The year began with whines and moans, as well as a bang.
First, changes to prescription-drug laws led to protests among doctors. New regulations introduced at the start of 2012 required doctors to verify and then note on any prescription they issue the precise level of reimbursement to which a particular patient is entitled, as well as to verify that the patient is indeed insured. In protest, thousands of doctors across the country declined to fill out prescriptions according to the new regulations. Thus began what the media dubbed “the stamp protests.”
Also making headlines was the attempted suicide of Military Prosecutor Colonel Mikołaj Przybył. The incident rocked Poland’s legal establishment, and highlighted a conflict of interest between Military and Civil Prosecutors. Colonel Przybył had staunchly defended the actions of the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Poznań during an investigation into information leaks concerning the 2010 Smolensk disaster.
Dominating headlines in February was unquestionably the signing, and then rejection, of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by the Polish government. In early February, despite a huge public outcry, the Polish government signed the international copyright treaty. In less than a month, after seeing a steep drop in public support for his party, Civic Platform (PO), Prime Minister Donald Tusk admitted he was wrong in supporting the treaty.
The news of poet Wisława Szymborska’s death made worldwide headlines. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature passed away at the age of 88.
Poland suffered its deadliest rail disaster in over 20 years on March 3rd after two trains collided head-on near the town of Szczekociny, in the south of Poland, as they were traveling on the Kraków-Warsaw line. A two-day period of national mourning was observed after 16 people were killed, and an additional 56 injured. The cause of the crash was human error.
In political news, Prime Minister Donald Tusk signed the European fiscal pact, joining 24 other heads of state. All EU countries except the UK and the Czech Republic signed the treaty, which aimed at increasing budget discipline in the euro zone. On the other end, Poland single-handedly blocked the EU climate plan after it vetoed the EU’s “Energy Road Map 2050” at a meeting of environment ministers in Brussels.
April saw the second anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy pass, revealing deep divisions in Poland. A tragedy that once united Poles turned into what could be a long-lasting wedge in Polish society. The division was clearly showed in an April poll by Gazeta Wyborcza which indicated that 18 percent of Poles believe Lech Kaczyński was assassinated and 32 percent think that both the Polish and Russian governments are hiding the truth about the Smolensk catastrophe.
In other news, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Poland for the first time, revealing Poland’s growing importance on the world stage. The Premier’s visit – during which he was accompanied by 300 Chinese businesspeople – marked China’s highest-level visit to Poland since 1987.
In May, amidst protests from labor unions, Poland’s parliament passed controversial pension reform legislation, raising the retirement age to 67 for both men and women. Prior to the reform, Polish men could retire at 65 and women at 60.
In other domestic news, on the back of what was predicted to be a lackluster economic start for 2012, the Polish banking sector impressed investors with strong Q1 results. A number of Polish banks posted year-on-year net profit increases, mainly due to improved margins.
The year’s biggest soccer event consumed headlines in June, as Poland co-hosted the 2012 European Championships with Ukraine. Games were played in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Poznań, and Wrocław. The tournament was regarded as a huge organizational success. To the dismay of Polish fans, however, their national team was unable to pass through the group stage. Spain won the tournament, beating Italy in the final 4-0.
In business, PBG, Poland’s third-largest construction company, responsible for the construction of three of the four stadiums in Poland that had been built for the tournament, filed for bankruptcy.
The biggest news story was the resignation of Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki, after alleged corruption within his ministry.
Polish low-cost carrier OLT Express canceled its chartered connections on July 31 and filed for bankruptcy. The event consumed headlines as the airline’s owner – Amber Gold – slowly took center stage as more and more information pointed to the company operating as a pyramid scheme.
The then-owner of bankrupt OLT Express – Amber Gold – was thrown into the spotlight in August. Clients were unable to withdraw their deposits from the Gdańsk-based lender. Despite all the negative press, Amber Gold’s president, Marcin P., accused the Internal Security Agency (ABW) of mounting a campaign against him and his company. Mr P.’s last name cannot be published, in line with Polish privacy laws, as he has been arrested.
August also saw many Polish blue chips release Q2 earnings. Once again, the banking sector proved resilient as Millennium Bank and BZ WBK revealed high net profits. The good news, though, did not extend to the oil and mining sector, as Orlen posted a net loss in Q2. A one-month maintenance shutdown at the firm’s Lithuanian unit and lower fuel consumption hit the giant’s profits. Europe’s second largest copper miner, KGHM, also revealed worse-than-expected Q2 results. KGHM put much of the blame on a new mining tax, as well as a fall in metals prices.
Continuing to make headlines was the Amber Gold scandal. Under pressure, Prime Minister Donald Tusk was forced to address parliament, placing much of the blame on prosecutors for failing to act after being warned as early as 2009 of Amber Gold’s actions.
Poland’s view on international affairs had its day in the spotlight during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in late September. President Bronisław Komorowski, who addressed the assembly, said NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, in which Poland plays a major role, has shown that a “military-first approach is not the best way to resolve difficult internal conflicts.”
Prime Minister Tusk won a vote of confidence in October after polls suggested the ruling Civic Platform was falling behind opposition Law and Justice (PiS). PM Donald Tusk announced a zł.200 billion investment program, as well as policies for combating Poland’s demographic problems. Also in an attempt to stir up confidence, the prime minister announced that his government would hold tenders valued at over zł.73 billion during the years 20132015 in order to continue recent investments in highways and to modernize the country’s antiquated railway system.
An erroneous report in one of Poland’s leading daily newspapers caused a political firestorm. Rzeczpospolita reported that Polish investigators had found traces of explosive materials, including TNT and nitroglycerin, on the wreckage of the plane that crashed in Smolensk, Russia in 2010, killing President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others.
Similarly to 2011, violent scenes marred Poland’s Independence Day on November 11. Several police officers were hospitalized and 176 rioters were arrested. Riot police confronted right-wing nationalists in central Warsaw during the biggest of four Independence Day marches in the city.
Lastly, a slew of companies released Q3 earnings in November, with particularly strong results coming in from energy firms Tauron and PGE, as well as miner Bogdanka. PGNiG also received good news after Russia’s Gazprom agreed to lower the price of natural gas it delivers to the Polish gas monopolist.
In early December, Poland’s government approved changes to the law that will allow it to use the average annual exchange rate to calculate public debt denominated in foreign currencies, thus limiting the impact of exchange-rate fluctuations on the size of the debt. Up until then, the złoty rate from the last day of December was used to value Poland’s foreign debt. This change will ease pressure on Poland’s thorny debt ceiling.
Janusz Piechociński of the Polish People’s Party (PSL) took on the deputy PM role in early December. The number-two in government said Poland needs “more creative politics” and stressed his dedication to protecting jobs.
Also making news was the announcement by the Polish Financial Supervision Authority approving the merger between BZ WBK and Kredyt Bank. The decision paved the way for the creation of the third-largest bank in Poland.
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