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Poland’s president Andrzej Duda said on Saturday that he would veto a bill that is part of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s budget in an escalation of the conflict between the country’s rival political parties over media regulation.
Duda said he would seek to block Tusk’s planned overhaul of Poland’s public broadcaster TVP, adding that he could not allow the draft budget for 2024 to include a “blatant violation of the constitution and the principles of a democratic state of law”.
On the campaign trail, Tusk — who took office last week — pledged to shut down the public media company because he said it was spreading propaganda for the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party as well as lies about him, although he has also recently spoken about “healing” public media rather than dismantling it.
Duda’s planned veto was announced on social media platform X. It marks Tusk’s first major political test since leading a three-way coalition to victory over PiS in parliamentary elections in October after PiS’s eight years in power.
By threatening Tusk’s budget, Duda is creating “an unprecedented situation when the president tries to influence public finances for which the government is responsible”, Sławomir Dudek, founder of the Institute of Public Finance, a Polish think-tank, wrote on X.
Dudek said the row “isn’t about the media”.
“This is about overturning the budget creation procedure so that the new government does not make it to the end of January,” he said. Tusk has until the end of next month to get the final version of his budget approved by parliament.
As president, Duda has significant veto powers over legislation. He cannot veto the final budget outright but can block bills that relate to budgetary spending, like the one presented by Tusk this week that also reallocates media money. Tusk must work alongside Duda until the next presidential election in 2025, when Duda, who was the PiS candidate for president, will complete his second and final term.
While Tusk initially published a draft budget without any specific state funding for TVP, an updated version that was reviewed by parliament on Friday included 3bn zlotys for the culture ministry that could be used for state TV and radio. This is in line with TVP’s recent grant levels.
Earlier this week Tusk’s new culture minister fired the bosses of the state television, radio and news agency. Hours later, TVP’s new boss took off the air its news channel, which Tusk has long accused of serving as a mouthpiece for PiS.
The shutdown triggered a fierce backlash from PiS, including a sit-in at the TVP headquarters that was initially led by PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński.
Kaczyński and other PiS leaders said that Tusk was attacking democracy and destroying media plurality by taking on TVP. PiS also claims that Tusk is circumventing Polish law because changes at TVP must be approved by the national broadcasting council — which Tusk accuses of acting as an instrument of PiS.
Duda waded into the TVP dispute earlier this week, siding with PiS and warning Tusk that he needed to show “respect for the Polish legal order”.
Duda said on Saturday that he would prepare his own replacement bill for the draft budget and send it to parliament after Christmas. The bill would also contain measures “related to the raises for teachers and other expenditures”, he said.
Tusk’s draft budget includes a 30 per cent salary increase for teachers, which was one of his election campaign pledges. Tusk’s budget projects a 20 per cent salary rise for other public sector workers and an increase in other welfare benefits.