstrator has gone to prison or been beaten up. Poland has no political prisoners. Politicians in Poland are not in danger of having to go to prison for their beliefs. They only face prison should they commit actual crimes such as corruption or worse.
Of course the government’s discomfort over the Banaś case is fair game for any opposition politician. Mr Banaś is an acute embarrassment for the government. But every government has officials who stray from the straight and narrow, and they have to live with it. It is harder in the case of Banaś as according to the constitution he cannot be dismissed from his job unless and until he has been successfully prosecuted and found guilty in a court of law.
Mr Tusk has never taken the opportunity to look critically at the record of his own government. Its record on tax collection, social policy and tolerance for cronyism led to its demise in 2015. But Mr Tusk and the party he led to this day still holds that they were right and the electorate was wrong.
Mr Tusk will argue that he believes that the ruling party’s judicial reforms are a retrograde step and that it is being spendthrift in its economic and social policies. He also accuses it of being Eurosceptic.
But the ruling party’s social and fiscal policies have actually taken Poland closer to Europe’s prevailing ‘social model’. The Polish economy continues to grow faster than those of Western Europe. And Poland is a country that favours more European integration within the single market, EU enlargement and an ambitious integrationist budget. Even on migration, despite its reluctance to take in refugees from the Middle East and Africa it is the country that is taking in most migrants each year.
Mr Tusk and his supporters oppose conservatism. They also do not like being out of power. But they are yet to make a convincing case that they are in touch with large sections of society and have learned lessons from their mistakes in the past. When they call for changing Polish politics, maybe they need to begin with changing themselves.