New Polish PM fires top ministers to reduce tensions with EU

Warsaw, 9 January 2018  – Poland’s ruling conservatives fired several senior government ministers on Tuesday in an apparent move to patch up relations with the European Union strained over accusations that Warsaw is subverting rule of law standards, Reuters reports.

Facing unprecedented EU legal action over the alleged politicization of Poland’s judiciary, the Law and Justice (PiS) party may want to defuse tensions in other areas such as environment policy and defense, analysts say.

The changes also came with the EU about to embark on negotiations on a new seven-year budget that will decide which member states get what out of the bloc’s coffers – with Poland currently the biggest net recipient.

President Andrzej Duda, acting on recommendations of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, dismissed Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, who has spearheaded far-reaching logging in an ancient forest that prompted action by the European Court of Justice.

Also losing their job were Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz, a former anti-communist crusader facing criticism over delays in modernizing the army as well as conflicts with top generals, as well as Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, seen in Brussels as an ineffective diplomat.

The reshuffle removed ministers seen from the EU perspective as combative or ill-informed. It followed the appointment of former bank CEO and finance minister Morawiecki as prime minister, replacing Beata Szydlo, last month at the midpoint of the parliamentary term. PiS faces local elections in late 2018 and legislative and presidential ballots in 2019 and 2020.

“The new (government) should help us build a sovereign Poland within a strong Europe, a Europe of homelands,” Morawiecki said after the new appointments were announced.

The feud between Brussels and Warsaw’s euroskeptic government has emerged as a central element of mounting tensions between wealthier western EU members and the ex-communist east amid a wider debate over the bloc’s future.

Many westerners are keen for EU countries to integrate further in the wake of Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc, but this is strongly opposed by nationalist-minded politicians dominating eastern EU countries such as Poland and Hungary.