Nicholas Richardson


“So companies have to be very schizophrenic. On the one hand, they have to maintain continuity of strategy. But they also have to be good at continuously improving.” The words of management guru, Michael Porter. And although the analogy is far from perfect, countries are not wholly different from companies when it comes to strategy. Thus what to make of prime minister, Teresa May’s remarks, ahead of talk in Brussels in Monday, that the United Kingdom is ‘building a strategic partnership with Poland … that will outlast our exit” from the European Union.

The prime minister is meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, as well as European Council president Donald Tusk, in the hope that sufficient progress can be agreed to have been made to allow next week’s EU summit to allow talks on the future trade relationship between the EU and the UK to begin. Talks between the British and Polish government area planned to take place in Warsaw on 21st December.

Mrs. May said the UK was “building a strategic partnership with Poland from a base of shared history and deep ties of friendship that will outlast our exit from the EU”. She added that Poland was important to the UK and that the countries’ partnership was “broad, vibrant and diverse and we both share a steadfast commitment to Europe’s security and defence”. “Following our last meeting we have British troops stationed in Poland, delivering part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence and signaling our determination to front up to aggression in the region, we work hand-in-hand across the foreign policy spectrum,” she added.

The prime minister also said that trade between Poland and the UK was “growing”. “In 2016, the UK was Poland’s second largest export destination and almost ten per cent of Polish food and agriculture exports end up in British shops,” she said. She also reiterated that ensuring EU-citizens’ rights in the UK and UK-citizens’ rights in the EU was her “first priority”. “The one million Polish citizens and 30,000 Polish businesses who have made a home in the UK have made a huge economic, social and cultural contribution to the fabric of our country… No EU citizen legally living in the UK needs to worry,” the prime minister said.

So far so good, but is no reflection on Poland to question whether this particular strategic partnership, supported as it appears on a shared history of relatively recent invention, in any way compensates for the strategic partnership that could, nay should, have been forged from the UK’s membership of the EU. Indeed, it could be argued that leaving the EU represents the biggest divergence ever from the strategy underpinning 500 years of foreign policy of not allowing a single united Europe to combine against British interests. While the UK remains in the EU this combination is not possible.

Of course the EU has many faults. Anybody familiar with British parliamentary democracy and the concept of democratic accountability must look askance at the EU arrangements. Indeed, it is this respect for democracy, and the instinctive belief that a vote of the electorate must be respected that is causing the prime minister and many like her who do not favour Brexit, to press on. That respect, at least, is something to be admired.

Be that as it may, nobody, Brexiteer or Remainer, can take much comfort from the current situation. Of course a deal will be done, but the UK will end up paying much for a worse deal that at present. Much better, would have been for successive governments to have adopted much more Machiavellian and Sir Humphreyesque approach towards the EU and to have gradually turned it in the direction that suited us, something which most of continental Europe believes the United Kingdom had achieved anyway.

In many ways the UK has been a model EU member state. It was one of only three EU member states not to impose transitional restrictions on Poles’ rights of free movement when Poland joined the EU, it has been large net contributor to EU funds and has the most open markets of any major member state. Perhaps it would have been better to have been less of a team player and to have adopted a more Polish approach – insist on your rights as an EU member state but oppose those rules you find inconvenient.

It is to everyone’s advantage that the UK and Poland enjoy close relations at every level, but it will require much more than a strategic partnership to replace what has been forgone elsewhere.

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“Poland is the natural bridge between East and West.” The words of Professor Norman Davies, who probably has a better understanding than most. And thus to the 5th Eastern Partnership summit held in Brussels, a meeting at which heads of state and government from EU member states and six Eastern partner countries discussed future cooperation, attended by Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, who, while if not exactly pontifex maximus, was urging bridge building rather than burning or raising.

Speaking to journalists before the start of the summit on Friday, she said that European Union should “move from declarations to concrete steps” in its efforts to forge closer ties with six neighbours to the east, each formerly part of the Soviet Union. “The fact that some decisions have been made about visas, business cooperation and infrastructure is precisely what Poland wants to see done” in the EU’s relations with Eastern Partnership nations, Szydło said. She added that this “should be aimed at ordinary people, people who are waiting for this cooperation to produce tangible results in their everyday lives.” It is perhaps interesting to note, en passant, that when the EU does something Poland wants that is good, but when the EU wants Poland to so something it may not be.

Be that as it may, the Eastern Partnership, which is an initiative launched in 2009 by Poland and Sweden to forge closer political and economic ties between the EU and its eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – is clearly worthwhile. The summit did adopt a declaration which mentioned the “European aspirations” of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova but did not offer them a concrete promise of future EU membership.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski had said in October that the European Union should maintain an “open-door” policy towards these countries and that Poland was interested in ensuring that the Eastern Partnership is kept “high on the EU agenda.” In April, the foreign ministers of the Visegrad Group countries (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) voiced “strong support” for the Eastern Partnership, which they said was key to stability and economic growth in Eastern Europe.

And a day earlier, more bridge building of a sort in Paris where the prime minister had met French President Emmanuel Macron. She said that she was in a favour of seeking compromise on issues that have divided the two countries. “We are in a position to find such compromises, solutions that will help in bilateral cooperation, but also on key issues on the EU agenda,” Szydło said. She added that there were differences between Poland and France over Macron’s push for rules to pay workers “posted” abroad at the same wages as local workers, something which Poland considers discriminates unfairly against its companies.

Szydło told reporters in Paris: “I declare my full commitment and willingness to cooperate in further work on the mobility package, as part of which decisions will be made on applying rules on posted workers in the road transport sector.” “Without France and without Poland, the reform of the EU in the context of its further development will fail and we must work together in this regard,” she added.

Anything which improves Polish French relations is to be welcomed. Macron has been critical of the Polish government’s policies which he said in an interview in August “undermine the rule of law, earning the retort from Szydło that Macron “should mind his own country’s business” after he had accused Poland of isolating itself within the European Union. Szydło also said that Poland was democratic and “pro-EU”, and that it was determined to defend important European Union values, including the free market.

Of course, bridge building and maintenance is a constant process, and the prime minister can expect a letter from European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. He said on Monday that he would be asking her to ensure the security of MEPs following a demonstration on Saturday in Katowice, during which, nationalists “hung” the pictures of MEPs who backed a recent European Parliament warning to Warsaw amid EU concerns that the Polish government has eroded the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. The government has consistently denied that is has undermined the rule of law, and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said on Monday that prosecutors would investigate the mock hanging. Police are also analysing video footage of the incident.

But perhaps the most important rule of good bridge building is to have a rather more constructive attitude to those who would cross than that of the bridge keeper encountered by the three Billy Goats Gruff in the eponymous fairy tale. A bridge users seek to avoid very soon loses its utility.

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“The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.” The words of George Bernard Shaw which, albeit the mirror has been replaced by the camera lens or television screen, have caused Poland’s president some consternation when those pictures from the 11th November Independence Day celebrations that attracted the most media attention presented a less than noble image of Poland.

According to President Duda, in an interview for Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a small group of marchers waving controversial banners during a 60,000 strong march have harmed Poland’s image abroad. He said that those waving the banners represented a “marginal” proportion of all those taking part in the march in Warsaw. Groups with such radical views “can be found in every country”.

Other political figures also distanced themselves from what Polish public broadcaster had described as a small group of extreme nationalists which was responsible for the fascist and racist banners that spoilt the march and drew criticism from abroad. Duda said last Monday that “there is no room … in our country for xenophobia, for pathological nationalism, for anti-Semitism,” and the PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, said his party referred to traditions that “have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or racism.” When asked about the march in an interview Kaczyński said that “there were some extremely unfortunate” and “completely unacceptable” incidents during the event, but added that these occurrences were the “fringe of the fringe” and that they were “very likely a provocation.” “Those who want to harm Poland know perfectly well how to do that,” he told public broadcaster TVP on Monday evening. “These kinds of slogans, this kind of nonsense, shameful nonsense, is very damaging to us,” he added.

Meanwhile, at the EU summit in Brussels on Friday, the Polish prime minister was protesting against her country being “vilified and insulted” in the European parliament. After the summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, Beata Szydło said she had told EU leaders that “there cannot be a situation such as… during a debate in the European Parliament when one of the nations of our great European family is vilified and insulted.”

On Wednesday the parliament had debated the rule of law and democracy and it was said that the situation in the country posed a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values. MEPs also voted to trigger the first stage of the “Article Seven” procedure. Poland must respect the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and fundamental rights, failing which the country’s right to vote in the EU Council might be suspended, the European Parliament warned. Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said that 60,000 “fascists” had taken part in a march in Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day.

This was too much for Szydło who told reporters on Friday: “The 60,000 people who came out in Warsaw for a beautiful… march to celebrate Independence Day cannot be called fascists by anyone.” While insisting that the government “very clearly condemns all extremism”, she said, “I will never agree to my country, which was the victim of two totalitarian regimes… being vilified and slandered in such a way.” And speaker of the Polish senate, Stanisław Karczewski, described as a “brazen lie” a tweet by Jesse Lehrich, a former foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton, that “60,000 Nazis marched on Warsaw” on November 11, adding that PiS condemned and distanced themselves from any “extreme behaviour” that occurred during the march.

Which is all very well, and as it should be. The difficulty is that the march was organised by two nationalist groups with an interwar history – the National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth (MW). Although both groups have made efforts to sanitize their public images in recent years in order to broaden their appeal, and although the mainstream of PiS is not in close ideological accord with either, PiS’s strategy of preventing splits to what might be broadly referred to as the right, so as to remain unchallenged in that area, and the bringing in of nationalists to the main stream, has lead, one might think, to some sailing pretty close to the wind. Of course, one must take Duda, Kaczyński, et al at their word, and believe their condemnation of the extremists as sincere. At the same time if one is really concerned about image, one needs to be rather more circumspect about allowing folk with a tendency to wearing National Socialist style armbands and uniforms to organize marches you support. It didn’t end well last time.

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Make It Happen

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” The words of US poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and, with or without the conspiracy of the universe, Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) is certainly making things happen, even those which some thought impossible. This, at least, is the view of the party leader.

Summing up the first two years of the PiS government – Monday marked two years since President Andrzej Duda designated Beata Szydło as prime minister – Jarosław Kaczyński said, “We have demonstrated that Poland can be changed.” “What seemed impossible for years – and many people truly believed that such was the case, that things simply had to be left to follow their course, that the strong always had to win, and that the weak had to be left with nothing – has now been changed.” Speaking to public broadcaster TVP on Monday evening, Kaczyński also said that “there is no doubt that the Polish state can accomplish things when it is in good hands”.

Turning to the expected cabinet reshuffle, Kaczyński also that specific decisions an impending government reshuffle “will be made shortly.” And, in what must be the most disingenuous statement of the year so far, he said “We will learn about them in December.” We, probably; he most likely already knows, given that it seems most unlikely that any decisions were made without his involvement.

But what of the second half of the current term? Kaczyński said that there would be more effort to advance the Home Plus low-cost housing programme and measures to improve the lives of pensioners and single mothers, in addition to other economic measures. The Home Plus programme, designed to provide people with affordable apartments, is of particular importance, Kaczyński said. He described it as “a real breakthrough in the lives of the Polish people.” “This is also a major offer for all those who might want to come back from the West and work here,” he added. We shall see.

The prime minister, Beata Szydło adopted a soccer analogy to describe the government’s two years in office. In an interview with the Financial Times published on Monday she said: “I’d like to compare my government to our national [football] team…  and I’d say that we have been successful in the first half… We are winning.” As the Financial Times noted, the fast economic growth and improving living standards in Poland have been set against a background of clashes with Brussels. According to the paper, Law and Justice’s election triumph two years ago “paved the way to power for a party bent on representing Polish interests more assertively abroad and heralded a broader rebellion against the EU goal of ‘ever closer union’ that has had echoes in elections from the UK to the Czech Republic.”

Szydło was cited as saying in an interview: “People in Europe feel more and more that the elites in Brussels are… no longer in touch with the problems that they should be concerned about — such as the safety of the citizens of the EU, the labour situation, and increasing employment and improving wages.” She certainly has a point about the de haut en bas attitude emanating from Brussels, but nor does the attitude of her government to things which bother Brussels help.

At a joint press conference with Szydło on Tuesday, during which he thanked the prime minister for the achievements of her government thus far, Kaczyński told reporters: “There is money available and despite all sorts of announcements that there would be some great collapse, we are able to conduct policies which serve a great many Polish families, those which previously did not benefit from the changes in Poland, from economic development.” He singled out the government’s 500+ program of state payouts designed to support families, and to moves to increase OAP pensions and to reduce unemployment. “Poles are better off,” he said.

While the opposition said the government had caused bitter divisions in Poland, PiS retains a commanding lead in the opinion polls, at 45 per cent, ahead of PO on 17 per cent according to the latest survey by CBOS. The Kukiz’15 grouping is third on 8%, and the Nowoczesna party is fourth on 5%, according to CBOS. With Poland’s central bank revising upwards to 4.2 per cent its GDP growth forecast, it seems that PiS is set fair for the further term in office which Kaczyński said is required for further change since “The state needs to be reconstructed.” Thank goodness any such reconstruction will be in “good” hands.

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“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it always to be kept alive.” The words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the United States Declaration of Independence, and whereas as 4th July 1776 might well have been one of those certain occasions, 2nd November 2017, in the eyes of the Polish government at least, was not. Especially when the one taken to be suggesting resistance to the Polish government is the German defence minister.

While speaking to German broadcaster ZDF on Thursday, the German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said that her children had been studying in Poland as part of the EU’s Erasmus student exchange programme at a time when power shifted in Warsaw. She suggested that it was important to support the “healthy, democratic resistance of the young generation” in Poland. “Our task is to maintain the discourse, to argue with Poland and Hungary,” von der Leyen added, as quoted by Poland’s PAP state news agency.

Ever jealous of its amour propre the Polish government was quick to respond. “On November 3, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz, in response to a statement by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, instructed Col. Tomasz Kowalik, Director of the [Polish defence ministry’s] Department of Military Foreign Affairs, to summon the German Defence Attaché for explanations,” the Polish defence ministry said in a statement. The young generation would, no doubt, be better served by gaining a correct understanding of Polish history and engaging in physical activity such as marching with banners and wearing nice uniforms.

Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, described the remark as an unacceptable attempt by a German politician to meddle in Poland’s internal affairs. Waszczykowski added: “For the last two years we have been hearing from German politicians that they are neutral and that whatever is being said in the local [German] media is just independent publications that the German authorities have no influence on.”

Waszczykowski also said he would make efforts — “in a gentle way, because we remain neighbours and friends” — to ensure German officials “explain why such unacceptable words are spoken publicly.” “We hope it’s just a slip of the tongue that can happen to a politician,” – and he would know – he said. “We will give [the German defence minister] a chance to take these words back without creating some kind of diplomatic incident.”

Polish defence ministry spokeswoman Anna Pęzioł-Wójtowicz said: “The Ministry of Defence considers it unacceptable for the minister of a country that is a member state of the North Atlantic Alliance… to call on citizens of another country to undertake anti-government activities.” A spokeswoman for the German embassy in Warsaw said on Monday that the remarks of Ursula von der Leyen had been mostly positive, but part of them had been taken out of context.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister was busy dealing with another outbreak of perceived anti-Polishness. Speaking in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday, Waszczykowski urged the country’s authorities to “unblock” work by a team of Poles searching for the remains of Polish victims of wartime crimes in Ukraine. He said that while Poland is open to cooperation with Ukraine, it expects authorities in that country to “take concrete steps” amid tensions over historical issues. He told reporters at the Polish consulate-general in Lviv that he welcomed a statement by the Ukrainian government “that there is no anti-Polish sentiment in Ukraine.”

On Thursday Waszczykowski had told public broadcaster TVP1 that unless Ukraine changed its approach to issues important to Poland, the authorities in Poland will “launch procedures that will not allow people who hold extreme anti-Polish positions to come to Poland,” especially Ukrainian officials who do not allow Polish experts to continue their work of searching for remains of wartime victims and who are preventing continuing work to renovate sites in Ukraine of significance to Poland. It is obviously no answer to contrast this approach with Polish government’s attitude towards Russian monuments to the war dead in Poland.

Be that as it may, in response to Waszczykowski’s statement, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said on Friday that there was no anti-Polish sentiment in Ukraine and that disputes over history should be resolved in line with the Christian principle of “forgiving and asking for forgiveness.” Which seems, given the importance the Polish government places on Poland being a European bastion of Christianity against the threat of militant Islam, a rather good response. And at a time when too many politicians seem to have forgotten their history, careless of the words of George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – it is refreshing to see one for whom history is so important. The danger is that some folk seem to believe in repeats.

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“Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.” The words of Niccolo Machiavelli which are, perhaps, not inapposite when considering the latest intervention – the suggestion by a UN envoy that Poland’s justice system in under attack – in the continuing controversy over judicial independence and the rule of law of law in Poland.

According to Diego Garcia-Sayan, a United Nations special rapporteur who arrived in Poland on Monday, both the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are threatened. Commenting on the government’s planned reforms to the judiciary, Garcia-Sayan said the changes appeared to be worse than the system they were supposed to fix, adding for good measure that they were an attack on the courts and that they undermined the separation of powers. He referred to changes to the Constitutional Tribunal as the “first victim” of the changes under the Law and Justice (PiS) government, which was elected two years ago.

Garcia-Sayan, who spoke to officials from the justice and foreign ministries, the president’s office, courts, and the human rights commissioner while in Poland, also criticised the changes to the Supreme Court and to the National Council of the Judiciary which he said were being discussed “behind closed doors”. New laws are indeed being discussed by President Duda and the leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, following the former’s veto of two of the three bills proposed by PiS in the summer, proposals which lead to protests at home and fierce criticism from abroad. He is expected to give a full report on the situation in Poland to the UN’s Human Rights Council in mid-2018.

Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, denied Garcia- Sayan’s allegations, saying that although he was entitled to his opinions, Poland was entitled to disagree, and that if the separation of powers and the independence of the courts “are threatened … then it means they still exist”, not dissimilar, one might think, to the view that if the drowning man is waving for help, he must still be swimming. Besides, Garcia- Sayan was criticising reforms “which have not happened yet”, Waszczykowski added.

And as if that wasn’t enough for one week, a team from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, was also visiting for two days to look at changes to Poland’s prosecution arrangements. Of particular focus was the merging in January of the justice minister and prosecutor general posts, on which the Commission is to present its opinion in December.

A PiS Sejm deputy, Dominik Tarczyński, said that his fellow party members justified the changes in Poland by reference to specific examples of similar arrangements in other countries. For his part, Borys Budka, a deputy from the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party and a former justice minister said: “We raised all the concerns we had during the legislative process, starting with the express speed with which this bill [on the prosecution service] was worked on, and ending with procedural powers being given to the prosecutor general, who is a politician”.

So far, so typical, but what conclusions may be drawn? Much will depend on the final shape of the laws to replace those vetoed by the president. The exercise of the veto was perhaps inevitable after Jarosław Kaczyński’s outburst in the Sejm, when he accused the opposition of having been responsible for his brother’s death, if the president were not to be seen as a puppet of the party leader. Of course, the cynics will argue that the veto was part of a plan to make the changes proposed by the president seem more palatable, even if they turn out to have be little different from what was originally proposed by the government.

In this regard PiS has been suitably Machiavellian. Expecting elements of its programme to be resisted by the opposition and perhaps struck down by the Constitutional Tribunal, it sought to neutralise that body before progressing through the rest of the judiciary, while tapping into a feeling a discontent with the judiciary, and accruing excessive power in the person of the minister of justice. That process has, pro tem, been interrupted but, to a large extent, having freed itself from effective attack by the opposition, the government has been able to attack others. Others, for these purposes, principally includes the opposition, and the European Union for its various interferences in Polish affairs. And while at face value, this has been a successful strategy for PiS, with the party enjoying record support according to the latest opinion poll by CBOS, which puts it on 47 per cent, far ahead of PO on 16 per cent, whether this policy of continual attack is sustainable remains to be seen.

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“An alliance with a powerful person is never safe.” The words of the Roman poet, Phaedrus, which are suddenly apposite as the Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, said on Tuesday morning that there will be a government reshuffle within the next few weeks.

“The decision has been made; there will be changes in the government,” Beata Szydło told private broadcaster TVN24. She added that she was discussing details of the reshuffle with Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who many consider to be the de facto prime minister. For her part, Szydło dismissed speculation that the reshuffle might see her own departure, saying she would remain in office. But how safe is she really, given the power the party leader seems to wield?

According to deputy prime minister Jarosław Gowin, she is indeed safe, and “there is no decision to change the prime minister”. He was responding to a report in weekly Sieci Prawdy that Beata Szydło would be removed so she could “rest” before standing for a seat in the European Parliament, and that she would be replaced as prime minister by Jarosław Kaczyński, a move which would not be without precedent.

Gowin dismissed the Sieci Prawdy report as a “rumour”. He said that although there would be a mid-term assessment of the government’s performance after which some changes might be made, suggestions that decisions had already been taken were “made up”. Another deputy prime minister, finance and development minister Mateusz Morawiecki, was more circumspect. “This is not a question for me. I am just a deputy prime minister”, he said.

Be that as it may, another weekly, another prime minister who may or may not be safe, this time former prime minister and President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. According to weekly Do Rzeczy, Tusk may have acted against Poland’s interests by allowing Russia to conduct an investigation into the crash of the presidential plane at Smolensk in 2010. Its claim that Tusk needlessly “handed over” the investigation to Russia is based on a study the magazine claims was commissioned in 2011.

According to Do Rzeczy the study by law firm K & L Gates, commissioned by the then prime minister’s office, found that Poland was not required to apply an annex to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation requiring it to hand over the conduct of the investigation of the crash to Russia. The magazine said that the study, mentioned in a note dated 19th September 2011 and sent by Tomasz Arabski, head of the prime minister’s office under Tusk, to the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office, was among new documents it had accessed. These documents form part of evidence collected during a continuing investigation into suspected “diplomatic treason” that is being conducted alongside an investigation into the causes of the crash.

Official reports by the Russian authorities and Poland’s previous government concluded the crash was an accident. The Polish report cited a catalogue of errors on the Polish side, while also pointing to errors made by Russian staff at the control tower of Smolensk Military Airport. The Russian report placed all the blame on the Polish side. Needless to say, on PiS forming the government in October 2015 a new investigation was launched. PiS deputies concluded in 2014 that the aeroplane had been brought down by an explosion, a claim which is regularly repeated, and for which, despite periodic announcements that it will soon be forthcoming, the evidence has yet to appear.

This almost cult-like devotion to the belief that an alliance of sinister forces – in this case a political opponent and the ever, in some eyes, malevolent Russians – must be to blame for the crash is wholly political and appeals, it seems, to only the most enthusiastic of PiS supporters. It is sad that this Pol Pottist “Year Zero” approach to the Smolensk crash seems to have obscured the memory of the Katyń murders, the commemoration of which was the reason for the flight in the first place. And no doubt the irony is also lost on those who, while so quick to condemn brother Putin and all his works, are quite happy when it suits them to adopt some of his methods. But there again, as Phaedrus also reminds us: “Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”

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More Money

“A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money.” The words of John Ruskin which spring to mind when one contemplates the plight of Poland’s doctors. Doctors generally show thought and kindness – otherwise why join a profession dedicated to helping others – but even they cannot live on kindness alone. And thus the demonstrations held in several large cities in Poland on Saturday in support of resident doctors on hunger strike.

The dispute with the government is about pay, working conditions and healthcare funding. Doctors complain that newly qualified residents earn as little as 2,275 zloty a month after tax and have to work an average of 65 hours a week. Negotiations with the government took place last week, but the meetings with Prime Minister Beata Szydło, Health Minister Konstanty Radziwiłł and Beata Kempa, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, have brought no breakthrough. Those protesting in Warsaw outside the prime minister’s office at the weekend submitted a list of demands.

Despite Poland’s continuing economic progress, the public healthcare sector is in need of improvement. Łukasz Jankowski from the OZZL medical practitioners’ union said: “This is a historic moment for us as Poland is enjoying economic prosperity, good macroeconomic conditions and, most of all, we see a declared will to come to an agreement on the authorities’ part, as well as determination to improve the situation in the country’s healthcare system.”

Of course, everybody would like to see more spent on healthcare and, as the NHS in the UK demonstrates, it is difficult to make finite resources met ever increasing demand. However, the position in Poland is particularly serious. Doctors are expensive to train and are eminently employable anywhere, which given the low salaries of doctors here, means there is a danger of large numbers simply leaving Poland, or leaving the profession. Good news, for example, for the NHS which seems to have an insatiable demand for doctors from abroad, Brexit or no Brexit, driven in part by successive UK governments’ limiting the number of places at UK medical schools irrespective of NHS needs.

Indeed, anecdotally, one of my friends who is a doctor, is in exactly this position. Talented and dedicated she works long shifts at more than one hospital – often for 24 hours at a time – and finds the current system frustrating. Exactly the sort of doctor one needs and, given her qualifications and experience, exactly the sort of doctor who would be welcomed with open arms elsewhere.

Be that as it may, whatever the official government response, state broadcaster TVP has decided that sharing information from some of the protestors’ Facebook profiles under an article entitled: They complain about earnings but they eat caviar canapés. As with all hatchet jobs, this relies on taking information out of context. So, for example, photographs are shown of one of the protest leaders in exotic locations such as Tanzania and Kurdistan without mentioning that she was there as volunteer with a medical charity to help in a local hospital, as was actually reported on state radio at the time.

It would be wrong to blame the present government for the state of Poland’s health service, which is the result of many years of relative neglect, but since this government is presiding over a strong economy, one ,might have thought something could be done or, if not done at least started. Instead, one is left with the, no doubt mistaken, impression that doctors, as highly educated and intelligent folk, are somehow not seen as PiS’s core supporters and therefore may be denigrated.

This comes at the same times as Polish Higher Education and Science Minister Jarosław Gowin has appealed for tertiary education spending to be raised to from 0.44 to one per cent of GDP. Speaking at an event to inaugurate the new academic year at the catholic University of Lublin, Gowin said that Poland was trailing at the tail end of the European Union in terms of higher education and science spending, and that raising spending would improve the quality of education and research. He also pointed out that, since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, paving the way for free movement, one in four of roughly 120,000 Polish scientists had decided to go abroad. “This cannot go on, we need change,” Gowin said.

Quite. Of course, doctors are scientists too, and since a well-educated, healthy population is essential if a country is to achieve its potential, perhaps the government might start to see how it might retain the scientists and doctors that it has.

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“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” The words of George Bernard Shaw which might, perhaps, have been in the mind of Poland’s President Duda, as he contemplates the continuing arguments over reform of the judiciary.

Indeed, for the president, these arguments have assumed great importance. Duda has described his continuing dispute with Justice Minister Ziobro over judicial reforms as “a dispute over the future of the country, the future of my compatriots.” Speaking in an interview for weekly Do Rzeczy, Duda said that it was “not the Law and Justice [(PiS)] community” that was attacking him, but “one of the coalition partners of PiS”. This is an apparent reference to the United Poland party, a socially conservative party headed by Ziobro that forms the government of Beata Szydło together with PiS, and the Poland Together group led by Deputy Prime Minister and Science and Higher Education Minister Jarosław Gowin.

Duda, who is originally from the PiS party, suggested that after the elections in 2011, Ziobro “betrayed Law and Justice” and aimed to break up the party and its parliamentary caucus. Duda also said: “This is not about Minister X or Minister Y, but about every justice minister who is prosecutor-general at the same time and who in my opinion should not have as much power over the Supreme Court as the law passed by parliament would have given him.”

And that is the key point which has been the concern throughout this dispute, the extent to which an individual should be in a position to exercise influence over the judiciary, especially when that person is a politician. By definition, a politician takes a partisan view of most things and it would be expecting super human qualities of a type hitherto unknown, for an elected politician anywhere, to be able to resist the temptation to interfere for political advantage when presented with such power. Which is why, of course, in most established democracies the separation of powers, or the rule of law, or both, have been seen as the only ways of safeguarding citizens’ rights and freedoms.

For his part, the party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, when asked to comment on the dispute said that he “does not want to deal with generational disputes between 40-year-olds” which, one might think, is a rather dismissive approach to such an important issue, and that he would not agree to superficial changes in the country’s justice system. He did admit that there were tensions between the government and the president following the latter’s veto – which veto probably became inevitable following Kaczyński’s outburst in parliament blaming opposition deputies for his twin brother’s death – in July of two out of three controversial government backed bills which would have given politicians wide powers over the appointment and dismissal of judges.

In response, President Duda last month put forward his own proposals for reorganising the country’s Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which reviews and assesses candidates for appointment as judges. Under these proposals, members of the Supreme Court would retire at age of 65 with the ability to apply to the president for an extension, and not be retired at once as PiS had wanted, and which particularly concerned the European Commission in relation to Article 7 proceedings. In addition, members of the KRS would be elected by parliament with a three-fifths majority. There would be a “safety mechanism” to ensure continuity for the KRS in case parliament failed to muster such a majority. This would be allow the president to select candidates for the KRS if the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, failed to elect such judges within two months. Such a proposal would require a change to Poland’s constitution, something that the president also proposed.

Which brings the argument full circle. To amend Poland’s constitution requires two-thirds majority in parliament, something PiS does not have, hence the procedural shenanigans with the composition and function of the constitutional tribunal which began this saga after PiS’s assumption of government two years ago, an attempt to bring about a de facto if not de jure change to the constitution.

It remains to be seen how the president’s proposals are treated following the consultation period but, at least the judicial power grab by PiS has not quite succeeded so far and there is an opportunity, perhaps, for wiser counsel to prevail. It cannot be emphasised enough how fundamental to the rule of law is judicial independence and we do well, no pun intended, to remember the words of Aristotle: “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

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“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” The words of Benjamin Franklin. And since governments are ever keen to boast of continual growth and progress, one might ask how much economic progress there is in Poland against the backdrop of concerns in some quarters about the rule of law.

One sign of progress is that index compiler FTSE Russell has upgraded Poland’s status from an emerging market to a developed market. This decision means that Poland “has joined the 25 most developed economies of the world,” including Germany, France, Japan, Australia and the United States, according to the Warsaw Stock Exchange in a press release issued on Saturday. It added that Poland is the first Central and Eastern European economy to have been upgraded by FTSE Russell to developed market status. This upgrade “represents an acknowledgement of the progress of the Polish economy” and of the country’s capital market, the WSE’s chief executive officer, Marek Dietl, was quoted as saying.

Like many things in life, this upgrade does have the potential to be a mixed blessing. As Bloomberg reports, while generally positive, one negative effect could arise from developing-market funds being obliged to sell more than PLN 1 billion worth of shares. The real impact is uncertain and will take time to become apparent as the market opens to new types of funds. For his part, Dietl believes that “the dynamic development of the Polish economy represents an opportunity for international investors”, and “Poland’s upgrade to developed market status is a challenge, which we are ready to face.”

Whether there will be enough developed-market funds to replace those tracking Warsaw-listed stocks as an emerging-market asset is not clear. While the upgrade potentially offers exposure to a larger pool of investors which could help Polish companies already expanding in western markets, allowing them to gain recognition among a new group of investors and help them to fund growth, other companies may find the going tougher, especially if they are too small to attract the interest of those funds focussing on developed markets.

Be that as it may, it is perhaps ironic that the upgrade, reflecting the maturity of the market, comes at a time when the Polish government is challenging the western democratic values it adopted following the collapse of communism, when the European Union threatens sanctions against Poland for eroding of the rule of law, and the US government this week called on the government to respect judicial independence by ensuring that any changes are in accordance with Poland’s constitution.

And what of the impact of political risk? Paul P Psaila, New York- based managing director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management said in an interview shortly before the he upgrade that “Polish political risk is a more important topic for foreign direct investment types than it is for equity funds right now.” “Robust growth and the availability of companies that are becoming leaders for the whole region are things that investors cannot reject, especially as politics is a problem in many other emerging countries, not to mention developed ones.”

Moving away from the stock market, the investment position appears rosy with finance minister Mateusz Morawiecki announcing that investment grew by between 4 and 5 per cent in the third quarter of this year up from 0.8 per cent in the second quarter. He is predicting investment growth of between 8 and 9 per cent in the fourth quarter. Next year investment is expected to grow at a similar rate as in 2017 or “even faster,” Morawiecki told reporters on Thursday. He also said that the country’s GDP growth this year was well on track to exceed the government’s projection of 3.6 percent. Last month ratings agency Moody’s upgrade its GDP growth forecast for Poland to 4.3 per cent from an earlier projection of 3.2 per cent

Which no doubt explains why the government remains well ahead in the opinion polls. Its policies – especially the child benefit programme – and the more than doubling of the tax free threshold for income tax have had a positive benefit and have been enormously popular. Furthermore, the suggestion that the government’s campaign promises would be unaffordable have not been borne out so far, with growth up and unemployment down. There are some clouds on the horizon, and the decision to lower the retirement age will be a drain on public finances, but an apparently disorganised opposition seems unable to offer a credible alternative. Which is not to endorse the “prosperity before freedom” approach as the right path for Poland, so much as to show that it has been an effective strategy for PiS thus far, enabling the party to point to its success in delivering improvement to many.

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