Nations in Transit - Poland (2003)
|Publication Date||29 May 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Nations in Transit - Poland (2003), 29 May 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473aff29c.html [accessed 31 January 2015]|
Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Economy: Mixed capitalist
Private Sector as % of GDP: 75%
Life Expectancy: 74
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (95 percent), Eastern Orthodox, Protestant (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Polish (98 percent), German (1 percent), Ukrainian and Byelorussian (1 percent)
|Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework||1.50||1.50||1.50||1.50||1.50||1.50|
Poland continues to make steady progress in its transition from communism. Since 1989, social, political, and economic institutions have experienced dramatic transformations. Democratic institutions have successfully taken root at the national, regional, and local levels. The economy, which had been rigidly controlled by the central government, now looks more like the market economies of the West, with a flourishing private sector, free trade flows, and increasing interdependence with other market economies in the region.
In recent years, the process of integration with the European Union (EU) has helped both to solidify positive changes and to generate momentum for additional reforms. Poland's successful political and economic integration with the West is likely to continue in the coming years as it nears full EU membership, which is set to occur in 2004. Poland's progress and status was recognized at the EU's Copenhagen Summit in December 2002, when it, along with nine other countries from the former Soviet bloc, was invited to join in 2004.
Poland's government, led by the post-Communists of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), moved vigorously in 2002 to ensure that the process of EU integration remained on track. And in its most recent report on Poland's progress toward accession, the European Commission noted that in recent years, Poland "has made considerable progress in further consolidating and deepening the stability of its institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities." In the coming years before full, formal integration occurs, continued improvements in the realms of democratization, the rule of law, and economic liberalization can be expected.
In spite of the important progress on the EU front, 2002 was a difficult year for Poland in many respects. Unemployment continued to grow and stabilized at alarmingly high levels (approximately 18 percent). Economic growth stagnated at just 1 percent (gross domestic product year on year), a fact that was particularly jolting because many Poles had become accustomed to the relatively high growth rates of the second half of the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, poor economic performance made life difficult for mainstream political parties, including the ruling SLD, which saw its popularity decline while support for nationalist and populist parties grew substantially.
The center-left SLD maintained a substantial lead over its nearest rivals but saw its popularity decline for most of the year. Nevertheless, the mainstream parties of the center Right, the Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice Party (PiS), failed to capitalize on the SLD's declining fortunes in nationwide local elections in October 2002. The SLD achieved victories in small and medium-size towns and cities but lost to center-right parties in many larger municipalities such as Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw, and Gdansk.
The waning popularity of the SLD and the general incoherence of the mainstream center Right created a situation in which populist and nationalist parties were able to build on their surprisingly successful showing in the parliamentary elections of September 2001. The populist and Euro-skeptic Samoobrona (Farmers Self-Defense) and the League of Polish Families (LPR) remained strong throughout most of the year and performed well in the 2002 local elections. The uncivil behavior of these parties in the Parliament during the past year raised concerns about the strength of Poland's democratic culture. In particular, Farmers Self-Defense leaders at times brought a carnival atmosphere to parliamentary proceedings as they shouted insults, publicly berated leading government officials, and ignored rules of conduct. It remains to be seen whether their inclusion in the ruling coalitions of many regional government bodies following the local elections will temper their disruptive and even antidemocratic behavior.
Ahead of the October 2002 vote, the government instituted a series of procedural changes for local elections. These changes, which in principle should benefit larger political parties (most notably the SLD), were implemented successfully, and the electoral process for mayors and town and county councils went relatively smoothly. The most discouraging aspect of the elections was the relatively low voter turnout, which was 45 percent in the first round and just 35 percent in the runoff phase.
One of the challenges to emerge from the elections was the awkward nature of potential local ruling coalitions. The SLD received the largest share of the vote in most of the 16 regions but in a number of districts had to form governing coalitions with Farmers Self-Defense or the LPR. This could prove difficult, as these populist parties have attempted to undermine the SLD's authority in the national Parliament in recent months. The most notable case was their attempt to remove the SLD's parliamentary Speaker in early October over plans to privatize a power distribution company.
In spite of several high-profile instances of uneven and politically motivated enforcement of laws and continuing funding problems, Poland's progress regarding the rule of law was generally positive in 2002. This process was driven in large measure by the process of European integration. In particular, Poland made a series of improvements that moved it closer to accepted EU norms, including enhanced training for public officials, greater transparency and public access to information, and better regulation of cross-border traffic.
While economic growth was poor and unemployment alarmingly high, Poland remained firmly on a path to liberalization and integration into the global economy. Foreign investors continued to view Poland as a stable, attractive market economy, and Polish-based companies remained competitive. Tariffs and quotas were reduced in line with World Trade Organization guidelines and, with a few notable exceptions for sensitive agricultural products, were virtually eliminated with current EU member states.
Although Poland's general economic liberalization continued, a number of developments raised concerns. First, the process of privatization of large state-owned enterprises became increasingly politicized, as the government delayed or canceled a number of pending share offerings and also intervened in the appointment process to boards of several prominent state companies. Second, the government openly threatened the independence of the Central Bank in an attempt to influence interest rate and exchange rate policies. Third, the appointment of a controversial new finance minister and subsequent government backsliding on commitments to entitlement reform and sound fiscal management left Poland's pubic finances looking increasingly problematic.
In the spring, the conflict between the government and the Central Bank highlighted political differences among key SLD leadership factions. In an attempt to deflect criticism over the country's poor economic performance, Prime Minister Leszek Miller and members of his inner circle chose to blame the Central Bank for slow growth and poor export performance. They claimed that interest rates were too high and that the currency was overvalued, which dampened growth and hurt exporters. While this tactic temporarily allowed the government to shift the blame for economic stagnation, it also raised serious fears among investors and EU policy makers who worried that the independence of the bank was being compromised. As these fears grew, President Aleksander Kwasniewski pushed back against Miller's approach and made a series of moves that improved investor sentiment. By midsummer 2002, the controversy was back, as the well-regarded finance minister, Marek Belka, resigned and was replaced by the controversial Grzegorz Kolodko. Investors and European leaders grew concerned once again. In the end, however, Kolodko made a series of statements that dampened fears at least temporarily, and Poland remained on track for EU accession. The
SLD's greatest achievement in 2002 was its push for EU integration – a policy that has remained constant in all of Poland's post-Communist governments. Following limited progress during the last year of the previous government, President Kwasniewski and key SLD leaders, including Prime Minister Miller, moved negotiations onto a fast track in 2002 and closed a series of difficult negotiations in politically sensitive areas, including landownership, regional aid, and agriculture. The agriculture chapter was easily the most problematic, and the SLD took a considerable political risk when it forced Polish farmers to accept much lower levels of EU subsidies than they had hoped for. This bargain put severe strains on the governing coalition, which includes the SLD and the Peasants Party (PSL). The PSL was marginalized and on a number of occasions sent signals suggesting it might leave the government if it failed to win greater agricultural concessions from the EU. In the end, the SLD managed to hold the coalition together, even as it finalized EU accession on terms that were perceived by many Polish farmers to be unacceptable.
Electoral Process (Score: 1.50)
Poland's electoral system has been evolving since the country held its first semifree democratic elections in 1989. While many of the rules have been adjusted over time, the core democratic institutions at the national level remain very stable. The rules of the political game at the local level have changed dramatically in recent years, as the number of country/state districts has been pared down and the voting rules for town and city elective office have been altered. In spite of the relative fluidity of the situation, the electoral system is generally stable.
Poland has a multiparty parliamentary system that is founded on the principles of proportional representation. The threshold for inclusion in the Parliament is 5 percent for individual parties and 8 percent for coalitions of parties that choose to run together. In the early elections following the end of communism, there were no thresholds, and over 20 parties were included in the Parliament. The introduction of thresholds was driven by a desire to bring more coherence to the party scene and, of course, to force smaller parties to work together more effectively under the banners of the larger parties. There are currently six main parties seated in the Parliament.
The most powerful political office is that of prime minister. Although the president plays a more ceremonial role, over the past decade the office of the presidency has been associated with a good deal of de facto power. For historical as well as technical reasons driven by the evolving nature of the Constitution, Poland's previous president, Lech Walesa, was somewhat more powerful than the president of a typical parliamentary democracy. The current president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, has played a prominent role in foreign affairs and demonstrated a good deal of de facto authority in dealing with Russia, NATO, and a range of foreign investors. Kwasniewski began a second term in December 2000. His first term began in 1995. Both elections were considered free and fair.
The Democratic Left Alliance – the reformed Communists – is the dominant party at both national and local levels. In the current Parliament, the SLD rules in coalition with the much smaller Peasants Party. In the September 2001 parliamentary elections, the SLD, along with the Union of Labor (UP), its electoral alliance partner, captured 41 percent of the popular vote and 216 of 460 seats, thus giving it a clear victory over its closest competitors. Second place went to the center-right Civic Platform, which managed only a disappointing 13 percent of the popular vote. As in previous national elections, independent observers declared the 2001 vote free and fair.
The opposition is made up of four main parties – the Civic Platform, the Law and Justice Party, Farmers Self-Defense, and the League of Polish Families. Although its popularity has declined over the past year, the center-left SLD remains the strongest political force in Poland. The two mainstream center-right opposition parties, PO and PiS, have not worked particularly well together, and neither has managed to gain enough ground to credibly threaten the authority of the SLD in the Parliament.
The mainstream center-right opposition is fragmented and relatively weak. This reflects the aftermath of the implosion of the previous ruling party, Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), which saw its popularity plummet in 1999. Between 1999 and the parliamentary elections of 2001, the popularity of AWS went from approximately 30 percent to less than 5 percent. Both AWS and its former coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW), failed to meet the 5 percent threshold for inclusion in the Parliament. PO and PiS contain some remnants of these former governing parties but have failed to project a coherent or effective agenda and to capitalize on the declining popularity of the SLD. This has been a jarring experience for many supporters of the mainstream center Right, who feel they should have taken advantage of the government's failure to reverse Poland's poor economic growth and high unemployment.
There are no significant barriers to political party organization, and new parties emerge on the political scene frequently. The most notable recent cases of this phenomenon are Farmers Self-Defense and the LPR, which made it into the Parliament with populist and anti-EU messages. Often, both have been obstructionist parties rather than constructive members of the opposition. Although Farmers Self-Defense and its firebrand leader, Andrzej Lepper, have a history of challenging the political system and institutions in Poland, the SLD has at times formed a strategic alliance with them on certain issues in Parliament. In early 2002, they cooperated on two important legislative items that the SLD considered critically important.
First, with the help of Farmers Self-Defense, the SLD disabled the so-called Lustration Law. The law was considered timid by regional standards and required only that persons in public posts reveal whether they had collaborated with the Communist-era secret police. Many prominent SLD politicians had (perhaps inaccurately) answered no to this basic question and following the changes would no longer be held accountable for earlier misstatements.
Second, Farmers Self-Defense backed the SLD's position on changing the rules ahead of the 2002 local elections. Under the new rules, regional and local leaders were selected by a majority d'Hondt method, a system of voting according to party lists that typically favors larger parties such as the SLD. Farmers Self-Defense supported the move because it felt the d'Hondt method would hurt the chances of the PSL, its competitor, for rural votes at the local level. The positive outcomes for the SLD and Farmers Self-Defense in local elections were due, in part, to these rule changes.
The cozy relationship between the SLD and Farmers Self-Defense evaporated over time, as the populist leanings of Lepper came to the forefront. He sharply criticized the government's agricultural policies and questioned its bargaining positions with the European Union on a range of issues, including landownership and farm subsidies. In October 2002, Farmers Self-Defense and the LPR led a movement to oust parliamentary Speaker Marek Borowski, a leading SLD figure. This soured relations between the two parties even further.
The conflicts with Farmers Self-Defense highlight what is perhaps the most potentially destabilizing political dynamic in Poland – agricultural policy. According to the 2001 census, approximately 38 percent of Poland's population is rural, and many farming sectors are underdeveloped and struggling. In short, much of the rural population feels that it has been a relative loser in the post-Communist transition and views the West as a threat. In particular, it fears direct competition with the EU's highly subsidized farmers.
The main political voice of rural interests has traditionally been the PSL, but with the emergence of Farmers Self-Defense this is changing. Both parties are loath to associate themselves with the SLD's agenda on European integration, and this puts the PSL in a particularly difficult position. It wants to maintain the privileges of being in the government (cabinet posts, influence in government agencies, and so forth) but fears that its rural constituency may be abandoning the party.
In spite of its dominance of the political arena, the SLD has experienced unambiguous internal strains, most notable of which was the power struggle between President Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Miller over the choice of the new finance minister in July 2002. Finance Minister Belka, the government's first and most well-regarded choice resigned owing to "exhaustion," which was no doubt compounded by pressures from the government to water down his agenda regarding fiscal austerity and reform. Belka had previously served as the president's chief economic adviser and was widely considered a Kwasniewski ally.
Despite the political show of support, markets reacted very badly to Finance Minister Kolodko, Belka's replacement, as the zloty lost value against major currencies and risk premiums for Polish sovereign debt increased. Following a rocky start, Kolodko made a series of market-friendly statements and managed to calm markets, at least temporarily. Many investors had questioned Kolodko's positions and earlier statements on sensitive issues such as spending priorities, entitlement reform, and the independence of the Central Bank. Some also feared that Kolodko and Central Bank head Leszek Balcerowicz would not get along well, as they had a history of antagonizing each other. To date, that relationship has gone fairly smoothly.
Kolodko's surprisingly unconfrontational approach mirrored a larger public relations policy shift by the SLD that began in the middle of the summer. Since the beginning of 2002, the percentage of those having a "negative" opinion of the government had risen from 40 to 70 percent. In this environment, and with local elections on the horizon in October, the SLD stopped blaming the previous (AWS) government and the Central Bank for all of Poland's economic troubles and projected a more feel-good message. While they made note of the current difficulties, they focused much of their pulic commentary on positive stories such as the prospects for economic recovery and EU accession. They also dismissed the ministers of culture and justice, who had both grown unpopular.
The SLD maintained its position as the leading party in Poland in local elections held on October 27. The leadership had little time to celebrate, however, as it faced the prospect of a weakened national coalition partner, the PSL, and the need to form coalitions with populists and nationalists in regional government councils. While the PSL and the SLD papered over their differences following a divisive run-up to the local elections, which included an attempt by PSL members to oust the SLD's parliamentary Speaker, the future of their partnership is uncertain. At best, their quarrel will be remembered as a temporary setback and the coalition will remain viable. At worst, it could signal the beginning of the ascendancy of Farmers Self-Defense as the main and legitimate political representative of rural interests. In addition, the SLD won a disappointingly low number of mayoral races, which were direct elections for the first time.
While the SLD's electoral dominance was clear, it decided to form coalitions in all but 1 of the 14 regions where it led in the voting with groups that are instinctively anti-EU and have been extremely critical of the SLD at the national level. The center-right alliance of the PO and the PiS won the largest share in just 2 of the 16 regions – Krakow and Gdansk. On balance, the election results were relatively good for all of the main parties. The SLD will face problems with coalition partners at the regional level, but it reinforced its position as the leading national party. The PSL survived. The populists made an impressive showing and will now need to demonstrate that they are capable of behaving themselves in regional councils (something they have had trouble doing in the national Parliament).
Civil Society (Score: 1.25)
The Polish nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector spent most of the year in limbo, as new legislation regulating the sector was under discussion in the Parliament but was not passed. The legislation, if approved, would come as a major boost to the sector, as it would provide additional tax-based mechanisms for financing NGOs. While waiting for this potentially very good news, the sector battled against the perception among international donors that Poland was nearing the end of its transition and therefore would not need to rely on international aid and training to the same degee as it did in the 1990s. One of the key challenges in the coming years will be to develop reliable domestic sources of revenue.
While the proposed legislation is a positive development, it has led to increasing insecurity among a range of groups that have relied on international (primarily U.S. and EU) aid for much of the past decade. At this stage, some of the NGOs with the best prospects are those that have been able either to put down strong roots in local communities or to leverage their experience with transition in Poland into opportunities to provide assistance for nascent civil society groups in countries farther to the east. Western donors have rewarded many such NGOs with ongoing support, with the aim of promoting civil society in countries that have worse conditions than Poland currently does but have a similar Communist legacy. For example, Polish NGOs have been involved in activities such as local media training in republics of the former Soviet Union, where media freedom is still actively curtailed.
In February 2002, the government submitted to the Parliament a new draft Law on NGOs and Volunteerism. The proposed legislation is related to associations, foundations, and churches that conduct activity for the public benefit. The document is based in large part on a proposal drafted by a group representing Polish NGOs and is widely seen as a positive development for the sector. One key aspect of the law is that it sets out rules governing cooperation between NGOs and municipalities, allowing NGOs to carry out "public assignments" and to be paid for these services. The law also permits individuals to transfer 1 percent of their annual income tax directly to a chosen NGO.
Following several months of internal discussion, the first public parliamentary reading of the draft took place on June 21. The law enjoys wide public and media support, and the key question at this point is whether the government will have the political will to move forward and pass it. Given the difficult state of public finances, this is less likely now than when the legislation was first proposed. Advocates of the new law will continue to point out that the revenue effects for the government will be positive in the medium term, as NGOs are likely to be more cost-effective providers of a range of local public services. The NGO community is hoping that the government remains cognizant of this and passes the law in early 2003.
The NGO sector in Poland has made significant progress since 1989. There are more than 50,000 foundations and associations, and approximately one-quarter of all Poles volunteer for NGOs in some fashion. Between 90,000 and 100,000 citizens work fulltime in the NGO sector. A survey of over 2,000 Polish NGOs conducted by the independent, nonprofit association KLON/JAWOR found that government funds accounted for one-third of NGO budget revenues; 25 percent came from the private sector; foreign assistance accounted for some 18 percent of funding (in the past two years, the proportion of foreign funding has decreased); and membership fees and donations from individuals made up most of the rest.
According to the Academy for Development of Philanthropy in Poland, grants and donations to NGOs are tax-exempt, and tax exemptions are offered for corporate donors (up to 10 percent of revenue). Cooperation between local governments and NGOs has been constrained by the absence of established guidelines and measures for standards of service. The new NGO law, if passed in something close to its current form, would help to resolve these difficulties.
The current regulatory environment for NGOs is generally considered fair and open, although there are some obstacles to effective NGO development. One problematic aspect of the current law relates to the registration process. Specifically, there are minimum capital requirements for the registration of a nonprofit organization that create an artificial barrier to entry. In addition, the rates for registration have risen in recent years and made it difficult for smaller groups in less affluent (often rural) areas to establish new organizations. By 2001, the fee was more than 1,500 zlotys (approximately US$400).
One disturbing development in 2002 was the government's underutilization of EU funding targeted to domestic NGOs. The Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK), the government's watchdog research group, reported that the government was doing a poor job of pursuing and transferring grants from the EU's Phare program to Polish NGOs. However, this is not a new problem, as the government has not had the administrative capacity to deal with EU aid in a number of areas.
In spite of its delays on the legislative front, the SLD made several public demonstrations of support for the NGO community in 2002. For example, in July, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the minister of foreign affairs, participated in a conference in Warsaw on social diplomacy, in which he highlighted the role of Polish NGOs in the country's foreign policy. He said the Polish NGOs complemented the government's diplomatic activity, particularly in the areas of social contacts and civil dialogue, and highlighted the positive work being done to "export" Polish democratic know-how to the East, where civil society is less well developed. Cimoszewicz also oversaw the creation of the NGO/MFA Council.
Poland has the most vibrant and politically diverse trade union movement in post-Communist Europe. The two largest unions are the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ, with approximately 1.5 million members) and Solidarity (with approximately 0.9 million members). There are also many small, specialist trade unions (such as the railway engineers union). The strength of the Polish trade union movement is a product of its unique history. In most Communist countries, the principal trade unions were supported by and at least tacitly affiliated with the government. Poland had "official" state-sanctioned unions such as the OPZZ, but it also had a broad-based and credible independent union – Solidarity – that opposed the Communists. Following the collapse of communism, both types of unions remained viable and came to play a critical role in the largely successful reform of Poland's economy.
OPZZ has strong ties to the SLD, and Solidarity has been directly affiliated in some manner with each of the center-right governments in Poland. With the crushing defeat of AWS in the 2001 general elections, Solidarity lost a good deal of access and influence. However, the group remains an important social force and along with OPZZ will continue to influence the process of industrial reform (particularly in heavy industry) and labor regulation.
Poland has a wide range of interest groups that participate actively and freely in the political process. These include trade unions, NGOs, civic associations, and religious organizations. Labor and church-affiliated groups are perhaps the most influential, affecting the political process at the local, regional, and national levels. Public policy institutes – typically sponsored by the private sector, political parties, interest groups, or the national government – also play an important role in the political arena. Several have a direct effect on public policy, and many current and former government officials and policy makers have or have had affiliations with these organizations. To cite two recent examples, independent research groups have directly influenced the government's approach to small and medium-size enterprise reform and to entitlement reform.
Poland's education system is now generally free of political influence and propaganda. This is, needless to say, a dramatic change from the Communist-era system. The primary and secondary education system, which is almost entirely public, is also free of any overbearing influence from the Catholic Church. The system of colleges and universities is still predominantly public – all of the large universities are state affiliated, and the quality of education remains high. However, there has been a substantial growth in the private sector market for higher education. For example, several of the top schools for business administration are privately financed and run.
Independent Media (Score: 1.75)
Poland enjoys a generally high degree of media freedom and independence. In the earliest days of the transition, censorship and government control of the media were outlawed. The 1997 Constitution, in particular, stipulates that "the Republic of Poland shall ensure freedom of the press and other means of social communication" (Article 14). While the overall conditions for the media are clearly among the best in the transition countries, these freedoms are not enjoyed equally by print and broadcasting media.
The environment for print journalism is by most accounts the best among the postsocialist transition countries. There are a number of credibly independent, high-quality newspapers and magazines, and much of the politicization of non-editorial reporting that one witnesses in the region has been avoided in Poland. On the other hand, state-run television and radio is regarded as much less independent, and partisan politicians still exert a good deal of influence and control over the regulation and, by extension, content of these media outlets.
The combined circulation of the main national daily papers is approximately 4 million. The two most important "quality" dailies are Gazeta Wyborcza (circulation approximately 600,000, or 16 percent of the market) and Rzeczpospolita (6 percent). Other dailies with a relatively large circulation are Super Express, Zycie, Przeglad Sportowy, Nasz Dziennik, and Trybuna. The most important weeklies are Polityka, Wprost, and Newsweek Polska, which each have a circulation of approximately 200,000. There are also 46 regional daily newspapers in Poland, as well as several English-language newspapers, including the Warsaw Business Journal and the Warsaw Voice.
Media distribution is dominated by two firms: the state-owned Ruch, which has a 50 percent market share, and the privately owned Kolporter, which controls approximately 40 percent of the market. Print media are almost entirely privately held. Gazeta Wyborcza is owned by Agora S.A., a large media holding company. Rzeczpospolita is controlled by the Orkla group, a Norwegian company.
The new Freedom of Information Law that Poland enacted in July 2001 is generally regarded as an important step toward government openness and accountability. Since the law came into effect, journalists have had improved access to a range of official public documents. However, the law has not been a complete success, for a number of journalists have complained that public officials too often are able to refuse access to requested information on the grounds of "personal data protection."
Articles of the penal code inherited from the Communist era provide from six months to ten years in prison for anyone who publicly "insults, ridicules, or derides" the Polish nation, the state, or its principal organs. A significant number of libel lawsuits are brought against journalists each year. The penalties are up to three years in jail for libeling the president, two years for a member of Parliament or the government, and one year for other public officials. This has led to a climate in which journalists often refrain from criticizing politicians, particularly if they are from smaller publications with less clout and money with which to fight their cases. The larger newspapers are more open in their criticism of officials, but even here there is some restraint.
There are several journalists and editors associations, including the Polish Journalists Association, Journalists of the Republic of Poland, and the Association of Local Press Publishers. To date, however, these groups have not been able to form an effective or cohesive lobbying organization. These associations also have codes of ethics and work to police their own members. Most have adopted the Charter of Media Ethics, a short, seven-point document that entitles them to membership in a group called the Council of Media Ethics. There is also the Press Freedom Monitoring Center, which monitors violations of journalists' rights.
Broadcast media do not enjoy the same degree of freedom as print media. This is due in part to the role of the National Council of Radio Broadcasting and Television (KRRiTV). According to the Constitution (Article 213), "The National Council of Radio Broadcasting and Television shall safeguard the freedom of speech, the right to information, as well as safeguard the public interest regarding radio broadcasting and television. The National Council of Radio Broadcasting and Television shall issue regulations and, in individual cases, adopt resolutions." The council has nine members, of which four are appointed by the Sejm (lower chamber of Parliament), two by the Senat (upper chamber of Parliament), and three by the president. This arrangement has led to a politicization of the council, which is able to influence the tone (and even the content) of political coverage on public television and tightly manage the allocation of licenses.
Public television (TVP) manages and runs 2 nationwide channels (TVP1 and TVP2), 12 regional channels, and 1 satellite channel (Polonia 1) for the Polish community abroad. The third most popular station, after TVP1 and TVP2, is the private Polsat. Each of these three stations has approximately a 20-25 percent market share. Another private station, TVN, also has grown in recent years. Most of the funding for these stations comes from advertisements, although public television also receives small subscriber fees from many households.
Cable and satellite stations are a major presence as well. Out of 12.5 million households in Poland, approximately 4 million subscribe to some form of cable TV and around 2.5 million have their own satellite dish. There are 4 main nationwide radio broadcasters: Public Radio, Radio Zet (private), RMF-FM (private), and Radio Maria (private, Catholic). There are also approximately 200 regional radio stations. Poland scores well in media freedom rankings. Freedom House's 2002 Survey of Press Freedom described the system as "Free."
In April 2002, Rzeczpospolita published the results of its own investigation into the alleged influence of the SLD on public television. The paper found that since the SLD came to power the previous autumn, mainstream opposition parties had rarely been seen on or given access to public TV. In the study, the newspaper produced rather startling data based on content analysis of programming that showed that the government was given almost all of the attention on state TV. Under the previous AWS government, the then opposition SLD was given significant airtime. The report also suggested that political stories presented by the state broadcaster were increasingly being presented from the government's point of view.
Also in April, KRRiTV produced a highly controversial draft amendment to the Law on Radio and TV. The draft radically increased the scope of KRRiTV's authority and raised fears that the ruling SLD would further politicize public broadcast media. The draft also proposed limits on the concentration of capital in the media sector. For example, it would have banned newspapers from investing in television stations. Although the final form of the legislation, which was passed in the fall, was a compromise version, the tone and substance of the original proposal raised serious concerns among press freedom advocates. The proposed legislation would have increased the degree of the current government's control over a more powerful national regulatory body. Many feared that this would have politicized public broadcast media even further.
One component of the draft law was designed to limit capital concentration in the media market. Although the proposal sounded reasonable to many observers, others believed this was in fact an attempt to limit the power of Agora, a major media holding company managed by a number of prominent former Solidarity activists. Agora, the publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza, was seeking to expand into a range of radio and TV markets, and the legislation, in its original form, would have prevented this. Even the U.S. government voiced concerns privately to the SLD leadership.
Following outcry and strong resistance from the major media groups, the government finally moved toward a compromise. In June, Prime Minister Miller met with representatives from the largest TV and radio stations and announced that the government would consider new amendments that were more favorable to the major media groups. In July, the government altered its approach to the draft law and placated its most vocal and powerful opponents, including Agora. Agora will now be able to invest in television channels such as Polsat that reach the entire country. However, less powerful independent radio stations such as Radio Zet and RMF-FM were disappointed with the outcome, because they most likely will be banned from buying certain local stations that they had hoped to acquire.
Governance (Score: 2.00)
Poland's government system is very stable. In spite of recent concerns about a decline in "civility" in the Parliament, the institutions and conduct of government are typically carried out in a professional and responsible manner. The national government has adequate resources to carry out its core functions; however, in some instances, local governments have experienced revenue problems that have made it difficult to carry out basic activities such as maintaining public infrastructure. These problems have been particularly acute in areas where larger state-owned enterprises (SOEs) formerly provided a wide range of public services such as electricity, recreational facilities, day care, and hospitals. Local governments have been saddled with a variety of social welfare and community development roles formerly handled by SOEs, and in many cases there is simply not an adequate local revenue base to support the maintenance of important services.
Poland's political institutions function on three basic levels: national, regional, and local. Below the national, parliamentary level of government, Poland has 16 regions (vojvods), which have independently elected councils. Below the vojvods are local village, town, and city government councils. In addition to these elective councils, mayors are elected at the local level. In October 2002, Poland held its first round of local and regional elections according to a new set of laws that were passed by the Parliament in the summer. Independent observers judged this process as free and fair.
In terms of the formal rules of the local revenue process, the existing rules for financing local government units, which came into effect in 1998, were in force through 2002. According to these simple rules, local and regional governments were to receive 43 billion zlotys from the state budget in 2002. In reality, though, the revenue game at the local and regional levels is quite complicated and opaque. Local governments levy taxes independently of the central government. However, these government institutions are also typically reliant on direct and indirect payments from the central government, including several ministries.
In July 2001, Poland passed a Freedom of Information Law that has improved the openness and transparency of the government substantially. In spite of this positive development, though, there are still problems with adherence to the law. In particular, there have been allegations that government officials too often resort to "personal privacy" language in the law to avoid disclosing information.
Poland's civil service suffers from problems common to most postsocialist countries in the region. According to the European Commission, "The long-standing disincentives to a civil service career (perceived poor status, profile, and rewards) remain and will need to be addressed in the years ahead to ensure the recruitment and retention of a body of independent, experienced officials." In 2002, the government amended the Law on Civil Service, which was meant to create a high-quality, depoliticized, stable core group of civil servants – similar to what is found in Western democracies – who are selected through a competitive process. The amendment, however, allows for the filling of posts reserved for civil servants by non-civil servants for a period of four years. This move enabled the SLD to get a much needed infusion of new civil servants, but it also led to opposition claims that the selection process would now be increasingly politicized.
Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework (Score: 1.50)
Poland's Constitution (1997) provides for a judiciary that is independent from the legislative and executive branches. In recent years, the Constitutional Court has emphasized frequently that judicial power is not only considered independent, but is also viewed as a separate entity from other branches of government. A constitutional tribunal and a state tribunal are charged with interpreting and enforcing the rules set forth in the Constitution.
One notable example of judicial enforcement of the Constitution in 2002 involved the Finance Ministry's proposal for an amnesty for tax evaders. Finance Minister Kolodko introduced a program that would have enabled persons who had not paid income tax in previous years to make a onetime partial payment of 12 percent in return for an amnesty for their previous nonpayment. This was an important part of Kolodko's plans for containing fiscal deficits, and the SLD was fully behind the effort. In October, however, the Constitutional Court annulled the new law, saying it violated the Constitution. This put a great deal of pressure on the government during the final weeks of budget negotiations in the Parliament and was a good indication that the Court was willing to disagree with the legislature on key issues of public policy. Politicians now generally respect the rulings of the Constitutional Court.
Judges in Poland are required to be independent and may not join political parties or trade unions or perform public functions that would call into question their independence. They are appointed by the president, following their nomination by the National Judicial Council. Judges must meet a list of formal requirments and cannot be dismissed or arbitrarily removed.
There were a number of developments during the period covered by this report that suggested things are improving with respect to the rule of law in Poland. In February 2002, a government decree went into effect that facilitated the process of commenting on and complaining about government and public service activities. Individual citizens may submit complaints verbally, on paper, and also by fax, telex, or e-mail. Beginning in July, following a ruling by the Constitutional Court, new, simpler application forms were introduced to provide individuals more equal access to the justice system. On July 30, Poland closed the justice chapter of EU negotiations, which obliged it to fully implement the acquis communautaire in the fields of justice and interior affairs. Finally, in August, laws went into effect that will allow Poland to sign a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which will broaden the scope of protections. In October 2002, the EU commented that "Poland has established a track record of providing appropriate international and constitutional legal safeguards for human rights and protection of minorities." Poland also served as the chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2002.
Poland's legal architecture has become increasingly sound. There is a credible system of checks and balances, there is no widespread official abuse of the criminal code, basic human rights are guaranteed, and minority and religious rights are generally respected. Nevertheless, it is also fair to say that Poland does not yet possess a true "legal culture." For example, there is a general tolerance among the public for violations of certain rules and codes, which in part is a legacy of communism, wherein there was a certain social solidarity associated with violating the system's rules. Unfortunately, this general skepticism has also been reinforced by a number of inadequacies in the current system.
A basic problem is that the Polish judicial system does not enjoy the public's trust. According to one survey, the main reasons for this distrust are bad law, corruption, fear of criminals, lack of "goodwill" on behalf of the prosecutor's office, insufficient personnel, underinvestment, and low professional qualifications. Indeed, as much as 71 percent of the population is of the opinion that the Polish judicial system is in need of a profound change.
A variety of conditions makes the legal system extremely frustrating both for citizens and for employees of the legal institutions. One of the most basic problems is that the system is overburdened, and there are lengthy waiting periods for access to the court system. Virtually all Polish courts are overburdened, from the Supreme Court down to local courts, and the number of cases investigated annually by a court averages 7,000. Of these, approximately 1,500 are delayed cases.
The average length of legal proceedings is seven months, compared to three months in 1993. According to the Ministry of Justice, it takes several months in district courts for a case to enter the cause list for trial (in Warsaw it is 20 months). Particularly controversial trials, such as the prosecution of former high-ranking Communist officials, typically take years. Poland has already lost a number of cases in the Strasbourg Human Rights Tribunal for the violation of individuals' rights to judgment in a reasonable period of time. Another predictable problem is remuneration for judges, who are not highly paid and do not have adequate administrative support.
In 2002, two events typified some of the problems with Poland's judiciary. First, the Parliament changed a law stating that if a political party fails to correctly settle and disclose its campaign finances, it will lose 100 percent of its budget grants for three years. In the new version, the party will lose just 10 percent of the grant. Most parties supported this move, as they all seem to have difficulty explaining how they finance their campaigns. Second, the standards for parole and bail for businessmen suspected of criminal activity were shown to be far from uniform. Those with closer ties to the government received much lower bail limits, which enabled them to leave the country rather than face prosecution.
Another problem is the current state of the prison system. In recent years, the situation has deteriorated, as budget allocations have not risen fast enough to meet the growing prison population. The number of detainees rose from 54,367 to 81,250 between 1997 and 2002.
Corruption (Score: 2.50)
In its 2002 report on accession, the European Commission noted that "corruption remains a source of serious concern" in Poland. The issue, according to the report, is "fully in the public spotlight." Indeed, in recent years public officials at varying levels of government have been implicated in corruption scandals, and in several cases there have been clear violations of conflict-of-interest provisions. Further, the SLD-led government continues to prop up several inefficient state industrial sectors that have traditionally been sources of unreported funding for politicians and political campaigns. In Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Poland ranked 45th out of 102 countries in 2002.
Likewise, according to the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), of which Poland is a member, "The corruption phenomenon [in Poland] is endangering the functioning of many public spheres." Specifically, in an evaluation released in March 2002, GRECO notes that "while acknowledging the lucidity and the efforts made by the Polish authorities" in the area of anticorruption, there are "still a large number of measures which could be taken and implemented to put in place a comprehensive approach to this problem and an efficient prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of corrupt practices in the country." The recommendations of GRECO's evaluation team included establishing a National Advisory Council on corruption, strengthening cooperation with NGOs, offering training programs for judges and public officials, and adopting codes of conduct for staff in public administration.
Nevertheless, systemic corruption is not of a magnitude that it fundamentally distorts the political or legal environment. In February 2002, Poland signed an agreement with Germany to fight organized crime. Poland is also an active participant in international regimes such as the UN (Palermo Convention) and Europol. In 2002, Poland also passed the necessary acts in Parliament that allowed it to ratify the Strasbourg Convention on Corruption. Among these was the adoption of an official anticorruption strategy.
Preston Keat is research director at the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm that focuses on global political-risk analysis.