Early parliamentary elections in October 2007 ended two turbulent years in Poland and brought in a new government. The center-right Civic Platform (PO) benefited from the dissatisfaction with the political style of Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and President Lech Kaczyński (both Law and Justice, PiS) and was able to form a government with the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL). Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the new government has operated fairly smoothly. However, it faced a hostile president who made heavy use of his veto powers.
Under the new government, the quality of democracy has improved. The new government showed more respect for the freedom of media, the independence of the judiciary, civil rights and political liberties. Compared to its predecessor, it has also paid more attention to the fight against discrimination, most notably by re-establishing the office of a Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment. Less progress was made with the fight against corruption. Fearing the charge of not being sufficiently tough on corruption, the government did not dare to reform the Anti-Corruption Office (Centrale Biuro Antykorupcyjne, CBA), a controversial agency created by the previous government.
As for economic and social policies, the Tusk government had a slow start. Following a year of drift, it launched an ambitious reform program in October 2008. While the government’s health care reform was blocked by the president, it succeeded in limiting the scope for early retirement, privatizing a number of companies, increasing Poland’s attractiveness for foreign investors, cutting personal income tax rates and increasing public research funding. The government also reacted relatively swiftly to the international financial crisis. In part because of the Tusk government’s policies, Poland in 2009 was not only one of the few developed countries that did not experience a fall in GDP in 2009, but actually recorded the highest GDP growth among OECD countries for the same year.
The Tusk government has been fairly successful in foreign policy. It has succeeded in improving the relationship with Germany and Russia and in ending its isolation in the EU. However, Poland’s international role suffered from strong controversies between the government and President Kaczyński over the competencies for foreign affairs. These conflicts delayed the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and created some uncertainty about the Polish position on the international scene. A 2009 decision of the Constitutional Court strengthened the position of the government, but did not end the controversies.
The executive capacity of the Tusk government benefited from a number of institutional reforms. The government improved its planning capacities by establishing a Board of Strategic Advisers in the government office. It has strongly relied on scholarly expertise and has succeeded in improving inter-ministerial coordination by the government office and senior ministry officials. Unlike the previous government, it has pursued a more inclusive approach and has largely refrained from intervening in the affairs of subnational governments.
At the end of the period under review, the tragic death of President Kaczyński and 87 other politicians and other representatives of public life in Smolensk shattered Poland. The fact that the resulting vacancies were filled smoothly without mitigating the institutions’ capacity to act underlines the consolidation of the institutional system.