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POLAND: Morawiecki's First Year as PM

On 11 December 2017, Mateusz Morawiecki assumed the Office of Prime Minister, replacing Beata Szydło. After a year, commentators and the public have a mixed perception of PM Morawiecki’s time in office. On one hand, he managed to overcome various political crises, domestically and internationally, and took advantage of the past year to secure more sway within Law and Justice. On the other hand, his actions and policies were often described as reactionary. Above all, Morawiecki still has his opponents within PiS’ old guard.

At the time of his appointment, the PiS Political Committee stressed that great success was achieved in many areas of life in Poland – social, economic, cultural, internal and external security and foreign affairs. Changes and evolutions of internal and international politics were narrated as the reason for the change of Prime Minister – the government needed to focus on the economy and growth, with Morawiecki playing a more practical role. Morawiecki was seen by many as the only PiS politician who could repair Poland’s relations with the EU.

In comparison to Szydło’s Council of Ministers, Morawiecki formed a more technical, rather than a political cabinet. Commentators agree that this strategy improved public perception of the government. Most new ministers were less known figures, considered specialists in their particular fields of expertise. The new appointments were considered a sign that PM Morawiecki received a carte blanche from PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński – though not that of his party colleagues. The creation of new Ministries – Entrepreneurship and Technology & Investment and Development, and continued works on policies previously commenced by Morawiecki as Deputy PM, shaped the priorities of his own government – in line with the anticipations of PiS’ Political Committee.

Time has proven that his initial personnel choices were accurate. Newly appointed ministers boast higher ratings – according to a poll conducted by IBRIS for daily Rzeczpospolita – than those inherited from PM Szydło. Also, as a whole, the government managed to maintain high ratings, which was also translated to party support. Minsters closest to the PM, Jadwiga Emilewicz, Teresa Czerwińska and Jerzy Kwieciński, are considered efficient and professional – especially by business representatives. Still, internal tensions are present. Morawiecki was appointed PM as an outsider to the Law and Justice party. Many of the party’s long-serving members maintain reservations in regard to Morawiecki and his team.  Government members outside of the PM’s circle are known to be somewhat conflicted with Morawiecki. Notably, Energy Minister Tchórzewski and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro have clashed with other ministers and the PM himself. Still, their presence in the Council of Ministers is necessary to preserve balance in the factions within the ruling party.

Throughout his term, PM Morawiecki has navigated through a number of crises, including: the IPN amendment bill which strained relations with the US and Israel; the recent KNF scandal; or the publication of the so-called Morawiecki tapes. Commentators usually agree that Morawiecki tends to act swiftly and firmly, gaining the upper hand over the opposition. Though the KNF scandal is still an ongoing issue, Morawiecki so-far managed to protect the government and his party from further perception damage.

PM Morawiecki was actively engaged in the local election campaign. The Law and Justice party managed improve its results, especially in Regional Assemblies, but results in urban areas were disappointing. Within PiS, his involvement in the campaign spurred mixed reactions. Still, his appearances allowed Morawiecki to build a new image for himself among the PiS electorate. Initially, Morawiecki was seen as an outsider from the banking world. Throughout his year in office, however, the tone of his speeches and his attitude changed to become more statesmanlike. Opinion polls and expert ratings have shown that this has resonated with some of PiS’ electorate, which had a negative reaction when Beata Szydło left.

Though relations with the EU are thawing, Morawiecki did not manage to end the conflict with Brussels without backing out of aspects of PiS’ judiciary reforms. The Commission did not surrender its actions in regard to rule of law in Poland – currently the situation seems somewhat suspended but remains unresolved. Still, in comparison to PM Szydło, Morawiecki has a better understanding of EU structures, which made it easier for him to negotiate with the bloc’s officials.

Throughout his first year in office, the PM swayed many previous sceptics and strengthened his influence in institutions and state-owned companies. There are areas, however, where Morawiecki will not be able to exert his influence without a major shift in the United Right. While PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński has put more trust into Morawiecki than Szydło, the PM still remains dependent on Kaczyński with no significant faction in the party to stand behind him in internal conflicts. Discussions within the PiS leadership on the strategy for the Autumn 2019 parliamentary race will be key for Morawiecki’s future. The balance between promoting fresh faces and party veterans will define Morawiecki’s standing in the next parliament. Finally, there is no clear potential replacement for the PM and moves against him from within PiS before key elections can risk instabilities the party cannot afford.