“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” So thought Leonardo da Vinci and, as the dust settles on the first hundred days of the Law and Justice (PiS) government, many things in Poland have had things happen to them (a discussion of some by me on Radio Poland may be found here). Has it been a success?
Well, in the eyes of Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, outlining during a press conference on Friday the foreign policy achievements of Poland during this time, it certainly has. Poland has played an active role in the discussion about the future of the EU, not only in relation to Brexit but also wider reforms.
“We are convinced that active diplomacy and the engagement of Prime Minister Szydlo herself has helped substantially decrease the danger of Brexit,” he said, adding that increasing Poland’s security is of fundamental importance. “Here we are focusing our efforts on co-operation with NATO, the United States and Great Britain while at the same time not neglecting co-operation with our other allies. As a result of intense diplomacy we have already been successful. An Alliance document was approved, which states that the eastern flank will contain a permanent presence of NATO troops.”
One foreign policy initiative which some might consider to have been less successful is that of inviting The Venice Commission for an opinion on PiS’s changes to the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal. Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has obtained a copy of the draft report of the Commission (ironically during the same week LOT is resumed flights to Venice) which appears to confirm the view of those who have been taking to the streets regularly to protest about the direction the government is taking.
“Democracy cannot be reduced to the rule of the majority; majority rule is limited by the Constitution and by law, primarily in order to safeguard the interests of minorities. Of course, the majority steers the country during a legislative period but it must not subdue the minority; it has an obligation to respect those who lost the last elections,” read the draft report. It also said that “as long as the situation of constitutional crisis related to the Constitutional Tribunal remains unsettled and as long as the Constitutional Tribunal cannot carry out its work in an efficient manner, not only is the rule of law in danger, but so is democracy and human rights.”
Strong stuff, but Prime Minister Beata Szydło appears to be taking it in her stride, saying that the government will closely analyse the draft report. “This is a routine move by the Venice Commission, which often presents the assumptions of this draft opinion ahead of its announcement of the final opinion – which would lead to a dialogue,” she said on Saturday during an interview with the Radio Maryja and TV Trwam stations. “I think the media leak today really shows the intentions of those who try to escalate ill feelings and do not reflect on the merits of the case, because I also would like the Constitutional Tribunal to run smoothly,” Szydło added.
Be that as it may, away from the contentious political shenanigans, the Polish economy continues to do well with the Central Statistical Office announcing yesterday that GDP grew by 3.9 per cent in the final quarter of 2015 compared with a 3.5 percent growth in the first quarter, 3.3 percent in the second and 3.7 in the third with GUS estimating growth of 3.6 per cent for 2015 as a whole. And, according to Eurostat, seasonally adjusted unemployment in Poland fell to 6.9 per cent in January, well below the EU average of 8.9 per cent. According to GUs, unemployment in January was 10.3 percent.
Government policy thus seems to follow two distinct strands. The first is normal business, including the maintenance of stable economic conditions which will bring prosperity to Poland and attract and retain foreign investors. This I have heard stated as a priority during two meetings in the last week between representatives of the foreign chambers of commerce in Poland, the one with the Minister of Finance, the other with a presidential economics advisor and a member of the National Development Council. The second is the grinding of political and historical axes and the rooting out of those whose involvement – alleged or actual – to previous regimes puts them beyond the pale. The challenge is to ensure that the latter does not create a lack of investor confidence in Poland which harms the former.