Poles in shock as PM carries out sweeping reshuffle ahead of EU showdown
A number of high-profile ministers in the Polish government have been sacked in a sweeping overhaul of the country’s cabinet seen as an attempt to reform the country’s international image left battered by a series of bruising conflicts with the EU. The ministers of foreign affairs, defence, health and agriculture were among those who lost their jobs in the shake-up, the extent of which caught many Poles by surprise. It also came just hours before Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister, was due to fly to Brussels to meet Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, to discuss rule of law proceedings against Poland.
“This is a new government for a new and better Poland,” said Mr Morawiecki when announcing the changes. “For us the most important matter is to build a strong and safe Poland, both at its borders and within in borders.” Mr Morawiecki, an English-speaking ex-banker who only became prime minister last month, is also seen as part of a diplomatic offensive to enhance the country’s reputation. Poland has become the enfant terrible of the EU owing to numerous disputes between it and Brussels on matters such as rule of law, the environment and migration. The country became the first EU state to face the possible loss of voting rights after the EU triggered Article 7 owing to fears a government overhaul of the legal system threatened the independence of the judiciary. But despite the threats from the EU Warsaw appears happy to defy Brussels in its desire to put what it considers Poland’s interests first. Yet the appointment of a new prime minister and Tuesday’s cabinet changes appear, in part, to be motivated by a desire to soften and lighten the tone of the Polish government abroad, although few expect its core message to change.
Among those to face the chop was Jan Szyszko, the agriculture minister. Mr Szyszko triggered an international scandal by overseeing increase in logging in the Bialowieza Forest, one of the last significant tracts of primeval lowland forest left in Europe. Despite the threat of financial penalties from the EU if the logging was not halted, and Mr Szyszko persisted with the policy. He will join Witold Waszczykowski, the former foreign minister, and ex-defence minister Antoni Macierewicz in the political long grass. Mr Waszczykowski had become known as gaffe-prone, while Mr Macierewicz, despite being a fierce ally of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, had clashed with the Polish president over the appointment of army commanders. Political experts in Poland pointed out that by dismissing the three ministers, Mr Kaczynski had removed figures who had become focal points of opposition criticism. By cutting out apparent weaknesses in the government Mr Kaczynski may also have one eye on the next general election, due in 2019.