The past week in Poland has brought at least some cause for modest celebration, including continued, albeit inadequate and long overdue in the view of many, steps on the road to normality from the draconian Covid-19 restrictions, and Iga Świątek’s overwhelming victory in the Italian Open. For those confused about the place of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość on the political spectrum, the launch on Saturday of the Polski Ład, will, if anything, have pushed them further towards a description of the party as populist, with an economic recovery plan combining new public investment with tax cuts for the lower paid, but with reforms which may increase the burden on higher earners and businesses. Poland’s Defence Minister travelled to Monte Cassino to honour his country’s wartime dead in that famous battle, fought in the cause of freedom, a freedom whose survival in many countries has looked all the more tenuous over the past year.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Prime Minister Morawiecki launches Polski Ład or Polish Deal, an economic recovery plan focused on public investment
• Jarosław Kaczyński says the new plan aims to bring Poland to the European average level of per capita GDP
• There’s a feeling likened by some to New Year’s Eve as outdoor dining resumes last Friday, and
• Poland’s Iga Świątek wins the Italian Open Women’s Singles tennis title.
Last Saturday the Polish government announced its new plan for the country’s future economic development, and recovery from Covid-19, under the heading of Polski Ład or ‘Polish Deal’, and with the sub-heading of Nowa Nadzieja (New Hope). Its original March launch date under the heading Nowy Ład or ‘New Deal’ had been significantly delayed by a deterioration in the Covid-19 situation in Poland. The plan announced by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and ruling party Chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, includes many populist-type measures which have proven politically advantageous for Prawo i Sprawiedliwość in the past. The plan aims to grow the economy, invest more in education, housing, and healthcare, and give additional social benefits to families with children.
Under the plan healthcare spending is slated to increase to 7% of GDP by 2027 from approximately 4% today. Assuming it goes ahead, parents will be given an additional 12,000 złotych in total to cover the cost of raising a second child between the ages of one and three. There are also planned concessions on the tax side, including an increase in the tax-free income allowance to 30,000 złotych per annum from the current mere 3,091 złotych for most taxpayers, but the burden on top earners and some businesses would rise. The plan targets investments in other areas of the economy including agriculture, energy, and cybersecurity. Morawiecki said that the aim was to ‘build a middle class for all, not for the few’. On Monday he embarked on a nationwide tour to promote the plan. Polski Ład is expected to be formally adopted by the government in September, with much of the additional funding required to implement it slated to come from Poland’s share of the EU’s Covid-19 recovery fund and 2021-2027 multi-annual budget.
Above: Logo for ‘Polski Ład’, the government’s new economic recovery plan
In a wide-ranging interview with Polish Radio on Wednesday, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość Chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, said the Polish Deal is designed to enable Poland ‘to quickly reach the average level of development in the European Union’ adding that ‘I’m talking about the European average when it comes to GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms’. He said that Polish per capita GDP ‘currently stands at around 77 per cent’ of the average in the EU. Kaczyński said that Polski Ład was premised on ‘a strong economy as the basis for social assistance programmes’.
The government also moved this week to implement an election promise to bring in free medical tests for Poles aged over 40 years of age in what’s being dubbed the ’40-plus prevention programme’. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said that the plan – expected to comprise basic medical checks along with a more in-depth version for those in greater need – is likely to be launched in July, following a delay due to Covid-19.
The raft of announcements will of course be seen as an effort by the ruling party by regain the political initiative which it has lost over the past year due to Covid-19, a series of other controversies, and political in-fighting within the ruling bloc.
On Tuesday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a press conference that what’s been termed five ‘hydrogen valleys’ will be built to produce an alternative clean energy source. He said that Poland will build hydrogen-producing electrolysers with a capacity of at least 2 gigawatts, telling reporters that ‘Poland could become a hydrogen hub in the next decade, and we will take steps to turn it into such a hub’.
Poland has continued over the past week to take steps along the road at least closer to a return to normality. Perhaps symbolically, on Wednesday Cabinet minister Michał Dworczyk announced that the country’s first temporary Covid-19 hospital established late last year at the National Stadium in Warszawa, would cease operations on Sunday. Dworczyk said that over 1,800 people had been treated there and it would be possible to rapidly reactivate the facility in the future if it was necessary.
A combination mixing on-site and remote classes for the majority of school pupils commenced on Monday as part of the continued easing of Covid-19 restrictions. All pupils will be able to return to on-site classes from the end of the month. Last Friday bars and restaurants across Poland were allowed to reopen their outdoor terraces from midnight, with some comparing the atmosphere to New Year’s Eve. Indoor dining, with capacity restrictions, can resume from May 28th.
The level of new Coronavirus cases in Poland is continuing to run at a far lower level than that reported earlier in the year. On Wednesday, the country reported 2,344 new Covid-19 cases, with 329 deaths at least partially attributed to the virus. Wednesday’s figures brough the total number of reported Covid-19 cases in Poland since the outbreak began to 2.86m with 72,250 deaths at least partially attributed to the virus.
The governments vaccination program is continuing to be rolled out with the total number of vaccinations as of Wednesday standing at 16.37m, including 4.79m who’ve been fully vaccinated. From Monday 16 and 17-year-olds have been eligible to register for vaccination, although vaccination of minors requires parental consent.
The past week has seen continuing bad news for Poland’s main opposition party in parliament, Platforma Obywatelska, with more record low ratings in opinion surveys and the departure on Monday of MEP Róża Thun. She said the final straw for her had been the party’s stance on the EU recovery fund vote in the Sejm that went counter to its pro-EU stance and endangered funding coming to Poland. Meanwhile, the party’s national board has moved to expel two Sejm members who’ve called for the replacement of party leader, Borys Budka.
It’s been reported that despite strong international protests, the jailed head of the Association of Poles in Belarus, Andżelika Borys, is set to remain in custody for the next three months. She was arrested by police in Grodno, close to the border with Poland, on March 23rd, and later charged with ‘inciting hatred’.
A report entitled ‘Isolation – Voices from the Basement’ drawn-up by the European Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group on the initiative of Polish MEP Anna Fotyga, was published on Monday outlining harrowing accounts of the torture of prisoners in eastern Ukraine by Russian, and Russian-backed forces. The report details what it claims are ‘human rights violations under international law committed by the Russians, and separatists in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic’. According to the report, since the conflict in the Donbas region commenced in 2014 around 4,000 Ukrainians have been taken prisoner by separatist forces, backed by Russia. Fotyga is a Prawo i Sprawiedliwość MEP, who served as Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs between May 2006 and November 2007.
Poland’s new female tennis sensation, Iga Świątek, has claimed another major championship win. On Sunday, she defeated the Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in the final of the Italian Open women’s singles played in Rome. The 19-year-old Pole took just 46 minutes to claim her first Women’s Tennis Association 1000 title, following her breakthrough victory in last October’s French Open Grand Slam event and victory in the Adelaide International in February this year. On Monday, it was confirmed that Światek, whose coached by fellow Pole, Piotr Sierzputowski, has risen six places in the latest WTA rankings to a career best world number 9.
Also on Sunday, the Ekstraklasa football league’s disjointed 2020/2021 season drew to a close with Legia Warszawa being crowned champions for the 15th time, with Raków Częstochowa in the runners-up spot.
Tuesday marked the 77th anniversary of the capture of the German-occupied Monte Cassino abbey site by the Second Polish Corps commanded by General Władysław Anders, with the Polish and British flags being raised atop the hill. Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak travelled to the site of the battle for the occasion, to honour Polish soldiers involved in their most famous battle of the Second World War outside of then-occupied Poland. He described the heroes of the Battle of Monte Cassino as ‘role models for Polish Army soldiers today’ and said that ‘We pay tribute to all those who are laid to rest here and who gave their lives for their homeland’. General Anders’ daughter, Anna Maria Anders, who serves as Poland’s Ambassador to Italy, was among the officials who took part in Tuesday’s ceremonies. The Polish military cemetery on the slopes of Monte Cassino was described by Błaszczak as ‘a sacred place for every Pole’.
That’s all for this week.