Nicholas Richardson


“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.” The words of Samuel Johnson which have a delightfully eighteenth-century simplicity that still resonates, although no doubt the good doctor’s beef was of a rather more wholesome nature than some that has been produced in Poland of late.

The problem arose after a reporter from private broadcaster TVN obtained a job in a slaughterhouse around 113 km east of Warsaw where he was ordered to kill cows and butcher their meat. Last week’s broadcast television report showed sick cows being transported to the slaughterhouse where they were mistreated and killed. This lead Poland’s chief veterinary officer to say on Thursday that Polish police had launched a criminal investigation.

Not to be outdone, the European Commission said on Friday that it will send a team of inspectors to Poland. Poland produces about 560,000 tonnes of beef a year, with 85 per cent exported to countries within the European Union.  “The team of European Commission auditors are being deployed to Poland on Monday to assess the situation on the ground,” a Commission spokesperson told a daily news briefing, adding that the problem may concern 14 EU countries in total, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Germany.

The Polish ministry of agriculture has said that it has closed down the slaughterhouse at the heart of a scandal. And Poland’s agriculture minister has warned that offenders should expect “no leniency”. The minister, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, admitted that such practices dented confidence in Poland’s food producers. The Ministry added that information about the markets in which the slaughterhouse sold its meat products have been filed with the European RASFF food and feed safety alert system. According to Ministry officials, all the meat produced by this plant has been confiscated, examined, and presented “no biological threats”. Given that illegal procedures had come to light, the meat was nevertheless being withdrawn from markets abroad.

On a more positive note, Ardanowski said that, in agreement with the European Commission, Poland wanted to bring in legal changes. “In slaughterhouses where there is no 24-hour veterinarian presence, around-the-clock surveillance needs to be introduced. That is quite logical and will be immediately introduced,” he added. Not before time one might think.

While there is no excuse for meat that is unfit to enter the food processing system, and discounting stupidity and ignorance, perhaps the bigger problem is the quest for ever cheaper food which puts pressure on producers and makes cutting corners all too tempting. Is it sustainable, to use the word against which all must now be judged, to expect ever cheaper food not to mean ever worse quality? Quality costs, and perhaps it is time consumers realised that. If we really are what we eat, we ought to be more discriminating.

Be that as it may, if one is going to launch a new political party without meat on the menu, this was probably the week to do it. Thus, the food at Sunday’s launch of Robert Biedroń’s new party, Wiosna (spring in English) was reportedly all vegan. Biedroń is himself a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. During his time as the mayor of Słupsk, more vegetarian options were added to the menu in the city hall canteen.

“We want no more Polish-Polish war, we want mutual respect and dialogue” said Biedroń at the launch convention of his party. “These last years have been cold and gloomy. Instead of talks we got unending conflict, instead of common good – party interests, instead of empathy – growing enmity. May this change at last” he said, speaking of “a frosty winter that must end at last. We are the spring, we bring in fresh air to Polish politics.”

It remains to be seen how popular will be the meat of the programme he outlined, such as phasing out the use of coal and fighting air pollution, ending the privileged status of the church, ending the politicisation of state media, new rules on transparency of salaries in the public sector, tighter rules on business activity by officials, and ending the ‘rubber stamp’ culture of Polish bureaucracy. An opinion poll run by IBRIS for Onet website suggested the support of some 6.4% – more than the Polish Peoples Party and Kukiz ’15 currently in Poland’s Parliament. But, in the final analysis, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

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“The public think the politicians don’t know or care about their lives; and the politicians feel misunderstood.” The words of Tony Blair, so take them as you will, but perhaps the politicians are understood only too well, and folk have good reason for their view.  Be that as it may, the Polish prime minister feels that criticism of his government’s legal reforms is due to their not being understood in western Europe.

Speaking to CNN during the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Mateusz Morawiecki said: “There is a lack of understanding [of] what is happening in Poland by our western neighbours.” Poland’s fellow EU members in western Europe were “on the right side of the Iron Curtain,” while Poland was on the wrong side and spent decades under communism.

He told CNN’s Richard Quest that the justice system was being changed to make it as efficient as those in western Europe but that the European Union Commission was seeking to “politicise” the continuing dispute with Poland over these changes. “Although Poland changed its provisions regarding [the] judiciary, the European Commission does not recognise it. I feel that some of the European Commissioners want to politicise this dispute”, Morawiecki said.

The prime minister added that although the new procedures for appointing judges is less dependent on the decisions of political bodies than hitherto, the Commission still contends that at the rule of law is under threat in Poland. Indeed, the deputy foreign minister for European affairs last month voiced surprise that notwithstanding Poland’s having complied with an ECJ ruling last year requiring it to reinstate Supreme Court judges who had been forced to retire, the EU had not withdrawn the procedure under article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union.

The Commission had begun the action against Poland in the ECJ because it argued that the changes to the appointment of judges to the Supreme court undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges.” Although it complied with the ECJ ruling – evidence, one might think, of the rule of law actually functioning – the Polish government has contended that its changes are needed to reform an inefficient and on occasion corrupt judicial system that has not fully rid itself of the taint of its communist past.

The complaint that Poland is misunderstood by non-Poles is a common one which extends beyond the political sphere. Many countries consider themselves to be exceptions and it is hardly surprising therefore, given its history, that feeling of Polish exceptionalism should be so strong. Of course, that is no excuse for Poland being given an easy ride where the EU has grounds for believing that there is a threat to fundamental EU values. Nevertheless, the de haut en bascommunications to Poland are perhaps not the most effective way of addressing a proud nation.

The Polish prime minister also had something to say about another great exercise in exceptionalism and, perhaps, misunderstanding, Brexit. When asked about the UK’s impending departure from the EU, Morawiecki said that he regretted it. He said that Poland stood united with the other EU member states on the deal the EU had negotiated with the British government. Earlier in the week Morawiecki had told the BBC that he would like to see more Poles return to Poland from the UK as Poland benefitted from strong economic growth and low unemployment. “So I would hope that many, many Poles would come back to Poland. So give us our people back.” Not, it hardly needs adding, that the British government has prevented Poles from coming or going at will, something that is unlikely to change whatever form of Brexit eventually emerges.

And should a no-deal Brexit occur, the Polish economy is ready according to deputy investment and development minister, Jerzy Kwieciński. as reported Poland’s PAP news agency, although he sees such a development as unlikely. He did say, however, that Brexit is one of Europe’s greatest economic and political challenges in 2019.

Every country is defined by its history: Poland by struggle, the United Kingdom by exceptionalism. But what the United Kingdom also had was Machiavellian pragmatism based on a rational analysis of its best interests and this seems curiously absent of late. Modern politicians seem ignorant of history – perhaps that’s why they misunderstand and are misunderstood.

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“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” The words of Robert Louis Stevenson. That that banquet should also include just desserts seems a given. And when it comes to certain plans on EU funding, the Polish Prime Minister’s office is hinting at feelings of indigestion.

On Friday, Michał Dworczyk, the head of the Prime Minister’s office, criticised what he called a “political initiative”, namely the plans to link payments under the European Union budget to the observance of the rule of law in member states. On the day following the approval of those plans by the EU parliament, Dworczyk said in an interview with public broadcaster Polish Radio that one of the politicians behind this plan was Frans Timmermans, the European Commission Vice-President, “who has ambitions to become the head of the European Commission in the next term.”

MEPs voted 397 to 158 for a draft law which would freeze EU funds if a government were found to be eroding democratic values. “Respecting the rule of law is a fundamental prerequisite for democracy, stability, prosperity and mutual trust,” said Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish centre-right MEP, who co-authored the parliament’s proposals. “Without the rule of law, the European Union loses its credibility in the eyes of the citizens and in the eyes of the world.”

According to these proposals, member states would lose EU funds for “generalised deficiencies in the rule of law”, such as failure to investigate fraud, the absence of independent courts, or failure to cooperate with EU anti-fraud inspectors. The plans would give the EU, aided by independent experts, the power to judge whether a government was breaching the rule of law. The EU parliament and EU governments would have four weeks to stop funds from being frozen. The changes were opposed by MEPs from Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), although MEPs from the opposition Civic Platform (PO) voted in favour.

Establishing a link between the dispensing of EU funds and the rule of law could have a large impact on some national budgets, especially in central and eastern Europe, where such funding has supported extensive infrastructure spending.  For example, cohesion policy funding makes up 61.17 per cent of all Polish public investment, one of the highest rates in the EU.

The final result of these plans will not be known for months since the proposal is linked to agreement on the EU budget for 2021-2028 which will not be agreed until after this year’s European parliamentary elections. Even without these proposals the budget debate is already more complicated given Brexit and the end of the United Kingdom’s net annul contribution of some €11 billion.

This draft law is the latest attempt by the EU to deal with countries which it sees as flouting the rule of law. Last December the EU commission began action against Poland under article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, but this procedure is seen as slow and cumbersome and some governments, including the UK, are reluctant to condemn fellow member states. The Hungarian prime minister has said Hungary would veto any action against Poland.

For its part, the Polish government has consistently argued that the changes it has instigated to the Polish judiciary are not an attack on the rule of law but rather a needed reform of Poland’s inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system which remains tainted in parts by the communist past. This argument is not accepted by opponents who have accused PiS of aiming to stack the courts with its own supporters and to dismantle the rule of law.

Be that as it may, despite opposition from member states in central and eastern Europe, the EU’s larger budget contributors, notably Germany, France and the Netherlands, wish to see tougher action against those they see as happily accepting EU funds while flouting those values that are the foundation of the EU.

He who pays the piper may well call the tune, but it is not difficult to understand, political differences aside, the sense of frustration that the EU seems always ready to accommodate France and Germany while not always understanding the particular problems faced by some newer and smaller member states.

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“No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.”  The words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which may be an unduly cynical place to start or a welcome dash of reality, depending on one’s point of view. Be that as it may, many continue to set great store by the potential of international conferences to offer new solutions to hitherto intractable problems. And they don’t come much more intractable, it seems, than peace in the Middle East. Thus, Poland enters the fray with plans to hold an international conference on the subject in Warsaw in February.

According to the US State Department, the United States and Poland will jointly host a ministerial meeting to promote peace and security in the Middle East in Warsaw on 13-14thFebruary. “The ministerial will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” a State Department statement said.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, told Fox News that the meeting would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security,” including “an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.” The GCC “is essential to countering the single greatest threat to regional stability: the Iranian regime,” the State Department said on Friday, adding Pompeo’s visit to GCC countries is aimed at building support for the US campaign of pressure against Iran.

Needless to say, this news has not been well received in Iran. As reported by PAP, on Sunday the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the chargé d’affaires of the Polish embassy in Tehran to protest against the conference. The chargé d’affaires, Wojciech Unolt, was told that the decision to host the conference was considered to be to be “an act of hostility towards Iran.” According to the Iranian state agency IRNA, Unolt was also informed that Iran might decide to implement retaliatory measures, although he explained the aim of the conference and said it was not anti-Iranian in nature.

As a first step, the Iranian ministry of culture on Sunday announced the suspension of a Polish film festival planned for later this month in Tehran, which suspension would continue until the Polish authorities show proper behaviour towards Iran. Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister tweeted on Friday: “Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever. Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”

It seems unlikely that the Polish government will be deterred. The Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “Poland considers the Middle East   peace issue as one of the most important challenges for foreign and defence policy. Halting fighting in this conflict-ridden region is a fundamental issue for ensuring global stability and peace.” The Polish foreign ministry said on Sunday that “the international community has the right to discuss various regional and global issues, and Poland [has the right] to co-organise a conference whose goal is to develop a platform for actions promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East region.”

The hope of Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz is that the US and EU positions on Iran will be brought closer and that the conference will make it possible to build a lasting platform for dialogue. According to him, invitations to the conference have been sent to more than 70 countries, including EU member states and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

It is perhaps a sign of Poland’s growing confidence in international affairs that it should have chosen to have venture onto this particular diplomatic minefield so publicly. If the conference is a success, it will underline Poland’s position as an increasingly important diplomatic force within the EU and beyond. Given the differing EU and US positions on Iran, some nimble foot work will be required if Poland is to derive lasting benefit from this particular foray into the fraught world of Middle East politics. Supporting the US may well be in Poland’s long-term interests, but with minefields as with much else in life, successfully to rush in where angels dare to tread, requires great fortitude.

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“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” The words of George Bernard Shaw which, since the New Year is often a time of resolutions to change something in one ‘s life, seem as good a place as anywhere to start. And, in the European Union at least, Poland’s prime minister has forecast that this year’s elections to the European parliament will lead to major changes in Brussels.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Brussels and the European Commission need to be very receptive to what is going on in different countries…..The voice of different counties, and in particular central European countries, will need to be heard much more clearly.” In his view, the institution of the EU needs reform, a view which he said was shared by prime ministers from other EU member states to whom he had spoken: “most of them agree that a serious revamp of procedures and institutions is needed, but everyone is waiting for the European elections.”

Marowiecki also took the opportunity to dismiss as “completely wrong” the suggestion that there was a slide to authoritarianism in central Europe. He repeated the Polish government’s argument that officials in Brussels do not understand the situation in post-communist countries, and that the judicial changes in Poland were necessary to remove the final vestiges of communist influence in the judiciary. Indeed, he went further and compared the controversy that these changes have attracted with the gilets jaunes protests in France which have seen violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

“When I look at what is happening in France, I wouldn’t say that France has an issue with the rule of law, but can you imagine if those brutal interventions would happen against demonstrators in Poland how loud the voices would be in Brussels, in Berlin or … maybe even Paris?” Morawiecki said. He might also have asked, for example, why Brussels appears prepared to take such a sanguine view of France’s expected breach of the requirement for EU member states’ budget deficits do not exceed three per cent of GDP, an example of one rule for certain EU member states and another for others, but I digress.

Of course, many would argue that there is a difference between a police response to civil disturbance, however violent it might have appeared, and a perceived assault – as the EU sees it – on the rule of law itself. The latter has seen the Polish government in conflict with the EU Commission for the last three years. The EU Commission took Poland to the European Court of Justice over the removal of some two dozen supreme court judges last summer. The ECJ ordered Poland to suspend the reform and the judges were re-instated in November.

There remain the wider concerns about other aspects of the judicial reform, such as changes to the functioning of the constitutional tribunal and the body that appoint Polish judges, and so the Article 7 procedure examining whether Poland complies with the EU rule of law values continues. This procedure, which could lead to the suspension of Poland’s EU voting rights should, according to Morawiecki, be dropped, since Poland had taken account of the Commission’s concerns about the reforms.

The prime minister said that if the Commission did not withdraw the proceedings it would show that the EU was using the conflict with Poland for political ends. “If they are keeping this open, I believe it is because some people want to politicise this, want to use it as an argument in a political campaign before the European parliament elections, and this is very dangerous,” he said.

Be that as it may, the forthcoming EU elections present another dilemma for Poland. Law and Justice (PiS) currently sits in the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the third largest in the European parliament with 73 MEPs, but the ECR is unlikely to survive when British Conservative party members leave once the UK exits the EU. One new home for PiS could be the European People’s Party, which already has Hungary’s prime minister’s Fidesz party in its ranks, Although Viktor Orban is seen as supporter of PiS, the EPP is also home to Poland’s main opposition party, the Civic Platform, which rules out PiS membership.

Thus, the significance of a meeting between PiS party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Italian interior minister and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, to take place in Warsaw on Wednesday to discuss, as reported by Italian daily la Repubblica, Poland’s membership in Salvini’s new European parliament group. Salvini has already persuaded French and Dutch far-right parties, the National Rally (formerly known as National Front) and the Party for Freedom (PVV), to join. If PiS, and Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, were to join the group, it could have 140 MEPs or so, making it the third largest in the European parliament.

Whatever happens, it seems that 2019 will indeed be a year of change, but whether also one of progress remains to be seen. Happy New Year!

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“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.” The words of Voltaire, which seem to be a rather pessimistic way of looking at optimism. Indeed, dare one say it, an almost Polish approach to optimism, where folk sometimes seem at their happiest dwelling on misfortune.  But I jest, because a recent survey suggests that Poles are more optimistic than pessimistic – at least for now.

According to a survey conducted by CBOS between November 29 and December 9 on a representative group of 942 adult respondents, 47 per cent of Poles are optimistic that the country is moving in the right direction, while 36 per cent are pessimistic about the future. Compared to a similar survey a month ago, the proportion of optimists had shrunk by 6 percentage points, and the number of pessimists risen by 7 points. The number of Poles who think the economy is doing well decreased by four percentage points over the same period.

Back to normal then. Yet there are reasons for optimism, particularly on the economic front. For example, average wages in Poland rose 7.7 per cent in November compared with November 2017, the Central Statistical Office (GUS) announced on Tuesday, with the average Polish monthly wage in November being PLN 4,966.61 (EUR 1,158, USD 1,317). And, based on employers with more than nine employees, employment in Polish businesses increased by three per cent over the year. Overall, unemployment was 5.8 per cent in November, having been at a new 28-year low of 5.7 percent in September.

Industrial production grew by 4.7 per cent in November compared with same month last year, GUS announced on Wednesday, although some 3.6 per cent lower than in October. Output in the construction and assembly sector rose by 17.1 per cent in November on a year on year basis, and 0.3 per cent on a month on month basis. A total of 163,800 new homes were completed in the first 11 months of this year, 2.5 per cent more than in the same period in 2017.

From which it will come as no surprise that the Polish economy is expected to grow by over five per cent this year. According to said Piotr Arak, director of the Polish Economic Institute. “This year was better in terms of the economy than many people and institutions expected,” with both private consumption and public investment having driven growth.

As announced by GU S at the end of last month, the Polish economy grew by   5.1 per cent in the third quarter of this year, prompting Enterprise and Technology MinisterJadwiga Emilewicz to say at the time that macroeconomic data indicates Poland has the fastest-growing economy in the European Union. She added that Poland had stable growth fundamentals, with domestic consumption remaining high and investment figures encouraging.

The public finances are also in good shape. The Polish finance minister said on Tuesday that both the budget deficit and debt are shrinking on the back of efforts to ensure spending discipline and growing tax revenue. “We are maintaining discipline in government expenditure and high growth in tax revenue, thanks to which we are consistently reducing the budget deficit and debt,” Teresa Czerwińska said, as quoted by Poland’s PAP news agency. She said that after the first 11 months of the year, Poland’s budget showed a surplus which was higher than a month earlier. Czerwińska told the PAP news agency that Poland was on track to end 2018 with a general government deficit of around 0.5 per cent of GDP. “Step by step we are building sustainable public finances,” she said.

All of which are reasons for genuine optimism, especially if one looks at what’s happening elsewhere, particularly the UK, where the latest fall-out from the Brexit uncertainty is the projection that the UK’s GDP will fall from fifth to seventh in the world. There may be clouds on the horizon, economic and geo-political, but perhaps, in this season of goodwill, we might end on an optimistic note and look positively to the future.

Thank you for reading in 2018; please continue to do so in 2019. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Words attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu which, while obviously true when applied to water’s ability to erode rocks over time, bespeak of a flexibility largely absent – perhaps understandably so – from the Brexit negotiations. With the constant talk of red lines, non-negotiable principles, respecting the will of the people, and the like, it was never going to be straight forward to reconcile the irreconcilable: all the advantages of membership of the European Union with all the advantages of non-membership. Nevertheless, as the Brexit journey reaches a critical point, the Polish foreign minister has urged the EU to take a flexible approach.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters that Poland was advocating “a certain measure of flexibility” since a no-deal Brexit – so beloved of some in the UK – would be the “worst solution”, not just for the UK but for the almost one million Poles who work and live in the UK. This comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday postponed a parliamentary vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement she had negotiated with the EU since, as May herself told the House of Commons, she wished to avoid a situation where “the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.”

May told the Commons that she would return to Brussels to seek more concessions while the European Commission said it did not intend to renegotiate the agreement, albeit that it might explore ways of helping Parliament to ratify the deal, whatever that means. The simple fact of the matter is that May has managed to come up with a withdrawal agreement that satisfies nobody except, perhaps, the EU. While all rational thinkers might have expected the deal to offer worse terms than membership, the withdrawal agreement, all 585 pages of it, seems not only to reduce the benefits available to the UK, but also to impose additional restrictions and, potentially, financial commitments. And as a binding international treaty, it commits the UK neither to heaven nor hell but perpetual purgatory, the escape from which would be wholly in the gift of the EU. No wonder everybody from ardent leavers to committed remainers is against it.

So where next? That depends on whether common sense prevails. While it is noble that Parliament does indeed feel the need – against its better judgement – to respect the will of the people as manifest in the result of the referendum in 2016, as circumstances change, so must one’s opinions. For anybody brought up in the British parliamentary tradition with its emphasis on genuine democratic accountability, something seemingly absent from most continental European systems, the EU has always been problematic. And it is no answer to say economic well-being should always trump democratic considerations, or you end up with some totalitarian system: rampant crony capitalism with little real freedom – China perhaps.

Be that as it may, one has to start from where one actually is rather than from where one would like to be. And, after 45 years in the EU and its predecessor manifestations, leaving was always going to be a complex task with questionable immediate benefits for either side. Of course, the Germans will continue to wish to sell us their cars and the French their wine, but the relationship is more complicated than finished good. Supply chains and just in time manufacturing mean that parts cross borders many times before the finished goods do. Interrupt that and the Germans will continue to sell us their cars, but they may simply decide not to build them in the UK. Which has an impact on the livelihoods of many folk, for whom the realisation that a no-deal Brexit, however attractive in economic laboratory conditions, may take a generation from which to recover is cold comfort, however they voted.

No wonder that over 61 per cent of Poles, according to a survey by IBRiS, believe that Brexit will have a negative impact on Poland. According to the survey, 10 per cent of respondents said Brexit could be beneficial for Poland, over 15 per cent said it would have no effect on Poland, while 13 per cent were undecided. This despite that fact that the withdrawal agreement includes, according to Polish Radio’s IAR news agency the two most important points for Poland: guarantees of EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit, and a pledge that the UK will continue to contribute to the EU budget after Britain leaves.

So, to answer my question: tear up the withdrawal agreement and start again. The European Court of Justice helpfully ruled on Monday that the UK is free to withdraw the article 50 notice unilaterally before 29thMarch 2019. There is a better deal to be done for the long-term advantage of UK than those who advocate either a scorched earth Brexit or perpetual vassalage, a false dichotomy if ever there were one.

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Climate Change

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” The words of Sir David Attenborough, speaking on Monday at the opening ceremony of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks being held in Katowice in Poland. The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP24, runs until 14thDecember.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, told delegates from almost 200 countries that climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many countries. He said that the world is “nowhere near where it needs to be” on the transition to a low-carbon economy. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.” But, the UN Secretary-General said, the conference was an effort to “right the ship” and he would convene a climate summit next year to discuss next steps. The solution to every problem is always one summit away it seems.

And, apart from hosting the conference, where is Poland in all this? Speaking at the opening ceremony President Andrzej Duda said that Poland was “ready to take its share of responsibility for international security,” including in terms of climate policy. Duda said that Poland, at present marking the centenary of its recovered independence, was “actively working for peaceful cooperation between states, based on the principles of observance of international law, equality, solidarity and mutual respect.”

This COP is the first to be held since the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C came out in October. The IPCC stated that to keep to the 1.5C goal, governments would have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030. But a UN Emissions gap report 2018 showed that CO2 emissions are actually rising again after being relatively stable for four years.

According to reports on Polish Radio, the conference aims to adopt a road map for putting into practice the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks to slow climate change. Heads of state attending the conference were expected to be asked to adopt a Declaration on Just Transition drafted by the Polish government to ensure a fair and solidarity-based transformation amid efforts to protect the climate while maintaining economic development and jobs.

Needless to say, you can’t please everyone all the time, and the fact that COP24 is taking place in a strong coal region in a city that is home to the largest coal company in the EU, troubles some government negotiators and observers alike. So much for preaching the gospel of carbon reduction amongst the unfaithful, then, and attempting to persuade them of the error of their ways.

For its part, the Polish government said that it will stick with coal and that it is planning to invest in the construction of a new coal mine in Silesia next year. As Andrzej Duda said in his opening remarks, coal “does not contradict the protection of the climate and the progress of climate protection.” But there’s more. As Sébastien Duyck, a senior attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law, said, “unfortunately, this week’s announcement by the Polish presidency that it will include coal companies as sponsors of the COP sends a very worrisome signal before the conference even begins”. Polish Deputy Environment Minister, Michał Kurtyka, took over the presidency of the UN climate summit on Sunday.

And in a move that some may consider beyond parody, the Polish government also decided to deck the halls of the exhibition centre with piles of coal. As delegates entered the hall, escaping the sweet air of Katowice, fragrant with smell of coal, they were greeted by a band of coal miners. Since 78 per cent of its power comes from coal, Poland has a vested interest in keeping it alive from both an economic and a political standpoint. But this particular tide of history may be turning against Poland – science would suggest that burning coal is no longer viable.

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“Our capacity to retaliate must be, and is, massive in order to deter all forms of aggression.” The words of John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State under president Eisenhower, who concentrated on building and strengthening Cold War alliances, especially NATO. Different times, different measures perhaps, but the problem of aggression has not gone away. And the capacity to retaliate must extend beyond men and matérielbut also include the necessary will power. Thus, the question of how to deal with the latest Russian aggression against Ukraine which saw three Ukrainian naval vessels fired on and seized by Russia near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and divides Crimea from Russia.

Polish deputy prime minister Piotr Gliński said: “We cannot allow any manifestations of aggression, especially from a country which has behaved aggressively before in recent years and a country that borders Poland.” And in a statement on its website, the Polish foreign ministry wrote: “We strongly condemn Russia’s aggressive actions and call on its authorities to respect international law. We urge both sides to show restraint in the current situation, which may pose a threat to the stability of European security.”

Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s defence minister, said on Monday that there are no signs that a naval stand-off between Ukraine and Russia does pose an increased threat to Poland. He also told a news conference that he had instructed military commanders and state agency chiefs “to monitor the situation on a continuing basis and to report continually on how it develops.” Since both Ukraine and Russia are Poland’s neighbours, Błaszczak said that “what is happening in eastern Ukraine also affects the situation in Poland”.

Ukrainian president Poroshenko has held telephone talks with Polish president Andrzej Duda about the crisis, according to Krzysztof Szczerski, the latter’s chief foreign policy adviser. “We believe that stepping up the sanctions regime against Russia should be considered and discussed with allies internationally,” he said, as quoted by public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency.

Russia’s FSB security service said that the Ukrainian ships had entered Russian territorial waters illegally, and a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry has accused the Ukrainian authorities of “provocation.” This seems unlikely. The Ukrainian ships were entitled to be there, and a 2003 treaty guarantees the rights of both nations to use those waters.

So far, so typical. But to what end? The war between Russia and Ukraine continues in the background, albeit that few seem to remember, so it probably serves Putin to remind folk that the occupation of Crimea is not going to end soon. It may also be that it serves as a useful diversion from Russian domestic politics where there have been protests against the changes to the pension laws in Russia and a frustration with the lacklustre economy.

Above all, Putin probably did it simply because he can. The UK, a staunch supporter of sanctions against Russia, is distracted with the continuing negotiations over its withdrawal from the EU and the United States has also taken its eye off the ball, with president Trump potentially facing an investigation into his own past dealings with Russia. Poland managed to publish its official condemnation of Russian aggression long before the US reacted, with the US ambassador to the United Nations’ denunciation of Russia’s “outlaw actions” coming many hours after other statements, the US State Department still not by then having commented. A man with a plan, however weak he may be, will always beat a stronger opponent if the latter is disorganised. Putin presumably counts on this and, until Russia is faced with something rather more effective than ritual condemnation and angry tweets, this particular conflict is likely to rumble on for some time, alas.

Be that as it may, and although nobody is actually yet advocating military action against Russia, the incident does make one wonder whether an EU army would be any more of a deterrent.  The answer must be a resounding no. Those siren voices advocating this seem blind to the dangers of a weakened NATO, whose strength lies largely in the massive US military contribution which, if turned his direction, is the one thing that would give Putin pause for thought. An EU army, without US capabilities, and representing countries, some of whom are neutral, is unlikely to deter Russia. Nordstream 2anybody?

Indeed, one imagines that Putin would be delighted to see NATO weakened in this way, a point not lost on Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “We would like Europe as a whole to strengthen its military potential,” Morawiecki said in a TVP Info interview from Brussels, “but at the same time today we emphasize that the only real guarantor of security in Europe, including the eastern flank of NATO, is the US.” He is not wrong.

And finally, on a separate note, this is my 300th blog post. When I started, I did not expect something I created for my own amusement to continue for so many years, but I am glad it has.  Thank you to all those who are kind enough to say you like these pieces. Your encouragement means much.


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“Though the bribe be small, yet the fault is great.” The words of Edward Coke, the great Elizabethan jurist. How much greater, then, the fault if the bribe be big? For that is the question potentially facing the Polish government as it is alleged that the head of Poland’s financial supervision authority (KNF) solicited a bribe from a private bank.

On Tuesday newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that Leszek Czarnecki, the owner of Getin Noble Bank, had alleged that Marek Chrzanowski had offered him favourable treatment in return for about PLN 40 million (EUR 9.3 million, USD 10.5 million). The KNF denied that Chrzanowski had made such an offer and claimed that the report by Gazeta Wyborcza was untrue. In a statement, the KNF said Chrzanowski had “taken legal steps in connection with false accusations put forward by Mr. Czarnecki and in connection with defamation” which it claimed was aimed at undermining public trust in the head of the KNF.

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki demanded an immediate explanation from the KNF president, and directed the country’s prosecutors and state agencies to “promptly gather information” on the matter, his chief of staff told Polish radio station RMF FM on Tuesday. Michał Dworczyk, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that “there will be no leniency” if the allegations against Chrzanowski proved to be true. Chrzanowski resigned, while insisting that he had done nothing wrong.

As reported by theFinancial Times, Czarnecki and Chrzanowski met in the latter’s office on 28th March, which meeting was recorded by Czarnecki. During this meeting, the head of the KNF, according to the deposition which Czarnecki made to prosecutors, was advised to engage a particular lawyer and to pay him over three years a fee which Czarnecki understood to be equal to one per cent of the value of Getin Bank.

The meeting discussed Getin Bank’s financial problems and the fee was to be for “support and confirmation of the procedure of restructuring of the bank, including ensuring protection by KNF.” In the recording the head of the KNF is heard telling Czarnecki: “I don’t know whether that suits you. You can talk with him. However, it seems to me that it is a solution that in a certain way is motivating in the environment in which exists, and we are talking about this institution and restructuring this institution.” Czarnecki said he did not contact the lawyer or pay any money.

A KNF spokesman said that the KNF interprets Czarnecki’s action as an attempt to influence the regulator as he had not immediately notified the prosecutor as he should have done in the case of a justified suspicion that a crime had been committed. Czarnecki explained the delay in reporting the crime – he submitted his deposition to the national prosecutor’s office on 7th November – as being due to his concern about the impact that allegations would have on the bank.

Rather surprisingly, one might think, despite resigning on Tuesday, Marek Chrzanowski spent several hours in the KNF office on Wednesday with possible access to documents that might be of interest to investigators and which hadn’t been yet taken away. Indeed, the fact that the authorities have not yet secured the material is, according to experienced prosecutors who were contacted by, “scandalous”. “It may be assumed that certain things may get lost,” said one. Be that as it may, on Thursday, Marcin Pachucki was appointed as the acting head of the KNF. Pachucki has been the deputy head of the KNF, responsible for the oversight of Poland’s capital and insurance markets.

Is it a case of there being no smoke without fire, or, as the KNF suggests, an accusation that conveniently coincides with media reports that the regulator may take action in relation to another lender under the control of Mr. Czarnecki? We won’t know for sure until the investigation is concluded, but it is clear that the regulator, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. The integrity of the financial market in Poland, as elsewhere, depends on this. Which is no doubt why the prime minister, a former banker himself, was so quick to act.

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