Poland’s new prime minister promises economic reform

Ewa Kopacz also signals a more pragmatic approach on Ukraine

Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, delivers her policy statement at the Polish parliament in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Radek Pietruszka

Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, delivers her policy statement at the Polish parliament in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Radek Pietruszka

 

Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, has promised to expedite economic reforms before next year’s general election, but said adopting the euro was some way off.

Ms Kopacz also promised a more pragmatic approach on Ukraine after taking over from Donald Tusk, who will move to Brussels on December 1st as the new president of the European Council.

With just one year until the next scheduled general election, and the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party ahead in opinion polls, Ms Kopacz promised yesterday to waste no time in getting down to work.

“What was planned to be achieved in three years’ time, my government will do in 12 months,” said Ms Kopacz ahead of a confidence motion yesterday in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament. “Poles do not want revolution, but they do expect change.”

Handpicked as his successor by Donald Tusk, democratic Poland’s longest-serving prime minister, Ms Kopacz said she would bring her paediatrician training to her new position. “A doctor does not ask about political views and opinions – that is how I understand my role,” said the 57-year-old physician, Poland’s second woman prime minister and a Tusk loyalist.

Economic measures

With just a year to prove herself with voters and a party riven with feuds, Ms Kopacz promised a raft of new economic measures, new tax regulations and a defence spending boost to two per cent of GDP.

Her government would clear backlogs and bottlenecks in the areas of infrastructure and construction, long a bone of contention with international companies, including Irish firms.

Adopting the euro was still a policy objective, she said, but added that both Poland and the euro “still have homework to do”.

Ms Kopacz entered politics in 1997, rose through the local political ranks, and joined Mr Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) at its foundation in 2001. After the PO took office in 2007, she became health minister.

She has promised state-backed loans for small- and medium-sized companies, in particular exporters hit by the Russian embargo on Polish food.

Given the ongoing standoff with Moscow, Ms Kopacz said she would “not agree to a change in Europe’s borders by force” but promised a more “pragmatic” approach than that of the foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who is critical of Russia. His views have boosted his international profile but annoyed Warsaw’s EU allies, prompting Ms Kopacz to move him into her old job as parliamentary speaker.

“We support the pro-European direction in Ukraine’s development, but we cannot step in for the Ukrainians, who have the responsibility to change their own country,” she said.

‘Curse of hate’

Finally she asked PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to help “remove the curse of hate” from Polish public life, a nod to the ill-will since a fatal air crash in 2010 killed Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Lech, then president. Mr Kaczynski has claimed Mr Tusk covered up the circumstances of the crash, something the ex-prime minister denied.