Polish PM sacks finance minister, reshuffles unpopular government

Polish PM sacks finance minister, reshuffles unpopular government

Warsaw (AFP) - Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, replacing the finance minister and six others in his unpopular centre-right government, amid a sluggish economy and corruption allegations.

Mateusz Szczurek, 38, who replaces sacked Jacek Rostowski as finance minister, "guarantees the new energy we need in this post", Tusk told reporters in Warsaw as markets took the switch in stride.

But the sacking of Environment Minister Marcin Korolec caused consternation at the ongoing UN climate talks in Warsaw which he chairs, with Greenpeace Poland terming the move "nuts".

Korolec will be replaced by economist Maciej Grabowski -- but will stay on as Poland's top climate negotiator, Tusk said.

Rostowski, 62, from the London School of Economics steered Poland completely clear of recession, but recently came under fire for his controversial pension reform plans and austerity measures.

Newly appointed Szczurek is the chief economist in Poland for ING Bank, specialising in macroeconomics for central and eastern Europe.

As Poland's youngest-ever finance minister he will face the tricky task of fiscal reform in the run-up to elections.

Now serving its second consecutive term in office, Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) party has seen its approval ratings plunge to record lows ahead of European parliamentary elections next year and the general vote in 2015.

The main culprits have been slow economic growth and allegations of corruption in the country which was however the only EU member to avoid recession during both the global economic crisis and the eurozone debt debacle.

Tusk's two-party coalition government has also seen its once stable majority dwindle to just one seat in the 460-seat lower house of parliament. PO deputies have deserted both the party and government amid infighting.

"Following a period of uncertainty in Europe and Poland there's a need for an acceleration of (economic) growth and very dynamic activity to spend EU funds," Tusk told reporters.

'A shot at really good growth'

Poland, a country of 38 million, won 105 billion euros ($142 billion) in EU funding for the 2014-20 budget horizon.

"It's a huge sum. The premier will try to turn it into a political success with investment in infrastructure, research and development and social security," Warsaw-based political analyst Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski told AFP.

The central European heavyweight saw its economy accelerate in the third quarter of the year, in a sign of solid recovery after a 0.4 percent expansion in the previous three months and 0.2 growth in the first quarter.

The economy grew by 1.9 percent last year, down from 4.5 percent in 2011. Growth between 1.2 to 1.5 percent is forecast for this year, then 2.2 percent in 2014.

"We have a huge opportunity in front of us in connection with the European funding, the fact that we avoided recession and we have a shot at really good (economic) growth," Tusk said, adding that he felt "a little like the coach of the national football team from years ago," when Poland was winning.

But commentators in Warsaw were highly sceptical about the change of finance minister.

"Rostowski is just the scapegoat for Tusk's inaction ... and his failure to fulfil his election promises," Adam Sadowski, an analyst with the independent Warsaw-based Adam Smith think-tank, told AFP.

"A change at the head of the finance ministry will change nothing as there is no real change of economic policy on the part of Donald Tusk," Sadowski added.

Corruption allegations have also dogged Tusk's PO party.

Last week the 58-year-old Tusk accepted the resignation of Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak, a close PO ally who is suspected of having accepted an expensive watch as a bribe.

All new ministers, including transport, higher education, education and sport as well as digitisation, will be sworn into office by President Bronislaw Komorowski on November 27 and December 3.

Poland joined the European Union in 2004 but has yet to enter the eurozone, which its finance minister said last month would likely happen in the next 10 years.

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