Poland's new prime minister: Is Morawiecki the Polish Macron?

4 January 2018 – VoxEurop

Young, former banker, for a long time unaffiliated, and thought to have a good relationship with Brussels… the list of deceptive similarities between the new Polish prime minister and the president of France is long. Meanwhile, Mateusz Morawiecki shows no signs of putting an end to the war of words between Brussels and Warsaw, as the Commissions triggered a sanction procedure against Poland.

It was the 12th of December. Mateusz Morawiecki adjusted his tie one last time. He was ready… or so he felt. Ready to lay out his policies as future prime minister. But he had keep his eye on the president. Not the president of the Republic. The president of Law and Justice (PiS, the party in power), Jarosław Kaczyński. Though Kaczyński hasn’t occupied any political role in Poland – except as chairman of PiS – since 2007, when he had to resign after the crushing defeat of his party at the hands of the liberal Civic Platform (PO), it is he who pulls the strings in the conservative camp. It is he who won the elections in 2015, when he chose Beata Szydło to lead the government.

Morawiecki was quick to sing the praise of his predecessor: “To start, I’d like to thank madame the prime minister Beata Szydło for her efforts during these last years. You will remain the symbol of Polish solidarity, who brought dignity to millions of Polish families. I thank you for your titanic work, for your sensitivity and infallible will to repair the Polish Republic.”

So much for setting the scene. But there’s no little confusion. Wasn’t this Morawiecki supposed to be the one to put Poland back on good terms with Europe? Is this a government of continuity or rupture? Some explanations are in order.

As with Emmanuel Macron, Mateusz Morawiecki did not see much political action before his rise to the top. Both were ministers for the economy just two years before becoming president and prime minister, respectively. The two men were certainly suited to their jobs, and did much for political families other than those that brought them to power (the socialists for Macron, the liberals for Morawiecki). Morawiecki preferred to work in finance, just like his French counterpart. He even had significant success in that sector: CEO of BZ WBK between 2007 and 2015, which he brought up to the ranks of the most powerful banks in the country.

Morawiecki is also young, for a prime minister – 49. Since he became CEO at 39, he wasn’t able to rise to power quite as early as Macron. Certain observers predicted that the new prime minister would bury the hatchet with the European Union. As an experienced man of business, he should well understand the stakes involved in cross-border economics and the role of continental integration. It was expected that he would bring the PiS around to the ways of the European market, since he was a former adviser to the liberals. Not forgetting that he also speaks English and German (even better than Macron!), which would facilitate informal talks in the corridors of Brussels.

Numerous commentators even judged that tensions with the European Commission were one of the main reasons for the resignation of Beata Szydło. Kaczyński, all too aware that Poland’s tug-of-war with the EU had grown out of all proportion, would then have chosen Morawiecki to ease the tensions between Warsaw and the provider of European funds. As the Gazeta Wyborcza explains, “Morawiecki was often in Brussels as a minister. He was received with relief, being seen in a much more positive light than [minister of foreign affairs] Witold Waszczykowski or [minister of the interior] Mariusz Błaszczak, since he spoke and negotiated ‘normally’ with the European Commission”.

But that gives Kaczyński, leading light of the conservative revolution, too little credit. While he may have given Morawiecki a free hand when it comes to economic concerns – Kaczyński has a sincere admiration for Morawiecki in those matters – he kept his grip on issues of sovereignty. Thus, just nominated, Morawiecki had no choice but to continue with the highly controversial reforms of the judicial system prepared by the previous government, and newly proposed by the president after a suspension lasting several months. An obvious indication that the new prime minister’s hands are tied: he has inherited the government of Beata Szydło, without being able to modify its composition one iota.

The reform of the judicial system, calling into question the rule of law in Poland according to the Commission, had as a direct consequence the introduction of article 7.1 of the EU Treaty. The decision was announced on December 15th, at the same time as Morawiecki’s first European summit. He stated at the time: “We want to promote dialogue, but we also want to reform our judicial system.” Which is another way of saying: we’re keeping course, regardless of what the EU thinks. “The first visit of Morawiecki as prime minister to Brussels did not lead to any new opening of dialogue. The fact that this visit coincided with the changes to the judicial system meant that there was no use in talking up some kind of “thaw”. But Morawiecki’s style, more conciliatory than Beata Szydło, could still facilitate contacts with western politicians in the future”, argues Gazeta Wyborcza.

Translated by Ciaran Lawless

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