Former EU President Tusk Poised to Return to Polish Politics

Donald Tusk is plotting a comeback to Polish politics to reinvigorate flagging support for the pro-European Union party he founded two decades ago.

The former Polish prime minister and ex-president of the European Council could soon take over as interim leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported on Friday, without revealing its sources.

Speculation has swirled for weeks that Tusk, a close political ally of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is preparing to return from domestic political retirement and revive his old rivalry with Poland’s ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The current government, in power since 2015, has turned Poland into an EU rogue that has been repeatedly sued by the bloc for eroding democratic standards.

Nevertheless, with a mix of flag-waving rhetoric, generous family benefits and tight control over public broadcasters, Kaczynski’s Law & Justice party has managed to keep its lead in opinion polls. At the same time, internal conflicts and policy U-turns by Civic Platform have limited its appeal.

The party founded by Tusk, which ruled between 2007 and 2015, has failed to broaden its backing beyond the traditional big-city electorate. Even there, it has been hemorrhaging support to an upstart group fronted by former television personality Szymon Holownia, whose Polska 2050 movement has been polling higher than the Civic Platform for the last month.

In order to have any shot at winning the next general election, due in 2023, pro-EU opposition groups will need to unite, according to opinion surveys.

Mentally Ready

Under the scenario laid out by Gazeta Wyborcza, Civic Platform’s current chairman Borys Budka will hand over leadership to Tusk, who will run the party until a convention officially chooses the next leader. The plan is going to be announced to the party’s top brass on Wednesday, according to weekly Polityka.

Tusk, 64, is currently the leader of the European People’s Party -- the biggest group in the EU parliament. He has voiced alarm about the Polish opposition’s hapless attempts to challenge Law & Justice but it’s far from clear whether his return would be the silver bullet needed to turn around the fortunes of parties seeking to bring Poland back into the EU mainstream.

Tusk left for a top job in Brussels in 2014 amid a taping scandal involving some of his party’s leading politicians. Leaks from conversations over dinners in posh Warsaw restaurants painted Tusk’s allies as out of touch with regular people and helped pave the way for Law & Justice’s election victory.

“I’m ready to do anything to prevent the Civic Platform from being consigned to history,” Tusk told TVN24 news channel this month. “Mentally and emotionally, I’m ready to make any decision that would help reinstate decency in Poland.”

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