All budget all the time
It is hardly surprising that this is the case since the minority AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) government will now live or die depending on whether their proposed budget is accepted or not.
The government has to approve the final version of its budget draft by the end of September, before sending it to parliament for scrutiny. Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek said that the finance ministry's budget proposals could still be changed by the whole cabinet. "Tomorrow's decision by the finance ministry will not be the government's decision. The council of ministers will decide on the budget assumptions on Saturday or on Tuesday at the latest."
Finance Minister Jaroslaw Bauc, who replaced Leszek Balcerowicz after his UW (Freedom Union) withdrew from the coalition, is expected to propose plans for moderate fiscal policy tightening.
Bauc proposed to cut the fiscal gap to 1.9 to 2.0 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) from this year's planned 2.7 percent. Few were surprised when Balcerowicz said he had planned this year's economic deficit at 1.4 per cent of GDP and accused his successor of trying to disguise plans to loosen fiscal policy as financial stringency.
"What has been disclosed so far shows a deft attempt at presenting an election budget as an economically ambitious one," Balcerowicz told public radio. He also faulted Bauc for including unrealistically high income from planned third-generation UMTS mobile phone licences in his calculations.
"Budgetary calculations are based on the assumption that a large income from UMTS can be treated as the state's revenue. But this sum may have to be spread over many years." Bauc predicted expected revenues at seven billion zlotys from the license sale in 2001 and a similar sum in 2002. Balcerowicz went on to say that "In this budget, the main index, that is the economic deficit, is much worse."
But Bauc wasn't the only AWS member on the receiving end of harsh criticism this week. The pressure on the government to sack Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz only mounted, as a key parliamentary committee joined a growing group of opposition deputies demanding that he be given the boot.
Up until this latest development, his compatriots in government defended Wasacz and his methods of privatisation. This time around, they failed to unequivocally dispel (mainly media) speculation that they had had a change of heart and were going to put him to the curb after all.
Deputy Premier Janusz Steinhoff told a news conference, after a cabinet meeting, that "the prime minister will analyse the committee's position... and I think a time will come when Minister Wasacz will have to justify his decisions to the committee."
Probably not the Inquisition - but it doesn't augur well for the longevity of Wasacz's career. Government Spokesman Krzysztof Luft was asked bluntly whether there was any truth in rumours that Wasacz would be dismissed so that a possible no-confidence vote against him in parliament would be avoided.
Luft replied that "this is now only press speculation, the Premier has not made such a decision... In the event that it is made, I will inform the media of this... At no time have his privatisation activities been in any way questioned."
Demands for Wasacz's dismisal, along with that of his deputy, Alicja Kornasiewicz, were prompted by questions regarding their handling of the sale of the giant PZU insurance company. It sparked accusations of corruption and an outcry that state assets were being sold below their real value.
A letter to the Prime Minister demanding the dismissal(s) was backed by the majority of the parliament's privatisation and treasury committee, including most of its AWS members. "We believed that everything that was connected with the privatisation of PZU could have been done in a way which would have been more beneficial for the state treasury," said AWS deputy Zygmunt Berdychowski.
Wasacz stood firm, though, saying he had no plans to step down. His spokesperson, Beata Jarosz, bluntly commented that "the minister is not resigning." She added that the minister was satisfied with his sell-off policies. Unfortunately he appears to be the only one.
Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, a celebrated writer and anti-Communist activist, died in hospital in Naples of a stroke. Herling-Grudzinski steered the cultural, intellectual and political life of the Polish émigré community for five decades from France and Italy, where he had lived since the end of the Second World War, worked for Radio Free Europe and co-founded the influential Paris-based monthly Kultura. He was 81.
Poland - the no 1 choice!
Amid the turmoil and uncertainty, Jerzy Bużek's cabinet adopted an optimistic program to promote Poland in EU countries aimed at convincing Europeans that Poland deserves EU membership.
The program, which amounts to a massive marketing campaign, is to include sponsoring press articles, inviting European opinion-makers to visit Poland, the participation of Polish businesses in fairs and exhibitions in the EU and staging cultural events in EU countries.
The program will cost Zl 84 million (USD 19 million) and is to be implemented over the next three years. It is doubtful, though, that cabbage rolls will soon replace crepes in Parisian cafes.
This activity belies a certain amount of anxiety over the ever-shifting dates of Poland's potential EU accession. Poland's chief EU negotiator, Jan Kulakowski, has said they continue to strive to complete EU accession negotiations by mid-2001. But he added that a postponement beyond 2003 would be bad both for Poland and the EU.
Hopes riding on the French
Poland's tendencies toward Francophilism may yet be rewarded as French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine,
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"We can expect from the French presidency that we will move forward to substantial problems…Each candidate will be assessed according to its possibilities and its real situation. This is the only way to help everyone solve his own problems," said Vedrine.
Though generally reassuring and hopeful, Vedrine's remarks also carried a subtle warning to Poland that it would have to work in order to maintain its place as one of the first wave of countries invited to start membership talks.
Criticism from EU officials has repeatedly hinted that Poland is moving too slowly in adopting required legislation and may in fact be left behind. Some have even hinted that the target date of 2003 is increasingly a pipe-dream and that 2005 or even 2006 is a more realistic date.
Joanna Rohozińska, 8 July 2000
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