Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki reshuffles cabinet ahead of EU talks

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, in a bid to avert possible sanctions, has announced cabinet changes before meeting with EU officials. He has replaced the foreign and defense ministers but the justice minister will stay.

Poland's new conservative Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has fired the country's foreign, defense and environmental ministers before heading to Brussels in an attempt to avert EU sanctions. Morawiecki, who took over from Beata Szydlo after her resignation on December 11, replaced controversial Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz — a key ally of the ruling Law and Justice Party's (PiS) all-powerful leader Jaroslaw Kaczinski — with Interior Minister Marius Blaszczak on Tuesday.

Read more: Poland’s Macron? Morawiecki takes the helm

'We don't want to be dogmatic' 

Morawiecki also removed Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski from his post, replacing him with Vice Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz. Environmental Minister Jan Szysko, who led the fight for logging in Poland's Bialowieza National Park, one of the last primeval forests in Europe, will be replaced by Henryk Kowalczyk.

Announcing the changes, which now include the ministers for health and digitalization, Morawiecki said: "We don't want to be a dogmatic, doctrinaire or extremist government; we want to be a government that draws together the economy and society, as well as the European and global dimensions with a local level." 

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Not everyone is leaving

It is suspected that the replacements were urged by Polish President Andrzej Duda who has had difficulty going along completely with changes to the country's justice system, for instance; changes insisted upon by Kaczyinski. Such tampering with the justice system as well as media laws recently forced the EU to take the highly-unusual step of invoking article 7 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. Despite that, the author of those controversial justice reforms, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, will keep his post.

Read more: Opinion: Poland will be the EU's biggest challenge in 2018

Nature and Environment

Pest control - or profit?

In March 2016, the Polish government decided to triple the amount of logging allowed in the Bialowieza forest. Since then, at least 10,000 trees have been felled. The government says the reason for the deforestation was to fight an infestation of bark beetles. But scientists say the insects only affect conifers. Critics say pest control is just a cover for those who stand to benefit economically.

Nature and Environment

The alleged 'baddie'

The bark beetle loves to eat spruce, which is known as the queen of the conifers. But scientists say we shouldn't fell spruce trees, even if they're infected with beetles. They provide a habitat for worms, insects and fungi, and the dead tree trunks are used as nesting sites by woodpeckers.

Nature and Environment

A large scale operation

The Bialowieza forest spans Poland and Belarus. 35 percent of the forest on the Polish side of the border is made up of protected national parks and nature reserves. The government says logging only happens in cultivated areas, rather than natural old-growth forest. But activists say the clearance is far more extensive.

Nature and Environment

Last of its kind

The European bison is the last surviving species of wild cattle on the continent - and the Bialowieza forest is home to Europe’s largest free-roaming herd. As early as 1795, the Russian Tsar put the area under strict protection. Poachers were even sentenced to death by poisoning.

Nature and Environment

Colorful inhabitant

The Syrian woodpecker is one of 1,200 animal species living in the forest. Originally from the Middle East, it arrived in Europe around a century ago with a taste for cherries and nuts.

Nature and Environment

Save the trees

For hundreds of years, the 150,000-hectare forest was left in peace. And it should stay that way, environmentalists say. The Polish government has closed off the logging area in an attempt to avoid disturbances from activists. And police and forest management security personnel supervise any protests to make sure activists don't chain themselves to the machinery.

Nature and Environment

A warning from the EU

The clearing of Bialowieza forest has also become an issue outside of Poland. Recently, activists in Berlin protested against it. Now even the EU is getting involved, warning that logging activity may be added to the ongoing EU treaty violation proceedings against Poland if the country doesn't stick to the commission's deforestation ban.

Nature and Environment

Trees are friends

This young man's method of protesting won't get him into trouble. But seven other activists have arrested after interfering with wood harvesters. They face penalties and imprisonment due to a "breach of the peace".

Juncker: EU 'not at war with Poland'

The EU's decision was seen as a stern warning that could potentially result in Poland forfeiting its right to vote within the EU and face further sanctions still. It was the first time in the history of the EU that the European Commission decided to trigger article 7. Prime Minister Morawiecki will meet with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels Tuesday evening to discuss relations between Poland and the supranational body. Reacting to the announcement, Juncker said that the EU was, "not at war with Poland," but emphasized the need for dialogue.

Read more: Opinion: The Polish people are the big losers

Good behavior for cash?

It is largely thought that the Polish cabinet reshuffle was intended to be a clear indication of the country's desire to improve relations. The EU's seven-year budget determining which countries will receive EU funds in the future is also slated to be discussed Tuesday. Poland is the biggest recipient of EU funding.

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js/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)