* New Finance Minister is ING economist Mateusz Szczurek
* Change was part of wider cabinet reshuffle
* PM trying to reverse government's slide in polls
* Ministers for environment, education also changed
By Christian Lowe and Karolina Slowikowska
WARSAW, Nov 20 Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
named a political novice as his new finance minister on
Wednesday in a reshuffle designed to re-invigorate a government
that many voters feel has lost its way after six years in power.
Mateusz Szczurek, the 38-year-old chief economist for
central Europe with Dutch bank ING in Warsaw, replaces Jacek
Rostowski, who was finance minister for six years but had
quarrelled with Tusk in the past few months.
Szczurek, part of a generation of Poles who came of age
after the fall of Communism, has no background in domestic
politics and his appointment may shift the centre of gravity for
financial policy-making in eastern Europe's biggest economy
towards the prime minister's office.
"The finance ministry will be weak and just carry out policy
measures dictated by the prime minister's office, and more
specifically, the prime minister's chief adviser Jan Krzysztof
Bielecki," said one leading Polish economist, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Poland's economy is growing faster than its neighbours in
the euro zone but is still close to its weakest in more than a
decade. With the government's popularity sliding, Tusk is under
political pressure to boost growth before a 2015 parliamentary
Former colleagues of the new minister told Reuters he is a
talented economist whose commercial background will help
reassure markets. The zloty currency weakened slightly on news
of the appointment, then recouped its losses.
People who know him say that, like his predecessor, he is
cautious on the speed of Poland's accession to the euro, and
will not try to unravel Rostowski's main policies.
His style, however, will be very different to Rostowski. A
dominant figure in Polish public life, the last minister was
fond of haranguing ministers from other European states, and of
handing withering put-downs to members of parliament who
Reuters had reported exclusively in August that Tusk was
preparing to replace Rostowski within months.
Tusk also named new ministers for the environment, sports,
science and higher education and administration. Regional
development minister Elzbieta Bienkowska was made deputy prime
"For the next leap in our development, we need new energy,"
Tusk told a news conference at which he announced the changes.
Rostowski, a former academic who was born in London to a
family of Polish emigres, was the public face of Poland's
"economic miracle" - it was the only European Union state not to
go into recession after the 2008 global financial crisis.
But his days looked numbered after he failed to predict a
sharp economic slowdown at the end of last year. The economy has
revived somewhat, but the 2013 budget he drafted assumed tax
revenues that turned out to be wildly optimistic. That had to be
revised, shaking Tusk's confidence in his minister.
Economists close to the government say there is now a
pressing need for structural changes.
Poland's government still spends more than it earns in
revenue. Rostowski masked that by changing the way public debt
is calculated, and by finding short-term fixes, including a plan
to transfer assets from private pension funds onto the state's
"Rostowski is an excellent tactician," said Dariusz Filar, a
member of Tusk's Economic Council, an advisory body. "At the
same time he ... fails to think strategically."
Economists say stop-gap solutions such as the pension
transfer will buy Poland breathing space of two to three years,
but after that the government will have to reform spending,
including over-generous welfare for some sections of society.
However, it was not clear if the new minister would have the
political heft to push through those changes, especially if they
risk angering voters and weakening Tusk's authority over his
increasingly fractious party.