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The year of the shake-up

23rd December 2013
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2013 was marked by political turmoil within the Civic Platform ruling party, with a number of resignations from high-profile MPs throwing the coalition majority into doubt. Prime Minister Donald Tusk went ahead with a major cabinet reshuffle, pinning his hopes on better results in voter surveys before elections in both 2014 and 2015. What else did 2013 hold for Polish politics and business? Remi Adekoya reviews the year that was

January

Things kicked off with news emerging that Poland’s national air carrier LOT was in financial distress and had requested zł.400 million in immediate state aid. Marcin Piróg was dismissed from his post as CEO of the company after Treasury Minister Mikołaj Budzanowski blamed him directly for the state of affairs at LOT.

Later that month, Adam Maciejewski was appointed as the new president of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. Mr Maciejewski replaced Ludwik Sobolewski, who had run the WSE since 2006.

The former bourse head was dismissed by the WSE’s supervisory board following accusations that he had been involved in soliciting funds from companies listed on the stock market in order to support a movie featuring his girlfriend.

Also in January, Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, rejected three different legislative proposals to sanction civil partnerships. Some Polish conservatives see such legislation as a prelude to the legalization of homosexual marriage.

February

In February, EU leaders agreed on a budget for the years 2014-2020. It emerged that Poland would receive €106 billion over the period compared to the €101.5 billion that it got in the 2007-2013 budget framework. Cohesion policy funds were set to increase from €69 billion to €72.8 billion while funds for agriculture would rise from €26.9 billion to €28.5 billion. Prime Minister Donald Tusk called it “one of the happiest days” of his life.

That same month, the prime minister carried out a cabinet reshuffle appointing Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski as deputy prime minister. Meanwhile, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, who co-created the Centre for Eastern Studies think tank, took over as interior minister.

March

March started out with the announcement of former president Aleksander Kwaśniewski that he would be teaming up with controversial MP Janusz Palikot to create a new center-left political grouping called Europe Plus. Mr Kwaśniewski was criticized for the move by leaders of the party he co-created in the 1990s, the Democratic Left Alliance.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Donald Tusk weathered a vote of no-confidence in parliament while former president Lech Wałęsa caused an outcry after saying that gay MPs should sit in the “back row” of the parliamentary chamber, if not “behind a wall.” The anti-communist hero was roundly criticized by gay rights activists but refused to apologize for the comments. 

Lech Wałęsa offended many with his comments
Courtesy of the European Parliament

April

A Saudi citizen, Abu Zubaydah, filed a lawsuit against Poland with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Mr Zubaydah said he was held at a CIA “black site” in Poland between 2002 and 2003, where he says he was tortured.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the highly politicized third anniversary of the tragic April 10, 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, which killed president Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, a Homo Homini poll revealed that 32 percent of Poles believe the catastrophe was not an accident but in fact an assassination. Less than half – 49 percent – of Poles were found to believe the findings of the official Polish government investigation into the catastrophe, which put the disaster down mainly to pilot error.

Treasury Minister Mikołaj Budzanowski was dismissed by the prime minister and replaced with Włodzimierz Karpiński, while Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin lost his position to Marek Biernacki.

May

The European Commission temporarily approved the zł.400 million financial aid that the Polish government granted the troubled national airline LOT. Also, doctors from the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice successfully carried out the world’s first face transplant under life-threatening conditions.

June

In June, Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, passed measures hoping to increase Poland’s low fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman. Polish parents will now be able to take a full 52 weeks of paid leave to take care of their newborns – an extension from the previous 24 weeks.

Meanwhile, during Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski’s trip to Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States would like Poland to be part of its Visa Waiver Program. Poland’s exclusion from the program has been a major sticking point in relations between the countries in recent years.

And in one of the biggest financial news stories of 2013, Poland’s largest lender PKO BP took over the Polish assets of Nordea in a zł.2.8 billion deal.

July

As Donald Tusk’s popularity slumped to an all-time low, with only 23 percent of Poles approving of his work as PM, former Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin announced he would challenge Mr Tusk for the leadership of the ruling Civic Platform party.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details of secret US and British surveillance programs, was denied asylum in Poland.

August

Prime Minister Donald Tusk defeated Jarosław Gowin to retain leadership of the ruling party. Mr Tusk received roughly 80 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Poland’s first black parliamentarian John Godson quit Civic Platform, opting instead to become an independent MP. Mr Godson, a conservative evangelical Christian, cited party pressure on him to forgo his conservative views on ethical issues as the reason for his decision.

September

After John Godson’s departure from Civic Platform in August, the ruling party lost two more MPs, as former Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin and his political ally, Jacek Żalek, quit the party. Both conservative politicians accused Mr Tusk of veering the party to the left on social and economic issues.

Also, Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that Polish private pension funds would have to transfer 51.5 percent of their assets to the state-run Social Insurance Institution (ZUS). Mr Tusk said the private pension system had proven “too costly.” 

Still in control
Courtesy of Flickr/Platforma RP

October

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the mayor of Poland’s political and economic capital, Warsaw, survived a recall election. Although 93 percent of the Varsovians who took part in the recall voted to boot Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz out of office, not enough people turned out to render it valid.

November

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Poland. In Warsaw, Mr Kerry confirmed his country’s plans to build a missile defense shield in Poland which should be in place “around 2018.”

In a major cabinet reshuffle, Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski was replaced by Mateusz Szczurek, an economist for ING Bank in Poland. Regional Development Minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska was appointed deputy prime minister and was called on to head a new ministry which will incorporate the Transport Ministry.

Following the resignation of Digitization Minister Michał Boni, MEP Rafał Trzaskowski was called in to replace him. Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Barbara Kudrycka was replaced by a professor and MEP, Lena Kolarska-Bobińska.

Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska took over from Krystyna Szumilas as Education Minister while Sports and Tourism Minister Joanna Mucha, who oversaw much of Poland’s preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer championships, was replaced by Andrzej Biernat.

Finally, Environment Minister Marcin Korolec was dismissed and Maciej Grabowski took over his position.

December

Dozens were arrested in what has been described as the “biggest corruption case in Poland’s history” by the head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau. The case involves rigged IT tender bids worth billions in some of Poland’s ministries.

Protests erupt in Ukraine after the country’s President Viktor Yanukovych decided not to sign a free trade deal with the European Union. Poland was one of the countries that pushed hardest for the deal. 

 

Remi Adkeoya


From Warsaw Business Journal

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