Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
It is indeed heartening for once to report on a government failing in an attempt to enact new laws to restrict the freedom of citizens under the guise of so-called public health. This was exactly what happened in Poland on Tuesday evening when an attempt to enable employers to demand weekly Covid-19 tests and stiffen the penalties for breaking other rules was defeated. The was because of a rebellion within the ruling Zjednoczona Prawica (United Right) bloc, who joined the opposition in voting to reject the so-called ‘Lex Kaczyński’, albeit most of the opposition did so because they wanted even tougher measures. The proposal itself was widely ridiculed as unworkable and hardly conducive to good workplace relations.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• the Sejm rejects proposals from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość lawmakers for tougher Covid-19 rules dubbed the ‘Lex Kaczyński’
• Poland is to supply defensive ammunition as Morawiecki pledges in Kiev that ‘we stand side by side with Ukraine’
• Central Bank President Adam Glapiński to be reappointed despite the surge in inflation, and
• there’s a controversial appointment as the new Polish national soccer team manager.
On Tuesday the Sejm rejected an attempt by a group of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość lawmakers, with the backing of their party leadership, to pass a law which would have enabled employers to require employees to produce weekly negative Covid-19 test results. It would also have enabled an employee who had produced a negative test but subsequently contracted Covid-19 to claim compensation from work colleagues who hadn’t submitted a negative test, where there was what was termed a reasonable suspicion that the employee contracted the disease in the workplace.
The measure was anathema to some lawmakers who usually support the government, and on the other hand it didn’t go far enough for most of the opposition. The proposal would also have imposed tougher penalties for breaking Covid-19 restrictions. After first getting a negative recommendation from the Health committee, on Tuesday evening the Sejm rejected it by 253 votes to 152, with 37 abstentions. 24 members of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość caucus voted against the measure with many others abstaining or not voting. One of the government rebels, Janusz Kowalski from Solidarna Polska, (elected on the PiS electoral list), tweeted afterwards ‘NO to a left-wing sanitary policy that is going to bankrupt Europe! NO for covid passports! NO to discrimination! YES for COVID-19 treatment! YES to improve the health service! Let us support Poles and fight for their freedom!
Borys Budka, the leader of the opposition Koalicja Obywatelska parliamentary caucus, described the measure as ‘too little, too late’ while other opponents are against any mandatory measures. The measure, a refinement of earlier similar proposals also from PiS lawmakers, followed earlier all party talks on Covid-19 and became identified with PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński who urged its passage. It was know to some as the ‘Lex Kaczyński’. PiS for its part blamed the opposition for the defeat accusing it of playing politics with the measure.
Additional Child Care Allowance Now in Operation
On Tuesday Marlena Maląg, the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy, said that in view of the recent move back to distance learning for most pupils, qualifying parents and carers can again claim an additional child care allowance. The temporary benefit will be available until February 27th. Maląg commented that ‘When we decided to reintroduce remote classes, we also decided to offer an additional care allowance again so that parents are able to provide care when their children learn from home’.
Morawiecki: ‘We Stand Side By Side With Ukraine’
Poland this moved to bring practical substance to its posture in support of Ukraine in the face of the Russian military build-up on its eastern border. On Tuesday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited Kiev where he held talks with top Ukrainian political leaders including the country’s Prime Minister and President.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Denys Shmygal, Morawiecki said that ‘Today we stand side by side with Ukraine’ in the face of threats from Russia. He added that ‘We express our solidarity in words and deeds. Poland is ready to provide support on gas, defense, economic and humanitarian issues’.
Defensive Ammunition for Ukraine
The Prime Minister confirmed that Poland would send tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition, light mortars, man-portable air-defence systems and surveillance drones to Ukraine. Morawiecki told reporters in Kiev that ‘Our part of Europe does not experience earthquakes or volcano eruptions, but living in such close proximity to Russia, we have a sense of living at the foot of a volcano’. Morawiecki repeated Poland’s stance against Nord Steam 2 calling on Germany not to bring it into operation. He commented that ‘Through launching this pipeline, Berlin is loading Putin’s pistol, which he can then use to blackmail the whole of Europe’.
On Monday it was first confirmed that Poland will provide defensive ammunition to Ukraine. The decision was announced by presidential aide Paweł Soloch. He said that Poland’s contribution comprised tens of thousands of defensive-ammunition units, ready to be supplied ‘at any moment’. It followed a meeting of the National Security Council last Friday where President Duda conferred with government and opposition political leaders and security officials.
Fresh U.S. Troop Deployment to Poland
On Wednesday it was reported that the U.S. had decided to deploy additional troops to Eastern Europe over the coming days, including approximately 2,000 to Poland. The move is intended as a show of support for NATO allies unnerved by the crisis over Ukraine.
Krzysztof Szczerski, Poland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told a session of the Security Council called to debate the Ukraine crisis on Monday, that the Russian military buildup is ‘a serious threat to international peace and security, reaching far beyond our region and continent’.
Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau started a four-day visit to the U.S. on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented that the visit could ‘give a new lease of life to Polish-U.S. strategic dialogue’. Rau is due to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, and will also hold talks with Congressional leaders during the visit.
Poland has indicated its willingness to use it’s energy infrastructure to assist Ukraine. State-owned PGNiG said on Tuesday a cargo of liquefied natural gas expected to arrive in Poland from the U.S. later this month will be re-gasified and sent to Ukraine via the Polish gas transmission network by the end of March. PGNiG President Paweł Majewski said in a statement that ‘Thanks to investments in gas infrastructure … we can strengthen the energy security of the region by ensuring access to various sources of natural gas for our customers’.
New 6-Year Term for Central Bank Governor
Despite facing criticism from many economic commentators for not raising interest rates sooner to stem rising inflation, on Saturday it was confirmed that President Andrzej Duda has nominated Adam Glapiński for a second and final six-year term as President of the Narodowy Bank Polski, the country’s central bank. Glapiński is reported to be a close friend of Jarosław Kaczyński. Duda’s nomination of Glapiński is subject to confirmation by the Sejm. His chief of staff was quoted as saying that the president is satisfied with Glapiński record including ‘his efforts aimed at limiting the economic impact’ of Covid-19. Glapiński himself has pointed out that the rate of inflation is not the only measure of economic success or failure. His current term of office ends on June 21st.
Michniewicz Named New National Soccer Boss
There’s been a controversial appointment as the new Polish national soccer team manager. On Monday the PZPN announced that it was giving the job to Czesław Michniewicz, the former manager of Legia Warszawa. The President of the PZPN, Cezary Kulesza, revealed the choice at a news conference during which journalists posed questions about alleged links between Michniewicz and an individual at the centre of a notorious match fixing scandal in the 2000s. Some commentators have suggested that controversy should have disqualified Michniewicz from holding such a prestigious post as national team manager. Michniewicz vigorously defended himself at the press conference and never faced charges in relation to the controversy.
The new appointment runs to the end of the year with options for an extension or earlier termination. The key task facing the new manager is of course to navigate a path through the play offs for Poland to make it to the World Cup in Qatar. Kulesza tweeted that ‘I believe this is the best choice for our team ahead of the upcoming challenges. Our minds are now focused on ‘Mission Moscow’!’.
Poland will face Russia in Moscow on March 24th. If the team win they’ll face either Czechia or Sweden at home on March 29th for a place at the finals. In a video message on the PZPN website Michniewicz said that ‘Today my dream has come true, I’m proud, but I know what’s in store for me’.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.