Monday

18th Feb 2019

Opinion

How powerful is Poland's Morawiecki?

  • Mateusz Morawiecki (r) took over from Beata Szydlo as Polish prime minister in a sudden and mysterious reshuffle earlier this month (Photo: Consilium)

The new Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki is about to be caught in a tough battle; the first front will be with the EU Commission, defending his government's position, and the second one will be coming from within his own party where he has to repel internal critics.

PiS members are not exactly big supporters of their deputy chairman, which will make him even more dependent on the grace of party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski; even worse, no one yet fully understands the incomplete reshuffle of the Polish government on 13 December.

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Morawiecki's mission, among others, is to restructure the government as early as January 2018 - the right kind of job for a former CEO of a bank.

It will also be a test of his strength in pushing through more technocratic reforms against ideological hardliners like Antoni Macierewicz – the controversial, headline-grabbing defence minister. Should Morawiecki fail, Kaczynski may very well take over.

Dispensable PMs

As humiliating as her ousting would be for any other politician, sacked prime minister Beata Szydlo - one of the most popular politicians in Poland - kept smiling, apparently still well-received by her party.

Her popularity may still be useful to Kaczynski, who pulls her strings and may use her in the upcoming electoral battles. Or, he may choose not to. In fact, there are several explanations for the sudden change in prime minister that could help give a fuller picture.

It might be that, as is characteristic, Kaczynski would not allow any new contender to his supreme power in PiS. If she had stayed in the office, Szydlo might very well have become more powerful, especially if she had allied with Zbigniew Ziobro, the minister of justice and leader of Solidarna Polska - one of the governing coalition members.

Yet, since she has proven loyal to Kaczynski, he might save her popularity for the next electoral battles. Expecting a blow to the reputation of whoever was Polish premier from the EU Commission, he would rather put forward a pawn - and one whose likely political defeat would not cost Kaczynski himself any loss of power in the party.

Naturally, there are several other explanations - such as difficulties in coordinating policies between ministries, which Szydlo was unable to harmonise.

Many wanted Kaczynski to take the office himself and thus consolidate the centre of power, which he effectively holds in his hands anyway.

Instead, Morawiecki – the heir to Kaczynski's nationalist ideology and whose intellectual qualifications are greater than those of his immediate predecessor – is yet another political experiment by the true PiS leader.

Checks, no balance

This decision to switch PMs came at the political climax of this parliamentary term. The parliament just passed laws that will give the ruling party tools to subordinate the judicial branch and exercise non-democratic pressure.

Morawiecki fully supports the new changes, publicly advocating for the new law. It seems to be in line with his conviction that legal order is secondary to majoritarian rule.

The new PM is more likely to use his managerial skills in what investors call a 'hostile takeover' - introducing a great number of speedy changes in governance and the overall structure of an organisation.

By introducing these new judicial laws, Poland will likely produce unfair election conditions and give PiS a stronger grip over potential corruption cases, which usually damage the popularity of political groups ahead of elections - following the Hungarian example.

It may also be an attempt to put Donald Tusk in front of a panel of judges - themselves under the influence of PiS - to at least humiliate, if not to imprison him, in connection with the death of Lech Kaczynski in the plane crash at Smolensk in 2010.

And if that plan does not work out, Morawiecki may not last for too long. In fact, his position is endangered already from both internal and external threats.

In order to stay in office, Morawiecki, a former advisor to Tusk, has to continuously cope with the driving force of Kaczynski's political revenge.

This is why, even during his first week in office, Morawiecki spoke about the "re-Christianising of Europe".

Simultaenously, he had to start his term providing reassurance to the USA - Poland's key security ally - that freedom of the media will be respected after the American-owned TVN was fined €360,000 for reporting on democratic protests in the Sejm [parliament] a year ago.

Morawiecki is also expecting that the EU commission will begin the next stage of the Article 7 sanctions procedure against Poland.

"From the start of such an unfair procedure for us, until it ends, we will certainly talk to our partners," he was quoted as saying by Reuters, in pre-emptive attempt to soften the likely blow to Poland's reputation by the commission.

But will it help to manoeuvre Poland away from being ostracised? It is rather unlikely.

Poland's soft power was not in the best shape before Morawiecki took the office. His managerial skills and diplomatic talent may not be enough to match the upcoming diplomatic and legal thunderstorm.

In any case, it is going to be a real ordeal-by-fire for the new star of the Polish right-wing government.

Wojciech Przybylski is editor in chief of Visegrad Insight and president of the Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw

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