Poland’s former prime minister Marek Belka confirmed as new central bank governor

By Vanessa Gera, AP
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poland confirms Belka as new central bank head

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s parliament confirmed a widely respected former prime minister as its new central bank governor Thursday, and he said his first goal will be to reassure financial markets that his nation’s economy and currency are stable.

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament voted 253 to 184 to confirm Marek Belka, an outcome expected to increase investor confidence in Poland and to create greater market stability. Recently, global markets were shocked and the euro was dragged down after officials in nearby Hungary suggested its economic situation is similar to that of Greece.

Belka is taking office two months after the previous bank chief was killed along with the president and scores of others in a plane crash in Russia.

Poland is the only European country to avoid recession amid the global crisis of the past two years, but its currency — the zloty — has weakened considerably in recent weeks amid new anxieties sparked by the European debt crisis.

Amid that backdrop, the governing Civic Platform party pushed to have Belka confirmed quickly in hope it would create greater confidence for investors.

Belka, 58, an economist who has been a finance minister and who worked most recently at the International Monetary Fund, was nominated for the top banking job two weeks ago by acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, a member of the governing party and the candidate for president in an election coming up on June 20.

He welcomed Belka’s easy confirmation.

“Thanks to this, the National Bank of Poland is fully stabilized after the dramatic catastrophe of Smolensk,” Komorowski said after the vote, referring to the April 10 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, that killed President Lech Kaczynski, the former central bank head, Slawomir Skrzypek, and 94 others.

Governors of the National Bank of Poland serve six-year terms, meaning that Belka will oversee the bank as the country moves toward adopting the euro. Despite the turbulence in the euro zone, the government says it still hopes to swap the Polish zloty for the euro in a few years. Belka also supports eventual euro adoption.

In his first remarks after being confirmed, Belka pledged to work for stability.

“We need to give a strong signal to participants on the market that the zloty is stable, that the Polish economy is stable, and that the will for cooperation exists between an independent National Bank of Poland and all other Polish authorities,” Belka told reporters.

“Times are difficult, you might even say uncertain. In such a situation, a show of unity is a very important signal that can stabilize our currency and maintain the very good opinion that Poland enjoys today in the world and Europe,” he said.

Economists have responded enthusiastically to having Belka as national bank chief, citing his extensive experience in Poland and abroad.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Belka served as the director for economic policy for the U.S.-led provisional authority in Iraq. He was Polish prime minister from 2004 to 2005, and worked most recently as the European director for the IMF.

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