Tit for tat
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The search to replace outgoing central bank Governor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz continues. Gronkiewicz-Waltz is leaving her post in January to a position as a deputy head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Former finance minister and current head of the Freedom Union (UW), Leszek Balcerowicz, got a public vote of support in the best-selling daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
By law, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski has to appoint the successor but his choice must be approved by the highly fractured, centre-right parliament. So far, Kwaśniewski has remained circumspect saying he was considering Balcerowicz among seven or eight other candidates.
Deputy prime Minister, Jerzy Steinhoff told Gazeta Wyborcza, "Only Leszek Balcerowicz can give Poland reliability on international markets ... The person who will replace the central banker will determine Poland's reputation among financial investors, which is crucial for the zloty's stability."
But the deal to gain support from the ruling rightist Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) is rumoured to involve their backing of Balcerowicz's candidacy in exchange for the UW's support in pushing through the crucial 2001 budget. Steinhoff commented, "It is totally inappropriate to link the two issues and suggest that there could be any bargains between the budget and central banker's position."
One must appreciate the irony of it. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, who has been at the receiving end of public scorn and criticism from all quarters contributing to the unpopularity of the ruling AWS, announced that he is ready to head the AWS if this move would put an end to the current crisis within the bloc.
"I can take responsibility for the country anytime, even [more] than now, but it has to be accepted by my colleagues," Buzek said in an interview with Radio Zet. There has not yet been any break in the stalemate among the four component parties on how to reform the AWS and resolve the issue of the AWS leadership.
Three of the AWS's parties are still calling for the resignation of current leader Marian Krzaklewski. He has stubbornly refused to heed their demands. There is no progress either on the proposal to transform the current coalition into a federation of parties. The parties seem to agree on principle but their undoing, as usual, is a lack of consensus over how this should be done.
The Union speaks up
As if things were not rocky enough, the Solidarity trade union went into official dispute with its own ruling political arm. The union is demanding wage increases to compensate workers for this year's higher than expected inflation. Union spokesman Kajus Augustyniak stated, "This decision means we are increasing pressure on the government, demanding decisive negotiations, and opening a way for the union to start various protests, including strikes."
The union maintains that workers lost buying power this year, because their wages were indexed to a forecast average annual inflation rate. In contrast to the government's forecast of a 5.7 per cent rate of inflation in their 2000 budget, fuel and food prices are surging up to around the ten per cent rate.
The union is also demanding that the monthly minimum wage increase, from the current from the current PLZ (Polish zloty) 700 (UDS 153) to at least PLZ 883 (USD 193) and that more realistic average wage increases be determined for the next year. Currently, workers at state-owned firms could receive a maximum 6.8 per cent wage increase, or 1.1 per cent above the forecast average inflation rate for the next year.
Meanwhile, wages for those working in the public sector were allowed to rise at most 6.7 per cent for this year. Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft said the cabinet was ready for talks with union officials.
A sort of homecoming
The Sejm has decided that the law on repatriation will "primarily" apply to Poles from the Asian part of the former Soviet Union and "mainly" from Kazakhstan. This decision was a rejection of the Senate's proposed amendment to extended repatriation to include all Poles living in all states of "the former socialist bloc."
The repatriation bill further stipulates that those seeking repatriation to Poland in the first place must prove that one parent or grandparent, or two great-grandparents, was of Polish nationality. Additionally, applicants must also demonstrate that their "ties with Polishness" have remained intact—by having maintained Polish traditions and customs.
A majority of those who will be applying from the Far East would have been deported (or children of deportees) during the Second World War.
Sigh of relief
Prime Minister Buzek said he is satisfied with the European Commission's assessment of Poland in its annual report on the progress of EU accession candidates.
According to the report, Poland has strengthened its position as a result of its stable economic growth, progress in the modernization of the economy, and the recent acceleration of legal adjustments.
On the down side, the report (again) criticised Warsaw for dragging its heels in undertaking far-reaching transformations in the agricultural sector and the functioning of its courts and administration. They also scolded the country for lax border controls and failing to take a strong enough stance on combating corruption and organised crime.
Regardless, the report is pretty strong praise for Buzek's steering of the cabinet. For his part, Buzek again criticised the EU's slow pace, saying, "That [prediction] does not satisfy us fully. It raises concerns whether once negotiations wrap up in the middle of 2002, it is possible to carry through all ratification procedures to enter on 1 January 2003."
Joanna Rohozińska, 11 November 2000
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Today's updated headlines from Poland