Polish Premier Wins Confidence Vote on Vow to Boost Welfare

(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s prime minister won a vote of confidence in his cabinet after vowing to build a patriotic welfare state and win a “culture war” to defend traditional Catholic values.

Mateusz Morawiecki said he’ll continue the budget handouts that helped his nationalist Law & Justice Party clinch a new four-year term in last month’s elections and protect the central European nation from what he called the “social experiments” of gay rights activists.

The lower house of parliament voted 237 to 214 with 3 abstentions in favor of his cabinet late on Tuesday, giving him a mandate to take power. The Sejm, where Law & Justice has a majority, also passed bills intending to boost excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco as well as on sanctioning an extra monthly pension payout for further works by lawmakers.

The ruling party backed out of its most controversial legislative plan, to remove a cap on social security contributions for high earners, after failing to win support for the measure within its ranks. Morawiecki said he’s optimistic about keeping a balanced budget next year even without the measure.

His policy speech came just hours after the European Union’s top court issued a verdict on Tuesday against a key component of Law & Justice’s criticized efforts to overhaul Poland’s courts. The clash over the judicial reform has laid bare a struggle by EU officials to confront member states, particularly in the bloc’s east, that are challenging its multicultural and rule-of-law standards.

‘Being Normal’

“If there are those who will seek to wage a culture war, then we will win it,” Morawiecki said in an 80 minute speech in parliament. “The family will win it. Being Polish means being normal.”

For Law & Justice, “normalcy” means fighting for ordinary citizens at the expense of “corrupt and self-serving” elites and opposing the West’s agenda of political correctness, especially when it comes to granting rights to same-sex couples and promoting sex education in schools.

Morawiecki vowed to keep the $586 billion economy growing faster than the euro zone -- an achievement it has fulfilled for decades -- while proposing investment incentives, the prospects of huge publicly funded projects and a continuation of policies aimed at nationalizing companies to boost the role of the state.

Doubling down on the confrontation with the EU over courts, Morawiecki said the judicial overhaul will continue and warned the bloc against preaching to Poland about values.

‘EU of Equals’

“We entered an EU of equals, not one where there are students and a separate teachers’ room,” he said.

Over the past four years, Law & Justice has transformed Poland from being a model of shift from communism to democracy since the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain into one of the EU’s biggest headaches, raising concerns over the safety of investment.

Morawiecki embodies the shift, having morphed from the successful head of one of Poland’s largest foreign-owned banks to an ideologist firebrand. He now promotes economic patriotism and said that he seeks to extend a policy of “re-Polonization,” or having state-run companies buy assets held by private or foreign investors.

That has boosted his popularity within ruling circles and shored up his position as premier, even though most policy is still set by the party’s leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

State Projects

The premier wants to keep Poland’s economy growing at a pace that’s 2-3 percentage points faster than that in the euro area, while boosting pensions and maintaining family subsidies his party has created since returning to power in 2015. To help growth, the government will increase investment incentives for small companies.

Morawiecki said he seeks to spend “tens of billions of zloty” on state-funded mega-projects, including building one of Europe’s biggest airports, digging a waterway through a peninsula on the Baltic Sea, boosting rail connections, and constructing a pipeline to carry Norwegian gas to break the dependency on Russian supply.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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