Positive attitude remains in Poland despite the Irish ‘No’

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?

 

At the outset one has to recall the basic facts – The Polish parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty on 1 April 2008 (396 for and only 56 votes against). In the following week, it was swiftly ratified by the senate. After the Irish ‘No’ the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, agreed with the official EU line to continue the ratification process. “The result of the Irish referendum does not have to rule out the chances of its implementation. The EU will find the way out of this conundrum”.[1] The President, Lech Kaczyński, as yet, has not signed the treaty. On the eve of the French Presidency, on 1 July 2008, the President, Lech Kaczyński, in an interview for “Dziennik” daily, said that the ratification of the treaty by Poland was, in current circumstances, pointless. After the critique from many European capitals and an internal row with the government, Lech Kaczynski toned down his rhetoric against the Lisbon Treaty. “If the Irish change their mind, not under pressure, but of their own free will … I will also sign the treaty”.[2]

Six months after that statement the President upholds his position – he will not sign the Treaty of Lisbon before the Irish pronounce themselves on its fate again. However, on numerous occasions Kaczyński reiterated that – “Poland will not be an obstacle to the ratification of the treaty. Even though the treaty is not optimal, after a long and protracted battle, we have succeeded in improving it”.[3] In other words, the Polish President promised to sign the treaty as quickly as possible, after the result of the second Irish referendum. The president’s stance comes despite the Polish parliament’s foreign affairs committee passing on 19 January 2009 a resolution for him to yield – “The parliament requests the president to respect the will of both houses of the parliament and to finish the process of ratification as quickly as possible”.[4] When it comes to the public opinion – even after the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, 60 percent of Poles support the deepening of integration, and only 13 percent are against it (52 percent of respondents are of the opinion that the presidents should ratify the Lisbon Treaty no matter what (75 percent of PO electorate), 14 percent are against).

The Polish government endorsed the conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. At the beginning of the year, all of the political parties are preparing the lists of their candidates for the elections of the European Parliament, which will be held under the Nice Treaty scenario (with Poland electing 50 deputies).[5] The government also started thinking about its candidates for the Polish Commissioner. In an interview with “Gazeta Wyborcza”, the President confirmed that he discussed the government’s candidate for the European Commission with the Prime Minister and that he supports it.

The mood in Poland is much more pro-European and fringe, extremist anti-European parties were eliminated from political life. More and more people want to participate in European elections; the European Parliament is treated as a serious, democratic institution. Poles are quite well informed about it. It also largely evokes positive connotations. In the Union, on average, 39 percent of the respondents have a positive connotation regarding the European Parliament, whereas 15 percent think of it in negative terms. In that respect, the European Parliament is quite popular in Poland – where 44 percent of respondents have positive connotations with the EP and only 5 percent have negative connotations. Poles are also more and more convinced that Polish MEP’s should be representing European, as well as Polish interests. Today, according to the 2008 Eurobarometer, as many as 51 percent of respondents declare that they would go and vote in the elections to the European Parliament. It remains to be seen whether such predictions are not too optimistic.

Judging from the present polls, the European People’s Party (EPP) contingent (PO-PSL – Civic Platform, largest Polish party) could win between 27 and 32 deputies in the new European Parliament (Europe of Nations (PIS) 10-14, and Socialists 5-7). That would mean that only 25 percent (compared to the current 45 percent) of the deputies would find themselves in the marginal political groups, which is a European average. Numbers paired with experience may allow Poland to play a much more important role in the future European Parliament. There is a chance that after the elections, a contingent from PO-PSL will become a second or third biggest delegation within the EPP-ED.

There are well documented rumours[6] that the biggest family of the European Parliament, the EPP, is willing to consider the candidature of former Polish Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, for the post of President of the European Parliament (for the first two and a half years of the legislature, followed by Martin Schultz, President of PES family in the European Parliament). If the Polish government were to endorse such a solution, it would mean that Poland (and all other new member states) would be effectively excluded from the contest for other most influential EU posts (the President of the European Commission, and in the event the Lisbon Treaty were to be ratified – High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and President of the European Council). It might also be difficult to secure for Poland an influential portfolio in the next Commission. When it comes to Buzek’s candidature, there is a difference between the President and the government, as Kaczyński does not think that promoting a Pole for the position of the President of the European Parliament is a good idea, as it will provide Poland with prestige instead of influence (which is embodied by other EU top jobs).

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities

 

Joy and optimism in light of a new US President

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister, hailed Barack Obama’s election victory as “a joyful moment” and “a renewal of faith of Americans in their national mythology.”[7]

The Minister went on to predict “great” relations between Poland and the U.S, and described Obama as a “charismatic” and “unbelievably intelligent” man. Sikorski was instrumental in signing the missile defense deal with America earlier this year, a project that Obama also backed, provided that the system was not directed at Russia.

Poland’s Foreign Minister has rather intimate relations with the U.S, as his wife, distinguished historian Anne Applebaum, is herself an American citizen.

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response

 

The effects of the financial crisis on Poland

In the beginning of November 2008, some economists and bankers asked the government for the preparation and implementation of the anti-crisis packet. Most banks ceased to give enterprises loans that resulted in hampering further investments. According to Central Statistical Office data, the production value in November 2008 decreased by 13 percent in reference to October 2008 and by 9 percent in reference to the corresponding period of 2007.

On 30 November 2008, the government introduced the packet The Stabilization and Development Plan. The Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, stressed that the most important issue was to provide financial stabilization and to take actions supporting economic growth.[8] The government’s plan has the value of over 91.3 billion PLN. Among main actions there were: the increase of guarantees for banks, creation of additional credit schemes for SMEs with the value of 20 billion PLN, and accelerating the investments financed with EU structural funds estimated at 16.8 billion PLN. The key point for the government was to sustain the planned level of budget deficit and to implement changes in laws, enabling more efficient actions of credit institutions. The Stabilization and Development Plan foresees to establish The Social Solidarity Reserve of 1.14 billion PLN, which is meant for parts of society most affected by the crisis. Simultaneously, the Minister of Finance, Jacek Rostowski, presented the latest estimate of Polish economic growth that in 2009 was reduced from 4.8 percent to 3.7 percent. He added that it is compulsory to reduce some budgetary expenses in order to sustain the deficit on an earlier estimated level.

The largest opposition party, Law and Justice, representatives presented a different attitude – Joachim Brudziński supported the Plan, Karol Karski estimated it as “the plan without any hard facts”.[9] In the beginning of December 2008, the leader of the party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, criticized The Stabilization and Development Plan and added that Law and Justice is preparing its own vision of economic policy, plainly different form the governmental one. Such a packet would be indeed an anti-crisis one, but in its idea it should support rapid economic growth.[10]

Opinions of economists towards the governmental plan were divided. Krzysztof Rybinski – representative of “Ernst&Young” supported the idea of facilitating the access to EU structural funds and was opposed to the idea of creating the governmental guarantees for banks and the introduction of a 3-year tax allowance for firms. Both the former Minister of Finance and the former Minister of Economy – Mirosław Gronicki and Jerzy Hausner – backed up the guarantees for firms that reduce financial risk as well as acceleration of expenses from EU structural funds, and opposed the idea of guarantees for selected economic ventures as well as for export credits. Stefan Kawalec – former Minister of Finance – supported the idea of creating the credit program for SMEs and opposed to assign 5 billion PLN for guarantees for firms and the creation of some economic stimulus for emigrants in order to facilitate their return to Poland.[11] Jan Winiecki – Professor of Economics at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow commended the plan for its simplicity adapted to cyclical development of capitalistic economies. Marcin Peterlik, an expert at the “Institute for Market Economics”, also supported the plan and added that results of such actions might be seen in 2009.[12]

According to representatives of the “Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan”, The Stabilization and Development Plan presented by the government is a chance for the SME’s sector, but it is lacking a reduction of non-financial labour costs and simplifications in the fiscal policy system.[13] “The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions” (OPZZ) assessed the plan as insufficient. According to the alliance, in crisis the government should support all citizens, not only enterprises, and the Cabinet should not allow changing the labour law which is adequate to second the anti-crisis actions, especially on the level of employing institutions.[14]

The head of the “Polish Bank Association”, Krzysztof Pietraszkiewicz, claimed that the effects of the financial crisis may be greatly limited. In his opinion, more efficient cooperation between the National Bank of Poland and private banks is necessary. He added that loan and guarantee funds would be more significant, especially those that would provide additional financial resources for SMEs.[15]

According to a public opinion poll conducted by “TNS OBOP” in November 2008, 66 percent of the respondents do not claim to be directly affected by the financial crisis. 5 percent of households in Poland lost money due to the changes of shares value and in foreign currencies exchange rates, 16 percent were affected by the decrease of savings invested in pension funds, and 11 percent of respondents had to pay greater mortgage.[16] A Eurobarometer survey, that took place in the same period of time showed that 39 percent of Poles evaluate the current economic situation in Poland as “good” (8 percentage points less than one year ago), and 55 percent as “bad” (6 percent more than one year ago). Further deterioration of the economic situation is foreseen by 31 percent of Poles, and 20 percent of Poles expect improvement.[17]

 

 

 

[1] Eurativ 13 June 2008, available at: www.eurativ.pl (last access: 25 January 2009).
[2] Euobserver, 02 July 2008.
[3] “Gazeta Wyborcza”, 10-11 January 2009.
[4] Euobserver, 21 January 2009.
[5] In accordance with conclusions of the European Council of December 2008, an additional MEP should be elected and take office after the Lisbon Treaty enters into force.
[6] See for example: Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 April 2008; Euobserver, 3 December 2008.
[7] Source: Cracow Life, 7 November 2008.
[8] IAR Internetowa Agencja Radiowa [Internet Radio Agency], 30 November 2008, “PKB 3,7%, rezerwa solidarności społecznej – rząd przedstawił plan antykryzysowy” [GDP 3,7 percent, the Social Solidarity Reserve – government presented anti-crisis packet], available at: http://gospodarka.gazeta.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[9] PAP, Polish Press Agency, 30 November 2008, Karski: plan rządu bez konkretów [Government plan without hard facts], available at: http://www.pb.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[10] IAR, Internetowa Agencja Radiowa [Internet Radio Agency], 4 December 2008, J. Kaczyński krytycznie o rządowej walce z kryzysem [Jaroslaw Kaczynski criticizes government’s anti-crisis measures], available at: http://gospodarka.gazeta.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[11] Polski plan na kryzys, czyli eksperci sobie, rząd sobie, 28 November 2009 [Polish plan for crisis: government and experts – each going his own way], available at: http://www.media.egospodarka.pl (last access: 25 January 2009).
[12] IAR, Internetowa Agencja Radiowa [Internet Radio Agency], 30 November 2008, Kaźmierczak: Rząd próbuje walczyć z kryzysem, którego w Polsce de facto nie ma [Government attempt to fight crisis which is not existent in fact], available at: http://gospodarka.gazeta.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[13] IAR, Internetowa Agencja Radiowa [Internet Radio Agency], 4 December 2008, PKPP Lewiatan: “Plan Stabilności i Rozwoju” szansą dla MŚP [Stability and Development Plan: A chance for SMEs], available at: http://www.egospodarka.pl (last access: 25 January 2009).
[14] PAP, Polish Press Agency, 29 December 2008, OPZZ: w działaniach antykryzysowych uwzględnić interesy pracownicze [Anti-crisis measures should take in account labour interests], available at: http://praca.gazetaprawna.pl (last access: 25 January 2009).
[15] IAR, Internetowa Agencja Radiowa [Internet Radio Agency], 19 December 2008, Skutki kryzysu można ograniczyć [Cost of crisis can be brought down], available at: http://gospodarka.gazeta.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[16] PAP, Polish Press Agency, 26 November 2008, TNS OBOP: dwie trzecie badanych nie czuje się dotknięta kryzysem [Two thirds of respondents affected by crisis], available at: http://www.gazetaprawna.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[17] PAP, Polish Press Agency, 18 December 2008, Eurobarometer: Na tle UE Polacy optymistycznie oceniają gospodarkę [Vis-à-vis EU Poles optimistically assess the economy], available at: http://gospodarka.gazeta.pl/ (last access: 25 January 2009).