October 1, 2014 / 10:40 AM / in 3 years

New Polish PM signals cautious approach on euro accession

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s new Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said on Wednesday she would largely stick to the policies of her predecessor Donald Tusk, including a cautious approach to the question of when eastern Europe’s biggest economy will join the euro.

Poland's newly appointed Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz presents her policy plans in Parliament in Warsaw October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/AGENCJA GAZETA

In her first major policy speech as prime minister, Kopacz tried to appeal to voters before a parliamentary election next year, casting her government as caring and focused on the interests of ordinary Polish families.

President Bronislaw Komorowski, Kopacz’s party ally, had said it was time for Poland to start a debate about accession to the European single currency, raising expectations the new prime minister might announce a deadline for Poland’s entry.

But Kopacz, echoing the stance of the previous government, said that besides Poland needing to meet the technical criteria for euro entry, the euro zone needed to show it was stable.

“We must remember that the euro zone only recently experienced the biggest crisis in its history,” Kopacz told parliament. “Both Poland and the countries of the euro zone have some homework to do.”

“A strengthened euro zone and a stable economy; these are the two criteria which will define the best moment for adopting the single currency,” she added.

One of the advisors who helped Kopacz draft her speech was former finance minister Jacek Rostowski. Born in Britain, he is close to Britain’s eurosceptic finance minister George Osborne and was the architect of Poland’s cautious approach to the euro under Tusk.

On foreign policy, Kopacz promised more continuity. She said her government would not stand for a break-up of neighboring Ukraine and would push for a greater U.S. military presence in Poland as a deterrent to possible Russian aggression.

Kopacz later won a vote of confidence in parliament, completing the procedures set out in the constitution for installing her as prime minister. She said after the vote she would travel next week to Brussels, and then to Berlin, at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MOTHER POLAND

Kopacz, a protege of Tusk, was hand-picked to replace him after he was appointed president of the European Council, a job that involves chairing summits of EU heads of state and trying to win consensus among the 28 member states.

Markets see the ruling Civic Platform party as a guarantee of pragmatic policies and fiscal prudence and they are now watching to see if, with Tusk gone, the party can keep power at the parliamentary election scheduled for late next year.

Kopacz, a 57-year-old former pediatrician, has said that being a woman and a mother will inform the way she governs.

Asked last month about how she will handle national security challenges, the former parliamentary speaker said: “Poland should behave like reasonable Polish women,” by protecting its home and family.

On Wednesday she used her speech, and a handful of new policies, to try to create in voters’ minds an image of a protective, nurturing government.

“All of my and my government’s decisions will be taken not based on political calculation, but will have one aim - the security, in the broad sense, of Polish families,” Kopacz said.

She promised her government would double funding for childcare for pre-kindergarten children, and allocate about $600 million to create more nursery places in workplaces.

Kopacz pledged to ban junk food in schools, to provide free textbooks for primary schools, and to create day care centers for the elderly. She also ordered her government to remove some of the red tape around paying taxes.

Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek said the initiatives would be paid for out of savings the government expects to make elsewhere, so would not push up borrowing.

Kopacz held out an olive branch to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the conservative opposition. Kaczynski has accused Tusk of covering up a 2010 plane crash in Russia in which Kaczynski’s brother, who was Polish president, died. Tusk denies the allegations on the issue that has poisoned Polish politics.

Addressing Kaczynski, who was in parliament, Kopacz said: “It’s high time to break this personal animosity... Let us remove this curse of hate from Poland.”

After the speech, Kaczynski, who usually snubs Tusk, approached him on the floor of parliament, shook his hand and wished him good luck in his new job.

Additional reporting by Wiktor Szary and Marcin Goclowski; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Heavens

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