Promises

“Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.” This healthy dose of cynicism comes, of course, from the French, Charles de Gaulle to be specific but is now, alas, of more general application. As Poland heads towards presidential and parliamentary elections in the autumn, where do we stand on promises that might never be delivered?

First off the blocks was Ewa Kopacz, the prime minister, who said on Saturday during a meeting of the government’s economic council that Greece was a huge warning for Poland, in that its problems result from irresponsible promises made by politicians. Reflecting on the significance of the referendum vote, she said a no vote in Sunday’s referendum (which has now transpired) would be a significant turning point in the history of the EU. “I would prefer us to be clever before the fall rather than after”, she continued, which would no doubt be a welcome break from tradition in this neck of the woods.

More important, Kopacz said that she would not enter into an auction with the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) candidate Beata Szydło in respect of pre-election political promises. “There were a lot of promises made in the last presidential election, like a springboard to success,” the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, at her party convention on Saturday, Beata Szydło was outlining PiS’s economic plans if, as seems likely (they are some 11 per cent ahead in the polls, and we know how trustworthy those are), it wins the elections and she finds herself as prime minister. The overarching theme seems to be to boost the economy with higher public spending. New taxes will be established for banks and supermarkets and keeping Poland out of the Euro will also be a priority. “I appeal to PM Ewa Kopacz to withdraw PO’s plans to introduce the euro. Withdraw from the idea if you don’t want Poland to become a second Greece,” Szydło had said at a press conference at the Sejm last Thursday, adding that Greece’s problems had started when it joined the Eurozone.

PiS is also promising that VAT will be cut from 23 to 22 per cent and corporate income tax on small and medium sized businesses from 19 to 15 per cent. Szydlo said that new spending on policies such as lowering the retirement age and raising child benefit would cost PLN 39 billion (USD 10 billion) annually, or about 2.3 percent of GDP, GDP being a term which, it is not entirely clear she fully understands.

Warming to her theme, Szydło said that “Our starting point is the assumption that the more money stays in the pockets of Poles, the better for the citizens, for the economy, for the budget.” In addition, improving tax collection and closing the transfer of corporate profits abroad would yield PLN 52 billion and 4 billion a year respectively.

One wonders how restricting the transfer of corporate profits abroad will work in practice unless she intends to renegotiate Poland’s treaties on the avoidance of double taxation and the EU parent subsidiary directive, in which case good luck. This is a good example of a promise which cannot be kept but which, at the same time, does harm when Poland is trying to attract foreign investment.

No doubt such talk really helps the work of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Jan Piechociński who has confirmed that Poland is in the running to attract a major automotive investment, rumoured to be a new factory for Jaguar Land Rover. The factory will produce 350,000 cars per year and the investment is worth PLN 7 billion. Above all, of course, it really helps rival location Slovakia who must be delighted at the prospect of PiS making Poland less attractive to foreign investors.

Perhaps this is something that this week’s conference of Polish ambassadors might consider as 90 of them meet in Warsaw to discuss, inter alia, the promotion of Polish economy and ways and means of supporting Polish companies in foreign markets. Because the message seems in danger, as we saw in Our Farmland, of becoming a little confused: take our people, take our pollution, give us money, give us soldiers but don’t give us immigrants, and don’t take your profits home either.

Be that as it may, Socrates was probably right, alas: “I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.”

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