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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » March 5, 2008
POLITICS
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100 Days of Government
March 5, 2008 By W.¯.    
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Feb. 24 marked 100 days since the coalition government, formed by the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL), came to power. Prime Minister and PO leader Donald Tusk took the opportunity to give a speech that was later dubbed his "second policy speech." He spoke about the government's accomplishments and mapped out its plans for the coming months and years.

"In the 100 days since we started, we have not managed to fix everything, but the hope Poles have for normal, prosperous lives has not dwindled, it is actually growing stronger," Tusk said. According to him, the first success of the PO-PSL government is the creation of a "national system of trust." Tusk said the government would be willing to talk to all professional groups that were protesting against low salaries, to "reach optimal decisions through dialogue conducted in mutual trust and respect."

The prime minister believes the greatest challenge facing the government is to "maintain budgetary discipline." The point is to "let people earn more money," he said, reminding his audience that the first task his government had undertaken was to review the draft budget for 2008, which Jarosław Kaczyński's cabinet had left behind. "We were well aware the draft budget we inherited could not undergo any radical corrections," Tusk said. "It was our responsibility to check if there was any way to repair the budget." He added that the government had decided the draft budget needed two things: higher salaries for teachers and a lower budget deficit.

"All ministers ran a brutal review of expenses," Tusk said. "Each ministry made tough decisions, thus saving around zl.3.5 billion through cuts in red tape and expenses Poland could do without." Tusk explained that zl.2.5 billion went to pay rises for teachers and the rest to lowering the budget deficit. He added that from now on, the government would make "sensible and bold" cuts in spending on bureaucracy, administration and other redundant expenses in every draft budget, so that "those who depend on public finances can earn more money." The cuts will be also used to reduce the budget deficit.

Addressing international affairs, Tusk said that from the point of view of Poland's national interest, the past 100 days had seen considerable changes on the European and global scale and in terms of relations with its closest neighbors. According to him, the Foreign Ministry's efforts have clearly improved the most "delicate and sensitive" issues involving Poland's neighbors, compared with just three months ago. "Poland has again become an understandable and predictable partner for most countries of the world," Tusk said. "We are rebuilding Europe's hopes in our key role in the eastern dimension of the European neighborhood."

Tusk also thanked PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak, the deputy prime minister, for cooperation in the coalition, which he described as "free from mutual aggression and marked by mutual trust." He added, "Waldemar Pawlak has showed us that politics can be free from absurd conflicts."

The prime minister vowed to encourage his coalition partners, the opposition and President Lech Kaczyński-a member of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party-to amend the constitution. The proposed amendments would seek to establish an updated and clear system of legislative and executive authority, to avoid misunderstandings over who makes crucial decisions. Politicians say the fundamental issue is to define the powers of the president and prime minister once and for all, to make sure the relationship between the two is peaceful and does not cause unnecessary conflicts.

After Tusk's speech, Sławomir Nowak, a minister in the Prime Minister's Office, unveiled the government's plans for the following few years, which are contained in a document entitled Strategic Governmental Plan. Goals are mapped out for the next 300, 1,000 and 3,000 days and divided into four sections: "Building Welfare," "Dynamic Development," "Safety, People, Family" and "Trust and Pride." At the end of the current term, fall 2011, the budget deficit will have declined from 2.5 percent to 1 percent, according to the government. It will try to repair public finances to create a safe environment for the adoption of the euro. In doing so, it plans to cut public debt down to 35 percent of GDP within 3,000 days.

By the end of its term, the government also wants to introduce a pro-family flat tax, with tax allowances and child deductions. As of Jan. 1, 2009, personal income tax will only have two rates-18 and 32 percent. Revenues from privatization are expected to reach zl.27 billion by fall 2011. Over the same period, the government also wants to get the unemployment rate below 10 percent and increase the employment rate to 60 percent. Presenting the Labor Ministry's plans, Nowak announced a program called "Solidarity of Generation 50+" and a law to popularize employment and the labor market. The ministry is also working on "Return Home," a program involving tax incentives and support for new private businesses, designed to encourage Polish economic emigrants to come back to the country.

According to PO, if it wins the next election, the extended economic activity of Polish citizens would result in budget savings of zl.15 billion by 2015 and an extra zl.16 billion for the pension system. The average age for people to leave the labor market would be 60-62 years.

The Education Ministry's plans for the year include a strategy for the development of education from 2008 until 2015 and new principles in awarding salaries to teachers. By the end of its current term, PO wants all children to go to preschools at five years of age and start school at six, one year earlier than presently. By the end of this year, the government wants to come up with regulations to improve the quality of research and classes in science and higher education. In 1,000 days, it wants to have over half of high-school students entering university. By 2015, PO wants to invest 8 billion euros in science and concentrate efforts to increase the involvement of the business community.

The opposition, including ex-prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński, have described the coalition's plans as "dreams." Kaczyński has criticized his successor and said that PO and its government have only been successful "in terms of PR, aided by the favorable attitude of the media." The left wing in parliament also speaks of "wishful thinking," reminiscent of PO's election campaign last year. Left-wing politicians have pointed out that most promises from the campaign remain unfulfilled, resulting in the social unrest Polish citizens saw earlier this year.
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