Poland’s incoming Prime Minister Donald Tusk has presented his plan for a more pro-European and liberal Poland, turning away from the years of international isolation and saber-rattling of the outgoing right-wing government. He also pledged strong support for Ukraine, stated that Poland cannot allow for Russia to win the war with Ukraine, and promised to strengthen the Polish army.

Back in the game

Tusk’s return to power after eight years led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party brings a sigh of relief to all those who look to the West. Warsaw is on a new course and will no longer rub shoulders with Europe’s chief anti-democrats, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán or France’s Marine Le Pen – who had been political sweethearts of the Polish right for well over a decade.

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“Poland will regain its position as a leader in the European Union,” said Tusk in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, during a keynote speech on Tuesday. He also said he will bring back the €134 billion from the Next Generation EU funds to Poland, which were frozen due to a falling-out between the European Commission and the outgoing government over rule-of-law concerns. The new government is expected to roll back a judicial overhaul implemented by PiS which undermined the independence of the courts.

For weeks, parliament has been working long hours to ensure a smooth handover of power in time for Tusk to travel to a summit of EU leaders on Thursday and Friday. Not even when an antisemitic far-right Konfederacja party lawmaker attacked the Sejm’s Hanukkah menorah with a fire extinguisher on Tuesday afternoon, did the session come to a halt. The wheels of power are turning despite the incident and despite PiS’s efforts to slow down the process of handing over power, since they lost elections on Oct. 15. It has been two months, and the electorate is growing impatient.

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Strong support for Ukraine

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The final months of the PiS government led by Mateusz Morawiecki had been marred by diplomatic spats with Kyiv. Warsaw’s ban on Ukrainian grain imports and strike of Polish truckers on the border with Ukraine have left the two sides butting heads since summer.

All the while support for continued military and financial aid to Ukraine is questioned across some capitals, Tusk sent a strong signal to Poland’s allies.

“The task of Poland, the new government, and all of us is to loudly and firmly demand determination from the Western community to help Ukraine. I will do it from day one,” Tusk said.

“We all have the feeling that there is a long way to go. I think we all know what would happen if Russia triumphed in this conflict. And in this situation, in this context, no one in this room has the right to think that they do not know how much is at stake,” the Prime Minister added.

“We will loudly and decisively demand the full mobilization of the free world, the Western world, to help Ukraine in this war,” he concluded.

God’s shipping country

Bilateral relations have been additionally strained by a protest of Polish truckers who have blocked some border crossings in a dispute over Ukrainian trucking firms’ access to the EU’s single market. Their argument is that all the while Ukrainian truckers enjoy access to the European shipping market, as they are not required to follow the ultra-strict EU freight and safety regulations. Therefore, having an unfair advantage, they can easily undercut their Polish competitors.

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Since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, international freight shipping has become one of the pillars of its economy. In 2021, this industry generated 5.7 percent of Poland’s GDP and employed a million people – that is, it provided work for approximately 6 percent of its labor force. At the same time, Polish drivers transported 19 percent of all the goods in the single market, taking first place in Europe ahead of Germany and Spain.

Freight shipment is a jewel in the crown of the Polish economy and giving concessions to Ukraine in this field will not be an easy task for any Polish politician. The new prime minister promised to “quickly resolve issues behind the protest,” but his exact plans still remain a mystery.

The new government plans to resolve the truckers’ protest as a top priority. In a few weeks’ time we will find out if Donald Tusk can walk the walk, or just talk the talk.

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Michał Piękoś is a Polish journalist and columnist, and editor-in-Chief of the Trybuna daily newspaper. He worked as editor of MSN News in Berlin and editor-in-chief of the news website wPunkt. He is a political commentator on Polish Radio 24 and a member of the Polish Association of Journalists.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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