Tusk shuffles the pack in Poland

The Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, has carried out a long-anticipated government reshuffle with domestic and European implications.

The changes were wider than anticipated by most political analysts: six ministers were replaced and two ministries were merged to improve distribution of EU cohesion funds allocated under the new long-term Multiannual Financial Framework.

The changes continue Tusk’s practice of appointing technocrats and civil servants as ministers to avoid the emergence of political rivals within the government and in-fighting within the centre-right Civic Platform (PO). The only exception is Andrzej Biernat, the new sports minister – rewarded for supporting Tusk in his power struggle against party rival Grzegorz Schetyna.

The new ministers are:

  • Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who becomes Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the newly-created Ministry of Infrastructure and Development. She has been, since 2007, the Minister of Regional Development.
  • Mateusz Szczurek, who replaces Jacek Rostowski as Minister of Finance. A former chief economist of ING Poland, Szczurek was a surprising appointment. A number of high-profile economists refused to succeed Rostowski while the government pushes through its plan to nationalise part of the private pension scheme.
  • Maciej Grabowski, who becomes Environment Minister, succeeding Marcin Korolec. This move was criticised by some Green groups in Poland and internationally. Firstly, Grabowski was recently involved in developing new taxation schemes for shale gas extraction and copper mining, as is expected to introduce a beneficial regulatory framework for shale gas in Poland. Secondly, Korolec was sacked during the COP-19 climate change talks in Warsaw. Even though he will continue as the Prime Minister’s special plenipotentiary for climate change, the move raised many eyebrows.
  • Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, an MEP, will be the Minister for Science and Higher Education. Kolarska-Bobińska is currently a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and is heavily involved in energy policy and shale gas issues. She replaces Barbara Kudrycka, who is expected to be high on the list of PO candidates for the European Parliament elections.
  • Rafał Trzaskowski, another MEP, succeeds Michał Boni at the Ministry of Administration and Digitisation.
  • Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska was once responsible for equal treatment in the government of Jarosław Kaczyński – the leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party. She is an outsider in the PO but was nonetheless appointed as Minister of Education.
  • Andrzej Biernat, the leader of the PO party in Łódź, was appointed as Minister of Sport and Tourism.

The priorities of the new cabinet seem clear: making best use of EU funds and developing the shale gas industry.

On the economy, the government will try to keep the deficit within the limits of the Maastricht criteria for entry into economic and monetary union, reduce unemployment (which currently stands at almost 14%) and use EU funds to boost public investment that has suffered from austerity measures applied by Rostowski.

All the appointees are very loyal to Tusk and owe their careers almost exclusively to the patronage of the Prime Minister. An excellent example is Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who becomes Tusk’s number two – a remarkable rise for a civil servant who was director of a regional office responsible for European funds until 2007. She now bears the major responsibility of helping restart the Polish economy.

Mateusz Szczurek, the new Minister of Finance, is virtually unknown on the political and is expected to be a proxy that allows Tusk and his chief advisor, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, to take more control of the finance ministry’s work.

He is an unlikely successor for the flamboyant yet controversial Rostowski, who was perceived as the natural leader of the conservative faction within the PO. Both Rostowski and Boni are now expected, like Barbara Kudrycka, to run for the European Parliament in 2014.

As for Poland’s nominee for the European Commission, not much is expected to change as a result of this reshuffle. Janusz Lewandowski is thought to want to stay on, and as a second-term commissioner could get a position as a vice-president. Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, may trump him, however, if he manages to secure the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The current Secretary of State for European Affairs, Piotr Serafin, is an outsider.

Overall, the domestic reshuffle should be considered as a consolidation of power by Tusk before the long period of political campaigning for the 2014 European Parliament elections and the 2015 national elections.

Tusk will try to ensure that his ministers skilfully handle the economy, the distribution of EU funds and the shale gas project in order to boost the standing of the government, which has been struggling to revive the economy and defend controversial fiscal policies, and has faced corruption scandals.

Marek Matraszek - Founding Partner, CEC Government Relations, Warsaw
Additional material and editing by David O’Leary - Burson-Marsteller Brussels

For more information on CEC Government Relations, Burson-Marsteller’s public affairs affiliate in Poland, go to cecgr.com/our-offices/warsaw