Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
A central tenet of Polish foreign policy over the past three decades has been the maintenance of the closest possible political alignment with the United States. That objective led Poland into participation in the international security mission in Afghanistan. As a result, this week the country was caught-up in the frantic evacuation efforts from Kabul following the dramatic collapse of the Afghan government. That collapse, evoking memories of the fall of Saigon in 1975, resulted from the withdrawal of U.S. military support by the Biden Administration, in the process handing victory to the Taliban. Poland’s relations with the U.S. are not, of course, as warm now as they were under the Trump Administration, as evidenced by a highly critical statement this week from the U.S. State Department over a new Polish law designed to end uncertainty caused by property restitution claims.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland joins in the international evacuation effort from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul
• the government announces its intention to reshape procedures for disciplining judges in at least a partial move to meet the August 16th European Court of Justice deadline
• there’s stinging U.S. criticism of a new law seen as restricting World War Two – era property restitution claims, and
• Polish paralympians prepare for their Tokyo Games.
Last Sunday saw the fall of Kabul to the Taliban bringing twenty years of involvement by the international coalition led by the U.S. to an ignominious end. That coalition, until the withdrawal of the last Polish forces at the end of June, also included Poland. As a result the government has been involved in the international evacuation efforts from the country including of Afghans who had assisted Polish forces.
In a social media post Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that ‘Poland does not leave its allies and friends in need. We are constantly monitoring the situation in Afghanistan. At my command, the first flight to Afghanistan will soon depart, which will be used to evacuate people in need of our care. This operation is being prepared from yesterday. I also appeal to politicians and public figures not to use the dramatic situation in Afghanistan to fuel social emotions. Our priority now is to ensure the security of all those who are associated with Poland in Afghanistan, some of these activities must, for obvious reasons, remain secret. I am asking for responsibility’.
Morawiecki said on Tuesday that Poland would help in the evacuation of approximately 100 people from Afghanistan in response to requests for assistance from the EU, NATO and International Olympic Committee. He said that ‘in the coming days, we will be presented with a list of probably around 100 people whom we are going to help evacuate’. Polish military aircraft will take evacuees from Kabul to Uzbekistan, and from there to Poland or other European countries. He said that Poland had started to airlift people out in June as it was ‘our obligation’, adding that ten families have already arrived in Poland or ‘other places of their choosing’ and ‘we have taken care of them’. Morawiecki pointed out that Ghazni province, where the Polish contingent had been stationed, was captured by the Taliban well prior to the fall of Kabul.
Poland Signals End of Disciplinary Chamber of Supreme Court
The Polish government this week moved to defuse its confrontation with the European Union institutions over the deadline of last Monday, August 16th, for the suspension of some of the country’s controversial judicial reforms. The announcement followed earlier comments by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński that Poland would dissolve the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court as part of a new round of judicial reforms. However, he still insisted that the EU had no right to interfere in a matter Poland regards as of exclusively national competence.
On Tuesday the government said it would move to dismantle the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court as part of a wider judicial reform package. An official statement said that ‘Poland will continue reforms of the judiciary, also in the area of judges’ answerability, aimed at improving the efficiency of this system’, adding that scrapping the chamber would be part of the overhaul. Poland had been threatened with financial penalties if it didn’t complied with the ECJ ruling. In a formal response to the European Commission on Monday Poland said it would submit a motion for the ECJ direction concerning interim measures around the suspension of the work of the Disciplinary Chamber to be revoked.
Internal Ruling Bloc Politics Following Exit of Porozumienie
The moves towards accommodation with the EU will scarcely do much for Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’s relations with its remaining significant coalition partner, Solidarna Polska, following last week’s exit from the Zjednoczona Prawica of Porozumienie. The final break with Porozumienie came after the dismissal from the government last Tuesday of then Deputy Prime Minister and Development, Labour and Technology Minister Jarosław Gowin. The sacking of their leader was followed on Wednesday by the party’s exit from the United Right. Last week’s developments leave the Mateusz Morawiecki government in a formal minority in the Sejm. Judging by subsequent events it looks to be still easily capable of winning key votes with the inclusion of the mainly break-away Porozumienie group, the Republicans, in the Zjednoczona Prawica, as well as the outside support of Kukiz’15, and other smaller groups and independents.
Gowin’s dismissal followed the earlier firing of a deputy minister from his party over criticism of the Polski Ład. Gowin himself had also been critical of the government’s flagship new policy saying it would impose higher taxes on hard-working Poles. Porozumienie subsequently stated conditions for remaining in government including accepting amendments to the controversial new broadcasting law, which was subsequently passed by the Sejm.
New Government Welfare Initiative for Families
The rollout of the Polski Ład policies has continued with the government this week approving plans for a new allowance for families with children between one and three years of age. The measure, to be introduced from next year, will apply to all children after the first with families entitled to receive a total of 12,000 złotych per child. A statement said that around 410,000 children are expected to be covered by the so-called Family Welfare Capital programme.
U.S. State Department Criticises Poland over Second World War Property Restitution
The U.S this week joined in international criticism of President Duda’s signing into law of a bill to place a time limit on challenges to administrative decisions. The change is seen by the government as an attempt to end, often unfounded, challenges to property rights, but is seen by others as making it more difficult for victims, including Jewish victims, to gain restitution for property lost under the Nazi German occupation.
The U.S. did welcome remarks by President Duda at the weekend which were seen as a response to criticism of the new media ownership bill which was passed by the Sejm on a 228-216 vote last Wednesday following a heated debate. It aims to prevent major media firms from being majority owned from outside the European Economic Area. The bill has provoked public protests and is seen by critics as primarily targeting the U.S. Discovery Corporation – owned TVN24.
The statement from the U.S. State Department said that quote ‘The United States reiterates our concerns about amendments to the Code of Administrative Procedure, which President Duda signed on August 14, severely restricting restitution and compensation for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era. We deeply regret the adoption of these amendments. Further, we urge the Polish government to consult with representatives of affected parties and to develop a clear, efficient, and effective legal procedure to resolve confiscated property claims and provide some measure of justice for victims. In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property was unjustly taken, including that of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.
We welcome President Duda’s statement this weekend in support of freedom of expression, the sanctity of contracts, and the shared values that underpin our relationship. We strongly encourage him to act on these values in regard to pending legislation that, if passed in the current form, could severely affect media freedom and the foreign investment climate.
We look forward to working with the Government of Poland to advance our shared priorities on the basis of democratic values including respect for the fundamental freedom of expression‘.
New U.S. Ambassador with a Famous Polish Father
These issues will no doubt be on the agenda of the new U.S. Ambassador to Poland. Earlier this month, the Biden Administration announced the nomination of Mark Brzezinski to this post. He’s the son of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration from 1977 to 1981.
Polish Economy Rebounding from Lockdown
Poland’s economy is continuing to rebound rapidly. In a flash estimate last Friday Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) or Statistics Poland said that GDP rose by 10.9% in the second quarter of the year compared to the lockdown hit second quarter of 2020. It was the highest year-on-year GDP growth rate on record. It followed a 0.9% contraction in the first quarter of the year and a 2.7% contraction in 2020 as a whole. In a final estimate for inflation GUS said that the July annual figure stood at 5% in line with the earlier flash estimate.
Polish Paralympians Hoping for Tokyo Glory
Poland’s paralympians are gearing up for the Paralympics which commence in Tokyo next Tuesday. They’ll be hoping for as successful a campaign as the Poland team in the Tokyo Olympics, who came away with a record haul of 14 medals – four gold, five silver and five bronze. It was Poland’s best Olympic performance this century and placed the country 17th in the overall medals table. 89 Polish Paralympians, 56 men and 33 women will compete in 12 sports at the games. President Duda attended a send-off ceremony for them in Warszawa on Monday. He tweeted that ‘We believe that these games will be a great success for you. We wish it with all our hearts.’
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.