From Poland with Love – October
Topic of the Month
Without Cohesion Funds?
Polish and international media reported that the European Commission will freeze a substantial part of its Cohesions Funds to Poland unless Warsaw backtracks on its contested judiciary reforms. If confirmed, such solution would show that the Commission is no longer willing to punish Polish authorities for violations of the rule of law by just withholding the payments from the Recovery and Resilience Fund, but also with the much more significant Cohesion Funds. It means that ca. EUR 75 billion is at stake - Cohesion Fund for Poland in years 2021-27 - together with EUR 31 billion of regional funds.
Such move of the Commission would place Poland in the same position of Hungary. However recent words of Viktor Orban indicate that he is willing to compromise with the EU to get access to European money, so much needed for his economy. On the other side, Mateusz Morawiecki said last month that Brussels had broken an agreement to release the recovery funds in return for abolishing the Disciplinary Chamber and that Poland would make no more concessions on the rule of law (read more in the previous issue).
The abolishing of the Disciplinary Chamber was one of the milestones agreed with the Commission in order to receive support from the recovery fund (ca. EUR 36 billon). But changes made by PiS are seen - both by the European institutions, Polish opposition and legal experts - as superficial and insufficient to protect the rule of law in Poland.
Polish authorities officially deny that Cohesion Funds are in question. EU commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski (PiS) said that "Poland is not in danger of having agricultural and Cohesion funds withheld".
Fights in the National Bank
Three members of the Monetary Policy Council (RPP; a body of the National Bank of Poland that sets the level of its interest rates) – Joanna Tyrowicz, Ludwik Kotecki and Przemysław Litwiniuk – publicly informed about irregularities in the functioning of this institution led by governor Adam Glapiński (appointed by PiS for his second term). They point at the lack of free access to NBP studies and analyzes, and restricted contact with bank’s experts.
Additionally, Tyrowicz, only a few days after her first RPP meeting, surprised Glapiński and other colleagues and published on social media her own position on the current economic situation and views on monetary policy. She criticized the lack of analysis of the mechanisms behind inflation from 2019 and noted that the RPP does not take the action necessary to ensure macroeconomic and financial stability in Poland.
For the first time the conflict between PiS-appointed RPP members and opposition members appointed by the Senate became clearly visible to investors from all over the world and Polish public opinion. Recent behavior of Adam Glapiński, his insufficient action against the high inflation and controversial, aggressive style of press conferences (e.g. he has recently accused Donald Tusk of being ready to use violence to remove him from office), made many comments about his lack of economic competences and leadership. But it was believed that he would do everything not to bring internal conflicts within the NBP to the spotlight to keep remains of the reputation of the institution. Unfortunately, he was not able to treat Senate appointees decently and some of them exploded with anger.
Shortly after the accusations surfaced in the media, a statement appeared on the NBP website. According to him, some RPP members “considered it justified to consider” sending a notification of suspected crime in connection with “recent public statements and texts” of other members of this body. Glapiński and four other members recalled that under Polish law a rate-setter is not allowed to engage in public activities other than academic work, teaching or writing.
Katarzyna Lubnauer from the liberal party Nowoczesna commented: “in the previous term of office, governor Glapiński got used to the fact that he had a fully obedient RPP, which, when he waved his finger, does what he wishes”. “We have already reconciled that we do not have the Constitutional Tribunal, only the “Przyłębska Tribunal”. We do not have a National Council of the Judiciary, but a “national council for herbalism”, she added.
Kuchciński Landing Back
President Andrzej Duda appointed Marek Kuchciński, former Speaker of the Sejm, and current deputy chief of PiS parliamentary club, as minister and head of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. Kuchciński replaced Michał Dworczyk who had to leave in an atmosphere of scandal when his emails leaked. One leaked message showed the government discussing cases under review by the constitutional court with its president, an apparent violation of the rule of law (read more in the March issue of the Newsletter).
Dworczyk’s dismissal was long-time expected not only by the opposition but also by many PiS politicians who were insulted in his emails. Dworczyk was known as Morawiecki’s right hand and his man for special tasks. His departure is another indicator of Morawiecki’s weaker and weaker position within the United Rights government. The prime minister has been recently attacked by his internal enemies, specially deputy prime minister Jacek Sasin who is commented to offer his own candidacy as Morawiecki’s replacement.
But it is interesting to remind that also Kuchciński left his top job in the Sejm after media had reported that he used a governmental plane as a taxi for his family and himself. They used the special jet over 100 times flying between Warsaw and Rzeszów (280 km). The affair was dubbed "Air Kuchcinski" and forced the speaker to resign in summer 2019.
During the same ceremony Szynkowski vel Sęk was officially appointed to the post of minister of European affairs, succeeding Konrad Szymański. Szynkowski vel Sęk has been a member of the Sejm since 2015. His experience includes sitting on the EU affairs and foreign affairs committees, as well as chairing a bilateral Polish-German parliamentary group. In 2018 he was appointed a deputy foreign minister. President Duda described him as “a very good choice” for the position, adding that "Poland will be well represented".
Thirty judges of the Supreme Court of Poland have declared that they will not work with judges appointed to the court through a procedure involving the politicized National Council of the Judiciary (KRS). "In such a situation, participation in the procedure and the issuing of judgements is unacceptable", they stressed.
Protesting judges cited decisions of both the Supreme Court itself and the European Court of Human Rights. The latter one stated that verdicts issued by judges appointed by the current KRS would violate the right to a fair trial.
Representatives of the government called the statement of thirst “old judges” political. "I proposed a law that would remove from the judiciary those judges who question the Polish constitution and their obligations because a judge is a person who should be free from political or party partialities, should defend the law and be a loyal servant of Polish laws and the Polish constitution", justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro commented.
Defective Process for Appointing Judges
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that the suspension of a judge who questioned the Polish government’s judicial reforms violated his rights. The case concerns Paweł Juszczyszyn, one of the most well known independent judge who fights against politicization of Polish courts. In 2019, Juszczyszyn sent a request to the parliament asking to see endorsement lists of candidates to the politicized National Council of the Judiciary, a body that appoints judges. Juszczyszyn was suspended and disciplinary proceedings were brought against him. The Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court suspended him and cut salary his salary by 40%. Later he was then transferred against his will to another court department.
The Strasbourg court ruled that the decision to discipline Juszczyszyn had been “contrary to the fundamental principles of judicial independence and the rule of law” (article 18 of ECHR). It also pointed out that the Disciplinary Chamber had a “defective” process for appointing judges and that the KRS lacks independence. As a consequence, according to ECtHR, Juszczyszyn’s right to a fair trial had been violated. ECtHR ordered Poland to pay the judge EUR 30.000.
Piotr Müller, spokesperson of the government, commented that the ECtHR “has no competence to rule on whether a court is a court or not”.
First Nuclear Reactor
Polish authorities are planning to build country’s first nuclear power plant by 2033. They have chosen Westinghouse Electric Company, a US firm to do it, beating out French and South Korean competitors (EDP and KHNP respectively). The government is Warsaw wants to meet between 25% and 36% of its energy needs (6-9 GW) with the up to six nuclear reactors by 2040. The first power plant will be open in the village of Choczewo, close to the Baltic sea. Construction is slated to start in 2026, with the planned completion of the first reactor by 2030. However, the latter deadline seems unrealistic for some energy experts.
Jennifer Granholm, US Energy Secretary, called the Polish decision a "huge step in strengthening our relationship with Poland for future generations to come". "I think it sends a clear message to Russia that the Atlantic alliance stands together to diversify our energy supply... and to resist Russian weaponization of energy", she stressed. "US partnership on this project is advantageous for us all: we can address the climate crisis, strengthen European energy security, and deepen the U.S.-Poland strategic relationship", vice-president Kamala Harris said in a tweet.
In 1989 Poland discontinued the construction of what would have been the first nuclear power plant in Żarnowiec due to the will to break links with the USSR and in context of the Chernobyl disaster. In 2014, the Council of Ministers approved the Polish Nuclear Power Program, which consolidated many years of strategic thinking to develop the sector with energy independence as its primary goal.
National Grocery Chain
PiS leader has revealed a plan to buy the country’s biggest grocery chain, Żabka (little frog). This announcement did not look like something well-though-out, more of a slip. However, it provoked many reactions. From one side, some associates of the ruling coalition welcomed Kaczyński’s statement and called for even more nationalization of foreign-owned supermarkets. On the other side, Żabka owners showed their astonishment and denied that there were talks with state authorities about selling the chain.
Żabka is the biggest retail chain in Europe. Żabka’s total number of outlets to over 8.500; around 7.200 are operated by franchisees (almost 600 opened this year). It is also known for innovative growth, with seasonal stores or automaticized stored serviced by artificial intelligence. Żabka is also developing its logistics network. Near Warsaw it is building one of the most technologically advanced warehouses in this part of Europe. By using renewable zero-carbon energy sources, including solar panels on the roof and trigeneration units, the warehouse will be fully self-sufficient in terms of electricity demand.
The government has pledged to “take back most strategic parts of our economy from the hands of the foreign capital”. Kaczyński also announced that Polish authorities may buy PKP Energetyka, a power distribution company. Both Żabka and PKP Energetyka are owned by US-based private equity fund CVC Capital Partners. Krzysztof Krawczyk, who heads CVC in Warsaw, declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg.
New Gigantic Fence
Secretary general of PiS, Krzysztof Sobolewski, admitted that Poland may have to build a barrier on its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The main goal of such barrier would be to stop the entry of African and Asian migrants who Warsaw suspects might be used in a "hybrid warfare" campaign.
The ‘fence’ would be built over the first three quarters of 2023 and cover around 200km of border. The Polish Border Guard said it would choose a firm to build it by the end of November.
Putin’s spokesman, Dimitry Peskov, described the building of barriers as "stupidity". He said: "History proves the stupidity of decisions to build walls every time, because over the years or decades, all walls fall".
Earlier this year Poland built a 5,5 meter tall steel barrier, equipped with motion sensors and cameras, stretching for about 187 km on the Belarus border (read more in the June issue of the Newsletter).
Pipe with Russian Oil Damaged
A leak in Poland on the Druzhba (‘Friendship’) pipeline from Russia was discovered on October 11. It was spotted not far from the city of Płock, where Poland’s biggest refinery is located. It didn’t reduce the oil flow to Polish receivers but it influenced deliveries to the German refinery in Schwedt (read more about it in the previous issue).
According to Polish authorities, the leak was a consequence of an accident. But the case is under full-scale investigation in context of Russian threats for European energy sector, in particular explosion that damaged the Nord Stream pipes near Bornholm. "...Many steps point straight to the Kremlin, but we want to be very responsible and only then confirm our assumptions", commented prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Dozens of hundreds of people in Warsaw voted in a mock referendum on whether Poland should annex Russian embassy. It was a street performance organized to protest against the fake referendums Putin’s regime staged in Eastern Ukraine.
The "ballot" contained the question: "Do you support the annexation of the building and the adjacent territory of the Embassy of the Russian Federation at 49 Belwederska street and their transfer to the Polish authorities for the establishment of a permanent center of Polish-Ukrainian cooperation there?". Voters could choose one of three options, all of them were “Yes”. 3.000 voting cards were not enough to meet demands of people waiting in a line to show their support for Ukraine.
According to the organizers, the turnout was 127% and Polish authorities are obliged to react. “Therefore, in accordance with the relevant articles of the relevant laws, the Polish state obtains the right to restore the property of the former embassy of the Russian Federation in Poland”, they announced.
Europe’s Poorest Teachers
The Eurostat data on teachers’ salaries in Europe is very disappointing for Poland.
In Europe, leaving aside Luxembourg, the annual starting salary for teachers is above EUR 50.000 in just two countries, namely Switzerland (EUR 66.972) and Germany (EUR 54.129), and Poland is in the group of countries where they are lower than EUR 10.000. This numbers also place Poland in the flop 10 countries in category of purchasing power standards of teachers’ salaries.
Worse even, Poland comes last in Europe if we compare teachers’ salaries to the minimum wage. The ratio is 1,1 compared to 2,8 in Germany. In other words, the starting salary of teachers in Poland is very close to the minimum wage, while teachers starting in German state schools earn nearly three times the minimum wage.
There is a shortage of 20.000 teachers in Poland.
25 years ago huge flood hit southern Poland, especially harshly the city of Wrocław. It was one of the biggest natural catastrophes that affected Poland in the last century (dubbed “flood of the millennium”). At the time, the country was preparing for the much anticipated visit of John Paul II, which led to authorities ignoring warnings about the flood that was going to ravage the country.
Almost 40% of Wroclaw got under the water. 56 people lost their lives. The total nationwide losses were estimated at PLN 12 billion. The response of the citizens and emergency services was heroic. Over 50 kilometers of sandbag barriers had been erected, saving the renewed historic center. A massive evacuation project was also launched with over 162.000 people moved away from their homes. In the days that followed huge swathes of Wrocław were only accessible by pontoon or helicopter.
The events surrounding the flood are now recalled in the series High Water, which appeared on Netflix at the beginning of October. It tells a story of scientists and local government officials who face life-and-death decisions when a destructive wave threatens their city. High Water shows how certain experts were ignored because of the scarce chance of the flood being as bad as it turned out to be, with government specialists believing any heavy rainfall would have a negligible impact on society.
The makers of the series are keen to point out that it is not a documentary. However, many are lauding the authenticity of the series. It shows, among others, evacuation of the local zoo and a hospital. Some original TV footage was blended into the film, e.g. footage taken from a helicopter presenting extent of the flooding as it really was.
Series creator believes the show is more about universal themes than an accurate dramatization of events, saying: "[It’s] about an extraordinary common movement, willingness to help, solidarity, and the need to act. It was special. (…) Overnight, ordinary everyday life was replaced by the struggle with the element, and trusted leaders emerged from the crowd. The flood is for us only the background of this story and the catalyst of events".
Directed by Jan Holoubek and Bartlomiej Ignaciuk, and written by Kasper Bajon, Anna Kepińska and Kinga Krzeminska, High Water is praised by overachieving creations by actors Agnieszka Żulewska Tomasz Schuchard, Ireneusz Czop or Anna Dymna. One of the most impressive aspects of the 6-episode-show is the scengraphy by Marek Warszewski – many scenes were filmed in elaborately arranged indoor swimming pools or in real streets and apartments were special pools had been constructed.
Currently High Water is currently a number 1 non-English speaking show on Netflix.
Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcz6MNjTCE4
Controversies over a Kant’s Book
French president Emmanuel Macron during his visit in the Vatican gave the pope Francis the first-edition French translation of German philosopher Immanuel Kant's "Towards Perpetual Peace" (1796). Careful observers of the TV transmission spotted a stamp from a Lviv university library on its cover page of the book. Lviv is a former Polish city (now in Ukraine) and some commentators started speculating that that the precious volume might have been stolen during WWII.
But Polish culture minister Piotr Gliński cut the speculations tweeting that the book "is not a Polish war loss. Contrary to the claims of some media ... Everything indicates (it) ... was in France at the start of the 20th century". With these words he confirmed what had been reported by Paris dealer Patrick Hatchuel, who sold the piece to French administration for ca. EUR 2.500.
This year’s Nike, the most prestigious literary award in Poland, went to a poet Jerzy Jarniewicz for his volume Mondo Cane (‘Dog’s World’ in Latin), his 17th collection of poems. In the book, Jarniewicz “records the deaths of his friends, breakups, departures – and ruthlessly observes his own reactions to [them]…[and] the weaknesses of his own, ever-more-ailing body”, states the publisher..
The readers’ award has been given to Joanna Ostrowska for a book on the persecution of homosexuals by Nazi Germany during the WWII. They: Homosexuals during the Second World War is a historical reportage. Ostrowska focuses on double tragedy of homosexuals who were punished, imprisoned and often murdered, by the totalitarian system, and later forgotten and ignored by post-war societies and common memory. The author said that her book is a commemoration of gay victims of former concentration camp, including many of those located in today’s territory of Poland. She believes that her book “fills in another blank page in historical memory, restoring the voice of the forgotten victims of German Nazism”.
American rapper Lil Yachty posted a song called “Poland” on SoundCloud. It is gritty and melodic, it is short (1 minute 23 seconds) and it quickly went viral. In the visuals of the clip, we can the artist walking all around an undisclosed city in Poland from the street to the subways. It became particularly popular in… Poland.
Also politicians wanted to take advantage of this social media excitement. Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki invited Lil Yachty to Warsaw. It is not sure if Morawiecki knows what lyrics of the song mean, but – in brief – it’s about doing drugs in Poland.
Watch the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9PzYuVwCSE
Poland & Germany
New Ambassador in Berlin
Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau handed Dariusz Pawłoś his nomination as the new Polish ambassador in Germany. Pawłoś is a Polish diplomat and Germanist. Since March 2022, he has been the managing director of the German-Polish Youth Office (GPYO). In recent years, he has worked at the Polish Foreign Ministry, among others, as deputy director of the Department of Public and Cultural Diplomacy. From 2017 to 2021, he was the spokesperson for the Polish embassy in Berlin. Earlier, he served as chairman of the board of the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation.
Official Note and Reactions
On October 3, Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau signed a diplomatic note to Germany concerning reparations for WWII after the PiS-created commission estimated that Germany owes Poland ca. EUR 1,26 trillion. PiS government also demanded that Germany will compensate "victims of German aggression and occupation, as well as their families, for the losses and harm suffered" and that it will take action to "return cultural property seized from Poland and currently located on German territory" (read more in the previous issue). The note “expresses the position of the Polish minister of foreign affairs that the parties should take immediate steps to permanently and effectively... settle the issue of the consequences of aggression and German occupation", Rau stressed.
One day later, during a meeting with Rau, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock commented: "Germany is steadfast with its historic responsibility, without any doubt. Our eternal task will remain to remind (the public) of the millionfold suffering, that Germany afflicted to Poles", and added "At the same time, from the German government's view, you know that (addressing Rau), the question of reparations is closed".
Jakub Kumoch, who heads international policy bureau in the Chancellery of the Polish President, said that during a face-to-face meeting in Malta Andrzej Duda and Frank-Walter-Steinmeier "agreed that this is a rather difficult issue that both countries must resolve". "Both presidents admitted this is a dispute of a legal nature, while their task is to build relations between the societies of Poland and Germany so that they suffer as little as possible from such disputes and continue to develop in a positive way", Kumoch said.
In the meantime, an opposition MP Paweł Kowal analyzed the note and informed media that it does not include the word ‘reparations’ and the official analysis with estimations was not attached to it. It looks like PiS is saying one thing to the domestic public and doing something completely different in diplomatic relations. Kowal also stressed that Rau had not sent a similar note to Moscow even though the declaration adopted by the Sejm talks about compensation from both Germany and Russia.
The topic will be played by the government in months to come, as elections will be held in autumn 2023. According to recent data, as much as 97% of the PiS’ electorate believe Poland is right to ask for reparations, compared to 48% of the opposition’s supporters.
Polls & Trends
Kantar Public, 14-17.10.2022
Civic Coalition 31%
Poland 2050 10%
United Surveys for Wirtualna Polska, 21-23.10.2022
In your opinion, does PiS’s relations with the EU and conflict over the rule of law can deprive Poland of EU funds?
Definitely yes 28,8%
Rather yes 43,3%
Rather not 23,2%
Deffinitely not 0,2%
Don’t know 4,2%