On Tuesday evening the Sejm adopted a bill to facilitate the drawdown of what the government, or at least the dominant part of it, claims will be a total of 770 billion złotych in EU funding between the 2021-2027 multi-annual budget and the additional funding Poland is in line to receive from the bloc’s Covid-19 recovery fund. However, the vote highlighted divisions with the Zjednoczona Prawica, as, with arguments which will find an echo in many countries, Solidarna Polska asked the question of what price Poland has to pay in terms of control over her domestic affairs in exchange for apparent largesse.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• the Sejm adopts a bill to secure drawdown of funding from the EU Covid-19 recovery fund with Lewica voting with the government
• Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and his Solidarna Polska party warn of a threat to Polish sovereignty from the conditionality attached to EU funds
• initial steps in the May reopening of Poland’s economy and society are underway as the recent sharp fall in Covid-19 case numbers continues, and
• Poland marks the 230th anniversary of the 1791 constitution regarded as the world’s second modern constitution.
On Tuesday the Sejm approved a bill to enable an increase in the EU’s own resources which was a key step to unlock additional funding for Poland, both from the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget and the EU’s Covid-19 recovery fund. The measure was controversial within the ruling Zjednoczona Prawica ruling bloc with Solidarna Polska resolutely opposed to the measure on the grounds that the linking of funding to the so-called ‘rule of law’ agenda could threaten Polish sovereignty.
The debate itself was contentious with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who had indicated that he wished to speak, not being called by Sejm speaker Elżbieta Witek, from the senior coalition partner Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. Ziobro commented afterwards outside the Sejm chamber that the fact that he wasn’t called to speak was more telling than any points he could have made in even a 15 minute speech.
Prawo i Sprawiedliwość have quoted a figure of 770 billion złoytch for what Poland stands to gain, taking the combined amounts from the new EU budget plus the recovery fund. Solidarna Polska warned that such funding doesn’t come without strings. In the vote the bill was supported by 290 members of the Sejm, with 33 voting against, and 133 abstaining including nearly all members of the largest opposition party, Platforma Obywateksa. Due to the opposition of Solidarna Polska, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had taken the precaution of already lining up the support of Lewica, for the measure in return for having included some of their demands in the National Recovery Plan submitted to the EU. After the vote Morawiecki thanked those deputies ‘who rose above party – political calculations’ to approve the bill. In addition to Lewica the bill was also supported from the opposition benches by the PSL and Polska 2050.
The government had submitted the country’s National Recovery Plan to the European Commission on Monday, detailing how it intends to spend the funding it receives from Brussels. The Deputy Development Funds and Regional Policy Minister, Waldemar Buda, said on Monday that all Lewica ’s proposals had been included in the submission. Whether the vote designed to secure the release of funding for the National Recovery Plan represents the end of the tensions within the ruling bloc, or an intensification, time will tell. The vote against by Solidarna Polska represented a logical follow through of Ziobro’s opposition to the government’s earlier compromise with the European Union institutions over the attachment of ‘rule of law’ conditionality to future EU funding, a row which at one stage had both Poland and Hungary threatening to veto the overall EU budget.
Above: Scene from the adoption of the 1791 Constitution (Photo: “Poland-01072 – The Constitution of 3 May 1791” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
Some initial steps in the extensive reopening of sectors of the economy and society that have been impacted by Covid-19 restrictions took place this week including the return of the youngest pupils to onsite education. Poles were, however, officially urged to remain at home rather than embarking on long trips during the recent extended May bank holiday weekend.
The recent sharp reduction in reported Covid-19 cases in Poland has continued over the past week. On Wednesday Poland reported 3,896 new Covid-19 cases and 349 deaths at least partially attributed to the virus. Wednesday’s figures brought the total number of reported cases since the outbreak began to 2.81m and the total number of deaths to 68,482.
The country’s vaccination program is continuing to be rolled out with some people queuing for vaccination over the bank holiday weekend. The total number of vaccine shots administered has now surpassed the 12 million mark. As of Wednesday, vaccination figures show that 12.23 million people have received a Covid-19 vaccination, of which 9.19m have received one dose and 3.18m are fully vaccinated either with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of another vaccine.
Last Friday Statistics Poland issued an initial estimate showing that in April annual inflation in Poland stood at 4.3% up from 3.2% in the previous month. The figure was somewhat higher than that anticipated by most commentators. The government’s 2021 budget targets an inflation rate of just 1.8%. Last week Eurostat reported that March unemployment in Poland, based on its calculation methodology, remained the lowest of all 27 EU member states at just 3.1%, with the Czech Republic just slightly behind at 3.2%. The EU average unemployment rate in March was 7.3% compared to 6.4% in March 2020. According to Statistics Poland, the country’s own statistics agency, using a different methodology unemployment in March stood at 6.4%, slightly down from 6.5% in February.
From Tuesday pupils in Poland began the annual ‘matura ’ school leaving exams, commencing with Polish, followed by maths on Wednesday and English today. These are the compulsory subjects but most students take additional subjects to secure university admission. This year the exams are being taken by 271,000 recent school leavers and 96,000 others who are repeating the exams in the hope of securing better grades.
On Sunday Ekstraklasa side Raków Częstochowa defeated lower league opposition from Arka Gdynia 2-1 to win the Polish football cup. It was the first time that Raków Częstochowa had won the national cup title in their 100-year history. The game in the eastern city of Lublin was played behind closed doors with no fans allowed in. Football stadiums are scheduled to partially reopen to spectators from May 15th as part of the rolling program to relax Covid-19 related restrictions.
Legia Warszawa had earlier successfully defended it’s Ekstraklasa top-flight Polish soccer league title with three games to spare at the conclusion of a season badly distributed by Covid-19 restrictions. They did so after Raków Częstochowa had to settle for a goalless draw against Jagiellonia Białystok last Wednesday.
On Sunday as part of the long May bank holiday weekend Poland marked Flag Day. The Polish national colours were ceremoniously raised on the clock tower of the Royal Castle in Warszawa. Flag Day is a modern concept in Poland, dating only from 2004. People across the across were urged to display the national flag in front of their homes, with public events scaled back due to Covid-19.
As well as being Flag Day, May 2nd was also Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day. In a message to mark the occasion Foreign Minister, Zbigniew Rau, commented that ‘I wish all our Compatriots living abroad the very best of luck. Thank you for cherishing Polish culture and tradition, for being faithful to the language and faith of our Fathers, for your love of our common homeland, Poland’.
On Monday Poland marked the 230th anniversary of the historic constitution of the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth adopted on May 3rd, 1791, which is regarded as the world’s second modern constitution following the U.S. constitution of 1787. Parliamentarians from Poland and Lithuania held a joint online session on Monday to mark the anniversary. Lithuania’s President, Gitanas Nauseda, attended the session in person in the Sejm along with President Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki. Duda told the session that the 1791 constitution should be ‘a constant inspiration among the challenges of the 21st century’.
Although the 1791 Constitution didn’t long survive with Poland being partitioned between Prussia, Austria and Russia, the document remained a symbol of Poland’s desire for freedom. May 3rd was reinstated as a public holiday in 1919 and again in 1990 following the fall of Communism.
That’s all for this week.