From Poland with Love - June

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

Referendum on Migration

Poland would hold a referendum on the European Union migration deal. Under the deal, each member state should be responsible for admitting a set number of migrants but could make payments of ca. EUR 20.000 per person to other states if they do not wish to host them. Poland and Hungary voted against the plan, and they expressed an intention of building a coalition against the proposal by convincing members of all political groups who oppose these solutions to submit amendments.

“First and foremost, EU’s decision infringes on Polish sovereignty and the sovereignty of other European states, and that is the most important matter,” said Kaczyński, adding that the plan “is a decision contrary to treaties”. “Polish people must speak out on this matter”, he stressed while introducing the referendum idea to the public opinion. “It’s not a migration pact, it’s a diktat that is aimed at changing Europe culturally”, Mateusz Morawiecki said in the parliament in Warsaw, adding that “it is the Sejm, not the Bundestag, and we have every right and obligation to vote in favor of Poland’s interest”. “We, Poles, know perfectly well, what compassion and solidarity are. No one will teach us solidarity and especially not the Germans”, he concluded.

Polish government does not support allowing large masses of migrants to the block. It also opposes mandatory fees for not accepting migrants warning that such approach will lead to increased crimes, including human trafficking. PiS leaders remind that Poland welcomed over a million Ukrainian refugees who fled their country following the Russian invasion.

The referendum is a trap for the opposition before the autumn elections. And PiS is using all propaganda tools available to present migrants as the biggest danger for Poland. Images published in TVP, the state-owned broadcaster, mirror those from the 2015 campaign, when the right wing recklessly used xenophobia in their pre-election narrative. 

PiS is trying to repeat the referendum scenario designed and implanted by Viktor Orban in Hungary. The referendum asked Hungarians whether they agreed with the EU to impose the compulsory resettlement of non-Hungarians in Hungary without the consent of the parliament. Though the referendum was technically invalid, as less than half of those eligible to vote cast a valid ballot, more than 98% of those who voted opposed the migrant quotas. It was used by Orban in Brussels multiple times.

The opposition is showing that under the Morawiecki administration Poland became the EU member state with the most relaxed migration policy that invited the biggest number of non-EU migrants. From one side, the government threatens Poles with migrants from Middle East, Asia and Africa, and on the other side, it facilitates migration of thousands of them.

According to a poll published by Wirtualna Polska, 50,8% of Poles agree that Poland’s participation in the relocation of asylum seekers should be the subject of a referendum.


Two Prime Ministers

PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński decided to rejoin the government. He already served as deputy prime minister and head of the government’s security committee, between 2020 and 2022. Then he left to focus on the party and to mute internal conflicts. Now he is back to coordinate works of the entire government, mediating between different fractions to stop the popularity downslide of the government before the elections.

This time there is no doubts that Kaczyński is getting a very special position, as all deputy prime ministers - Jacek Sasin, Mariusz Błaszcak, Piotr Gliński and Henryk Kowalczyk - had to resign and he will be the only one carrying this title. “Significant changes have taken place in the government’s composition, which guarantees the effective implementation of our plan to build a rich and secure future for Poland”, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented. First pictures from cabinet meetings show both Morawiecki and Kaczyński sitting at the top of the table; some PiS MPs use the form “prime ministers” and are unable to answer the question “who leads the government now?”.

This change should be also read in the context of general dissatisfaction with the PiS performance only weeks before the official campaign starts, since the party is polling at 30-34%, not enough to win majority in the future Sejm. PiS campaign chief Tomasz Poręba was fired and replaced by Jacek Sasin, former deputy prime minister. Sasin is known as a Kaczyński loyal soldier who will bring more discipline in the party, but among the general public he has the reputation of a person who destroys everything he touches.

Auditors in Action

Supreme Audit Office of Poland (NIK) did not issue a positive opinion on the government’s implementation of the state budget. Something like this happened for the first time since the democratic transition of 1989. The opinion reads that the proposal is “violating basic budgetary principles, in particular transparency, unity, access to public information and annuality of the budget”. NIK criticized that a significant part of state finances has been moved outside the budget and is not visible in the governmental document.  Auditors highlighted the difference of almost EUR 67,7 billion between the public debt calculated according to the EU methodology and that determined according to Polish internal rules. This opinion is usually used by MPs when they vote on discharge in respect of the implementation of budget. In practical terms, the opposition is going to take advantage of it in political fights, but the opinion will not change the vote in the Sejm where PiS has a majority.

According to the European Commission, Poland’s deficit was 3,7% of GDP in 2022, exceeding the EU’s limit of 3%, and can reach 5% this year. Such high deficit can open excessive deficit procedures, which can bring new sanctions on Warsaw. “In fact, for some years now we have had a new accounting, a new creative accounting, where debts, liabilities, such as the Korean case, where we don't even know how much has been borrowed and from whom, is out of the public's control”, commented a liberal lawmaker Katarzyna Lubnauer (Nowoczesna).

 The EC recommended “improving the efficiency of public spending, including through better targeting of social benefits”, withdrawing measures introduced to protect consumers and companies from the rise in energy prices, ensuring the sustainability of the pension system by taking measures to increase the effective retirement age.

Last month, International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (IOSAI) said that NIK faces threats to its independence, its ability to properly carry out its functions, and its financial autonomy. The report lists examples of investigations in state-owned companies where NIK faced interference; it included the giants from the energy sector Orlen and PGNiG. Additionally, IOASAI wrote that that NIK faces problems with budget cuts and delays in appointment of top officials, including the director general.

The investigation was launched after a complaint by Marian Banaś, president of NIK. Banaś used to be a finance minister in PiS government but has been in conflict with the ruling party since the moment he was appointed to the top auditor’s position (read more in the November 2019 issue). The lack of a positive opinion on the budget is yet another part of the conflict. The government hit back Interior minister Mariusz Kamiński sent a letter to his party colleague, the speaker of parliament accusing Banaś of a “selective and disrespectful approach to the regulations, a lack of transparency, and a lack of an apolitical character”.

Far Right back on Facebook

Facebook lifts a ban on the main Polish far-right group, Confederation. It was banned in 2020 for promoting hate speech and spreading disinformation about Covid-19 (e.g. they created a meme with a slogan “Vaccination sets you free” with a clear reference to the sign in KL Auschwitz). It created a very difficult situation for the far-right politicians as their access to traditional media is limited and they rely heavily on online communication. The Confederation account on Facebook had more followers than any other party (over 660 thousands).

Confederation fought against the 2020 decision of the US company, and the party sued it demanding an apology and financial compensation. It got support from the government. "I believe that this decision sets a dangerous precedent", said Poland's secretary of state for cybersecurity Janusz Cieszyński (currently the minister of digital affairs). He called on Meta to reinstate the Facebook account.

Meta explained: “As a result of the announcement by the World Health organisation that the Covid-19 virus is no longer a global health threat, and due to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Poland, we have determined that the public interest now outweighs the risk of direct harm by the party”. Confederation reacted with a short status update “We are winning with censorship”.

Definitely, the decision of Meta will be very helpful for the extremists in the upcoming elections.

March & Mess

According to the organizers and many commentators, the big march organized by Donald Tusk on June 4 – on the 34th anniversary of the first partially free elections - was a grand success. According to Civic Platform, the biggest opposition party, half a million people participated in the demonstration in Warsaw. The event paralyzed the Polish capital for a day, forcing many of the march-goers to leave their cars in the suburbs and use public transport to get to the city center (the subway also got jammed).

Other democratic forces also joined, including Left, AgroUnion and – after much public hesitation – the Third Way, how Poland 2050 and PSL call their alliance.

The official slogan was “against soaring prices, thievery and lies, in support of free elections and democratic, European Poland”. However, the huge mobilization was partly an aftermath of the so called “Lex Tusk”, a piece of legislation approved by the parliament and signed by the president to create an extra-judicial commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland. PiS lawmakers did not hide that the real motivation behind the law is to punish Donald Tusk and potentially prevent him from running in the autumn elections (read more in the previous issue).

"We are here so that the whole of Poland, the whole Europe, and the whole world could see how strong we are, how many of us are ready again, just like 40 and 30 years ago, to fight for democracy, for Poland and for our rights", said Tusk opening the march. Three hours later, while closing the event, he added: "As long as we have Poland in our hearts, nothing and no one can really threaten it. What does it mean to have Poland in our hearts? Poland means freedom, Poland means solidarity, Poland means love - to this land, to the people, to its history. There's no Poland without love, solidarity and freedom".

PiS ignored the march, and didn’t organize any big campaign activity nor special narrative for the day. It didn’t expect such a success and lost initiative in social media. As a result, support for Civic Coalition grew in polls published by different institutes. And lack of adequate reaction was one of the reasons for Tomasz Poręba, PiS campaign chief, to lose his job.

All the fuss over “Lex Tusk” surprised President Andrzej Duda and made him act in a chaotic and inexplicable way. On May 29, Duda signed the controversial law, provoking reactions both in the country and abro, incl. in the USA and the EU.. On June 1, he announced that he would send the bill to the Constitutional Tribunal before the commission has started its work. On June 2, Duda said he would submit amendments to the law. He said he was not aware ( of objections to the law and was addressing them by sending proposed revisions to parliament.

Polish president proposed three key amendments to the text: 1. All the penalties will be removed. Instead, the committee will simply issue a statement declaring that a person has acted under "Russian influence" and is not fit to perform public duties. 2. The committee will be made up of non-partisan experts, not MPs or senators. 3. Politicians under investigation will be able to file an appeal against the committee's decisions in a common court.

In other words, Andrzej Duda is criticizing a fundamental law he had signed. And PiS? PiS is ignoring effective law it drafted and adopted – the original “Lex Tusk” – and is not appointing members of the special commission waiting for the parliament to proceed presidential amendments. It is a mess with dangerous consequences for legal stability.


ECJ in favor of Polish Borrowers

European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued two judgments in cases against Polish banks brought by consumers who took out loans denominated in Swiss francs (CHF). The Luxembourg court decided that banks are not allowed to charge for the cost of capital on the mortgages that judges in Poland declared invalid because they contained unfair terms. The ruling reads: "EU law does not preclude, in the event of the annulment of a mortgage loan agreement vitiated by unfair terms, the consumers from seeking compensation from the bank going beyond reimbursement of the monthly installments paid". Additionally, ECJ ruled that customers could pursue lawsuits in Poland against banks that demanded additional interest demanded by banks for delayed payments.

The verdict is the last step of a long legal battle provoked by banks’ responses to the financial crisis when PLN lost a lot of value in relation to CHF. Before the 2008 crisis one CHF cost ca. 2 PLN and many Poles decided to take loans to buy homes in this currency. Now it is over 4 PLN for one CHF. Those who wanted to take advantage of lower interest rates in Switzerland, had to face severe consequences of unstable exchange rate (their monthly rates skyrocketed). Polish government never intervened to limit repayment exchange rates or convert the loans to PLN, and individual bank costumers sued banks in local courts. And judges have ruled in favor of the borrowers, often invalidating contracts containing “non-contractual use of capital” clauses. The ECJ ruling will affect ca. 130.000 cases pending before Polish courts, and it is expected that the ruling may result in a new wave of lawsuits.

The verdict may have unprecedented consequences, even bankruptcies. The Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) warned last year that the ruling could generate one-off costs of EUR 23 billion for lenders; this equals to a half of own funds held by commercial banks in the country. Both the KNF and the Union of Polish Banks stress that the ruling will hit banks and their ability to lend money. The banks with the highest amount of CHF loans in their portfolio are MBank, owned by Commerzbank, Bank Millennium and BNP Paribas Bank Polska. The KNF underlines that all banks are safe – well capitalized and liquid - but at the same time it gave a bitter comment saying that the ruing is “a negative dimension from the point of view of the Polish banking sector and the Polish economy as a whole, but also from the point of view of legal certainty, public interest and elementary principles of social justice, granting preferential treatment to a narrow group of borrowers in the form of ‘free credit’.”

According to KNF data, foreign currency mortgages in Poland are still worth ca. EUR 15,6 billion, and 2/3 of them are in CHF (data from April 2023).

Largest Investment in Poland’s History

Intel announced that it selected Wrocław as the site of a new semiconductor assembly and test facility. It will help meet critical demand that Intel anticipates by 2027. The company expects to invest up to USD 4,6 billion (ca. EUR 4,2 billion) in the facility. The investment will support approximately 2.000 employees and several thousand more jobs for suppliers. Design and planning for the investment will begin immediately, with construction to commence pending European Commission approval.

According to Intel, Poland was chosen for several reasons, including its infrastructure, strong talent base and excellent business environment. The proximity to the company’s facility in Magdeburg was also very important. The Wrocław facility, together with two other ones in Ireland and Germany, will became a first-of-its-kind end-to-end leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing value chain in Europe. The latter one is crucial in the context of recent years’ developments, in particular Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion in Ukraine, when supply chains were disrupted. The investment in Poland supports the EU’s goal to reclaim 20% of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity by 2030 and is investing in a global semiconductor supply chain that is resilient and geographically balanced.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki welcomed the “largest investment in Polish history”, telling US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski that it will also reinforce “transatlantic ties”. "We are pleased that the largest greenfield investment in the history of Poland is being led by Intel, a Silicon Valley legend known for its innovation”, Morawiecki added  "Chips and semiconductors are critical technologies in the 21st century and we are excited to expand Poland's role in the global semiconductor supply chain and help to establish the country as an economic trendsetter", he concluded.  

Poland and Germany

Dispute over the Tank Hub

According to Der Spiegel, there is an ongoing dispute between Germany and Poland over the establishment of a joint workshop for the maintenance of Leopard tanks. The facility is planned to ensure that the tanks delivered to Ukraine, which are damaged or worn out in combat, can be swiftly repaired and maintained. The workshop is estimated to cost ca. EUR 150 million.

According to the German weekly, the talks about the hub have been slowed down by Polish demands. The article says about “moon prices” suggested by the Polish state-owned PGZ for reparations of the tanks, e.g. EUR 100.000 for initial diagnosis, comparing it with EUR 12.000 for regular diagnosis charged by German companies. The magazine does not comment on fundamental differences between these two cases (tanks coming from Ukraine are heavily damaged by landmines, bombs and others). According to Der Spiegel Polish offer is politically motivated, and is a part of campaign of the Polish government against Germany.


Two Stars for the First Time

Since June 2023 there is a first restaurant with two Michelin starts in Poland. It is Bottiglieria 1881 from Cracow, with its owner and chief chef Przemysław Klima. It was promoted from one star. Michelin wrote about the restaurant: “For those who like to watch chefs in action, there are tables in front of the open kitchen. The drive and maturity of that kitchen is palpable in dishes that are as refined as they are original. Understated menu descriptions like ‘Fish and Peas’ and ‘Countryside Pork’ belie the artistry and layers of flavour which underpin in each dish”. Michelin praised the establishment for “sophistication, depth and a wonderful purity of flavor”.

With the 2023 edition of the guide, Poland got two additional one-star restaurant, Muga in Poznań and Nuta in Warsaw. In total, it features 22 new additions, resulting in a total of 49 recommended restaurants in the country.

Scenes of Drunkenness and Humiliation

The play ‘The Migrants” by Krystian Lupa was cancelled in Geneva, Switzerland. La Comédie de Genève has brought to light the problematic behavior of the Polish director. The production with an impressive budget of CHF 930.000 (ca. EUR 920.000), was co-produced by, among others, the Festival d’Avignon and the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris, and was expected to tour Europe.

The premiere was to take place on June 1, but it was postponed. On June 2 it was canceled. The management of the theater informed about “differences on the work philosophy between the artistic direction of the project on the one hand and the general management and the permanent and temporary teams on the other. These differences caused communication difficulties making the creation of the show impossible”. An unpublished document, written by the technical team of the theater reveals “multiple lack of respect, reprimands, mockery, scenes of drunkenness and humiliation”. They accused the Polish technical team and the costume designer Piotr Skiba. The latter one was said to work drunk and angry.

Festival d'Avignon deprogrammed Krystian Lupa's play for "logistical" reasons. The director acknowledged in French daily Libération two incidents and a "very violent reaction to the unexpected interruption of the translation by the translator Agnieszka Zgieb — in private a friend and a long-time collaborator". "I want to officially apologize, this time to all the people in whose presence this happened", Lupa told the newspaper.

The reaction of the Swiss didn’t seem to surprise Polish media. In recent years, the Polish theater has witnessed many scandals connected with abusive behavior and mobbing of directors. Also Lupa was commented in the environment of culture experts to be abusive, but no scandal has ever reached public opinion. It was known that there was a high turnover in institutions were Lupa worked.

Krystian Lupa was born in 1943 in Silesia. He has spend four decades developing a total theatre. In 1986, he became the director of the Stary Teatr in Kraków. He was influenced by Tadeusz Kantor and Carl Jung. He has won many prestigious theatre awards in Poland and abroad, including the Konrad Świnarski Award, the Leon Schiller Award and the European Theatre Award.


Safer Roads

Poland was awarded the Road Safety Award by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) this year. The country managed to cut road deaths by 47% in the last decade (compared with 22% in the EU).

In 2012 road mortality in Poland was shocking 93 per million, and dropped to 50 per million last year. The trend was better only in Lithuania, the winner of 2022 award.

The ETSC experts cited several key elements in the decision to award this year’s prize to Poland in addition to the substantial reduction in road deaths: 1. Poland’s comprehensive National Road Safety Programme 2021-2030 which sets targets to cut both deaths and serious injuries by 50%; 2. A large-scale four-year Safe Road Infrastructure Programme; 3. Expansion of the speed camera and time-over-distance camera network; 4. An increase in drink-driving enforcement checks of 19% on average each year between 2010 and 2019; 5. Introduction of the “emergency corridor” system of enabling emergency vehicles to access collision sites on motorways. The same experts stress that vehicle speeds in Poland are still too high, e.g. 140 km/h maximum speed on motorways is the highest in the EU with the exception of Germany.

Bird Flue Killing Cats?

Over June many cat owners in Poland observed unusual symptoms in their pets. Many of them died, as vets were unable to help them. Influenza was one of the suspects. On Jun 23, Polish chief veterinarian confirmed H5N1 in some of the cats and said more tests were under way. Confirmed cases were identified in locations hundreds kilometers apart. It’s still unknown whether any cases were the result of cat-to-cat transmission. At least 70 suspected cases have been identified across the country.

It was established that the rules to prevent possible contact of cats with the virus should be based on: keeping cats indoors if possible, preventing contact between cats and other wild animals, preventing cats from coming into contact with footwear that is used outside the home, feeding cats only food from known sources, and washing hands after contact with animals.

Similar cases have been observed earlier this year in other countries, but not as many as in Poland. “The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals, including in humans,” WHO official said in February.

Party Support

Kantar Public, 23.06.2023

Civic Coalition             32%

PiS                               32%

Poland 2050-PSL         7%*

Confederation             7%

Left                              6%

AgroUnia                     1%

*) below the threshold for coalitions