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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 29, 2014
Politics & Society
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Exit Tusk, Enter Kopacz
September 29, 2014   
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Parliamentary speaker and former health minister Ewa Kopacz was Sept. 22 sworn in as Poland’s new prime minister, replacing Donald Tusk, who has been chosen as the next president of the European Council.

Tusk, who was in power for seven years, was the longest serving Polish prime minister since communism fell in 1989. He resigned after EU leaders selected him as the new European Council president, a job he starts Dec. 1

Tusk’s departure from domestic politics meant his ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, the senior partner in the government coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL), needed to form a new government.

President Bronisław Komorowski entrusted the task to Kopacz, who unveiled the lineup of her Cabinet Sept. 19. Kopacz will give a policy speech in parliament Oct. 1, after which she will ask for a vote of confidence for the new PO-PSL government.

Kopacz, who was health minister in the PO-PSL government 2007-2011, introduced her ministers saying she wanted to form a “Cabinet of unity and competence.”

Kopacz’s Cabinet includes foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna, once a deputy prime minister, interior minister and lower house speaker who was for years regarded as the PO’s second most important figure after Tusk but was sidelined in 2009 in the wake of a scandal in which prominent PO members were accused of lobbying for slot machine producers and casino owners. Prior to his appointment as foreign minister Schetyna was chairman of a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. Some observers said that if Schetyna had not been given a senior role in the new government, he would become Kopacz’s main opponent within the PO. The previous foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, will replace Kopacz as lower house Speaker.

Critics say Kopacz has made a mistake in replacing the foreign minister now that an international crisis is raging near Poland’s eastern border. They also point out that Sikorski is an Oxford graduate and has a good reputation abroad, while Schetyna is not a fluent speaker of any foreign language. One way or another, the ministerial post for Schetyna is widely seen as an attempt to prevent a rift within the PO.

The new Cabinet also includes administration and digitization minister Andrzej Halicki, a prominent PO member widely considered to be a supporter of Schetyna, and justice minister Cezary Grabarczyk, a former minister of infrastructure, who is regarded as the informal leader of a large and influential faction within the ruling party.

Tomasz Siemoniak, defense minister under Tusk, kept his job and has additionally been promoted to deputy prime minister. According to PO politicians, this results from Siemoniak’s greater responsibilities as defense minister during the Ukrainian crisis.

There are only two fresh faces in Kopacz’s Cabinet: interior minister Teresa Piotrowska, a former province governor and theologian by education, and a long-time friend of Kopacz; and infrastructure and development minister Maria Wasiak, who was previously the CEO of the state-owned rail carrier PKP.

PSL ministers retained their posts. Janusz Piechociński will continue as deputy prime minister and economy minister. Marek Sawicki kept his job as agriculture minister, and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz stayed on as labor and social policy minister.

Kopacz has also decided against replacing culture minister Małgorzata Omilanowska, education minister Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, science and higher education minister Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, treasury minister Włodzimierz Karpiński, sport minister Andrzej Biernat, environment minister Maciej Grabowski, and finance minister Mateusz Szczurek.

Surprisingly, Bartosz Arłukowicz stays on as health minister even though, while still a member of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party, he repeatedly criticized Kopacz when she headed the health ministry.

According to opposition politicians, Kopacz’s Cabinet will be a weak, interim government.

Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice (PiS), the largest opposition party, has described the ruling coalition’s seven years in power so far as “irretrievably lost” time and called the government’s policies, especially foreign policy, “a threat to national security.”
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