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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 2, 2009
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The Government at Mid-Term
December 2, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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The coalition government of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL), headed by Donald Tusk, has hailed what it says are a string of accomplishments during its first two years in office, which ended Nov. 16. The opposition blasted the government, claiming it has failed to keep its election promises.

PO politicians cite the fight against the economic crisis, effective use of EU funds, highway construction, the transition to a professional army, withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq and the splitting of the functions of justice minister and chief prosecutor as major successes of the Tusk government. They also argue that in the past two years, Poland has emerged as a major regional leader and point out that Eurodeputy Jerzy Buzek from the PO was appointed president of the European Parliament while other Poles were appointed to key posts in the European Parliament and the European Commission. Asked what the government has failed to achieve in the past two years, PO officials point to incomplete health service and pension system reforms, the failure to get a new media law enacted, delays in privatization and the limited reform of the farmers' social insurance system. The latter reform has been blocked for many years by the PSL, the junior partner in the ruling coalition.

PO blames president
The PO blames many of these failures on President Lech Kaczyński and his vetoes of the health care, media and other laws.

PO politicians say it is no coincidence that in a time of global crisis, Poland is the only EU country with a growing economy. "It is not only a question of the anti-crisis package," said Rafał Grupiński, a senior official at the Prime Minister's Office. "We simplified many investment procedures beforehand and created conditions for this growth." In 2008, when the first signs of the crisis emerged, "we improved many pieces of legislation, including the road-building, environmental and public tender laws," he said. "As a result, at a time of crisis, the investment plan could move ahead at full steam."

Janusz Palikot, a vice-chairman of the PO parliamentary group, says the government has managed to overcome stagnation in the construction of roads and freeways. "At present, more than 1,000 kilometers of freeways are under construction in Poland," he said. "The construction of another several hundred kilometers will start next year. It really is a turning point."

On the down side, the ruling coalition has been hit by a gambling scandal, in which high-ranking PO politicians were accused of lobbying for their friends who run casinos and slot-machine halls. "It is the greatest disappointment we have caused," Palikot admitted. But he claimed the scandal could have been engineered by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), which was controlled until recently by figures connected with the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, including former CBA head Mariusz Kamiński.

Election promises broken, says PiS
Opposition Law and Justice (PiS) politicians say the Tusk government has not kept its election promises. Treasury Minister Aleksander Grad, Health Minister Ewa Kopacz and Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski have drawn the strongest criticism. "This is the government which did more harm to Poland over two years than any other government since 1989," said PiS official Joachim Brudziński. In his view, the withdrawal of the Polish military contingent from Iraq is the only election promise the PO has kept. "Prime Minister Tusk and his government will go down in history as the ones who have sunk the Polish shipbuilding industry," he said, with the result that several thousand shipyard workers who waited in vain for a non-existent Qatari investor to step in "are now facing unemployment."

PiS also accuses the government of gross neglect in health care. "We have an uncontrolled process of privatization and a decline of hospitals, and the budget of the National Health Fund has fallen apart," Brudziński said. "The list of refunded drugs has not been updated and we have no list of guaranteed services." In yet another criticism, PiS argued that the huge budget deficit and state of the national budget prove that the state of public finances is bad. Aleksandra Natalli-¦wiat, deputy head of PiS and one of its main economic experts, said as a result of the government's financial policy, it now has problems meeting its basic responsibilities, such as paying the police on time and paying out unemployment benefits.

Eurodeputy Paweł Kowal of PiS said the government's foreign policy has "a discrepancy between declarations and actions." He cites as an example the Eastern Partnership scheme, a project initiated by Poland to forge special ties between the EU and former Soviet republics seeking to integrate with Europe. Kowal said the policy has remained "a bunch of declarations without substance." Kowal also said Polish ties with the United States had suffered in recent months.

The left-wing opposition is also critical of the PO-PSL government halfway through its term of office. Grzegorz Napieralski, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), said that two years of the Tusk government had produced no real policies except for those aimed at boosting PO's image in the media. "Tusk avoids difficult decisions, reforms and difficult measures," Napieralski said. "He pursues his policy mainly through slogans of different kinds."

The government's relations with the United States, Russia and European institutions were all criticized by Napieralski.

"On one occasion, the prime minister tells us we will be a very safe country if the missile shield is [installed in Poland]," he said. "But when no missile shield is there, because President Obama is withdrawing from the plan, Tusk says we will be even safer."

Napieralski added that Poland has not adopted the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, is not a member of the G-20 group, and said that Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is making "serious blunders more and more often."

In fact, according to Napieralski, the only real success the government can claim was organizing the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
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