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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » November 26, 2008
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One Year On: Row Over Tusk's Record
November 26, 2008 By W.¯.    
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Nov. 16 marked 12 months since the swearing-in of the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk and comprising the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL). While Tusk trumpeted his government's achievements, the opposition said the last year had been one of missed opportunities.

Tusk regards the first year of his government as a time marked by success for Poland in international relations, adding that the country has undergone the first phase of reforms which the PO promised during last year's election campaign.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, the leader of the PSL and the minister of the economy, the ruling coalition has also transformed the mood of Polish politics from one of confrontation to cooperation, marked by the pursuit of a compromise with political opponents.

But the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party described the past 12 months as "an embarrassment" for the PO-PSL coalition, while the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) echoed PiS's charges of failed reforms, adding that the government had failed to "maintain social dialogue."

Summing up his first year in office, Tusk cited the following electoral promises which the government had kept: the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq, the local road construction project, extended maternity leave, the abolition of conscription, personal income tax rates reduced to 18 and 32 percent, and higher wages for "a large part" of employees in the public sector. He admitted the government had not managed to introduce a flat tax, the flagship reform the PO had been promising before the elections, nor had it succeeded in introducing single-seat constituencies.

According to Tusk, part of the planned reforms have been "sabotaged" by the opposition and President Lech Kaczyński, whose brother Jarosław heads PiS. President Kaczyński has vetoed several bills and is planning to veto more, including a key bill to reform the healthcare system. Tusk says that if the bill is vetoed, his Cabinet will "save Polish hospitals" by finding alternative ways to introduce some of the planned changes in agreement with local governments. As for changes in early retirement, another highly controversial piece of legislation, Tusk has said the government will be "tough and resolute," sticking by its plans.

According to Tusk, the past 12 months have been marked by "considerable success for Poland on the European and global stage." He said under the previous government headed by Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and his ruling coalition comprising PiS, the Samoobrona party and the extreme right-wing League of Polish Families, the EU and other countries regarded Poland as a troublesome and unpredictable partner. Now, Tusk said, Poland was respected and efficiently protected its interests while "creating a friendly atmosphere." In order to continue, this strategy needed "the wise cooperation of all the major players" in Poland, Tusk added. This was an allusion to the frequent clashes between the government and the president, as a result of which in the past few months Poland has found it hard to present an unambiguous stance in international political gatherings.

While assessing the first year of his government, Tusk suggested to his political opponents, President Kaczyński included, that the coming year should see a display of unity on key issues rather than conflicts and power struggles. "I would like next year to be a cease-fire year," Tusk said. "This is my offer to the two Kaczyński brothers, the president and the PiS chairman." According to Tusk, the truce should apply to such key issues as Poland's stance in the EU and to the economy, including public finances and plans to bring Poland into the eurozone. "We need a realistic pact to carry Poland through the time of global crisis," said Tusk. "We need cooperation for a strong and uniform foreign policy to consolidate our position in the world."

Tusk's truce offer is unlikely to be warmly received by the opposition, which has been scathing about government's achievements so far. "There is no miracle, there is one great embarrassment," said PiS leader Kaczyński, adding that in January his party would unveil a program in response to the performance of the Tusk Cabinet. Kaczyński was particularly critical of foreign policy, describing it as an "ostentatious return" to a policy of positioning Poland as a "client state." Kaczyński blasted the government for touting as an Eastern policy success a deal on the EU resuming talks with Russia-even though Moscow has not fully observed the conditions demanded by the EU following the Russian invasion on Georgia and its subsequent support for the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to Kaczyński, Poland lifting its veto on EU-Russia negotiations will only be perceived as a sign of weakness.

The record of the ruling coalition drew criticism from Grzegorz Napieralski, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), who was nevertheless more restrained in his assessment. As the biggest failures of the PO-PSL Cabinet, Napieralski cited the "absence of a social dialogue, absence of essential reforms" and "the prime minister's arguments with the president." The only successes, in his opinion, were the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq, the "roadmap" for Poland entering the eurozone and the construction of sports venues. Napieralski added the Tusk government was no different from the preceding Kaczyński Cabinet when it came to reforms of the healthcare sector. "Instead of an actual government, there is election campaign," Napieralski said.
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