Ex-banker Mateusz Morawiecki proposed as Poland's new PM

Warsaw (AFP) –


Poland's governing rightwing party on Thursday chose finance minister and ex-banker Mateusz Morawiecki to replace outgoing Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, as the administration focuses more on the economy.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the country's most powerful politician and the man believed to be calling all the shots, had also been one of the figures tipped to replace Szydlo.

Earlier Thursday, Szydlo survived a no-confidence motion in parliament tabled by the liberal opposition, only for her party to later announce her resignation.

PiS party spokeswoman, Beata Mazurek later told reporters that its "political committee has proposed the candidature of ex-banker Mateusz Morawiecki for prime minister."

Szydlo is due to stay on as a deputy prime minister.

She is expected to formally tender her resignation to PiS-allied President Andrzej Duda on Friday, while the PiS-controlled parliament could approve Morawiecki's new administration by Tuesday, according to media reports.

Further changes to the government are due in January, senior party officials added.

Opposition leaders however insist that party leader Kaczynski would still remain fully in charge behind the scenes.

"Regardless of whether Mateusz Morawiecki or Beata Szydlo will govern, all decisions will still be made at the PiS party headquaters," Katarzyny Lubnauer, leader of the liberal 'Modern' opposition party, told reporters.

- Cosmopolitan pedigree -

Development and finance minister Mateusz Morawiecki, 49, has made a name for himself by taking on tax evasion and bolstering the welfare state.

Critics however accuse the former banker of wasting a golden opportunity offered by a strong economy to consolidate public finances.

He is expected to focus the government's efforts on boosting economic growth and investment during the second half of its four-year term.

So far, the popular PiS government has introduced a child allowance, lowered the retirement age and increased wages, among other measures.

Hefty public spending has stimulated domestic consumption, and the economy is expected to grow 4.0 percent this year. Joblessness sank to 6.6 percent in October.

But although Poland's debt-to-GDP ratio stood at a relatively low 54 percent last year, critics say it is bound to balloon.

The son of a former radical anti-communist dissident, Morawiecki has a cosmopolitan pedigree while strongly asserting his patriotism and makes no secret of his desire to banish all traces of Poland's communist past from public life.

In 2015, Morawiecki gave up his lucrative post as chairman of Bank Zachodni WBK, part of Spain's Santander Group, to join the newly elected PiS-majority government.

He had joined the bank in 1998 after studying history, business administration, European law and economic integration, and management in Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the US.

Despite his private-sector credentials, Morawiecki has shown a penchant for building up state assets, particularly in the banking sector.

While the mass privatisation drive that drew strong foreign investment during the early days of Polish capitalism helped to revive a failed economy, Morawiecki argues that nearly 30 years later, leaving key sectors in foreign hands means the profits leave Poland.

- 'Systemic threat' -

Since taking office in 2015, the PiS government has been at loggerheads with the EU over its reforms to the Polish court system that Brussels views as a threat to the union's democratic values.

The EU has said the Polish reforms pose a "systemic threat" to the rule of law, with Brussels having warned it could trigger Article Seven of the EU's treaties -- the so-called "nuclear option" that freezes voting rights.

The PiS government's overhaul of the judicial system has led to mass street protests and prompted Polish freedom icon Lech Walesa to express concern about his country's fate in Europe.

New reforms are set to reinforce political control over Poland's Supreme Court and allow parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect the independence of the courts.

Szydlo's government insisted that the reforms are needed to root out corruption and purge a judiciary it believes is stacked in favour of supporters of former prime minister Donald Tusk, who is now president of the European Council.