2007-11-30 Michal Kubicki
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The new Polish government

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, right, waves after his speech in the parliament presenting the new government's programPolish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, right, waves after his speech in the parliament presenting the new government's program
Six weeks after Poles voted the conservative Law and Justice out of office, Poland’s new government is in place, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the helm. What are the expectations of the Polish man-in-the-street? And what are the first signals as to the new cabinet’s policies? Michal Kubicki of Polish Radio’s External Service reports.

It’s a coalition government of the victorious Civic Platform and the Polish Peasant Party, the smallest of the four parties in the Parliament. Attaching a label to this cabinet is not an easy task. The previous Law and Justice government was called conservative. This one doesn’t differ from it that much on ideological and moral issues, and even though Prime Minister Tusk has long been committed to liberal market reforms, in his policy speech to the Parliament he avoided using the word ‘liberalism’. The key words of his three-hour address were ‘trust’ and ‘freedom’. Most Polish analysts were disappointed with the address. Stanislaw Janecki of the weekly Wprost.

"It was too long, too unclear and without any hierarchy. If you’re a politician you should have 3 or 4 aims important for the country. If you have 30 or 40 important tasks none is important".

Members of the opposition Law and Justice party with former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, listen in the parliament, as Donald Tusk, presents his cabinet's plansMembers of the opposition Law and Justice party with former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, listen in the parliament, as Donald Tusk, presents his cabinet's plans
In his address Donald Tusk promised pay rises for public sector workers. He pledged to lower taxes, speed up privatisation and reduce the budget deficit, but did not say how he was going to do it. One of the few specific points outlined by Mr Tusk concerns the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Warsaw’s refusal to sign it. His remarks on this issue won an overwhelming approval of those who a few weeks ago had been at the helm of government.

"Going to Lisbon and Brussels to sign the EU Reforming Treaty I will respect the results of the negotiations by my predecessors. This means joining Britain in a protocol limiting the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights."

Poland negotiated the charter opt-out during the EU Treaty talks and president Lech Kaczyński has threatened he would veto any attempt to give up the opt-out. Prime Minister Tusk made it clear that even though he supports the Charter, he would do his best to avoid any threat to the ratification of the EU Reforming Treaty in the Parliament.

According to Mariusz Ziomecki of Superstacja Television this is not a good message to the EU, which waited for a clear statement of a fundamental change in Warsaw.

"The first signal is that perhaps the change is not so fundamental. It reminds everyone that this is yet another centrist-rightist government."

A general view of the Polish parliament as new Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk presents his cabinet's plansA general view of the Polish parliament as new Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk presents his cabinet's plans
The government’s stand on the Charter of Fundamental Rights may not be a good message for the EU but in Poland itself no previous government had aroused so much hope for change as the present cabinet.

Sixty percent of Poles think it’s going to be a good government that will stay in power for the entire four-year parliamentary term. But they haven’t forgotten the promises made during the election campaign.

"There are many promises made and I hope they will keep their promises and will make everything connected with the Euro 2012 ready on time, because now we’re having big problems with that."

"I strongly believe that the economy will not be influenced that much by political statements because it has its own course and I believe it’ll be good."

"I travel quite a lot and I’d say that although the image of Poland is improving it’s still not really the best so the government should take care of that to improve the image of Poland abroad."

Most analysts here claim that people’s high expectations may prove a problem for this government. Stanislaw Janecki again.

"Every week, every month people will confront the reality with their hopes and it would be the crucial situation for the government because there’s nothing more dangerous for the government than high hopes confronted with brutal reality".

And what sort of politician is Poland’s new prime minister? Now 50, Tusk describes himself as a ‘stubborn Catholic’. A foot-soldier in the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, he was one of the founders of the Civic Platform party six years ago which has consistently promoted liberal economic reforms.

He’s a great football fan and a good player himself. The trouble is that he’s never held any government post before. This is seen by many as a drawback but according to Łukasz Warzecha of the daily Fakt while in opposition Donald Tusk has matured as a politician.

"He seems to have gained some power, some trust in himself, self-consciousness I think. He has become a harder-minded person, so these are the features of character that would be very useful but what kind of prime minister he will be is difficult to say."

Donald Tusk is Poland’s 13th prime minister since the collapse of communism in 1989. The challenges ahead of him seem to be more difficult than those of his predecessors if only because president Lech Kaczynski represents a different political camp. The shape of ‘cohabitation’ Polish style will be an important element of Poland’s political landscape in coming months.

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