Nicholas Richardson
News

Emigration

“A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted.” The words of economist Thomas Malthus which ring as true today – perhaps even more loudly – as they did in the nineteenth century. But unhappiness or not, Poland is standing firm in its resistance to relocating those emigrating from the unhappy parts of the Middle East and Africa. Poland has not accepted any such refugees as part of an EU programme to relocate them from camps in Italy and Greece.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has denied that this refusal means that Poland is not solidary with its EU partners, adding that the country is not alone in failing to relocate migrants. In September 2015, EU leaders agreed to relocate some 160,000 migrants out of more tham two million who have arrived in Europe since 2015 but, as Szydło told the Belgian Le Soir, European Union countries have accepted only 20,000 people so far.

She added that relocating so few people was not a solution to the problem. Poland was supporting those in need by increasing humanitarian aid to the victims of the war in Syria by working with aid organisations to rebuild hospitals. Szydło said that this form of help in was cheaper and more effective, and that EU migration policy was not halting further waves of migrants to Europe. For good measure, she added that migrants were not interested in staying in Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic but would head for richer countries.

This has cut little ice with the EU Commission which last week launched procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic over “non-compliance with their obligations under the 2015 Council Decisions on relocation” of migrants. This likely to do little to improve EU-Poland relations coming on top of the concerns – vigorously denied by the Polish government – about the state of the rule of law in Poland.

The Commission will now send Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary an official letter asking them to accept the quotas of migrants allocated to them. If there is no reply or it judges the response inadequate, the Commission will send a second letter, following which the Commission may file a case to the EU Court of Justice. However, the EU Brussels can only apply for sanctions to be imposed when a country ignores a ruling by the judges in Luxembourg, so the whole process could take years.

For his part, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said the EU “made the wrong decision” in 2015 when it qualified thousands of immigrants as “refugees”. “Most of [these people] are not refugees, only immigrants who have illegally come into Europe.” In a separate interview published on Wednesday, Waszczykowski said that Poland is open to immigration and that “We accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Ukraine.”

Be that as it may, one might have hoped for a more charitable response from the Polish government, especially from a governing party which sets such store by its support for the Church, which has itself reminded the government of its Christian duty in this regard, and from a country whose citizens have been quite happy to emigrate given the chance. And while it is understandable that, given its history of foreign occupation, Poland might wish to take a more cautious line, a blanket refusal to help is not wholly compatible with EU solidarity from which Poland has benefitted greatly in recent years.

The real difficulty is that number of problems have become mixed together. First, those fleeing one or more of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who clearly need our help. Second, those who are simply seeking better a life, a way of earning their living which their home countries cannot provide, and who pose no danger. Third, the fear of militant Islamicism and the suspicion that terrorists are posing as refugees to enter Europe. Far easier, in these circumstances to say no to everybody. And, even if it pointed out that more often than not the terrorist attacks are by nationals not immigrants, this is merely seen as a warning against the long term effects of the large scale immigration of the kind seen in the UK and France.

It should be possible to distinguish between each group and deal with them accordingly a point made by Poland’s deputy Defence Minister Michał Dworczyk who said last week, “Until we have a mechanism to verify people who can settle in Poland, we will not accept them.” “In some cases, we are unable to verify who these people are and what their intentions are. And if there is a shadow of a doubt, it is the duty of every state, including Poland, to ensure the safety of its citizens,” he added. And in alignment with Hungary and Czech, this latter day figurative Jan Sobieski at the gates of Vienna approach fits well with how the government sees its role in Europe and is unlikely to be abandoned soon.

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Unfair Competition

“Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.” The words of Herbert Hoover which while generally acknowledged to be true, are inevitably of little comfort to whichever group is suffering the icy winds of competition at any particular time. And this time it is the taxi drivers of Poland who began protests to demand that cheap competition be restricted.

The protests were held in Warsaw, Łódź, Poznań and Wrocław, with drivers announcing that they would drive in convoys at low speed, exacerbating morning rush-hour problems. Jarosław Iglikowski, the head of the Warsaw Taxi Drivers’ trade union, said more than 2,000 drivers were taking part in the Warsaw protest. He said the protests were not just about the popular Uber platform – against which there have been protests elsewhere in Europe – but also over other carriers which the taxi drivers claim are operating unlawfully. The drivers planned to hand in petitions with their demands at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Construction, and the Ministry of Finance. The protest was scheduled to end at around 1 p.m.

It may seem an odd way of protesting. By inconveniencing the very folk on whom the taxi drivers rely for income and driving many of them into the eager embrace of Uber, which was no doubt delighted by the opportunity for some surge pricing, the taxi drivers have hardly advanced their own cause and will have lost some passengers to Uber for good. But do the taxi drivers have a point?

In any regulated market, those that have paid to access that market whether by way of licence fees, the need to comply with certain minimum standards of training, employment regulations or whatever, will rightly feel aggrieved if others are able to access the same pool of customers free of the costs which are imposed on licensed operators. On the other hand, it may be argued that Uber offers a better service. It is easy to order, there is a map of the journey and, surge pricing apart, the fare is very competitive. Reliant as they are on GPS, Uber drivers sometimes take slightly unconventional routes, but that apart the service is generally very good. After all, there is nothing to stop conventional taxi firms offering similar technology, as some do.

And it is not only taxis. Polish international transport companies are set to protest against a decision that would result in drivers working abroad being paid more. The European Commission said that drivers who spend at least three days each month in a different country should be paid that country’s minimum wage. This could make Polish companies less competitive and Poland’s Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk said Poland would seek allies to help block these proposed changes, which “directly hit the international transport sector, not only in Poland … but in all of Europe”.

The head of Poland’s International Association of Road Carriers Jan Buczek said: “The [Polish] transport sector is very worried by the fact that the European Commission, which we thought was a guardian of order in the European Union … is in fact inclined to give in to pressure and lobbying by rich countries … rather than doing everything so that the basic rules of the game in the EU be upheld”. The European Commission’s decision follows lobbying from France and Germany that they were being undercut by Central and Eastern European rivals. Although France and Germany introduced new laws to ensure that foreign drivers are paid according to French and German minimum wages, last year the European Commission decided to take legal action against them, saying that paying foreign drivers the minimum wage from day one was “disproportionate”.

Poland is part of the EU’s single market, so it should be able to take advantage of lower wage rates to win business but what about countries whose lower costs are based not only low wages but on a virtual lack of any form of employee protection, for example. Should goods which are made under conditions which would simply not be acceptable in the EU be allowed to be sold in EU markets to the detriment of producers who are based in the EU. If yes, how do we avoid a race to the bottom and mass unemployment as workers compete for fewer jobs at lower wages while the true cost savings are seen in the wealth that accumulates in ever fewer hands. Globalization and technological advance have brought many benefits, but also new problems which need to be addressed.

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Projections

“Of course, economic forecasts must be revised when new information arrives and are thus necessarily provisional.” The words of Ben Bernanke, for eight years chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, which are self-evidently correct and underline the self-evident point that nobody can predict the future of the economy, or anything, with certainty, Be that as it may, in Poland the economy, despite some concerns about developments in the political sphere, seems to be performing well, with a number of economic forecasts being revised upwards.

On Thursday, the European Commission raised its forecast for Polish GDP growth for 2017 from 3.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent and from 3.1 per cent to 3.2 per cent for 2018. “The continuation of solid growth in private consumption, together with a recovery in investment, is forecast to lead to faster economic growth in 2017 and 2018,” the commission said. The EC also noted that the Polish labour market is performing well, predicting that unemployment will fall from 6.2 percent – as calculated using Eurostat’s methods – in 2016 to 5.2 percent in 2017 and 4.4 percent in 2018. The commission also said that a recently introduced lower retirement age could put pressure on the workforce.

Deputy prime minister and development and finance minister, Mateusz Morawiecki told Poland’s PAP news agency last week that the EC’s latest projection is “too conservative” and that GDP growth in 2017 may exceed the government’s own “cautious” target of 3.6 per cent and suggested that economic growth in the first quarter of this was probably faster than most economists expected.

And, it seems, he may have been right. According to the central statistical office on Tuesday, in a flash estimate and giving seasonally unadjusted figures, the economy grew by 4 per cent, year on year, in the first quarter. Economists surveyed by the PAP Biznes news agency had expected Polish GDP to grow 3.9 percent year on year. “Seasonally adjusted GDP… increased by 1.0 percent in real terms compared to the previous quarter and was 4.1 per cent higher than a year ago,” the statistical office said. In seasonally unadjusted terms, GDP rose 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. In the third quarter it increased by 2.4 pe rcent, in the second quarter by 3 per cent and in the first quarter by 2.9 per cent. Last year as a whole saw GDP growth of 2.7 per cent.

Which is encouraging, as is the decision by ratings agency Moody’s to raise its outlook for Poland from negative to stable while maintaining the A2 credit rating. In a statement on Friday, the agency said that “the primary driver … is Moody’s expectation that the downside risks to the fiscal stance that led to the negative outlook one year ago are abating,” Moody’s added that the investment climate under PiS had not significantly deteriorated, fear of such a deterioration having been among the factors behind the agency’s decision to lower Poland’s outlook from stable to negative last year. Friday’s announcement reversed that downgrade. “Despite some increase in policy uncertainty post-2015 elections, the evidence does not suggest that the investment climate has materially weakened,” Moody’s said.

According to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Morawiecki said that Moody’s decision to raise Poland’s outlook to stable was rational, the risks which the agency noted a year ago when it lowered the outlook not having materialized. He said that Moody’s admitted that Poland’s finances as at the end of 2016 exceeded the agency’s experts’ expectations. And with inflation steady at two per cent and unemployment at 26 year low of 7.7 per cent at the end of April, the economy at least seems in safe hands.

Which is good news. And while in the short term those with political axes to grind may consider that a strong economy insulates them from all criticism, there are still concerns in some quarters about the overall direction of democracy in Poland. The shenanigans over the constitutional tribunal, changes to the way judges are appointed, the effective political control of state owned media, the suggestion that the constitution needs change, without as yet those changes being articulated, and the appearance Nazi style uniformed, banner waving marchers on the streets, leave many with a feeling of unease. All politicians love power and seek to accrue more of it to themselves, but the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Folk need to remember they hold leasehold interests, not freeholds.

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Opening

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keep leading us down new paths.” The words of Walt Disney whose curiosity produced wonderful films. On a more practical level, the Polish prime minister Beata Szydło, is also keen on opening new doors. Congratulating Emmanuel Macron on Monday for winning the presidential election in France, she said she hoped he would bring a “new opening” in bilateral relations.

Commenting on the tasks facing Macron, Szydło said that: “Europe is at a turning point – we have to face internal challenges related to Brexit and comprehensive reform of the EU, and external ones, dominated by security issues and the migration crisis.” In this context she added that it was important for allies to speak with one voice and work together to ensure lasting peace and prosperity. “Polish-French cooperation and the Weimar Triangle should play an important role in this process,” said Szydło. “In this context, I hope that your presidency will bring a new opening in our bilateral relations, at the political, economic and investment levels,” she said.

That some new opening is needed arises from Macron’s suggestion during his election campaign that Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, is a “friend and ally” of Marine Le Pen, who was Macron’s opponent in the second round of the French Presidential election, placing Kaczyński alongside the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Needless to say this suggestion was not greeted warmly in Warsaw.

To add injury to insult it was also reported in the French press that Macron had suggested that he wanted sanctions against Poland, which he said had “violated all the EU’s principles”. While speaking to striking workers at a Whirlpool white goods factory, which will move some of its production to Poland, Macron accused Poland of playing on differences in labour costs. This prompted Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski to respond that the “unjustified” accusations by Macron against Warsaw arose from France’s inability to compete with the ever-stronger economies to the east. And in an interview with Poland’s Do Rzeczy weekly conducted before Macron’s win, Szydło had said Warsaw would cooperate with the new French president, but added that “a politician who is bidding for important functions should weigh [his] words more.”

Macron is no stranger to remarks that seem less than well thought out. As reported in The Times today, he would like British companies to be locked out the EU market for public contracts, based on his proposal for a “buy European act” reserving access to public procurement deals to companies that produce most of their goods or services in the EU. Not only does this ignore how open the UK market has been, and is likely to remain to French companies, especially in the utilities sector, but it is contrary to the policy of the EU Commission which has said recently that it would “never advocate a buy European only policy.” It would also put the EU in conflict with WTO rules, particularly the EU’s commitments under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, it seems, that is unlikely to bother Macron.

It might bother Chancellor Merkel, Germany having joined the UK in the past to scupper attempts to restrict foreign companies. Indeed, one might even begin to feel sorry for Merkel, as she tries to guide the EU to make sense of it all. She may have Macron as her new right hand man, but Juncker’s inability even to attend a dinner without leaking something, is an unnecessary irritant. No wonder she is reported to found his remarks unhelpful. Still, Macron at least should respond well to any school marmish reining in.

Be that as it may, let’s hope Szydło is able to achieve something worthwhile for Poland from the Polish-French intergovernmental consultations to which she has invited Macron. It is not clear history is on her side. Macron is the youngest French head of state since Napoleon to whom, it should be remembered, Marie Walewska was persuaded to surrender her virtue for the greater good of Poland. Times have moved on, and nobody is suggesting any such sacrifice would be appropriate in this day and age, but the attitude of France to Poland may be little different. After all, to use Macron’s own language, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Referendum

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” “We the people are the masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” The words, of course, of Abraham Lincoln, talking about the US constitution, but words which are no less relevant today, and no less relevant in Poland, which on Wednesday celebrated Constitution Day, a national holiday.

The holiday marks the anniversary of the signing of the Polish constitution in 1791, the first such document in Europe, coming a few years after the signing of the US constitution in 1787. This constitution was not universally welcome by Poland’s neighbours and the war that followed – which sadly set Pole against Pole – resulted in the second partition of Poland in 1793 with Prussia and Russia helping themselves helping themselves to large swathes of Polish territory. Following a final partition in 1795, Poland became independent again following the First Word War and 3rd May became a public holiday until banned by the Communist government after the Second World War, to be restored as public holiday in 1990.

In a speech from the Royal Castle, President Andrzej Duda said that the nation should decide whether to introduce changes to the current constitution, and proposed that a referendum be held on the matter next year, the hundredth anniversary of Poland’s independence. “It’s time for a serious constitutional debate, not just with politicians but with the whole nation.” ”Poles have a right to say whether the constitution, which has been in force for 20 years, should be changed,” he said. Twenty years is not long in the life of a constitution.

Poles themselves should be able to decide on the direction of the country’s development. “which civil rights, which freedoms must be more strongly highlighted,” he said. Poland “should be a country where everyone is absolutely equal before the law.” “Where there are no unfounded privileges, where there are no better castes of citizens, were all citizens are united. This is a task which, in my opinion as president, must be fulfilled,” he continued.

Admirable sentiments and, funnily enough, the situation which most folk seemed to have thought was the case up until the shenanigans over the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Tribunal following the formation of the PiS government after the elections in October 2015. How wrong they were, and it took the president sitting late into the night making judicial appointments, and swift action in the Polish parliament to sort it out.

Some of these changes were themselves ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Tribunal, and the government took the unusual step of not publishing the rulings of Tribunal which had the effect of preventing them legally coming into force. This led the EU Commission, and the Venice Commission 9which has been invited by the government to do so) to begin investigations into the rule of law in Poland, with the former threatening, but not yet applying, sanctions under EU treaties.

Under the current constitution, changes to the constitution require to be approved a two-thirds majority in parliament, a majority which the government does not have. It is not clear to which particular parts of the constitution the government takes exception other than, presumably, those which in any way restrict the ability of the government to overcome all opposition. After all, if, as some argue, the current constitution is being breached, why bother with a new one? Of course, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the accrual of power for its own sake becomes tempting, especially if one casts envious glances towards Hungary and Turkey. Add to this the heady mixture of the enemy without, the “wrong sort” of Pole within and lots of paramilitary type marching with flags and banners and one is on a slippery slope.

But this, of course, is idle speculation. No doubt, if asked, the majority of Poles – assuming the low turn outs that greeted the 2015 election are not repeated – would prefer constitutional arrangements that guarantee the liberal democracy that has served Poland so well over the last quarter century. If history has taught us anything, it is that partisan political tampering with the constitution seldom ends well, least of all for this in whose name it is done.

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Accident

“Men may change their climate, but they cannot change their nature. A man that goes out a fool cannot ride or sail himself into common sense.” The words of Joseph Addison. Nor, it appears, is he able to drive himself into common sense. That is, if the annual toll of Easter road traffic accidents in Poland is anything by which to go.

The good news is that there was slightly less carnage this year than last, with nineteen persons killed in 187 accidents over the Easter weekend compared with 29 killed in 173 accidents in 2016. The number of persons injured was slightly up at 261 compared with 252 last year. Police said that the stopped 756 drink drivers this year compared with 876 last year. Over 10,000 police offers were out on patrol checking for excessive speed and alcohol.

The causes? As usual – excessive speed, failure to give other drivers the right of way, incorrect overtaking and drink driving. Indeed, even here in Warsaw hardly a day passes without my witnessing a crash of some sort and acts of driving stupidity, such as turning a corner while changing gear while holding a mobile telephone. Since most cars come equipped with hands free technology there really is no excuse. But, of course, the driver is never to blame, it’s always the road or the weather, or whatever. How to combat the arrogance of ignorance and stupidity?

Still, the police soldier on, and those in north eastern Poland are preparing to train US soldiers from a NATO battalion based in Orzysz how to drive safely in Poland. Initially the theoretical training will be given to officers, who wil pass on the information to their men, with classes focused on traffic rules and other Polish regulations. Police spokeswoman Anna Szypczyńska from nearby Pisz told the PAP news agency: “We want to make sure that US soldiers – while travelling in their armoured vehicles or when driving civilian vehicles when off duty – are provided with information about the speed limits in Poland and about the rules governing alcohol consumption, for example about when police have the right to confiscate a driving licence.” She added that the roads in Poland’s Mazurian Lake District, where the soldiers are stationed, are not highways; they are narrow and winding and thus difficult for drivers, with many roadside trees.

Ah yes, the dreaded tree, a particular hazard for government drivers who have been involved in a car crash every month so far this year, with the latest, in April , involving the driver of the car of a senior general. Perhaps this goes some way to explain the government’s apparent animus towards trees, although probably not. To paraphrase Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, to crash one car may be regarded as a misfortune, to crash two looks like carelessness, to crash three looks like incompetence, and to crash four looks like an alarming habit. Perhaps government drivers should visit Pisz for a refresher.

Be that as it may, The US soldiers will also be informed about Poland’s criminal laws to “ensure the security of their stay” in the region, “especially during their free time outside the barracks,” she said. “We want to tell them about offences that are punishable in Poland, such as drinking alcohol in public places or disturbing public order,” Szypczyńska added. According to the police in Pisz, the planned training is purely “preventive in nature” as there have been no cases of police intervention involving NATO soldiers stationed in the area so far.

And when it comes to two wheels, the position is hardly rosier. There have been 700 accidents involving motorcycles on Polish roads so far this year, with several dozen deaths and over 700 persons injured. As the weather improves more cyclists and motorcyclists are out and about. Police have urged folk to be careful and slow down. Again, speaking from experience, the concept of cycles travelling along dedicated cycle lanes seems to be an alien concept with pedestrians regularly impeding progress, and cyclists riding three or four abreast wholly oblivious of other cyclists either behind or heading towards them. After all, what better place to look down at your smart phone than while cycling, listening to your favourite music through earphones. After all, if you can’t see it or hear it, the danger can’t be there.

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Truth

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” The words of Isaac Newton, which are worth remembering in an age when so many leaders seem not so much economical with the truth as downright parsimonious. For them why the simple truth when perceived political advantage is to be found in the multiplicity and confusion of things? And this week in Poland, the truth is that the government does not accept the truth of the official report into the crash on 10th April, 2010, in Smolensk, western Russia, of the Polish aeroplane carrying the then President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and 94 others, killing everyone on board.

Speaking on Monday at commemorations to mark the seventh anniversary of the disaster, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, said that there is a “very high degree of certainty” that an explosion destroyed the aeroplane. He also said that Russian control tower staff were likely at fault in how they “without a doubt deliberately” guided in the aircraft. “Up to now there were various theories and we often approached the truth but there was not this degree of credibility,” he added. That much is true.

These comments came after, and echoed, the preliminary conclusions of a report on Monday by a new government sub-commission set up by minister of defence Antoni Macierewicz after PiS came to power in October 2015. PiS did not accept the earlier commission set up by the previous Civic Platform-led government which blamed mistakes by the Polish pilots and Russian air traffic controllers for the crash (please see Crash).

“The last phase of the tragedy was caused by an explosion which took place in the hull, and which destroyed the plane, breaking it up into fragments and tens of thousands of shards, at the same time killing the passengers,” said a commentary accompanying a video presentation which outlined the work of the sub-commission so far. “As a result of experiments, we can say that the most likely cause of the explosion was a thermobaric charge initiating a strong shockwave, which destroyed obstacles encountered, ruptured the hull of the aircraft, threw out seats and the bodies of the victims, and ripped off their clothes. Is this what happened in Smolensk on 10 April, 2010?”

Speaking to the public TVP broadcaster on Monday, Wacław Berczyński, who heads the sub-commission, said that evidence shows that the plane fell apart while it was still in the air. “The plane began to fall apart in the air and began to lose parts which fell to the ground before the birch tree [which] had no impact on the crash,” Berczyński said. Theories in the weeks following the crash had suggested that on its approach to the runway, the aeroplane’s wings had clipped a birch tree, which caused it to crash. Revealingly, Berczyński said that the sub-commission does not yet know the exact reason for the crash. He also said that his team would like to visit the crash site, which it has not yet done.

This new truth has not convinced eveybody. A member of the previous official commission to investigate the Smolensk crash, Maciej Lasek, dismissed the findings published on Monday as “illusions presented by people who had never investigated air crashes before.” “This is propaganda aimed at strengthening the faith … in hypothetical causes of this accident,” Lasek told private broadcaster TVN24. And Flight International was even more scathing: “That the Polish government publicly buys into this codswallop just underlines the observation that it is a government in denial, one which shamefully refuses to acknowledge and accept the plethora of solid evidence pinning the crash firmly on dreadful airmanship from its own personnel. Quite whom it thinks it is fooling, other than itself, is anyone’s guess. But its gross attempt to shirk responsibility, no less disgraceful and unconvincing as Russia’s own pathetic deflective wittering over the downing of flight MH17, amounts to cowardice on a monumental level which does nothing, in the least, for the cause of air safety.”

Perhaps the degree of certainty as to this new theory as to the cause of the crash is not so high after all. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, perhaps the simplicity of pilot error is to be preferred to the multiplicity and confusion of explosions and Russian conspiracies. Holy Week is better spent honouring the memory of dead than politicising their deaths.

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Crash

“The lofty pine is oftenest shaken by the winds; high towers fall with a heavier crash; and lightning strikes the highest mountain.” The words of Horace which remind us that accidents happen even to the highest in the land. Or, more prosaically, the words of Werner Herzog, ‘sometimes bad luck hits you like an ancient Greek tragedy, and it’s not your own making. When you have a plane crash, it’s not your fault.” And in the case of the crash of the Polish presidential plane in 2010, it certainly wasn’t Poland’s fault, it was Russia’s according to Polish prosecutors.

At a special press conference on Monday to sum up the work of Polish investigators looking at the causes of the crash which killed then Polish president Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, including top military and government officials, Deputy Prosecutor-General Marek Pasionek announced that prosecutors wish to charge two Russian air traffic controllers and a third person who was in the control tower at Smolensk airport with causing the accident intentionally. According to dziennik .pl, previously Polish investigators had aimed to charge the Russian air traffic controllers with deliberately bringing about the risk of an accident and unintentionally causing it. Unsurprisingly, the TASS news agency cited a Kremlin spokesman as saying that the Russian authorities “could not agree to such conclusions.”

A new investigation into the accident was begun when the government of the Law and Justice party (PiS) (led by the late president’s twin brother Jarosław) came to power in October 2015. PiS politicians have consistently challenged a report under the previous government which concluded that the crash was an accident. The latest allegations follow a new analysis of comments by control tower staff, said Marek Kuczyński, head of a team of Polish prosecutors investigating the crash, according to dziennik.pl.

The earlier Polish report on the causes of the crash, which occurred in dense fog on the approach to a military airfield which was lacking ground identification radar, cited a catalogue of errors on the Polish side, while also pointing to errors made by Russian staff at the control tower airport. A Russian report placed all the blame on the Poles.

A number of ceremonies are planned for Monday in Warsaw to mark the seventh anniversary of the Smolensk catastrophe, and include speeches by Jarosław Kaczyński and President Andrzej Duda, and a “March of Memory.” Warsaw City Hall has said that only state ceremonies organised by the ministry of culture will take place in front of the presidential palace. Sixteen bans on other assemblies have been issued.

Pilot error remains the most likely explanation, and thus far no conclusive evidence suggesting other causes has appeared, despite the recent exhumation of victims’ corpses for further post mortem analysis. The sad fact is that landing an aircraft in fog if the airport is not equipped with the appropriate instrument landing system falls somewhere between risky and impossible. Added to this is the pressure the pilots were probably under by having the head of the air force visit the cockpit, and the fact that another pilot had been sacked when he had refused an order to land a plane carrying the president in circumstances when he had considered it unsafe to do so, and all the ingredients for a tragedy were, sadly, in place. The fact that the then Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, a political rival of the late president, had made an incident free visit to the same airfield a few days before en route to attend the official Katyń commemoration, only made the imperative to land stronger.

Even if one were to accept conspiracy theories, it is hard to understand what Russia would have had to gain by drawing the world’s attention to the murder of over 20,000 Polish officers and others by the NKVD in the Katyń forest in 1940, responsibility for which had been consistently denied until 1990, the Soviet Union having initially sought to place the blame on Germany. Ever a sensitive issue, November 2010, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordered the massacre.

Be that as it may, the tragedy still influences contemporary politics in Poland. The Polish government’s failure to support the re-appointment of Tusk as president of the European Council, in no small part due to Jarosław Kaczyński holding him responsible for the death of his brother. That the crash was a tragedy is clear, but it would be no less a tragedy if its memory is forever conscripted for perceived political advantage.

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Happiness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These well-known words of Thomas Jefferson, from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, have not, alas, found universal application in the 241 years since they were written, despite governments of all persuasions in many countries paying lip service to the happiness of the people. But is there any objective measure of happiness, is Poland happy?

According to the fifth annual World happiness Report, prepared for the United Nations by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Norway is in the first place for happiness with Poland in 46th place. This is an improvement on Poland’s 57th place last year, beating countries such as Italy (48th place), Japan (51st place), and Portugal (98th place). This is, presumably, itself a reason to be happy although, given the Poles’ apparent preference to see only the tragic, don’t bank on it. The remaining countries in the top ten are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Holland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

The report is compiled from data on life expectancy, per capita gross domestic product (GDP), social support, generosity, freedom to make life choices, and perceptions of corruption. The report was published on Monday, which was the International Day of Happiness, another of these international days of something which seem to be invented with alarming frequency to assuage the insatiable need for virtue signaling that stand in place of real virtue.

But I digress, and while economics is not everything, there are some reasons for happiness when looking at Poland’s current economic performance. Barclay’s Bank has upgraded its forecast for Poland’s growth in GDP in 2017 to 3.2 per cent from its previous forecast of 3 per cent. For 2018 the bank’s forecast is unchanged at 3.4 per cent. Its forecast for inflation has also been revised upwards to 2.2 per cent, 0.2 percentage points up from its earlier forecast.

The bank forecasts inflation for the first quarter of 2017 to be 1.8 per cent above the same period last year, with inflation expected to be 2.6 per cent in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2016, compared to previous forecasts of 1.7 and 2.1 per cent respectively. Third quarter inflation is forecast at 2.5 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Looking at other figures, retail sales in Poland rose 7.3 per cent year on year in February but fell 2.7 month on month according to Poland’s central statistical office (GUS). Some analysts had forecast an 8.7 per cent increase, and 1.4 per cent fall for the same periods. Industrial production rose 1.2 per cent in February compared to February 2016, which followed growth of 9 per cent in January compared to January last year. Industrial production actually fell 0.9 per cent from month to month, compared to analysts’ forecasts of 3.5 year on year in February and 1.1 per cent month of month. Seasonally- adjusted industrial production was up 4.8 per cent year on year and 0.6 month on month.

And last, but not least, in this uncharacteristic slew of statistics, employment in the business sector was up 4.6 per cent year on year on February, according to GUS with salaries in the same sector growing 4 per cent over the same period, taking the average to over PLN 4,300 gross per month. While employment is expected to continue to grow at a steady rate, certain sectors may see some slow down, especially construction where there is a labour shortage although this could lead to higher wages.

Be that as it may, one thing which has not grown, is the Polish government’s enthusiasm for Poland to join the Euro. On Tuesday, the prime minister Beata Szydło, when asked about when Poland will join the Euro (a treaty commitment from Poland’s EU accession on 2004) told internet users that “there are no such plans”. “It is beneficial for Poland to stay with its currency, the złoty.” Her comments echo those of Mateusz Morawiecki, the finance and development minister, last week who said, “We’re not ready now. If we are ready in 10-20 years in terms of micro- and macro-economics, then of course we will be able to consider it.”

All in all, reasons to be happy and see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Of course, this being Poland, where happiness is far from the natural condition, the suspicion is that somebody is about to steal the glass.

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Growth

“There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits to human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” These the positive words of that that most positive of U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan. And he is right, although all too many who should know better seem to be exercising an alarming degree of self-restraint when it comes to exercising their intelligence, too many of whom seem to have strayed into the public arena. Be that as it may, where does Poland stand on the growth front?

In a good position, according to the National Bank of Poland (NBP), the Polish central bank. According to a forecast published by the NBP on Monday, the Polish GDP will grow by 3.7 per cent this year, after a temporary slowdown in growth last year, helped by increased investment and an inflow of EU funds. The rate of inflation is also expected to rise but will not exceed 2.5 per cent by the end of 2019. The NBP also predicted increased private consumption as a result of rising household incomes reflecting “an improved situation on the labour market” and the introduction of the government’s flagship 500+ programme, giving new state benefits to families.

Poland’s central statistical office said last month that the Polish economy grew 2.7 per cent in the final quarter of last year and in a preliminary estimate at the end of January, it said that the economy grew 2.8 per cent in 2016, compared with 3.9 per cent in 2015. The government’s budget is based on forecast growth in GDP of 3.6 per cent in 2017.

This chimes with the European Commission’s optimistic forecast for Poland’s economy for the next two years. Valdis Dombrovskis, the Vice President of the European Commission said on Thursday in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, that growth in GDP is estimated at above three percent in both 2017 and 2018, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.6 per cent this year and 4.7 per cent in 2018. However, the budget deficit worries the Commission. “We estimate that the deficit of the Polish budget this year will be 2.9 per cent of GDP and 3 per cent in 2018. It is at the [upper] threshold of the EU,” Dombrovskis said. If Poland’s budget deficit exceeds the threshold, it might be placed into the EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure.

And, of course, if there is one thing of which the government is wary, it is those EU procedures. Following last week’s diplomatic triumph at the EU summit, where Donald Tusk was re-elected president of the European Council by 27 to 1, despite the sole opposition of Poland, Polish prime minister Beata Szydło, was treated to a hero’s welcome by the PiS party leader and other ministers when she arrived back in Warsaw. “We showed that Poland is a fully-fledged member of the European Union,” she said, adding: “We want the bloc to be united, to grow, and we will do everything to make that so.” Jarosław Kaczyński said he was proud of Szydło’s achievements, adding that she had been put in a difficult situation and defended Poland’s interests. The former is certainly true.

Despite the Polish foreign minister’s reaction to the summit, with comments made to Super Express that the EU has shown it has double standards, so Poland must limit its faith in EU, indeed that it would have to implement “negative policy” which would include blocking EU initiatives in order to “exacerbate the game”, there seems to be no wish to dismantle or leave the EU.

Not only has Marek Magierowski, a spokesman to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said that there will eventually be cooperation between Duda and Donald Tusk “once emotions subside,” but deputy foreign minister Jan Dziedziczak has said in an interview with Polish broadcaster Telewizja Republika that suggestions Poland’s governing party wishes the country to leave the European Union are “nonsense”, adding that the idea was put forward “for the sake of inter-party rivalry”. Jarosław Kaczyński said suggestions Poland wanted a Polexit were deceptive and manipulative, and PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek said the party is not interested in dismantling the EU

So there you have it. Despite the self-imposed diplomatic set-back last week and the continuing tussles with the EU over the rule of law and others, Poland has no plans to leave, which should be good for continued economic growth.

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