Poland's new PM sets an ambitious reform agenda

Donald Tusk, photo: CTK

Five weeks after Poles voted the conservative Law and Justice party out of office in a snap parliamentary election, Poland has a new government. It was formed by the leader of the victorious Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, who made his first major policy speech to parliament on Friday. Michal Kubicki assesses the new cabinet and asks - what are Poles expecting from this new government?

Donald Tusk, photo: CTK
To start with, it’s a coalition government of the Civic Platform, which has 209 deputies in the 460-seat Parliament, and the Polish Peasant Party, which has 31 deputies. As for labels, there is a slight problem. If the previous Law and Justice cabinet was called conservative, the new one does not differ from it that much on ideological and moral issues while strongly promoting liberal free-market reforms. This is certainly true of the prime minister’s Civic Platform but when it comes to the liberals’ key goal of introducing a single-rate ‘flat tax’, their junior coalition partner says ‘no’. And its position seems to be much stronger than simple arithmetic might suggest. The Peasant Party was given three portfolios, one of which - the economy – is held by its leader Waldemar Pawlak who is also a deputy prime minister.

According to this week’s surveys, three in four Poles think that it’s going to be a good government that will stay in power for the entire four-year parliamentary term. But Poles I spoke to on the streets of Warsaw haven’t forgotten the promises of an economic miracle, modeled on Ireland, 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 the best so the government should take care of that to improve the image of Poland abroad."

Prime Minister Tusk has already pledged to end the regular tussles with other E.U. countries and his foreign minister Radek Sikorski announced a ‘new style’ foreign policy.

What sort of politician is Poland’s new prime minister? Now 50, he describes himself as a ‘stubborn Catholic’. He’s a native Kashubian, an ethnic minority in northern Poland of some 300,000 people. A foot-soldier in the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, he was one of the founders of the Civic Platform party which has consistently promoted liberal economic reforms.

Tusk is known as a great football fan and a good player himself. A former MP wrote the other day on his blog that playing football and meeting friends is more important for Tusk than reading books and holding serious debates with intellectuals. This, plus the fact that he has never held any government post before, is seen by Stanisław Janecki of the weekly Wprost, as his major flaw.

‘It’s the first serious role of Donald Tusk as before he was only chief of the party. It’s an important role but you can be a good party chief and not a good chief of government. I’m afraid Tusk is not the person to be devoted to his public role as much as he is to his role as a friend, football player or father.’

But while admitting Tusk’s lack of experience in an executive position, Łukasz Warzecha of the daily Fakt says that 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. The shape of his relationship with president Lech Kaczynski, the brother of the previous prime minister, will be an important element of Poland’s political landscape under Tusk.