From Poland with Love: March
In our new Newsletter our guest contributor, Dr. Milosz Hodun, is giving us monthly updates about current news, events and all other things you need to know about Poland. Read the March edition here!
Topic of the month_________________________________________
Bonus for Myself, for the great job I’ve done
This month the number one topic that electrified Polish public opinion was definitely the bonuses that PiS ministers paid themselves. National media widely reported that cabinet members had received end-of-year bonuses of up to 20.000 euros. The average monthly salary in Poland is around 1.200 euros. But a typical worker’s net wage is far lower at around 500 euros. All ministers of the former PiS government led by Beata Szydło got from her high bonuses. What is even more shocking the Prime Minister Szydło gave also a bonus to… herself. For excellent work. She did not give any rational explanation for any of the bonuses. Frankly speaking, she did not give any explanation at all. Additionally, it was reported that also all deputy ministers and many of top clerks at all ministries and agencies were given high bonuses that were supposed to compensate them relatively low salaries in public administration. The latter one is a serious issue that makes it hard to hire in public administration top specialists (who can get much higher salaries in the private sector). The problem is that none government has ever wanted to face this challenge by changing the law- and incur the wrath of the voters- and they have to look for tricks like the one with regular bonuses. Public opinion was outraged with information about millions of zlotys spent on politically nominated officials. And when Deputy Premier Jaroslaw Gowin said that he “barely managed” with his ministerial salary he became a publicly mocked object of jokes and inspiration for hundreds of internet memes. He had to apologize for his words. To stop the crisis new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that he wants to eliminate as much as a quarter of 126 deputy ministers and scrap bonuses. Morawiecki’s plan, aimed at creating a “leaner” and more transparent administration, also includes curbing the number of credit cards for top officials. Morawiecki told reporters on that he gave his 75.100 zloty bonus to charity, but declined to “speak for the other” ministers. Unfortunately for Morawiecki, most of ministers did not feel sorry and did not apologize. Contrarily they publicly defended Szydło’s decision. The biggest damage for the new government was done by Beata Szydło herself who made a very emotional statement in the parliament saying “We deserved this money!”. In the meantime, “Newsweek Polska” also reported that Morawiecki had signed over some of his properties to his wife, suggesting he was trying to hide the extent of his assets. All that provoked first big crisis for the government in months that resulted with drop of support for PiS. (See “Polls & trends” section).
Poland’s two center-democratic parties Civic Platform (EPP) and Nowoczesna (ALDE) have concluded their coalition talks for regional elections that will take place in October 2018. Both parties will present common lists of candidates in all sixteen regions (voivodships). Declaration of cooperation has already shown results in polls. In the latest one the common list of PO and Nowoczesna has only 3 points less than leading PiS (See “Polls and trends” sections). Civic Platform and Nowoczesna are also looking for potential coalitions to city councils of the most important Polish cities and common mayor candidates. One such agreement has been already announced. In Warsaw former MEP and deputy minister of foreign affairs Rafał Trzaskowski from Civic Platform will run with Paweł Rabiej from Nowoczesna as his running mate. This duo has big chances to keep the capital city in hands of the liberal opposition. The Warsaw candidate of PiS has not been announced yet but after the Speaker of the Senate Stanisław Karczewski announced he is not interested in running only two names are at play: Patryk Jaki, deputy minister of justice and a top fighter of the government, and Michał Dworczyk, chief of staff at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. In other cities negotiations are going on. But we already know that both parties are not able to find common candidates in all of them. Nowoczesna has already announced its candidates in Wrocław and Gdańsk. They will accordingly Michał Jaros and Ewa Lieder.
Protests against abortion ban in Poland continues. Unexpectedly. Pushed by the Polish Catholic Church officials the PiS majority unexpectedly – after a few weeks of silence – brought the debate on the abortion ban back on the parliamentary agenda. The latest proposed legislation would allow procedures in cases where the mother’s life was at risk or the pregnancy resulted from a crime, but would ban abortions of fetuses with congenital disorders. This proposal is a citizens' initiative, led by one group called Stop Abortion, which says 96% of all terminations carried out in the country in 2016, were on fetuses showing abnormalities, many of them diagnosed with Down's Syndrome. Nils Muižnieks, of the Council of Europe human rights group said preventing women from accessing safe and legal abortion care “jeopardizes their human rights”. A group of UN human rights experts recently called on parliament to reject the bill, saying it risked causing serious damage to women’s health. On March 23rd, around 55.000 people took part in the protest as part of “Black Friday” in Warsaw, but similar protests were organized all over the country, including small towns. For the first time the protesters gathered at the seat of the Roman Catholic leaders, before marching to the Sejm and later moving on to the HQ of PiS. The proposal was approved by Parliament's Justice and Human Rights Commission, but still needs to be studied by another commission before being sent to MPs for a vote. Further reading and images: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/world/europe/poland-abortion-women-protest.html
Poland expelling Russian diplomats
Poland has joined the majority of EU countries, the US, Canada, Norway and Ukraine in expelling Russian diplomats in reaction to an attack on former double intelligence agent Sergei Skripal carried out in the UK. “The aim is to show solidarity with Great Britain,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz. He added that Britain had been targeted in an "unprecedented attack which was the first deliberate use of chemical weapons against a group of civilians in Europe in the history of post-war Europe.” A few days later Russia expelled four Polish diplomats.
Poland buys US Patriot missiles system
Poland signed the largest arms procurement deal in its history, agreeing with the United States to buy Raytheon Co’s (RTN.N) Patriot missile defense system for USD 4,75 billion is a major step to modernize its forces against a bolder Russia. Patriot is an advanced surface-to-air missile system designed to defend against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles used by the US and NATO allies. Fourteen other countries, including six NATO members, have the Patriot missile. Much of Poland's military equipment currently dates back to the era when communist Poland was in the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact. The Patriot deal is seen also as a step to repair relations with the USA damaged by the new law on National Remembrance (Read more: February “From Poland with Love”) imposing jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. The deal is criticized by the Polish opposition for its extremely high price and also in a broader context of behavior of the former minister of defense Antoni Macierewicz who is seen as a someone who played a destructive role to the army by firing best commanders and destroying relations with Poland’s closest allies. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov told state-run Sputnik news website in November last year that Patriot deployments were part of a "US plot" to surround Russia with missile defence systems “under the pretext of mythical threats to security”.
New hub airport
It looks like the idea of building a new gigantic hub airport between Warsaw and Łódź will not only be a fairy tale of the current Polish government that loves huge projects. As traffic at Warsaw Chopin Airport continues to grow, it will meet full capacity in a few years’ time. It is already the busiest airport in Central and Eastern Europe, with 15,7 million passengers in 2017. The PiS government plans to replace it with a new, central airport, the Central Transport Hub. The new airport will be built some 35 km west of Warsaw, in Baranów. Built on around 3000 hectares of land, it scheduled to open in 2027, with an initial capacity of 45 million passengers a year, later rising to 100 million! (Polish airports last year serviced nearly 34 million passengers.) The government wants it to become one of the largest transfer airports in Europe. Construction is expected to cost PLN 30-35 billions (€ 7,2 - 8,4 billion), including road and rail infrastructure. So far, the government has been vague about where the money will come from. There are rumors that China might be interested in co-financing and getting an important beachhead in Europe. Experts have said that opening a new Polish hub airport would likely lead to the closure of several existing airports in central Poland. This is not only peculiar having in mind that since Poland entered the EU a network of regional airports was built, but also in light of the PiS official manifesto that stresses sustainable development of all regions, not only the capital one. There is also a big question about what airlines are going to operate from this mega-hub. The natural answer is that it would be a new hub for LOT, but Polish Airlines has been developing quickly only for a few years now, after it almost bankrupted, and it is difficult to foreseen its future. Today it looks like the government is fully determined to start this megalomaniac project. But will it have enough determination and money?
The National Opera in Warsaw hosted Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor featuring a replica of a Buchholtz piano on which then 20-year-old composer Fryderyk Chopin gave the work’s first performance almost 190 years ago to the day. Chopin’s Buchholtz historic piano was thrown out the window during the January Insurrection against Tsarist rule in 1863, 14 years after Chopin’s death. The event occurred when Tsarist soldiers ransacked the Zamoyski Palace in Warsaw, where the instrument stood. The idea to build a replica of Chopin’s Warsaw piano came from the National Chopin Institute. It commissioned Paul McNulty, one of the world’s best makers of historical instruments, to embark on the project.
Leipzig Book Fair
The Book Institute from Poland joined the Leipzig Branch of the Polish Institute in Berlin to prepare the fair booth. They organized events for the Leipzig Reads program (Leipzig liest). Among these were meetings with Wioletta Grzegorzewska and Michał Książek, featuring translator Renate Schmidgall. Readers also had the chance to talk with Magdalena Parys, Liliana Bardijewska, and Mikołaj Łoziński. A book “Polnische Spuren in Deutschland” (Polish Traces in Germany) was presented. It is a fully illustrated 450-pages long publication on the Polish culture in Germany that aims at showing interconnection of both cultures in their long history, from literature to music to sports. It costs only 7 euros so that it can be easily available for a broad reader base. Read more: http://www.deutsches-polen-institut.de/publikationen/einzelveroeffentlichungen/polnische-spuren-in-deutschland/
Germany and Poland_________________________________________
Merkel in Berlin
Angela Merkel decided to visit Warsaw as her second foreign trip since being sworn in for a fourth term as chancellor. Merkel said that during this visit she would work to ensure "that we have a common agenda in Europe." "The German government will work on German-Polish relations with renewed vigor”, Merkel said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. She also stressed the significance of bilateral business ties, citing vibrant trade between Poland and Germany, which hit a record EUR 100 billion last year. Both leaders stressed agreement on issues such as economic cooperation and providing more support to countries that have received the most migrants since a new wave of mass immigration got underway in 2014-2015. But the most difficult topics could not have been avoided. Chancellor said she was following the negotiations to avert unprecedented sanctions over changes to Polish judiciary pushed by the PiS government (so called “Article 7 procedure”). Polish Prime Minister concluded that there was “light in the tunnel” in his talks with the European Commission but that an agreement to resolve the dispute over the judicial system “requires understanding on both sides.” On the issue of refugees, Morawiecki spoke of a need to reform the European asylum system and declared Poland's readiness to help work out new solutions in this area. On the same week German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed close ties between the two neighbors during a meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz. Both MFAs urged the revival of the Weimar Triangle, a platform of political cooperation between Germany, France and Poland created in 1991. Unfortunately, all three ministers from the three countries last met in Weimar in August 2016. Today there is no chance to bring back an important political role of the Triangle but its revival could help Poland in normalizing its relations with France after the dispute of the Caracales. (Read more: http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/poland_and_european_defence_integration)
Polls & trends________________________________________
Support for political parties: first poll showing PO-N coalition Kantar IBRiS, 29.03.2018 (CATI, p=1100) PiS (ECR) 35,2% PO-N (EPP-ALDE) 33% Kukiz’15 9% SLD (S&D) 4,5% PSL (EPP) 3,5% What nationalities Poles like the most …and the least CBOS, 7-15.01 Like Dislike Czechs 59% 10% Slovaks 57% 10% Italians 57% 10% Americans 54% 13% Hungarians 54% 12% English 51% 16% Dutch 50% 12% Germans 46% 22% Ukrainians 36% 32% … Romanians 28% 35% Russian 31% 38% Turks 23% 42% Roma 21% 50% Arabs 16% 59% The attitude towards Germans is the higher than last year and the highest since 1993 (when CBOS started measuring)
About the author _______________________________________________
Expert at the Nowoczesna party. PhD, formerly a part-time teacher at Reykjavik University School of Law. His main areas of interest are comparative constitutional law and federalism. Board member of Projekt: Polska Association. Until September 2015, he worked as an expert within "Presidential Experts' Programme" at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland.