Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

English-speaking banker to be Polish PM

  • Morawiecki could help mend fences with EU (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Poland's ruling party has replaced prime minister Beata Szydlo with the more EU-friendly finance minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The Law and Justice (PiS) party announced the decision on Thursday (7 December) after a vote by its political committee in which 31 out of 33 members backed the move.

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  • Szydlo became face of Polish defiance in Brussels (Photo: European Parliament)

The Polish president is to formally accept Szydlo's resignation on Friday and to ask Morawiecki to form a new government, to be voted in by the PiS-dominated parliament in early January.

Polish media reported, citing PiS sources, that the change was made on the personal order of the party chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who said the government ought to focus more on economic growth.

The 49-year old Morawiecki is a former banker who used to work for Spanish lender Santander and a former economic adviser to Civic Platform, a centre-right opposition party.

He has led a crackdown on tax evasion in Poland and channelled extra funds into welfare.

He speaks English and German and is well thought of by EU officials in Brussels for his professionalism in meetings of finance ministers.

By contrast, Szydlo had become the face of Kaczynski's EU clash on judicial reform, migrant relocation, and on a court order to stop logging in a primeval forest.

The change comes ahead of parliamentary elections in Poland in 2019.

Some had expected Kaczynski to assume public office ahead of the vote, which could see PiS run against a new opposition force led by former Polish leader and current EU Council chief Donald Tusk.

Kaczynski is 70 years old and said to be in poor health.

But Tomasz Siemoniak, the Civic Platform deputy head, said the Morawiecki move did not mean Kaczynski was stepping aside.

Axe for stick?

Siemoniak said Kaczynski chose Morawiecki because he had no power base inside PiS and would let Kaczynski maintain "responsibility for running the government".

Katarzyna Lubnauer, from Modern, a liberal opposition party, said the reshuffle "changed little" because Kaczynski would "continue to steer the government's actions".

Lech Walesa, a former Polish leader and a Nobel laureate, echoed them with a Polish idiom: "Uncle has switched an axe for a stick".

The PiS party also reassured the public that the removal of Szydlo, who had high approval ratings, meant little.

"Our voters know that we are one team when it comes to realising our programme," PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek said.

Szydlo, who is to become a deputy prime minister without portfolio in Morawiecki's cabinet, thanked Polish people for "the honour" of having served them for the past two years.

Long day

She resigned the same day that she survived a vote of no confidence in parliament, which had been brought by Civic Platform on grounds she had failed to stop fascists from marching in Warsaw on a Polish holiday in November.

Kaczynski gave her flowers and kissed her hand in the plenary chamber in a public farewell before the PiS committee vote that ended her tenure.

Meanwhile, if Morawiecki is to mend fences with EU institutions, he will have a big job to do.

The European Commission on Thursday launched legal proceedings against Poland for its boycott of an EU migrant relocation scheme.

The commission has also threatened to impose sanctions over PiS judicial reforms and illegal logging.

But Witold Waszczykowski, the Polish foreign minister, and Konrad Szymanski, the EU affairs minister, stuck to their guns on migrants on Wednesday.

"Nobody can exempt the Polish government from the obligation to ensure public security," Szymanski said, using the PiS line that Muslim refugees posed a terrorist threat.

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