Analysis: Mateusz Morawiecki, the new old PM

The President has asked Mateusz Morawiecki to form a government. Since the PM and his party have a majority in the Lower House, there is no doubt that he and his government will be approved.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda on Thursday formally asked Mateusz Morawiecki, the PM for the last two years, to form a government. The short ceremony at the Presidential Palace followed Wednesday’s evening meeting between the President, Mr Morawiecki and the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS).

Mateusz Morawiecki now has 14 days to get him, the proposed members of the government and the programme he puts forward approved by the Lower House. That vote of confidence in the government must be one by an absolute majority. There are 460 members of the Lower House. Since PiS has 235 seats in that chamber this vote should be a formality.

A rapid political career

Mateusz Morawiecki is the son of the recently deceased veteran anti-communist activist Kornel Morawiecki. His career up until 2015 was centred on the world of banking. He made a fleeting appearance in the world of politics between 1998 and 2002 when he was a regional councillor in Lower Silesia for the centre-right Solidarity Election Action. But his efforts were concentrated on the world of finance and he rose to prominence as head of the BZ WBK Bank when he became its CEO in 2007.

In the time of the Donald Tusk government (2007-2015) Mr Morawiecki was for two years a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. After that he started to advise PiS and in 2015 became Minister of Economy and Deputy PM responsible for economic policy. In 2016 he also became Finance Minister.

In 2017 the ruling party made him PM. The move was controversial within PiS ranks as Beata Szydło, the PM between 2015 and 2017 had been popular as PM and prominent in the party. Mr Morawiecki on the other hand was seen as somewhat of an outsider.

On taking over as PM Mateusz Morawiecki was charged with the task of easing relations with the EU which had been strained by the controversy about Poland ‘s judicial reform. He was also to become the modernizing face of the ruling party, making sure that it was seen as responsible for the economic and social policy successes which the government was presiding over.

Workaholic with boundless energy

The new PM set about the task with gusto. He is known for starting his day before 6 am and finishing it after midnight. He quickly learned how to ‘press the flesh’ in election campaigns as he had to head three of them within just one year: local government, European and Parliamentary one.

His reputation in the ruling party and beyond has risen in his two years of being PM. He has impressed at European Council meetings and established good relations with the President of the EC Jean-Claude Juncker. On the domestic front he has the full confidence of the ruling party leader, which means that he is now able to have real influence over both party policy as well as on who is in the government.

Last Friday he and the ruling party leader unveiled the proposed members of the new Morawiecki government. It is now dominated by people who are his supporters or proteges. Among the supporters we can count Deputy PM Jarosław Gowin and the Development Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz, the health minister Łukasz Szumowski, the Digital Affairs Minister Marek Zagórski as well as the Foreign Affairs and European Ministers Jacek Czaputowicz and Konrad Szymański. Among his proteges are the Finance Minister Tadeusz Kościński, the EU funds Minister Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, the Climate Minister Michał Kurtyka and the PM’s Office head Michał Dworczyk.

Mr Morawiecki has been successful in selling his government’s policies of tightening up the tax system and redistribution through social transfers. But he has also been good at crisis management. He resolved the storm over Poland’s defamation law in a way in which both Israel and the US were satisfied. He has not put a foot wrong in handling situations such as floods and other emergencies that befall all governments.

Opposition and some on the right critical

Obviously Mr Morawiecki has his critics. The opposition say he is just Mr Kaczyński’s yes man. They also make great play of the fact that he once bought some land from the Church which has risen in value considerably and have questioned the transparency of that deal.

In his own camp some don’t like his past business connections and alliances with individuals close to the previous government, such as the CEO of Poland’s largest bank PKO SA, Zbigniew Jagiełło. Some, such as Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and his supporters want to see the government doing more to restore Polish ownership of the media and other enterprises and to campaign more energetically for conservative cultural causes.

But the attempts to remove him made tentatively by supporters of Mr Ziobro only strengthened the PM. It became abundantly clear that he had the support of the ruling party leader and his backers in PiS. But Mr Kaczyński, seeing some conflict between Mr Ziobro and the PM over nominations in state companies, opted to create a new ministry to supervise state assets which will be headed by Deputy PM Jacek Sasin, a man who is a close ally of Mr Kaczyński. Mr Ziobro’s worth to the ruling camp (he has cc20 MPs under his command in the “Solidarity Poland” party he heads) has been recognised with the promotion of his close Ally Michał Woś to head the truncated Ministry of Environment. Despite losing climate related competences the ministry still has major natural resources such as forestry in its portfolio.

Priorities and challenges for the new government

The new old PM will now work on the programme of the government which will be unveiled in the Lower House, probably next week. Sources close to the ruling party indicate that it will be a government which will concentrate on preparing Poland for the likely economic slow-down in Europe, strengthening Poland’s position in the EU and protecting the social transfers and programme that were achieved in the government’s first term.

The short-term political objective will of course be to win the Presidential election. Now that PiS have lost control of the Senate, holding on to the Presidency is crucial. Without it any government legislation could be vetoed or subjected to a referendum. And a hostile President could also play havoc on the foreign policy and defence fields, as well as cause chaos within the government. It could be done by holding regular Cabinet meetings at which the new President would chair the meetings and publicly chastise individual ministers over policy failures or problems. PiS and Mr Morawiecki would then be in office, but no longer in power.

Another key problem the government faces is balancing the budget. It looks likely that Mr Gowin’s “Agreement” party will be as good as their word and may vote down the proposed lifting of the ceiling on social security contributions. That will mean that the government will have to find an additional 5-7 billion PLN in income through expenditure cuts, borrowing or tax increases.

This means that Mr Morawiecki is unlikely to be able to relax any time soon. Not that anyone expects him to relax. Mr Kaczyński recently joked that when Mr Morawiecki recently cut himself there were wires and cables sticking out of him. His reputation for being a machine even made an appearance in a humorous broadcast during the election. PiS must hope that the machine will continue to work and serve it well.