Kopacz chooses cabinet of party unity

By bne IntelliNews September 19, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -

 

Looking more towards a looming series of elections and less at making a dramatic break with the policies of her predecessor, Poland's new prime minister Ewa Kopacz presented her cabinet on September 19. Kopacz takes over the government after Donald Tusk was named to the EU's top job, president of the European Council, a post he takes over in December.

What changes Kopacz did make to the cabinet seemed aimed much more at calming tensions within the party after Tusk's departure and solidifying her position as undisputed leader. The 57-year-old paediatrician is a Tusk loyalist who has risen through the party's ranks since first being elected to parliament in 2001.

“The most important task is to rebuild the trust of Poles,” Kopacz said in her morning press conference, where she stumbled while naming her ministers.

The biggest surprise in her new government was the replacement of veteran foreign affairs minister Radek Sikorski with Grzegorz Schetyna, a political infighter who had changed from Tusk ally to his bigger internal rival in recent years.

Schetyna has very little foreign policy experience, a subject in which he has shown little past interest. He has been the head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee for three years, but the post was seen as a banishment from the upper reaches of the party and government. He has not mastered foreign languages, and has many fewer foreign contacts than Sikorski, who moves to become the speaker of parliament.

Although Kopacz hailed Schetyna's “strong personality”, he has the job because otherwise he would be her rival in future internal party elections needed to certify her leadership of Civic Platform. “In these sorts of situations one says, `all hands on deck',” she said.

“Promotions could be a more effective method of ensuring loyalty than combating divisions,” wrote Michal Szuldrzynski in the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

However, Schetyna's new job as the chief of Polish diplomacy comes at a very sensitive time, with war in neighbouring Ukraine and Russia's Vladimir Putin reportedly saying he could have Russian tanks in Warsaw and the Baltic capitals within two days.

Schetyna has in the past talked of the need to impose sanctions against Russia, but his tone against Moscow has been less aggressive than Sikorski's.

Kopacz also suggested that her government may take a softer line on Ukraine. When asked if Poland was prepared to arm Ukraine, she appeared very unenthusiastic. Comparing herself to a “sensible Polish woman”, she said, “Our security, our country, our homes, our children should be secure. We should not be active participants in an armed conflict.”

Kopacz also chose other party barons for senior government posts, leaving her as the arbiter between conflicting factions. She left Mateusz Sczurek in place as finance minister, and most of the other senior economic portfolios were also little changed – which implies no radical break with Tusk's careful economic policies. His government focussed largely on small steps to improve the business environment but – to the frustration of business and many economists – eschewed more ambitious reforms.

Kopacz's main focus is on Poland's electoral cycle. Regional elections are due in November, presidential elections next spring and parliamentary elections later in the year. Civic Platform had been badly trailing the opposition Law and Justice party in recent months, the result of widespread voter fatigue with Tusk, who was in his second term as prime minister.

However, his promotion to a senior job in Brussels, and the formation of a new government under Kopacz, has shaken up Poland's political scene. Recent opinion polls have shown Civic Platform leaping ahead by 10 percentage points or more. That puts it within reach of winning the next series of elections.

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