Polish PM's resignation seen as opportunity for a "velvet" cabinet reshuffle

By bne IntelliNews September 10, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -

 

Donald Tusk's resignation as Poland's prime minister has opened a frenzy of speculation over the shape of the new cabinet to be chosen over the next days by his replacement, parliamentary speaker Ewa Kopacz.

Tusk formally resigned on September 9, part of his preparations to take up his new post as president of the European Council in December. His Civic Platform party (PO) has chosen Kopacz, a longtime Tusk loyalist and former health minister, to take his spot. Kopacz is due to meet with Bronislaw Komorowski, the president, on September 12. She then has two weeks to present her new cabinet and gain the approval of a majority in parliament. She will then have a year in power before parliamentary elections in 2015.

In addition to Tusk, his chief lieutenant in the government, Deputy PM Elzbieta Bienkowska is also going – she becomes Poland's European commissioner. Those two departures, plus Kopacz's shift in jobs, opens the whole cabinet to a very deep reconstruction.

Foreign affairs

One big change could be at the foreign ministry. Radek Sikorski, who has been foreign minister since Tusk first won office in 2007, may be asked to step in as speaker of parliament, formally the third most powerful position in the country. The idea is controversial because Sikorski, who is abrasive and not easy to work with, is also generally recognised as being a very good foreign minister. He has wide-ranging contacts across Europe, and his long-standing suspicion of Russia has been fully borne out by Moscow's behaviour in Ukraine.

Sikorski had been hoping to get the job of the EU's top diplomat, a post that instead went to Italy's Federica Mogherini. Being parliamentary speaker could allow him to cultivate a stronger position in Civic Platform, something he now lacks.

Bienkowska had also been seen as one of Poland's most competent officials, and there is no obvious replacement for her. She had been given a super ministry in charge of transport and of disbursing the billions of euros in EU structural funds flowing into the country – fuel for the country's modernisation.

One minister who is almost certain to go is Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, the interior minister who became one of the anti-heroes of the recent "Waitergate" taping scandal. Sienkiewicz, as well as other ministers including Sikorski, were illegally recorded while having dinner at top Warsaw restaurants - supposedly by their waiters - and their often embarrassing conversations were reported in Wprost, a news weekly.

The scandal hurt Civic Platform, which has already been losing ground for about a year to the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party. However, Tusk's departure to the high profile Brussels post has given his party a major boost in opinion polls, useful before November's local elections.

One survey, conducted by TNS Polska, showed PO gaining 10 percentage points to 34%, overtaking Law and Justice at 28%. Tusk's elevation and the resulting cabinet reshuffle might be enabling the party to put recent scandals behind them and to reshape the government without having to do so under duress.

“Donald Tusk's resignation is an opportunity for a velvet Cabinet reshuffle,” writes Wojciech Szacki of Polityka Insight, an analysis firm. “No minister has to be removed, as they are all dismissed by law, and only those chosen by the new PM will return.”

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