Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
Tuesday’s government reshuffle was very much along expected lines with a modest restructuring in light of the departure of Jarosław Gowin and Porozumienie earlier in the year, while at the same time moving to strengthen the government’s position in the Sejm by giving cabinet-level representation to the Adam Bielan-led Partia Republikańska. This was achieved by the appointment of Kamil Bortniczuk as the head of the once again independent Sports Ministry – just over a year after the ministry in dissolved in October 2020. The highest profile new appointment saw the return to office of long-serving Prawo i Sprawiedliwość politician Henryk Kowalczyk as a Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister. Meanwhile the ongoing conflict with the European Union institutions worsened further with the European Court of Justice levying a €1 million a day fine on Poland over its failure to suspend the work of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court.
The main news stories this week:
- a Government reshuffles sees Henryk Kowalczyk named a Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister
- Prime Minister Morawiecki accuses the EU of making demands ‘with a gun to our head’ as the European Court of Justice imposes a €1 million a day fine on Poland over the country’s judicial reforms
- the government unveils a new homeland defence bill which aims to further boost Poland’s military capability, and
- a Polish astronomer working for NASA discovers his third comet.
On Tuesday the long-flagged reshuffle of the Council of Ministers, anticipated since the exit of Porozumienie from the ruling bloc last August, took place. President Andrzej Duda formally appointed several new ministers with the highest profile new appointment being that of former Environment Minister and Prawo i Sprawiedliwość stalwart Henryk Kowalczyk, who returned to government as the new Agriculture minister, as well as becoming one of the four Deputy Prime Ministers. Kowalczyk returns to the government almost exactly two years after he left in the reshuffle that followed Prawo i Sprawiedliwość ’s 2019 re-election victory and 14 years since he’d served as deputy Agriculture minister in a previous government.
The outgoing Agriculture Minister Grzegorz Puda becomes Minister for Regional Policy. The reshuffle was expected to bring representation in the Council of Ministers for Adam Bielan’s Partia Republikańska, comprised primarily of defectors from Porozumienie, and that happened in the form of the appointment of Kamil Bortniczuk as the new Sports Minister, with responsibility for sport again being separated from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In other changes Anna Moskwa replaced Michał Kurtyka as Climate and Environment Minister, and former deputy Finance Minister Piotr Nowak became Minister for Development and Technology.
Overall the reshuffle, as flagged by ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, leaves the top office-holders including controversial figures like Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek unchanged in their existing portfolios.
Tusk Elected Leader of Platforma Obywatelska
In a ballot of party members held last Saturday Donald Tusk had been elected leader of the main opposition party, Platforma Obywatelska, a role he was already undertaking in an acting capacity since July following his high-profile return to Polish politics. Tusk was the sole candidate for the position. In the ballot Tusk received over 97% of the vote with 11,474 votes in his favour and just 253 against.
Morawiecki – Le Pen Meeting on Margins of Brussels Summit
Following last week’s high-profile debate on the rule of law in Poland in the European Parliament, in which Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself participated, the verbal sparring between the Polish government and the European Union institutions has continued. In a development which was widely commented upon, Morawiecki met last Friday with the prominent opposition right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen, on the margins of the EU heads of government summit meeting in Brussels. Polish government spokesperson, Piotr Müller, commented that the meeting had focused on ‘cooperation between different groupings in the European Parliament’ adding that ‘The Polish Prime Minister meets with many political groups in Europe.’
Le Pen is the leader of the National Rally party and is seen as a top challenger to incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron in next years’ presidential election. In July Prawo i Sprawiedliwość leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and Le Pen were among the signatories to a declaration by centre-right and right-wing groups in the European Parliament which emphasised the importance of national sovereignty – a view very much in line with the position outlined by Prime Minister Morawiecki in his recent address to the European Parliament.
Morawiecki: EU Making Demands With a ‘Gun to Our Head’
The two-day EU summit meeting of leaders from the 27-nation bloc in Brussels last Thursday and Friday discussed a variety of issues including migration, trade, energy and the so-called ‘rule of law’ issue. Following the summit Morawiecki told a press conference that Poland ‘has no problem with the rule of law’, but that some European Union member states don’t understand the country’s judicial reforms. In a weekend interview with the Financial Times he accused the EU of making demands with a ‘gun to our head’ in a reference to threats to withhold payments due to Poland from EU economic recovery funds. He commented that ‘We are going to defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal’.
While emphasising that Poland was fully committed to its membership of the European Union and that there was no risk of a so-called Polexit, Morawiecki urged Brussels to withdraw threats of financial sanctions and other enforcement action against Poland. As previously announced by the Polish government, Morawiecki said that the controversial disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court – a particular focus of the clash between the Polish authorities and the European Court of Justice – would be abolished by the end of this year. He said that the legislation to do this would soon be finalised. On Poland’s future in the bloc Morawiecki told the FT that ‘We are absolutely convinced that Poland has to stay . . . There are no risks of Polexit. We will fiercely defend Poland as part of the European Union’. Commenting on opinion surveys, he said that 88% of Poles ‘want to stay in the EU, half of them are our voters’.
ECJ Imposes €1 Million Daily Fine on Poland
On Wednesday the European Court of Justice announced that it was ordering Poland to pay a daily fine of €1 million as it had not suspended the work of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Supreme Court in line with an earlier ruling. It said in a statement that ‘As it has not suspended the application of the provisions of national legislation relating, in particular, to the areas of jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, Poland is ordered to pay the European Commission a daily penalty payment in an amount of EUR 1,000,000’. It added that ‘compliance with the interim measures ordered on 14 July 2021 is necessary in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and to the values on which that Union is founded, in particular that of the rule of law’.
New Homeland Defence Bill Outlined
In a reflection of ongoing tensions in its relations with Russia, linked of course to developments in neighbouring Belarus and Ukraine, Poland is planning a continuation of the process of strengthening its military power. A new homeland defence bill was unveiled on Tuesday, which according to the government aims to expand and modernise the Polish military to make it one of the strongest in NATO. The plan was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, who chairs the cabinet committee on security, and Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak.
Kaczyński told reporters that ‘a country located at the external border of the European Union must have a major deterrence capability and be able to defend itself on its own for a long time’ because it could take a period of time for other NATO forces to be mobilised in its support in the event of a conflict. The new bill will replace regulations dating as far back as 1967, according to Kaczyński. He said that ‘We must act according to the ancient adage: if you want peace, prepare for war’. Błaszczak said that the new legislation would increase funding for the military, boost troop numbers and provide new recruitment incentives.
Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.6%
On Monday the state statistics office Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS), or Statistics Poland in English, reported that the unemployment rate in Poland fell to 5.6% in September from 5.8% in August in line with an earlier estimate by the Labour Ministry. GUS reported that there were 935,000 people jobless at the end of September compared to 961,000 a month earlier. Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, consistently reports unemployment in Poland as among the lowest in the EU, with it reporting a figure of just 3.4% for August.
GUS also reported that the Polish economy grew by 11.2% per cent in the second quarter of 2021, compared to the same quarter of 2020 – 0.1% higher than initially estimated. The sharp rise reflected the bounce back effect from the initial impact of the response to Covid-19.
Polish Astronomer Wierzchoś Discovers His Third Comet
A Polish astronomer, working for the U.S. space agency NASA, has discovered a comet – the third such object Kacper Wierzchoś has located, the PAP news agency has reported. Wierzchoś works as part of NASA’s Catalina Sky Survey programme, which monitors space for so-called Near-Earth Objects that could post a threat to planet Earth. However, we’re safe enough in this case – the new comet he’s discovered has travelled 360 million kilometres past the Sun, which is nearly two and a half times the Earth’s own usual distance from the Sun. It’ll return to the solar system in around 25 years and has been named P/2021 U1 (Wierzchoś).
33-year-old Wierzchoś, who’s from Lublin, emphasised that his work is mainly focused on locating Near Earth Objects, telling PAP that ‘The US Congress has asked NASA to identify at least 90 per cent of NEOs with a diameter of 140 metres and more, as such bodies could cause widespread damage if they hit our planet’. The team he’s part of has located over 1,500 such objects over the past year alone, with the comets being spotted ‘in the meantime, as we spend hours behind the telescope, surveying the skies’, Wierzchoś told PAP.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.