New government sworn in
Following a resounding victory in October parliamentary elections, Poland’s new Prime Minister Donald Tusk was formally sworn in by President Lech Kaczynski on November 16, before he and his coalition government’s ministers took office in a televised ceremony held at the presidential palace in Warsaw.
“So help me God,” said Tusk, leader of Poland’s election-winning liberal party, as he pledged to serve the country, using a formula, which although optional, is traditionally used in government ceremonies in deeply-Catholic Poland. His 18 ministers were then sworn in one by one.
Tusk said his ministers were “well prepared and decent,” adding “state power should serve the people, not dominate them.” His government intended to focus on “health, wages and home security,” Tusk added.
Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) Party beat the conservative Law and Justice Party in a snap election on October 21 and ended the unprecedented political double act of deposed Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski with his identical twin, who of course remains the president, Lech Kaczynski.
The PO victory also ended the rule of Kaczynski’s fractious three-party coalition, which had struggled through two years of in-fighting, scandal and criticism.
A new coalition forms
Tusk takes over with a new coalition, forced on him due to the fact that Civic Platform missed its goal of obtaining a parliamentary majority, winning 209 of the total 460 seats. He forms his government with members of the moderate Polish Peasants’ Party, which won 31 seats in parliament, and has made its leader, Waldemar Pawlak, his deputy prime minister.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who formally stepped down as prime minister on November 5, has become the leader of the opposition.
Tusk chooses top party ally as interior minister
Poland’s prime minister-designate, as Tusk then was, on October 25 nominated a senior ally in his pro-business Civic Platform party as the country’s new interior minister, a vital post in Poland, and started holding talks with other potential members of his government. Donald Tusk said he had chosen his right-hand man in the party, Secretary-General Grzegorz Schetyna, to run the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police and security issues. He said Schetyna would accept.
Tusk tapped Jacek Rostowski, 56, a British-born graduate of the London School of Economics, for finance minister. Rostowski is an advocate of fast euro adoption, and was an adviser in Poland’s transition to a market economy in the early 1990s.
Tusk also met with Radek Sikorski, a former defence minister, whom he said was to be the new foreign minister. Sikorski previously served as defence minister under outgoing Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, but resigned amid differences with the government. He then ran in the election for Tusk’s party. The new foreign minister also has deep ties to Britain, where he was stranded as an anti-communist dissident after military rule was imposed in Poland by the Communist regime in 1981.
Tusk also planned to meet with Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who served for a few months as prime minister for Kaczynski’s conservative and nationalist Law and Justice party in 2005 and 2006. However, Tusk said that he did not expect Marcinkiewicz to enter his government because he is now under contract with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Mending ties with the EU
Under Tusk, Poland is expected to push through a wave of pro-business economic policies — including more privatization, deregulation and speedy adoption of the euro — moves that could make the largest of the EU’s eastern members a model of economic discipline in the region.
“This is a reformist government — and it’s a new beginning for Poland,” said Lars Christensen, senior analyst at the Danske Bank in Copenhagen.
Tusk has pledged to end the regular tussles with the rest of the European Union, and with neighbouring Germany in particular, which marked Law and Justice’s rule.
He also promised to ease tensions in relations with Russia, which have been at their lowest ebb since Poland broke free from the Communist bloc in 1989.
The urbane, amiable Tusk is a dyed-in-the-wool champion of European integration — and his premiership will be in stark contrast to that of Kaczynski after the fights the brothers picked with EU leaders.
Profile of a liberal
Tusk has also been a confirmed economic liberal since his youth, and has regularly said that Poland needs less state interference and more entrepreneurs.
Besides being an anti-regime activist during communist rule, when he studied Poland’s pre-war history, Tusk was a hands-on apprentice in economics, becoming one of the country’s few independent businessmen by setting up a small painting firm.
After 1989, when communist rule came to an end in Poland, Tusk and a group of friends in his Baltic Sea hometown of Gdansk founded a political party, the Liberal Democratic Congress (KLD), to campaign for a sweeping privatization of the state-run economy.
In elections in 1991, KLD won 37 seats in Poland’s 460-seat lower house, but lost them all two years later, and Tusk opted to merge his party with the larger Freedom Union (UW).
After leading a breakaway in 2001, Tusk formed PO and the rest is history.
Thatcherism to the fore
In line with his economic thinking, Tusk is an avowed admirer of the late US President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
He has also been a faithful supporter of Lech Walesa, the former Gdansk shipyard electrician who led the communist-era opposition trade union Solidarity and was elected president in 1990. Walesa also backed the PO in the campaign that led to Tusk’s victory.
Tusk is proud of his cultural background. He is a Kashubian — a Slav minority from the Gdansk region — and has been at the forefront of a cultural revival, which has reversed years of decline.
He only discovered his roots as an adult, prompting him to learn the language and later write the first textbook for would-be Kashubian-speakers.
The economy recovers
The economy is growing at 7% and unemployment is falling rapidly, although some analysts say this is partially caused by the estimated one million Poles who have left the country in recent years, many to the UK. At the same time Poland is now the largest beneficiary of structural funds from the European Union.
It’s hard for a government to lose an election if the economy is doing as well as it is. While the bashing of the EU went against the Kaczynski twins. Former Premier Kaczynski only agreed to the new EU treaty outline at the summit in June after winning concessions on voting rights. Unlike their former Eurosceptic prime minister, Poles are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the country’s EU membership.
Poland is a country polarized between supporters and opponents of Kaczynski, says the BBC’s Adam Easton in Warsaw. The 58-year-old out-going prime minister believes the state is broken and he is the first politician to try to mend it. He has done this by giving extra power to anti-corruption agencies while purging former communists. Kaczynski has also promoted an assertive foreign policy and traditional Catholic values. His supporters said they voted for “the Law and Justice party as it was telling the truth and doing something”. But Kaczynski’s policies and style are not to the taste of many better-off and well-educated city dwellers, which prefer Tusk and his far more modern party and policies.
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