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Ewa Kopacz, Tusk's 'Iron Lady', to step up as Polish PM

10 september 2014, 10:54
0
Ewa Kopacz. ©AFP
Ewa Kopacz. ©AFP

 Ewa Kopacz, who is tipped to replace Donald Tusk as Poland's next prime minister after he was tapped for European Council president, is known as an "Iron Lady" who always has his back, AFP reports.

A paediatrician turned parliamentary speaker, the elegant 57-year-old with a fondness for stilettos is also poised to take over Tusk's centrist Civic Platform (PO) at a crucial juncture ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

According to Warsaw-based political analyst Eryk Mistewicz, her "devotion to Donald Tusk and his party is unwavering".

But that loyalty has also made her look more like a follower than a leader, says University of Warsaw political scientist Ewa Pietrzyk-Zieniewicz.

"She isn't seen as an independent politician (...) but rather an Iron Lady, who's always got Donald Tusk's back," Pietrzyk-Zieniewicz told AFP.

Reputed to be a meticulous manager, Kopacz is widely regarded as a consummate technocrat but one lacking real political clout and without a clearly defined political vision.

  'Digital memory' 

"She excels in time management and projects and seems to have a digital memory. She's a perfectionist, a busy bee," says Mistewicz.

Born into a working-class family, Kopacz is the daughter of a seamstress and a locksmith.

"She's an uncompromising woman with character, with a sharp temper," says Janusz Palikot, a flamboyant former vodka baron turned MP who broke ranks with Tusk.

"I've often seen her infuriated. And on the rare occasions I've seen Donald Tusk lose his cool, it's been because of her. But she's never suffered any consequences," he said.

A member of Tusk's governing PO since he set up the party in 2001, Kopacz was drawn close to him when as a physician she helped to care for his gravely ill mother and sister, according to Polish press reports.

"She's dead serious and very determined about everything she does," says Jacek Zakowski, a leading political commentator in Warsaw.

As Poland reeled in April 2010 from the crash of its presidential jet in Russia that claimed head of state Lech Kaczynski and dozens of senior state officials, then health minister Kopacz travelled to the crash site to personally oversee the identification of victims.

  'Holy water' 

As health minister she also refused to toe the line in 2009, when governments across Europe and North America bought up expensive A/H1N1 swine flu vaccines touted by pharmaceutical giants as being indispensable for public health.

"This vaccine contains only tiny quantities of active substances. Isn't it more like holy water than a real vaccine?" she told parliament at the time.

Her decision to eschew the costly treatment was vindicated as the flu epidemic had negligible impact in Poland.

"Ewa Kopacz doesn't muck around. When she sinks her teeth into something, she doesn't let go," Zakowski said.

She also made waves by backing an abortion for a 14-year-old girl who had been raped.

While Poland's restrictive abortion law allows for termination of a pregnancy in cases of rape and incest, or if it poses a risk to the woman's life, the procedure is opposed by Poland's powerful Roman Catholic Church.

"I don't see anything wrong with an abortion performed in line with a law that has been in place for 15 years," Kopacz said at the time, adding that she felt "uneasy" about her position as a Catholic but not as a minister.

Kopacz is divorced and has one daughter, also a physician.


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