Tuesday, 9 February 2016
Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Leszek Miller's primary concern has always been Leszek Miller.
Whilst Minister of Labour and Social Policy in the early 1990s his image was of the principled left-wing member of the government, opposing such things as the privatisation of pensions. Yet, by the time he had become Prime Minister in 2001, he was competing with President Kwaśniewski to be Poland's answer to Tony Blair. He espoused the benefits of a flat-income tax, obediently sent Polish troops to Iraq and (allegedly) allowed the CIA to carry out torture in secret prisons in Poland. At the next elections the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lost 3/4 of its vote and has remained on the political margins ever since. After a period in the political wilderness he returned to lead the party and then led it through a series of disastrous election campaigns, with the party failing to enter parliament and dwindling into a political irrelevance.
After resigning as leader of the party after the recent elections, Leszek Miller has begun adjusting himself to the new right wing conditions in the country. He has spent the past few weeks touring various right-wing media outlets convincing all who will listen that he is the most radically anti-refugee politician in Poland (a title for which he faces stiff opposition). So for example speaking about the events in Cologne on New Year's Eve, Miller managed to combine hostility to refugees with patriarchy and xenophobia by stating:
I am surprised by the reaction of German men. After all the women were not alone, where were their partners, why did they allow this. I cannot imagine that Poles would look on at this without wishing to intervene.
However, his latest comments on refugees have perhaps gone even further than his right-wing colleagues, after claiming:
Refugees who do not want to integrate are flooding Europe. They want Europe to adapt to them and not the other way round (...) There may come a time when we will have to fight with weapons on the streets of Europe to defend our identity. We are seeing the building of a Trojan horse, to the surprise of the Trojans and with their own money.
One wonders whether Miller's political degeneration has reached its lowest point, or whether there are even deeper levels of reaction he can reach.
Friday, 29 January 2016
An (un)likely new anti-democratic alliance has emerged in Polish politics, bringing together the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Nowoczesna (Modern). During a debate on foreign affairs in parliament, the Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski gave his support to the Transatlandtic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), joining the leader of the liberal Modern Party Ryszard Petru.
The TTIP is a bi-lateral trade agreement between the EU and USA, which is being negotiated behind the backs of citizens. The deal aims to reduce regulatory barriers to trade for big business, in areas such as food safety law, environmental legislation, banking and nations' sovereign powers. It potentially opens up public services to privatisation, drives down labour standards and eases data protection laws (ACTA through the back door).
The pretensions of PiS to be a patriotic party upholding the sovereignty of Poland; and of Nowoczesna to be a liberal party defending democracy are both exposed by their support for TTIP.
Thursday, 28 January 2016
Two recent moves by the government have shown how the Polish state will increase its support for the Catholic Church in Poland, including its most radical elements, and that the Catholic religion will become an increasingly central part of the education system.
Firstly, a citizens' project to present a bill to parliament, on ending the state funding of religious education in public schools, has been negatively assessed by the government even before its first reading in parliament. This means that around 1bln złoty of taxpayers money will continue to be used to fund religious education in schools. These lessons are generally just the teachings of the Catholic Church. Religious Education lessons are run in 92% of schools in Poland, with just a handful providing religious lessons covering the faith of other religions.
Secondly, the Parliamentary Financial Commission has passed an ammendment which will grant the private Catholic higher education institution of the controversial Father Tadeusz Rydzyk (College of Social and Media Culture) 20 million złoty in subsidies. The influential radio station of Rydzyk (Radio Maryja) backed PiS in the recent elections, with this decision seemingly rewarding him and his institutions for their support. Written into the ammendment is that the money for these subsidies will be found through cutting funding in other areas, such as for theatres.
The Polish Health minister, Konstanty Radziwiłł, has revealled plans to reform the health care system, that if carried out could be the most important and progressive changes to have occured in Polish health care over the past two decades. The two proposed changes are:
- To significantly increase the level of public health care spending;
- To fund the health care system directly from the central government budget.
Poland has one of the lowest levels of public health care spending in the EU, with little more than 4% of GDP spent on health. The Health Minister has said that next year he hopes to inject billions of złoty into the health care system. The long term aim of the government is then to increase public health care spending to 6% of GDP.
Secondly, the government plans to move away from a Bismarkian style health insurance system to a Beveridge state funded one, similar to that which exists in Britain. The major damage to the health care system occured in 1999, when the then right-wing administration introduced a reform that both reduced public health care spending and created a number of local health care funds. This fragmented the system and opened it up to more market competition. It had an immediate negative effect on the health care system, with for example the number of public hospitals declining from 702 to 501 between 2000 and 2010. This reform was partly reversed by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) government in 2003, which introduced a new central health care fund (NFZ). However, not only has this not solved the issue of funding but around 2.5m citizens remain without health care insurance coverage. This includes both the most socially excluded (such as the homeless) and also many contractual workers or self-employed that miss health insurance payments.
The Polish constitution states that: Equal access to health care services, financed from public funds, shall be ensured by public authorities to citizens, irrespective of their material situation. As with many of the other social clauses in the constitution this has been broken by successive governments. In this case the government's proposals would actually be a case of meeting the obligations of the constitution rather than breaking them. Therefore, those in Poland defending the constitution should actually be supporting this proposal by the government and pressuring it to introduce it as quickly as possible.
The other major health care proposal by PiS made during the election campaign was to provide pensioners with medicines free of charge. The government has now announced that there will be a list of certain medicines that pensioners will be allowed to get for free. The health ministry has said that it is still compiling this list and that there is a chance this bill will be introduced in the next two or three months.
The government has not provided detailed plans for its proposed reforms and it is unclear both how they will be paid for and exactly when they will be introduced. However, they potentially tackle some of the largest deficiencies in the country's most important public service.
Monday, 25 January 2016
The Polish Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz, has announced that Britain will station 1,000 troops permanently on Polish soil from 2017. On Thursday Macierewicz said:
'One of the decisions, which resulted from yesterday's talks (is) a permanent presence of the British forces on Polish territory, that is 1,000 soldiers, who will permanently station on Polish territory from next year. They will switch around, it will be a rotational, but permanent presence of 1,000 soldiers.'
This goes against previous statements made by the Ministry of Defence in London, that the troops would be sent for temporary exercises only. If true it would mean that NATO troops would have a permanent base in Poland, thus potentially violating the 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia.
As well as further adding to the volatility in the region, it raises the question at what price the British government has agreed to station troops in Poland. After all, earlier this month the Polish Foreign Minister said in an interview for Reuters that Warsaw might be prepared to soften its position on David Cameron's proposal to curb in-work benefits for EU migrants if ' Britain could support our expectations related to an allied military presence on Polish territory.'
The Deputy Foreign Ministers of Poland and Russia met in Moscow last week for talks. No breakthrough was reported on any of the issues dividing the countries, such as the possible return of the Smoleńsk plane wreckage from Russia. It has been common practice recently to speculate that the current right-wing administration in Warsaw would like to move Poland closer politically to Russia and Putin. However, at least in the arena of foreign policy, this seems extremely unlikely, with the stationing of permanent NATO troops in Poland certain to worsen relations between the two countries even further.