Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
Poland's new prime minister Ewa Kopacz in effect launched her election campaign on October 1, making a maiden premier's speech to parliament that set out a long list of promises, including a vow to look after the people who have been left behind by Poland's economic miracle of the last quarter century.
Kopacz has a year to cement her popularity before parliamentary elections. Her Civic Platform party, in its second term in office, has sagged in popularity in recent months, in part because of voter fatigue with Donald Tusk, her predecessor. Tusk had been prime minister since 2007, but in December moves to Brussels to become president of the European Council, the top job in the European Union.
“My government's main goal will be to build the security of Polish families,” Kopacz said in a 55-minute speech that laid out extra benefits for new parents, people seeking to buy their first homes and parents of small children.
Kopacz also gave a nod in the direction of the more than 2,000 angry coal miners gathered outside parliament, saying her government would combat “unfair” coal imports that make it difficult for Poland's lossmaking coal mines to compete. Miners have recently tried to block the import of cheaper Russian coal.
She also promised a fairer tax system, less red tape for businesses, more spending on innovation and startups and a push to complete more highways.
Although the list of promises was long - enough that Leszek Balcerowicz, the architect of Poland's 1990 shock therapy economic reforms, asked for the female equivalent of Santa Claus - other economists felt that Kopacz's promises would not destabilise public finances.
Poland has pledged to keep the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2015, a goal that Marcin Piatkowski, an economist with the World Bank, said was not in danger with the new programme. The deficit is likely to come in at about 3.5 per cent this year, still above the EU's requirement, but an improvement over the 4.3 per cent recorded in 2013.
Kopacz also gave a green light to Poland's efforts to join the euro, but said that Poland still has to “do its homework” before being able to adopt the common currency. Poland does not currently meet the criteria for joining, and constitutional difficulties make it unlikely that it will be able to join much before the end of the decade.
The sense of concentrating on home issues was strengthened by her views on the situation in neighbouring Ukraine. Reversing Russia's aggression against Ukraine was a main goal of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski, now speaker of parliament. While Kopacz said it was unacceptable to seize a country's territory, she stressed that Poland would be “pragmatic” and not isolate itself by setting “unrealisable goals”. The final arbiters of what happens in Ukraine are the Ukrainians themselves, she said.
Finally, she held out an olive branch to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the opposition Law and Justice party. She noted his long-held distaste for Tusk, and called on him to end “this curse of hatred” that was impeding Poland's progress, saying she wanted 100 days of calm to push through her agenda.
Tusk's departure has left Kaczynski in a quandary, as much of his party's campaign was built around ousting him. Now that Tusk is off to Brussels for a very high-profile job, Kaczynski has to do battle with a generally well-liked 57-year-old physician, a more difficult task for him.
Kopacz faces a vote of confidence on Wednesday evening, one that will not be much of a challenge as the coalition government controls a majority in the 460-member parliament. Her greater challenge will be to marshal her party and lead it to victory for a third time in next year's election.
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