By Alan Charlish and Anna Koper
WARSAW (Reuters) – Former European Council President Donald Tusk returned to prominence in Polish politics on Saturday, becoming the leader of the main opposition party in a move that many members hope will be able to revive his decaying fortune.
For many in the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party that Tusk helped found, what is at stake is nothing less than Poland’s future in the European Union.
Elections scheduled for 2023 will determine whether the nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will continue its ranks with Brussels on issues including judicial reforms that the EU says undermine the independence of judges and LGBT rights.
“The Civic Platform is indispensable, it is needed as a force, not as a memory, to win the fight for the future against PiS,” Tusk told a PO congress in Warsaw. “There is no possibility of victory without Civic Platform, and our history tells us so.”
The announcement of Tusk’s return came after closed-door talks between the new leader, his predecessor Borys Budka, and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who had also received leadership tips.
Tusk, President of the European Council from 2014 to 2019, helped guide the European Union through a tumultuous period marked by Brexit and the migration crisis.
The first prime minister in Poland’s post-communist history to win two terms in office, he led the PO in government from 2007 to 2014.
During the global financial crisis, Poland avoided a recession under Tusk’s leadership, but the government was seen as increasingly disconnected from the problems of younger and less wealthy Poles.
Upon his return to Polish politics, Tusk will still have to grapple with this problem, as the party, which some analysts say has struggled to define its agenda and connect with voters beyond its urban middle-class constituency, languishes around historical lows in the country. center.
“The largest opposition party is going through the biggest crisis in its history … Many voters who don’t like PiS don’t want to vote for the PO either,” said Rafal Chwedoruk, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw.
PO, whose Civic Coalition grouping has 126 deputies in the Polish parliament compared to 230 in the ruling coalition, has been pushed to third place in opinion polls by Catholic journalist Szymon Holownia’s Poland 2050 party, whose central agenda Right resonates with many central PO voters.
Additionally, many younger voters view the party’s stance on divisive issues like abortion and LGBT rights as overly cautious.
“After six consecutive electoral defeats at various levels, PO voters are losing confidence in the party’s ability to challenge PiS,” Andrius Tursa, a Central and Eastern European adviser to consulting firm Teneo, said in a note.
Tusk’s former foe Jaroslaw Kaczynski is also expected to be re-elected as the PiS leader on Saturday, but he faces his own problems.
PiS has tried to maintain that its United Right coalition, lately divided by divisions, is stable and can deliver its “Polish Deal” economic policy package, which it says will raise the standard of living of most poles.
PiS came to power in 2015 thanks to generous promises of social spending that raised living standards at many poles, and now emphasizes how changes to the tax system in the Polish agreement will leave most workers with more disposable income.
However, critics within the coalition say the changes penalize small business owners and the middle class, with three PiS members leaving the party last week amid a new internal fight.