The Polish conservatives announced on Tuesday a deep remodeling of government on eve of visit to Brussels of prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. The European Commission does not trust: The sources consulted indicate that this is a mere gesture for gallery, following recent opening of a harsh sanctioning procedure that could end suspension of Poland's voting rights in EU.
Warsaw replaces seven ministers hours before meeting between Morawiecki, and President of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who ended before midnight with good words and few commitments. After a very virulent first reaction after Brussels pressed nuclear button on voting rights, Polish government now sends a sign of appeasement. But Brussels is wary: Polish executive has undermined independence of his judicial system — a sort of anama in Brussels — despite continued European warnings against weakening of rule of law. The Poles relieved two heavyweights: Minister of Defense, Antoni Macierewicz, and external holder, Witold Wasczykowsky. And Ministers of Finance, Interior, technology, environment and health. But Macierewicz and Wasczykowsky headed most belligerent wing with EU, to point where some experts flirted with idea of an EU exit if Poland sees flow of European funds reduced in next budgets, starting at 2020.
That negotiation on money is about to begin. And Poland, which has withstood Great Recession great, cannot afford a sharp drop in Community funds on road to modernizing its economy.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of ultraconservative party justice and law and most influential Polish politician, already hinted last summer that it could trigger a government crisis. The first step came before Christmas, with replacement of Prime Minister Beata Syzdlo by more moderate Morawiecki, who was a director of Santander before being Minister of Finance. That change was already interpreted as a sign in pursuit of greater negotiating capacity with Brussels.
"We are not at war with Poland," he said on Tuesday Juncker in an interview with German television that sums up degree of tension between Warsaw and Brussels. Over past few months, dismissed ministers defended conspiracy ory about an attack that would have caused death of former president Lech Kaczynski and opposed re-election of Polish Donald Tusk to head of European Council. The grimace of disgust in Paris and Berlin was evident.
"The new government should help build a sovereign Poland in a strong Europe," prime minister said yesterday. But in halls of Brussels suspicions were undisguised last night. Poland's Voting rights procedure in EU — so-called Article 7 — continues its course, although it needs a first qualified majority endorsement in European Council, consent of Parliament, and finally unanimity of Council to exit Go ahead. Hungary, on a similar drift, could veto that measure. But in Brussels, voices emphasizing that enlargement to east of EU was too hasty, and some countries are even advocating to link European funds to respect for rule of law. Warsaw will have to convince partners that executive's remodeling is an indication of changing attitude ahead.