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).