Poland’s Tusk turns focus on voters as elections near


Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Friday (10 January) his goal this year was to improve the economic situation of families, marking a shift in the focus of government policy towards the electorate ahead of two votes this year.

Tusk's ruling Civic Platform party has been trailing the opposition in opinion polls, with government approval ratings near their lowest level since the party took power in 2007.

Many voters feel disappointed that their financial situation has not improved as much as the country's stellar economic growth would suggest.

"If we managed to protect Poland from the crisis, then now in 2014 we are starting the march for the social and financial security of the Polish family," Tusk said in a speech setting out his government policy goals for 2014 on Friday.

Poland is the only country in the European Union to avoid recession since the global financial crisis began in 2008.

But about 2 million Poles out of a population of 38 million have emigrated in search of a better life, and the country has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe as many families struggle to make ends meet.

Tusk's party has generally focused its policies towards business, lifting Poland last year 10 places up the World Bank's ranking of countries where it is easy to do business.

The party won an unprecedented second term in 2011 and faces European parliament elections in May and local elections near the end of the year. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for late 2015.


Thousands of workers have been pushed into temporary job contracts, called "junk contracts" in Poland, with significantly reduced social security.

Tusk said the government would begin work to end the "shameful" era of such contracts this year, at the same time trying to limit any impact on employment.

Civic Platform has tended to look for ways to make life easier for business in the hope that this will translate to more jobs and higher wages, but Tusk's speech appeared to mark a shift in emphasis more towards ordinary families.

"Some will probably say that I am becoming more of a socialist as I get older," Tusk said. "Our experience tells us unequivocally, the state must be present solving social, financial and family problems, because too many Poles will not make it without our intervention."

This year, Poland has launched a large public investment scheme, mostly in infrastructure and the energy sector, to boost the $530 billion economy and create jobs.

In his speech, Tusk also pledged more benefits to large families, shorter queues for public healthcare and free school textbooks for children. He did not mention any new policies aimed at helping large corporations.

Tusk promised to cut unemployment to less than 13% by the end of the year from the current rate of about 13.4% and below the official budget forecast of 13.8%.

Workers in Poland have borne most of the burden of government efforts to cut the budget deficit, including two value-added tax hikes, an increase in the retirement age to 67 and a wage freeze in the public sector.

Nomura economist Peter Attard Montalto believes Tusk will have a tough time trying to reduce the deficit more as demanded by the European Commission while satisfying the electorate.

"Policy will likely be more political now, and subservient to the needs of Tusk, even if not a dramatic departure from what has gone on previously," Montalto said.


After the financial and sovereign debt crisis, state bailouts and budget cuts, the May 2014 European elections are expected to take the pulse of public confidence towards the European Union.

For the first time, voters will also indirectly choose the next president of the European Commission, giving citizens a fresh chance to shape the future of Europe.

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