Leaving

According to St. Augustine, “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Perhaps, but according to a new report by HR consultants, Work Service, Poles are going abroad for higher wages, with only 35 per cent of those thinking of emigrating actually doing so for the opportunity to indulge in some Augustinian travelling and wondering.

The report (which may be downloaded here portentously entitled Economic Migrations of The Poles, suggests that 1.275 million Poles are planning to emigrate from Poland, which is up from 1.025 million in 2014, and which approximates to 6.4 per cent of the economically active population, compared to 5 per cent last year. And those are just the ones actively planning to go: a further 14.3 per cent of the work force is considering going. Not surprisingly, there is a correlation between the level of unemployment in a region and the likelihood of plans to look for work abroad. With the rate of unemployment still at 11.7 per cent in March (albeit down from 12 per cent in February and from 13.5 per cent in March 2014) it is clear that many Poles doubt the likelihood of real change in Poland and the prospects of finding a good job here.

As you might expect, the European Union is the preferred destination (72 per cent) given the ease of moving there for work and among the EU member states United Kingdom (27 per cent), Germany (26 per cent), Norway (11 per cent) and the Netherlands (9 per cent) are the most popular countries.

Looking at the individual respondents, 63 per cent are under 35 years of age, 18 per cent are 35 to 44 years old, 29 per cent are in education or studying, and 31 per cent have at least secondary education and a further 19 per cent have higher education. In other words, many of the sort of folk you’d rather not lose. Of their reasons for leaving, 75 per cent of respondents cited higher wages, 44 percent a higher standard of living, with both lack of suitable prospects in Poland and better prospects for personal development being cited by 37 per cent.

All of which creates a rather different picture from the self-congratulatory complacency of the politicians – that’s right, the folk who are failing to grasp the nettle of reform to the tax, social security, and legal systems that are necessary to create the business friendly environment that Poland needs if it is to make the transition to sustainable prosperity for the many rather than the few (please see What Matters). As I have written here on many occasions, Poland has made great progress but as the world becomes more competitive so does the need not to let up on the change. In many ways Poland has done the easy work, now comes the more difficult.

Be that as it may, according to Polish President Komorowski, speaking at the final of the Jan Wejchert Prizes organised by the Polish Business Roundtable, the Polish economy is the best way to promote the country abroad. “As President, I travel all over the world, meeting fellow presidents, and experiencing a variety of situations. But I also meet Polish ambassadors. And I have to tell you – with the sincerest respect to all the ambassadors – that I am deeply convinced that the best ambassador for Poland is its economic success. Also people who represent these successes, are the best visiting card of the country. It is a real pleasure to travel and hear such compliments about Poland and Poland’s economic performance,” Komorowski said.

And, of course, it must be. But that may be little comfort to Poland’s human visiting cards who feel they have to go abroad not for the joy of travel but out of necessity, for whom Poland’s so-called golden age is merely proof of Shakespeare’s words, all that glitters is not gold. Perhaps, when thinking of Komorowski’s “best ambassador for Poland” description of the economy, they reflect on the words of the seventeenth century diplomat Henry Wotton that “an ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country” and do, indeed, wonder.

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