January 30, 2014
With European Parliament and local elections around the corner, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has announced ambitious plans designed to make voters feel more financially secure. Support for Tusk’s governing Civic Platform (PO) party has risen sharply.
Tusk unveiled the plans at a special press conference in early January, during which he said there were “solid grounds” for Poles to be optimistic. “We can all sense that a positive breakthrough is taking place in the Polish and European economy,” said Tusk, adding that the hard work of his Cabinet had saved Poland from recession over the past six years.
Tusk said that the government’s priorities included bringing unemployment below 13 percent by the end of this year and improving financial security for Polish families. The government intends to create new jobs and bring about changes to legal regulations in a bid to improve job security. “People in Poland have the right to expect their personal situation to reflect the country’s economic success,” said Tusk. He promised a “new deal” in which the government will focus on helping Poles feel more secure in their work and everyday lives.
Tusk said the current situation did not allow the government to increase spending, but he added that the focus of spending plans would change to help ordinary citizens.
In its other priorities, the government aims to make fast, efficient use of EU funds so they drive the Polish economy and stimulate the country’s development. Tusk highlighted the role of Deputy Prime Minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the minister of regional development, transportation and infrastructure, who is tasked with ensuring that Poland makes efficient use of EU funds available between 2014 and 2020. Tusk said he expects Poland to develop fast over the next seven years aided by the almost zl.500 billion from Brussels at its disposal—almost a quarter of the EU’s cohesion policy funds.
Tusk added that the government expects the level of poverty in Poland to decline below the EU average by 2020 and that 1.5 million Poles will no longer be at risk of poverty. He optimistically added that by 2020, Poland will be one of the world’s 20 biggest economies, with GDP per capita at 80 percent of the EU average. That figure has so far increased to 67 percent from 50 percent since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
According to Bieńkowska, local governments and Polish enterprises will be the main beneficiaries of EU funds in the coming years. EU funds will be disbursed within 16 regional programs and six nationwide programs.
Tusk has also been busy dealing with somewhat less weighty, but highly controversial issues. For example, he has promised to crack down on drunken drivers, who are a scourge on Polish roads. The government plans to increase fines for drunken driving to zl.5,000-10,000 and wants courts to sent such drivers to prison more often. Tusk also announced free textbooks for first-grade elementary school students and plans to restrict “trash” job contracts that do not entitle employees to social or health benefits.
The PO’s opinion poll ratings rose following the announcement of the government plans. In a survey by IBRiS Homo Homini in mid-January, 29 percent of respondents said they would vote for the right-wing opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party in the next parliamentary election and 27 percent for Tusk’s centrist PO, the senior partner in the governing coalition. In December, PiS was 10 percentage points ahead of the PO. Two other parties would make it into parliament: the left-wing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) with 14 percent of the vote and the Polish People’s Party (PSL)—the junior partner in the ruling coalition—with 5 percent, the minimum needed to secure seats in the lower house. No other party would score above 5 percent. Neither the socially liberal Your Movement party led by Janusz Palikot, the right-wing Solidarna Polska party led by Zbigniew Ziobro, nor the conservative Poland Together grouping headed by Jarosław Gowin would make it into parliament.
The gap between the PiS and PO is even narrower in an opinion poll by the CBOS company. PiS was backed by 25 percent and the PO by 24 percent. The SLD was supported by 8 percent. The ratings of the PSL and the other parties were unchanged.
Meanwhile, Poland’s political parties are gearing up for elections to the European Parliament in May. They are drawing up their tickets, most of which will probably feature big political names. Some parties have also been signing up celebrities along with well-known academics and artists.