Saturday

6th Mar 2021

New Polish PM brings same old government

  • Morawiecki (r), a former finance minister, at the EU Council in Brussels (Photo: premier.gov.pl)

Poland's new prime minister has brought in the same old government, amid EU hopes for "cooperation".

Mateusz Morawiecki, who was sworn in by the Polish president on Monday (11 December), kept every minister from the previous administration in their old posts in what he called a "government of continuity".

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  • TVN24 fine comes as part of wider media crakdwn (Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

The only change was that the former finance minister kept his finance dossier, while the outgoing PM, Beata Szydlo, became a deputy PM without portfolio.

Morawiecki focused on family values and on the economy in his speech.

"Our point of departure will be the family, a safe family, work, dignified work, housing, housing for all," he said.

He alluded to Poland's disputes with the EU in one remark. "In the crucible of today's European and global experiences, in the heat of various disputes, we will steer ourselves by the good of Poland and its citizens," he said.

The 49-year old former banker, who speaks English and German, is well-liked in Brussels.

But his elevation comes amid multiple clashes with the EU.

The European Commission has threatened to impose sanctions on Poland if Morawiecki's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party goes further in seizing control of Polish courts.

It is also suing Poland in the EU court over its boycott of a migrant relocation scheme and over logging in a primeval forest.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, pointedly mentioned "democratic values" in a short letter to Morawiecki on Monday.

He said he "counted" on the new PM's "active participation in steps that serve to strengthen the role of the European Union … [which] always stands on the side of democratic values".

He also said he "hoped" Poland would "remain a positive force for the sake of European integration".

Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, "counted on good cooperation" with Morawiecki.

Tusk, a former Polish leader and an outspoken critic of PiS, said: "The times require action on behalf of Poland's strong position in the European Union and the unity of all member states".

Continuity

Morawiecki's first move gave little reason to expect change, however.

His government line-up included Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister at the heart of Poland's judicial reforms, Witold Waszczykowski, the foreign minister who championed the EU migrant boycott, and Jan Szyszko, the environment minister behind the logging dispute.

It also included Antoni Macierewicz, the defence minister, who has previously accused Tusk of collusion with Russia.

The Polish opposition noted that the PiS party chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was still the power behind the throne.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the centre-right Civic Platform party, said Morawiecki had been "impotent" to name his own cabinet.

"It's not easy to be prime minister in a government where Kaczynski calls the shots," Schetyna said.

Michal Szczerba, a Civic Platform MP, said: "We all know we're not dealing with an independent entity [Morawiecki]".

"Morawiecki wants to be modern and European, credible in Europe, but on the other hand he has to take care of his political backing", Szczerba added.

Free media

There was also little to feed hopes of democratic values in PiS' treatment of independent media.

Polish authorities fined TVN24, a private broadcaster, 1.5 million zloty (€360,000) on Monday for its coverage of anti-PiS protests in parliament in December last year.

The KRRiT, Poland's media regulator, said TVN24's programmes had been guilty of "promoting illegal activities and encouraging behaviour that threatens security", forcing TVN24 to defend its editorial principles.

TVN24 reporters "did not create an atmosphere of support for the events, but related, in the fullest possible way, what took place", the broadcaster said.

"Showing the facts, whether they are legal or not, cannot be treated as encouragement for any kind of action," it added.

Dorota Glowacka, a lawyer for the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a Polish NGO, told the Reuters news agency that KRRiT's decision was "very disturbing".

"It may be perceived as a certain warning signal for other media that would like to report independently some events that are uncomfortable from the point of view of the ruling party," she said.

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