In our Poland Newsletter guest contributor Dr. Milosz Hodun is giving us monthly updates about current news, events and all other things you need to know about Poland.
Topic of the month
It’s Getting Hot In Here
Poland has been facing a heat wave. In some places, the thermometers were showing 35°C in the shade. Poland set its June record of 38,2°C. It also saw higher levels of energy consumption than ever before, with people switching on fans and air conditioning units to try to stay cool. To be able to deliver as much electricity as needed Polish power plants work in full speed, burning eve more coal…
Ten regions have agricultural drought, and the number of voivodeships covered by deficit has increased to ten, according to the Institute for Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (IUNG) in Puławy. The greatest threat of agricultural drought has been recorded among spring cereals – it covers 22,2% of the municipalities of the country. Agricultural drought was also recorded in winter cereal crops. It appeared in 322 municipalities in Poland (13%). Nevertheless, such a crop would still be up 9% from last year’s production. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are much more expensive this year due to the drought.
Rising food prices are the main reason for the high inflation.
Some cities suffer water shortages. Many days with temperatures over 30°C left the city of Skierniewice running out of water. The local authorities asked people to limit activities like watering lawns and washing cars.
European leaders failed to set a target for carbon neutrality by 2050, the European Commission’s proposal backed by 24 of the EU’s member states, but vetoed by Poland, Hungary, Estonia and the Czech Republic.
Supporters of the ambitious agenda plan believed that the entire Union would show it was leading the global transition towards limiting global warming and cleaner air ahead of a key UN climate summit in September. Instead, the 2050 date was dropped into a footnote, which read: For a large majority of member states, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050. “Everyone tried to accommodate different Polish wishes, but in the end they blocked,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action.
Polish government has long objected to the milestones laid out in the emissions reduction roadmap drafted by the EU– a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a 60% reduction by 2040 and 80% by 2050. Poland stopped adoption of the roadmap in June, when it objected to a reference to moving to a 25% reduction target for 2020. That was removed, but Morawiecki now is blocking any increase in the 2030 or 2040 targets.
The veto, terrible for the EU and the climate policy, was seen as a personal success of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and it was presented like that in Poland. Morawiecki convinced his Central European allies to back him instead of the mighty Macron-Merkel duo. In particular, he convinced Viktor Orbán to withdraw his initial support to the Commission’s climate proposal. Others were easy to convince. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called the efforts “ecological hysteria,” and asked, “Why should we decide 31 years ahead of time what will happen in 2050?”
Morawiecki will be using his leader’s position to negotiate a better financial package for future for new climate deal. Poland wants a strong compensation set for its industry in exchange for agreeing to commit the European Union to a more ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Morawiecki said. “So that potential changes and potential new commitments, which may appear in the case of EU climate policy, would reflect our stage of economic development and the challenges and risks we face”, he added. Morawiecki called for a “fair” transition to zero emissions. “We don’t want a situation in which caring for the world’s climate will happen at the expense of the Polish economy,” he concluded.
Sadly, Polish government cannot think big. Between 2001 and 2010, climate damages cost Poland EUR 12 bn, while dirty air claimed the lives of more than 40.000 people per year. The health of countless more suffered and will continue to suffer.
Even the “Clean Air” programme run by the Polish government with the EU money was stopped on the last day on June. A EUR 8 bn clean air programme was cancelled when Warsaw did not respond properly to the EU concerns. Poland’s government wanted to renovate 4 million homes and buildings over the next 10 years with better insulation and more efficient heating systems. The EUR 25 bn scheme (total amount of EU and Polish funds) launched last year and is meant to tackle the country’s poor air quality. The scheme needed nearly half a million applications every year to hit its lofty target but has been struggling to attract attention. The Commission says that only 7.500 contracts have been completed so far. Experts have warned that the fund set up to manage the programme is ill suited to deal with such a large outreach campaign. Completed contracts have also been granted to new builds and money has been spent on replacement coal-powered boilers.
Anti-pollution activists have warned that the current system has formed a bottleneck and does not function well due to the poor distribution network, since all is done by the government-dependent agency instead of municipalities, NGOs, companies and banks. The Commission wanted to use the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to attract the private capital needed to co-fund the programme. But minister Henryk Kowalczyk was not able to answer the concerns, not much development was observed and Poland lost the subsidies.
Summer Strike for Climate in Warsaw
Thirteen-year-old Inga Zasowska started her Summer Strike for Climate by the parliament building in Warsaw. “At least in this one situation, politicians should unite and together take decisive action with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” she told journalists.
Zasowska takes her inspiration from Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg’s weekly school strikes, and plans to follow in her footsteps by sitting outside parliament every Friday in July urging lawmakers to act on global warming.
The teenager got support from environmental activists and artists. People are joining her in front of the parliament. She was on the cover page of “Gazeta Wyborcza”.
But not everybody likes what Zasowska is doing. Right-wing media and politicians criticize her using words that could be easily described as hate speech (towards a 13-year-old girl!). She was defended on Twitter by Greta Thunberg herself who called Zasowska a hero.
ECJ says NO
The European Court of Justice rules that Poland’s lowering of the retirement age of Supreme Court judges is “contrary to EU law” and breaches the principles of judicial independence.
The law was put forward by the Law and Justice party in 2017, claiming that getting rid of many of the older, educated in the communist system, judges would modernize the entire system and root out corruption. According to the act, judges affected by the lowered retirement age were given the possibility to request a prolongation of their mandate, which could be granted by the president for a period of three years, and renewed once. There were no clear criteria established for the president’s decision and no judicial review if he rejects the request. Moreover, the only safeguard included in the Polish law was a non-binding consultation of the National Council for the Judiciary.
This was seen as attempt to circumvent the independence of the judiciary and packing another judicial institution, after the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Council of the Judiciary, with PiS-connected judges.
After coming into power in July 2018, the law was immediately challenged by the European Commission and Polish government has since scrapped the law. President Andrzej Duda has eventually reinstated the judges who had been forced into early retirement.
The change is “not justified by a legitimate objective and undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence,” the ECJ said in its judgment. And the Commission noted that: This is an important ruling in support of the independence of the judiciary in Poland and beyond. It is also a welcome clarification of the principles of irremovability and independence of judges, which are essential elements of effective judicial protection in the European Union. The judgment also clarifies that, although the organisation of justice in the Member States falls within national competence, when exercising that competence the Member States are required to comply with their obligations under EU law. Every national court is also a European court when applying EU law. Member States must therefore ensure effective judicial protection for individuals in the fields covered by EU law.
With almost 7pp loss to PiS the opposition block led by the Civic Platform is looking for a new formula to win the elections, or at least to prevent PiS from having the absolute majority in the next Sejm. But polls and analyses show that it will be very difficult and PiS could break another electoral record.
The European Coalition did not work well in the EP elections. A broad block from conservative agrarian PSL to progressive Nowoczesna and the Greens was to divers. The voters were lost and not motivated to vote. Especially those positioning themselves on the right and left extremes of the opposition parties. For many PSL voters liberal agenda about LGBT rights and the church was not acceptable. For liberal voters the Coalition lacked reliability to push any of the social issues forward, and newly established Spring (Wiosna) looked more promising in that sense.
New talk between the opposition parties started in the centrist core of the Coalition. The successful Civic Coalition, an alliance created by Nowoczesna and PO for regional elections last year that still exists in most of the regional assemblies and city councils, we re-affirmed on the national level. Both parties created a common parliamentary group and announced a common campaign team. Krzysztof Brejza, a young Civic Platform MP who ran a very active EP campaign, was appointed the campaign director and Adam Szłapka, secretary general of Nowoczesna, was appointed the campaign coordinator. They will be supported by other MPs, MEPs and successful mayors, including very popular mayors of Łódź, Hanna Zdanowska, and Sopot, Jacek Karnowski.
After a very moderated success of Wiosna (Spring) in EP elections (6% and 3 MEPs, much below expectations) this newly established left-wing party is looking for a way to survive on the political scene. Party leader Robert Biedroń, who publicly promised to leave his MEP mandate and lead his movement in the autumn general elections, is feeling very comfortable in Brussels and doesn’t want to come back to Warsaw. Many party supporters are shocked with his behavior. They expected new standards in politics and personal ambitions of the chairperson disappointed them. The mood inside the party is very low, entire regional structures are leaving and party VP has quitted. What is more, it is said that Wiosna is broke and its annual financial report may be rejected by the National Electoral Committee what would be equal to losing state subsidies.
In such circumstances, Biedroń has announced his interest in joining European Coalition. Biedroń’s statement comes after he has repeatedly stated that Wiosna would not join the alliance. Asked about what made his party’s leaders reconsider their view, he argued that all opposition parties must focus not on how much they could lose, but how they could win the election, noting that Poland is “threatened” by a constitutional majority of Jarosław Kaczyński if the opposition does not unite. “There is no opposition in the opposition, there is no enemy among democrats and democrats,” he added.
But access of Wiosna to the Coalition is a no go for PSL. The agrarian party is convinced that their voters would never accept cooperation with anti-church and pro-LGBT Wiosna. This is way PSL’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz decided to build his own coalition named the Polish Coalition. This is supposed to be a Christian democratic block that would be able to get some of the PiS voters, especially in the countryside and smaller towns. The problem is that no other party really wants to join in. Some former Civic Platforms MPs, kicked out from PO after voting for stricter anti-abortion law, announced their access but that’s all for now. It looks like the only partner who may be interested in Kosiniak-Kamysz’s offer is… Paweł Kukiz. His anti-establishment Kukiz’15 is the biggest loser of the EP elections with very small chances to pass the 5% threshold in October/November. Kukiz who has strongly criticized PSL so many times recently has apologized. This could result with a very exotic cooperation. Both Kukiz’15 and PSL are also negotiating with so called “Independent Local Politicians” (Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy) who were very successful in 2018 elections and govern (with PiS) in Lower Silesia.
But PSL is still trying to convince Civic Platform to say “no!” to Wiosna and create a center-right coalition with PSL. This would push Wiosna towards SLD and Razem (Together). Many commentators say this is the best scenario to beat PiS: two opposition blocks, PO-N-PLS and left wing parties. But right now all scenarios are still on the table and pretty much everything depends on the decision of Grzegorz Schetyna.
Control over the Constitution vs Human Rights
We have a first very visible example of manual control over the Constitutional Tribunal. The Tribunal ruled exactly like the justice minister wanted.
In 2017, Adam J., a printer from Łódź refused to make posters for an LGBT organization because of his religious beliefs, for which he was sentenced by a court of first instance.
In May 2017, the Regional Court in Łódź sustained the ruling by the District Court for Łódź-Widzew, and found Adam J. guilty of misdemeanor of “premeditated and unjustified refusal of service he was legally obliged to provide”, according to Article 138 of Misdemeanor Code. In September 2017, the minister of justice who is also the general prosecutor submitted the reversal in favor of Adam J. In June last year, the Supreme Court rejected the justice minister’s appeal against the ruling in the printer’s case. Minister Ziobro then decided to refer the case to the Constitutional Court. And the latter one is for a few years already- after the unconstitutional reforms- fully dependent on PiS.
In the last week of June this year the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the law the printer was convicted under was unconstitutional, because punishment for refusing to provide services on the grounds of beliefs interfered with the service providers’ rights to act according to their conscience. Ziobro happily commented: “I would like to say that everybody is entitled to freedom and nobody, using slogans of tolerance, should use the apparatus of the state to force others to violate their own freedoms, be it freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or economic freedom.”
The judgment has been heavily criticized by human rights NGOs and the Ombudsman. They say that the real long-term consequences of the ruling may be discrimination against different groups on the market. Businesspeople will be able to discriminate based on sex, age, race, nationality, disability or sexual orientation. “The Article 138 of Polish Misdemeanor Code played a very important anti-discriminatory role in Polish legal system. Polish human rights ombudsman receives a lot of complaints regarding unequal treatment of customers when it comes to access to services,” commented Anna Błaszczak-Banasiak from the Equal Treatment Office at the Commissioner for Human Rights Office.
Gender Salary Gap: PLN 1.000
The median salary of women in Poland was PLN 4.000 gross, and of men – PLN 5.000 gross in 2018, a report of National Remuneration Research (OBW) revealed. The highest wages for women aged before 40 are in the Mazowieckie Voivodship – PLN 4.790, while the lowest salary (PLN 3.078 gross) is in Lubelskie voivodeship.
The median wages in international companies are PLN 3.700 – PLN 6.499, and in Poland, the range is PLN 3.000 – 4.100 PLN gross.
Innovation and New Tech
Since 2015 Polish costumers can use BLIK to make payments in stores and online, withdraw cash and send P2P transfers, all using their mobile phone. The system was established by Polish Payment Standard, a company that’s formed by Poland’s six largest banks, Alior Bank, Bank Millennium, Bank Azchodni WBK, mBank, ING Bank and PKO Bank Polska. And immediately it covered 60% of Poland’s bank clients.
In last four years the service became very popular and other banks joined. It was a part of a shake-up that the payment systems went through in recent years, with consolidations and adjustments to new consumer habits. In 2018 BLIK started a cooperation with MasterCard.
In June Polish Payment Standard announced that the system may be expanding even further and BLIK payments will be available also in Netflix or Uber. PPS CEO Dariusz Mazurkiewicz believes introducing the system on to new sites will help it expand internationally. He also announces that BLIK wants to sell its software to countries where it does not plan to launch it under the BLIK brand and is in talks to sell the system to companies in two other markets, one in Africa and one in Latin America.
In 2015 BLIK noted 2 million transactions. In 2018 they were 91 millions.
Fighting Droughts with Bacteria
Polish scientists from the Bio-Gen company have found a way to support plants during a drought – through the clever use of bacteria.
“Knowing that hydration will not be possible everywhere, we approached the problem from a different angle, looking for a natural way to prepare plants for living in conditions of limited access to water,” Bio-Gen CEO said. Biotechnologists at Bio-Gen worked with specialists at Procam Polska, a distributor of plant protection products, to develop a natural solution using selected local bacteria. Over the past two years, they have tested it in northern Poland, where drought is a growing problem.
The researchers found that plants form a larger root system in the presence of the bacteria, which makes them more resistant to the lack of rainfall. They catch even very small amounts of water and are able to create a sort of bank of water in the soil, which is used by the plant.
This solution gives lots of hopes to Polish farmers that are more and more worried about their future seeing the changing weather conditions.
Polish engineer Celina Mikołajczak, a senior manager for battery pack development at Tesla, has been hired by Uber to help the ride-hail company’s “flying car” project get off the ground.
For six years, Mikołajczak served as senior manager and technical lead for battery technology, cell quality, and materials analysis. She worked with Tesla’s suppliers, tested the car company’s lithium-ion batteries for long-term use, oversaw quality assurance, and conducted “failure analysis” to drive battery cell production and design improvements.
Now she will be responsible for the super ambitious air taxi service that hinges on the successful development of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. According to The Verge “there are practically zero aircraft that run on purely battery-electric power in service today, and definitely none being used in a commercial ride-hail service. The hurdles to getting this type of service off the ground are enormous.”
From the Lublin Union to the European Union
The speakers of the Polish and Lithuanian parliaments marked the 450th anniversary of the signing of the historic union between the two nations that created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest and most populous states in Europe.
Union of Lublin was a pact from 1596 between Poland and Lithuania that united the two countries into a single state. After 1385 (in the Union of Krewo) the two countries had been under the same sovereign. Formally, Poland and Lithuania were to be distinct, equal components of the federation, each retaining its own legislation, army, treasury and administration. Both states agreed to cooperate with each other on foreign policy and to participate in a joint Sejm (parliament). But Poland, which retained possession of the Lithuanian lands it had seized, had much more significant representation in the Sejm and became the dominant unit. The Polish–Lithuanian state remained a major political entity until it was partitioned toward the end of the 18th century.
Speakers of the Polish Sejm and Senate, Marek Kuchciński and Stanisław Karczewski, and the Lithuanian unicameral parliament Seimas, Viktoras Pranckietis, laid flowers at the Union of Lublin Monument in Lublin in Eastern Poland where the act was signed. The ceremony was also attended by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Morawiecki twitted that the Union of Lublin was “a breakthrough document in the history of the world,” adding that the multi-national and multi-religious Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was “centuries ahead of the West.”
Polish-Lithuanian relations have been difficult in recent years, mostly due to controversies about rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania. Poles are about 7% of the Lithuanian population, over 17% in Vilnius and are majority of the population in many of municipalities close to the capital city (almost 80% in Šalčininkai/Soleczniki). The topic of Polish schools and the spelling of Polish surnames and Polish names of villages and towns is still very controversial. Lithuania’s current laws do not allow letters that do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet to be used in Lithuanian citizens’ documents. And the Law on the State Language forbids languages other than Lithuanian on public signs. Poles are forced to use Lithuanian versions of their names and Polish bus drivers are still being fined for using Polish names of their destinations. “The Lithuanian minority in Poland (…) has no problems when it comes to using Lithuanian letters in their forenames and surnames, as well as in the names of places, and we believe that these issues in Lithuania should be regulated in the same way,” said last year Polish minister of foreign affair Jacek Czaputowicz..
History has also been an important factor that divides both nations, and especially politics from Vilnius and Warsaw. Pre-WWII military actions and the annexation of Vilnius region, certain actions of Poland’s Home Army (AK) in Lithuanian are among the most difficult topics.
What has not been helpful is also the profile of the Polish minority’s party in Lithuania. AWPL is very right-wing, nationalistic and cooperates with Russian minority that has lots of sympathy towards the current leadership in Moscow. Due to this alliance and impact of Russian TV majority of Poles in Lithuania like Vladimir Putin and about 40% favors the annexing of Crimea.
Previous Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė also was not looking for any tighter cooperation with Poland. She was touching the nationalistic chord and even broke with the tradition of having a first foreign visit of the Lithuanian head of state in Warsaw (and traveled to Stockholm instead). Her attitude changed in last years of her decade-long time is office when she saw Poland, and Polish military potential, as an ally against Russian expansion. “Lithuanian-Polish relations are not experiencing a renaissance, however there is a visible political and academic warming, pursuit of common denominators and mutual benefit. The nearing Lithuanian presidential and European Parliament elections inevitably will present questions about Lithuania’s place in the region and the state and prospects of relations with its neighbors”, commented last year Myndaugas Jurkynas for Delfi.lt.
In the 2019 Lithuanian presidential race both main candidates announced that Warsaw would be a destination of their first official trip, and in general gave hopes for better bilateral relations.
Stanisław Karczewski said that Poland’s present contact with Lithuania is the best in years, stressing politics, energy and economy as the areas of close cooperation.
The Last Ever Issue of a Porn Magazin with a Prize in Cannes
“The Last Ever Issue,” a feminist send-off for an ailing pornographic magazine in Poland, won the Glass Lion for Change Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
In 1990s “Twój Weekend” was an institution in Poland. It was the most well known porn magazine in the country. Openly present at all newsagents and gas stations, and discreetly present at many homes dominated the market long time before Playboy and other discovered Poland. But with aggressive competition, especially from the Internet, “Twój Weekend” went into financial trouble.
It was purchased by three companies including Gazeta.pl, one of the biggest news sites in Poland connected to “Gazeta Wyborcza”, with the only goal… to shut it down. But they buyers released one last issue that took inspiration from the content of the original magazine. Only this time, it features stories of powerful Polish women and columns that corrected much of the misinformation “Twój Weekend” had previously spread.
Made by VMLY&R Poland “The Last Ever Issue” was not only beautiful visually but also published important texts and comments on modern feminism and position of women in modern Poland. It featured powerful women and topics like sex education.
Beaver Sausage or Beaver Pierogi?
Polish culinary heritage may be enriched with one unexpected component, namely beaver meat.
Poland’s agriculture minister Krzysztof Ardanowski spoke in the Sejm about taking steps to place beavers and bison on “the list of edible animals”. The minister said hunting quotas for beavers, which are protected under the 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, were far from being depleted.
He also added that beavers are aphrodisiac… These comments sparked puzzlement amongst conference attendees, as there is no such ‘list of edible animals’.
Beavers are only partially protected in Poland, and may be killed between October and March under certain circumstances, unlike other European countries. However, hunters are not allowed to eat beavers.
In the past it was very different. For many centuries, the beaver was very highly valued game. Polish black beaver coats were considered by foreign markets to be the most beautiful. Beaver meat was sought-after by medieval monasteries and magnate courts. Some believe that in those times beavers were considered to be fish due to their tails covered with pseudo-scales, and fish dishes were thought meatless, so allowed on Fridays and during the Lent.
Minister’s remarks were widely commented in Poland. And the prime minister Morawiecki had to intervene calming people down that there won’t be able to find any beaver meat at their butcher’s.
Germany and Poland
AfD travels to Szczecin. Or Not
AfD politicians decided to hold a meeting in Poland after German hotels objected to hosting the far-right group.
Some 70 of the party’s 91 members of parliament planned to gather on last Friday of June in Szczecin, near the border with Germany. According to some German sources, one of the reasons is lower room rates at Polish hotels. But the main motive were booking cancellations in Germany. A gathering of AfD lawmakers had previously been cancelled in March after a hotel turned them down fearing what it called bad “publicity”.
It is said that Poland was chosen also to avoid anti-AfD demonstrations that usually happen alongside the party meetings.
Unfortunately, for the right-wingers Radisson Blue in Szczecin unceremoniously nixed their reservations two hours before the meeting. The said there had been… a power outage. AfD announced legal actions against the hotel.
Instead, the disappointed lawmakers met in the Reichstag building in Berlin.
Polls & trends
Kantar Public, 19.06.2019
PiS 34% (-6)
PO 24% (+3)
Wiosna 8% (+2)
Kukiz’15 7% (+3)
Holiday Plans of Poles
Where will you spend your vacations?
Domestic holidays 33,8%
Holidays abroad 31,2%
How much will you spend?
Domestic holidays: PLN 1.781
Holidays aborad: PLN 3.162
Most popular destinations
|Destinations||% of tourists going there||Avarage cost per person|
How will you get there?
Own car 24%
Friend’s car 5%
About the author ____________________________________________
Expert at the Nowoczesna party. PhD, formerly a part-time teacher at Reykjavik University School of Law. His main areas of interest are comparative constitutional law and federalism. Board member of Projekt: Polska Association. Until September 2015, he worked as an expert within “Presidential Experts’ Programme” at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland. He is member of the Board of Directors of the European Liberal Forum.