Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party carried out a major reshuffle of the government on January 9, replacing most controversial ministers with more moderate appointees.
The reshuffle appears to be an attempt by PiS to move the government to a more centrist position ahead of three successive elections in the coming years. Getting rid of some of the most unpopular and contentious ministers could bolster the ruling party ahead of an important local election due in the autumn. The local election will be followed by general and presidential votes in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
The shake-up comes hours before Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s trip to Brussels where he will meet the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Morawiecki will hope to ease tension with the EU over PiS policies that some of the dismissed ministers pursued. That said, the position of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro who oversee the main point of contention with Brussels – the reform of the judiciary – was never in doubt.
The scope of the changes hints that Morawiecki has been allowed a lot of manoeuvring room by PiS’ chairman and de facto decision maker, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The sacking of Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz stands out in particular. It appears to be a success flr President Andrzej Duda who as the head of the Polish armed forces was reportedly in conflict with the minister. Macierewicz had enjoyed strong backing from PiS’ most conservative supporters and there is speculation that unless he is given a new prominent post his dismissal might create friction in the PiS camp.
Some commentators claim, however, that Macierewicz’s position is overstated and was eroded further by the minister’s own doings, such as mishandling the issue of purchasing helicopters for the Polish army. His commission probing the 2010 Smolensk plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski – Jaroslaw’s twin brother – turned into a farce by pushing outlandish theories about the crash.
Former home affairs minister Mariusz Blaszczak, Kaczynski’s long-time trusted aide, has replaced Macierewicz.
In more expected moves, Morawiecki sacked Environment Minister Jan Szyszko who gave Poland the worst press abroad in years for logging in the biodiversity hotspot, the Bialowieza Forest, which landed Poland in a court case against the Commission. Szyszko has been replaced by Henryk Kowalczyk, until now a minister without portfolio in the PM’s office. Kowalczyk is seen as a moderate although he lacks experience in environmental policy.
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill were also let go. Waszczykowski did little to further PiS’ position in the EU, while Radziwill had become a problem for the government at home for poor handling of a health care reform. The new foreign minister is Jacek Czaputowicz who served as deputy foreign minister, while the new health minister is cardiologist Lukasz Szumowski, who is leaving his post as deputy science minister.
Digitalisation Minister Anna Strezynska – who is not a member of PiS and therefore lacked political power – was also dismissed despite being widely credited as competent. Her ministry will be liquidated and its work shifted to the new Ministry of Technology and Development.
The reshuffle involved some reorganisation of the ministries. The Ministry of Development will now cover development and investment, while a new Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology was created and will be headed by Jadwiga Emilewicz. Teresa Czerwinska will be the new finance minister, relieving PM Morawiecki of that caretaker function.