Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
The period from immediately before Christmas to early New Year is traditionally a quiet one on the political front. It’s also a good time to dispose of unwanted initiatives or to get negative news into the public domain. The most noteworthy news development in Poland this year during this time was the decision of President Andrzej Duda to refuse to sign a proposed law tightening the rules on foreign media ownership. The measure was highly controversial within Poland where it was seen as directed at independent broadcaster TVN. It also had the potential to sour relations with the U.S. at a particularly sensitive time. In this context, how disappointed the leaders of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość really are with the decision is probably an interesting question. They may well be relieved to have one less controversy to deal with in 2022.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• President Duda vetoes the so-called ‘Lex TVN’ citing concerns for relations with the United States
• Poland takes over the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for 2022
• the Border Guard awards contracts for the building of the new security wall on the border with Belarus, and
• Poland’s soccer federation is once again hunting for a new manager of the national side after Paulo Sousa jumped ship.
In a major development between Christmas and New Year, on December 27th President Andrzej Duda announced that he was vetoing the so-called ‘Lex TVN’ – the bill earlier passed by the Sejm designed to tighten the rules on foreign media ownership in Poland. The presidential veto can in theory be over-ridden by parliament but such a move would require a 60% super-majority which the government doesn’t have. Both the United States and the Discovery-owned TVN24 television station, seen as the target of the proposed law, welcomed Duda’s move.
The president told a press conference that ‘I refuse to sign the bill … and am returning it to the Sejm to be reconsidered. This means I am vetoing the legislation’. Duda said that one of his reasons was a concern that the proposed law could violate a treaty with the U.S. on economic and trade relations. He had also previously stated that takeovers of foreign-owned media groupings should occur on the basis of market terms, not with ‘forced solutions’.
Discovery welcomed the President’s decision calling it in a statement ‘a victory of the Polish people’ and adding that ‘We commend the president for doing the right thing and standing up for the democratic values of a free press and the rule of law’.
White House Thanks Duda for Veto
A White House statement said that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had in a phone call with Polish officials ‘conveyed President Biden’s appreciation for Polish President Duda’s veto this morning of a controversial media amendment, noting that this sent a positive signal just before Poland takes over the Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on January 1’.
Officially Prawo i Sprawiedliwość expressed disappointment with the President’s decision. Spokesperson Anita Czerwińska, said that ‘In our opinion, the media law requires clarification so that the law is applied in accordance with the same practice as in other countries’.
Duda, of course, is normally seen as a close ally of the ruling bloc which supported his presidential campaigns. His move does however remove a potential problem for the government in relations with the Biden Administration and comes at a time when it has plenty of other problems to deal with including the security situation with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, and multiple disputes with the European Union primarily over the so-called ‘rule of law’ agenda.
Poland Takes-Over Chairmanship of OSCE
New Year’s Day marked the start of Poland’s year-long chairmanship of the 57-member nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The chairmanship comes at an important time for Poland in view of the ongoing crisis in relations with Belarus and tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Polish Foreign Minister, Zbigniew Rau, has taken on the role of the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office.
In an interview with Polish Radio last Saturday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman Łukasz Jasina said that Poland’s chairmanship would focus on international conflicts and crises. He emphasised that the OSCE is a forum for debate between not only European countries, but also the United States and Russia.
Rau said that ‘It is an honour and a privilege to assume the Chairmanship of the OSCE for 2022. Our goal will be to continue efforts to rebuild confidence and trust, as well as to act as an honest broker and mediator between participating States’. He will officially inaugurate the Chairmanship and outline Poland’s priorities at the session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on January 13th.
Poland last chaired the OSCE in 1998.
Contracts Signed For Construction of Belarus Border Fence
At a joint press conference in Warszawa with the deputy head of the Border Guard on Tuesday, Maciej Wąsik, the Secretary of State in the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, announced that the government has signed agreements with several Polish companies to build the planned security wall along the country’s border with Belarus. Wąsik said that ‘Today, the Border Guard agency signed three large contracts for the construction of the border barrier’.
The deputy head of the Border Guard, Brig. Gen. Wioleta Gorzkowska, said that the physical barrier was ‘an absolutely necessary and urgent investment’ amid ‘the continuing destabilisation on the Polish-Belarusian frontier’. Gorzkowska confirmed that the wall, expected to be completed by the middle of this year, would stretch for over 186 kilometres. The wall will consist of 5-metre steel posts crowned by barbed wire.
Fourth Interest Rate Hike to Combat Inflation
Interest rates are on the rise once again in Poland. On Tuesday the Monetary Policy Council of the Narodowy Bank Polski, the country’s central bank, announced that the key reference interest rate would rise for the fourth time in as many months. The latest increase is by 50 basis points from 1.75% to 2.25%. The move is a further attempt to use a tightening of monetary policy to tame rising inflation which hit 7.8% in November.
In an interview on December 30th with the businessinsider.com.pl website Central Bank President Adam Glapiński said that rising energy costs would account for almost half of the rate of inflation in 2022. He said that the bank expects inflation will average 7.6% next year, up from an average of 5.1% in 2021, with the monthly rate peaking at 8.3% in June and then falling back to 6.2% by December. The forecast factors-in the impact of the governments so-called anti-inflationary shield and a reduction in the rate of VAT on food to 0%, but not the impact of a further tightening of monetary policy.
New Payment for Poorest Households
A one-time allowance designed to compensate the poorest households in the face of rising inflation came into operation on Tuesday. The benefit is aimed at households with an average monthly income under 1,500 złotych or 2,100 złotych in the case of a single-person household. Payments, dependant on household size, will range from 400 to 1,150 złotych.
On Monday spokesperson Piort Müller said the government is planning new measures to ease the impact of rising gas and electricity prices. He blamed the rise in prices on two factors – what he termed ‘gas blackmail by Russia, with the potential upcoming launch of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline’ and ‘the inefficient, ill-conceived policies of the European Union, allowing a market where the prices of CO2 emissions allowances are being manipulated’.
Kulesza on Sousa Exit: ‘This Is Extremely Irresponsible Behaviour’
The Polish Football Association, Polski Związek Piłki Nożnej (PZPN), is once again searching for a new manager for the national team following the controversial departure of Paulo Sousa to take-up a club job in Brazil. PZPN has commenced interviewing candidates.
The President of the PZPN, Cezary Kulesza said that applications were ‘pouring in’ – he told the sport.pl website in an interview published on Monday that ‘For now, we have to select a handful of candidates, maybe four or five, with whom we are going to speak’. There’s speculation that one of the leading domestic candidates could be the former national team manager Adam Nawałka. Kulesza said last week that the name of the new manager would be announced on January 19th. The appointment is urgent as the Polish side faces into a crucial series of games.
Paulo Sousa’s tenure, which had brought mixed results, came to an abrupt end when his contract was terminated by the PZPN last Wednesday after the Portuguese native had asked to leave by mutual consent. Confirming press speculation in the run-up to his departure, Sousa has since taken over as manager of Brazilian club side Flamengo Rio de Janeiro.
Three days earlier, on December 26th, Kulesza tweeted that Sousa had asked to leave and described his actions as ‘extremely irresponsible’ and ‘inconsistent’ with his earlier declarations. The Twitter posting said that ‘Today I was informed by Paulo Sousa that he wants to terminate the contract with PZPN by mutual agreement because of an offer from another club. This is extremely irresponsible behavior, inconsistent with the trainer’s earlier declarations. Therefore, I firmly refused’.
Poland faces a crucial World Cup play-off spot fixture against Russia in Moscow on March 24th. If Poland win, the team will play either the Czech Republic or Sweden at home on March 29th for a place in the finals in Qatar.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.