Following an announcement by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday, Poland is set for a major reopening of its economy commencing next week, but with many restrictions remaining in place. Politics often makes strange bed-fellows and this week saw a most unusual alliance in Poland with Lewica agreeing to help the government secure parliamentary approval for the national recovery fund. The investment Poland is in line to secure from the fund looks set to form a central plank of the government’s political strategy to secure its own electoral survival.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Prime Minister Morawiecki announces a staged, but extensive, reopening of Poland’s economy and society during May
• Prawo i Sprawiedliwość does a deal with Lewica to gain approval for the National Recovery Fund despite the opposition of Solidarna Polska
• Visegrad Group leaders back the Czech Republic in its diplomatic spat with Moscow, and
• the beatification ceremony of the late Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński is to go-ahead in Warszawa on September 12th.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced a significant easing of Covid-19 – related restrictions following the recent downward trajectory in case numbers. From next week, retail outlets which had been restricted to the sale of essential goods, museums, art galleries and hotels will be allowed to reopen.
Shopping malls as well as furniture and DIY stores will reopen on Tuesday and the youngest pupils will return to on-site classes. Hotels will be allowed to admit guests from May 8th and restaurants and cafes will be able to serve customers in open-air gardens from May 15th. All going to plan, on May 29th schools will fully return to on-site classes, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will be open up to half-capacity, and gyms will reopen.
Making the announcement Morawiecki told reporters ‘I daresay the worst is behind us in terms of infections’. He said that there are grounds for ‘cautious optimism’ but added that Covid-19 ‘is still very, very dangerous’. On Wednesday Poland reported 8,895 new Covid-19 cases and an additional 636 deaths at least partially attributed to the virus. This brought the total number of cases since the outbreak began to 2.78m with 66,533 deaths.
Vaccination figures announced on Wednesday show that 10.74 million people have now received a Covid-19 vaccination, of which 8.07m have received one dose and 2.75m are fully vaccinated either with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of another vaccine. Among those who’ve received one dose is President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. President Duda posted on Twitter that they ‘were vaccinated against Covid-19 yesterday at the vaccination point of the Military Institute of Medicine at Szaserów street in Warszawa’ adding that it ‘has gone according to all procedures and we are feeling well’. Duda had tested positive for Covid-19 last October but reported suffering only mild symptoms.
There are strong indications that Prawo i Sprawiedliwość is banking on a combination of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and especially the additional funding from the EU’s Covid-19 recovery fund to jump-start a recovery in its own political fortunes, following a marked downturn in the ruling bloc’s poll ratings in recent months.
On Tuesday, the government formally adopted a bill needed to release funding for Poland from the EU’s Covid-19 recovery fund. Poland stands to receive more than €23 billion in grants and €34 billion in loans from the recovery fund. For the fund to come into operation all 27 EU member states need to approve an increase in the EU’s so-called own resources. The two ministers from Solidarna Polska, including Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, dissented from the government decision.
Solidarna Polska has made clear its opposition to the fund fearing conditionality to the ‘rule of law’ could impact the controversial judicial changes in Poland, which it has championed, and more generally lead to EU interference in Poland’s internal affairs. Without the support of their deputies in the Sejm, the government is unable to pass the required legislation on its own, so have reached out to opposition groups for support. They have subsequently reached agreement with Lewica, who said after meeting with Morawiecki that they had agreed to support the National Recovery Plan. Despite having had some of their demands in return for support met, the agreement exposed Lewica to sharp criticism from other opposition parties, for effectively bailing out the government.
Prime Minister Morawiecki described the bill approved by the cabinet as ‘historic’. He said that ‘The pace of emerging from the Covid-19 crisis will depend on whether these funds can first be quickly accepted and then distributed’. There is a view in some political circles that if the Prime Minister, as well as ruling party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, can engineer an upturn in PiS’s poll ratings, they may well be tempted to risk an early general election next year given the ongoing fraught relationship of the major government party with both smaller coalition partners – Porozumienie and Solidarna Polska.
Above: Goosanders crossing a busy Warszawa road!
There has been an easing of tensions between Russia and Ukraine over the past week with Russia announcing a pullback of some of its forces from Ukraine’s eastern border. Poland, along with other NATO countries, has expressed strong support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in recent weeks. On Tuesday it was announced that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will hold talks with Poland’s Andrzej Duda in Warszawa next Monday. During the visit Zelensky will join celebrations marking the 230th anniversary of Poland’s 1791 constitution. The head of Poland’s International Policy Office, Krzysztof Szczerski, said that President Duda will visit Ukraine in August for the country’s independence day celebration.
On Monday, the Prime Ministers of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia issued a joined statement expressing ‘full solidarity’ with their fellow Visegrad Group member, the Czech Republic, in its recent diplomatic spat with Moscow. The Czech Republic had expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the alleged involvement of Russian agents in an October 2014 explosion at a Czech ammunition depot. Moscow responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats. Referring to the explosion at the Vrbětice ammunition depot in which two people died, the three heads of government condemned what they termed ‘another deplorable act of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil’. The statement followed a conference call of the Visegrad Group leaders. The statement added that ‘We denounce the disproportionate measures taken by Russia in response to the entirely justified decision of the Czech Republic to expel 18 Russian intelligence officers’.
Touching on a subject that has many times proved politically controversial in Poland, President Duda told the U.S. organised online climate summit last Friday that Poland is aiming to reduce its dependency on coal as a source of energy from the current 70% to just 11% by 2040. Duda said that Poland was aiming to build a sustainable mix of energy sources including gas and nuclear power, as well as renewable energy. He said that ‘In Poland, over the next two decades, we aim to build a zero-emission energy system thanks to which the share of coal will decrease from the current 70% to as little as 11% in 2040’.
Last Friday it was announced that the Vatican has decided that the beatification ceremony of Poland’s legendary Roman Catholic Primate, the late Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, will take place in Warszawa on September 12th. It had originally been due to take place on June 7th last year but was postponed due to Covid-19. Beatification is just one step short of being declared a saint.
Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles didn’t bring success for Poland’s Dariusz Wolski who had been one of the five nominees in the cinematography category for his work on the film ‘News of the World’ directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks. The Oscar instead went to the American cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt for the Netflix drama Mank.
On Monday police in Warszawa stopped traffic on one of the capital’s busiest roads to allow a family of ducks to get across safely. Footage from private television broadcaster Polsat shows the family of goosanders waddling their way across Wisłostrada. Police helped guide the family of thirteen birds to the other side of the street. At this time of year goosanders in Warszawa often migrate from Łazienki Park to the Vistula River, where they raise their ducklings.
A heart-warming note on which to end.