How effectively does Poland’s government develop strategic policy solutions and foster dialogue in the process?
The Management Index assesses a country’s capacity for reform. Three categories examine the ability to plan and implement policies. Accountability assesses the extent to which non-executive actors are included in the political process.
The Tusk government has undertaken substantial attempts at improving strategic planning. In particular, it established a Board of Strategic Advisers in charge of supporting the planning units in the Department for Strategic Analysis in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Board has been consulted frequently by Prime Minister Tusk and has prepared a number of important documents, most notably the “Report on the intellectual capital of Poland” (Raport o kapitale intelektualnym Polski, 2008) and the “Report on Poland 2030. Development Challenges” (Raport Polska 2030. Wyzwania rozwojowe, 2009). These reports have been widely discussed and have helped to provide a long-term perspective for policy-making.
The Tusk government has relied heavily on scholarly advice. It has set up a number of commissions involving academic experts to prepare important reforms. Cases in point are the reform of scientific research and higher education, and the reform of the president’s competencies. In March 2010, the government also set up a new Economic Council. Composed of scientists and practitioners, the Economic Council is to provide the prime minister with independent opinions on economic affairs and government activities.
The Tusk government has strengthened the sectoral policy expertise of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. The newly created Council of Ministers Committee Department of the Chancellery evaluates the content of government documents submitted to cabinet meetings.
Under the Tusk government, the gatekeeping role of the prime minister and its Chancellery has been strong. The prime minister is formally allowed to return items on policy grounds. Moreover, he has enjoyed a strong informal authority, and one of his closest advisers, Michal Boni, has chaired the Council of Ministers’ Permanent Committee, a body that reviews all draft bills before their presentation in cabinet.
The role of cabinet committees in inter-ministerial coordination has declined. Unlike its predecessor, the Tusk government has not set up temporary interministerial committees. Moreover, in January 2009, one of the three standing cabinet committees, the Committee for European Integration, established in 1996 with a view to fostering EU accession and mproving policy coordination in EU affairs, was abolished.
Senior ministry officials play a substantial role in interministerial coordination. All meetings of the Council of Ministers, the Polish cabinet, are prepared by the Council of Ministers’ Permanent Committee which comprises deputy ministers from the ministries and is chaired by Michal Boni, a minister close to Prime Minister Tusk. A second important body staffed with senior ministry officials is the European Committee of the Council of Ministers, a body which focuses on developing Poland’s positions in EU decision-making.
Coordination by line ministry civil servants takes places, but is limited. The legal coordination requirements at the preparatory stage of legislation are weak, and there is still a strong culture of departmentalism.
Despite the various attempts at strengthening the formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination, informal coordination mechanisms have continued to play an important role. For one thing, meetings of the coalition partners have been used for solving conflicts between PO- and PSL-led ministries. For another, many ministers have been active and high-ranking party members, so that part of the interministerial coordination takes place within the PO and PSL leaderships.
Carrying out impact assessments has been mandatory for all government bills and regulation since 2001. New RIA guidelines were adopted in 2006 under the previous government. While assessments are undertaken by the ministries, supervision and quality control rest with the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. However, the quality of assessments is often poor, and the RIA requirements are often met only on paper. One major reason is the lack of well-trained staff. In 2009, the government launched a number of measures in order to improve the quality of RIA (Ministry of the Economy 2010). It introduced a new training system, created an electronic platform for widening access to analytical tools and good practices, and set up RIA audits in order to strengthen ex post quality control.
Ministry of the Economy, 2010: Regulatory reform. Report on the implementation of regulatory reform activities in 2009. Warszawa, pp. 13-16.
The 2006 RIA guidelines call for an analysis of the need for a regulation. In practice, however, assessments focus on the impact of new measures and do not deal in detail with the arguments for regulation.
In Poland, the consultation of economic and social actors is institutionalized in various forms, including the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs. The Tusk government has pursued a cooperative policy style. In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Tusk promised to rebuild trust and enter into a new political contract with society. In 2009, the government negotiated with the social partners an “anti-crisis pact” within the framework of the Tripartite Commission. Over time, however, the government’s approach has become less inclusive.
The government has sought to coordinate the communication of ministries through the Government Information Centre, a department of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister . Ministers have occasionally voiced different positions, for instance on energy policy or pension reform. Compared to previous governments, however, contradictory statements from ministers have been rare.
The Tusk government’s ability to implement reforms was limited by the far-reaching veto powers of President Kazcyński. The two parties in government lacked the three- fifths majority required for overturning a presidential veto, and only occasionally succeeded in getting the support of the SLD, the leftist opposition party. As a result, the Tusk government’s major reform projects, including the reform of the health care sector and the overhaul of the public media, could not be implemented. In many cases, the threat of a presidential veto led the government to abandon parliamentary discussion of bills.
Prime Minister Tusk and the Chancellery of the Prime Minister have enjoyed a strong position within government. Although many ministers have had a strong standing within their parties and/or have been widely respected as experts in their fields, Prime Minister Tusk has largely succeeded in keeping ministers in line.
Ministries have been obliged to inform the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of legislative progress on a regular basis. However, ministries have been keen on maintaining their autonomy, and monitoring has remained largely formal.
There is a large number of executive agencies in Poland. Agencies report to ministries, and ministries have special units responsible for monitoring the activities of agencies and auditing their finances. The effectiveness of monitoring has sometimes suffered from a lack of qualified personnel, the low quality of audits and the limited enforcement of anti-corruption measures.
Since 1999, there have been three tiers of subnational governments: municipalities, districts and regions. A number of reforms, most notably health care and education reforms enacted in 1999, increased the responsibilities of subnational governments without providing the necessary resources. The Tusk government has done little to address this problem. In the period under review, however, an improved usage of regional and cohesion EU funds has helped subnational governments perform their duties.
The decentralization that started in 1998 has been broadly accepted in Poland. Some conflicts have emerged from the dual structure of the regional executive, with conflicts over responsibilities emerging between regionally elected regional governments and the centrally appointed leaders of the regional administration. The latter have the power to suspend decisions of the regional government within 30 days. Unlike its predecessor, the Tusk government has largely refrained from intervening in the affairs of subnational governments. Moreover, it has supported calls for clarifying the division of labor at the regional level and for strengthening regional self-government.
Economic and fiscal conditions at the subnational level differ, and so does the availability of professional staff. Central government has set national standards in order to guarantee a minimum quality of public services. In the regions, the centrally appointed head of the regional administration is responsible for ensuring that national policies are implemented, and that state institutions operating in the region perform their functions properly. More recently, EU funds and increasing cooperation between regional and local governments have helped subnational administration improve operations. As a result, more national standards are being met and developed.
In 2008, the Polish government streamlined its policy-making in EU affairs and began preparing the country for its EU presidency to commence in the second half of 2011. It abolished the Committee for European Integration, a cabinet committee in charge of interministerial coordination in EU affairs since 1996, moved the position of the deputy minister for European matters from the government office to the ministry of foreign affairs, and appointed a plenipotentiary for the Polish EU presidency. The usage of EU funds indicates that Polish government institutions have adapted more smoothly to EU rules and requirements.
Poland has taken an active role in international policy coordination. Compared to the previous government, the Tusk government has adopted a more constructive position within the EU. Together with Sweden, it launched the Eastern Partnership in order to improve the EU’s relations with its eastern neighbors within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. From July 2008 to June 2009, Poland also chaired the Visegrád Group and initiated a number of activities within this framework. However, Poland’s international role suffered under the major disagreements waged between the government and President Kaczyński over the competencies for foreign affairs. These conflicts delayed the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and engendered some uncertainty over Poland’s position in the international scene. A 2009 Constitutional Court decision strengthened the government’s position, but did not end the controversies.
The Tusk government has launched a number of institutional reforms. It has streamlined policy-making in EU affairs and has undertaken some attempts at strengthening the position of the prime minister within the cabinet. It has also sparked a debate about limiting the powers of the president, in particular by reducing the parliamentary majority required for overruling a presidential veto. However, since the governing coalition has lacked the majority necessary for changing the constitution, no changes have been adopted.
The public’s general knowledge of government policy is limited. As Poland’s “astronomic” voter volatility indicates, elections in Poland are about “throwing out the rascals” rather than a balanced assessment of policy performance and the quality of electoral programs (Markowski 2007). This state of affairs can be attributed in part to the public media’s prevailing political bias, which is now in favor of the opposition parties. Second, as the low voter turnout and other indicators suggest, the interests in politics is low. Finally, many voters lack a coherent belief system, and thus face problems in evaluating and assessing policy effects and proposals.
Markowski, Radoslaw, 2008: The 2007 Polish Parliamentary Election: Some Structuring still a lot of Chaos, in: West European Politics 31(5), 1055-1066.
Ministers and heads of supreme organs of state administration (or their representatives) are obliged to take part in committee meetings whenever issues are discussed that fall within their domain. No restrictions are observed in practice.
The number of committees exceeds the number of ministries. However, some of the committees deal exclusively with internal parliamentary issues, and most ministries, including the more important ones, have just one matching committee. The distribution of subject areas among committees does not infringe upon parliament’s ability to monitor ministries.
Poland’s auditing office, the Supreme Chamber of Control (Naczelna Izba Kontroli, NIK), is independent from the government and accountable exclusively to the Sejm. The Chamber’s chairman is elected by the Sejm for six years, so that his term does not coincide with the term of the Sejm. The Senate has to approve the decision. The Chamber has wide-ranging competencies and is entitled to audit all state institutions, government and local government administrative units, together with corporate bodies and nongovernmental organizations that perform public contracts or receive government grants or guarantees. The Chamber can itself initiate monitoring proceedings or do so at the request of Sejm, its bodies or representatives (e.g., the speaker of the Sejm, the president or the prime minister). The Chamber’s activities also include auditing the state budget.
The Polish ombuds office, the Commissioner for Citizens’ Rights, is an independent state organ, but is accountable exclusively to the Sejm. It has substantial investigative powers, including the right to view relevant files or to contact the prosecutor general. Because of its strong engagement for citizens’ rights ever since its creation in 1987, the ombuds office has traditionally enjoyed a high reputation. This reputation has suffered as a consequence of the controversial views on issues such as homosexuality and the death penalty held by the current commissioner, Janusz Kochanowski, who was elected in January 2006.
Government decisions are widely covered by the country’s main TV and radio stations. TV and radio journalists often refer to, and make use of, the in-depth information provided in the print media. The quality of the public programs has suffered from the pro-PiS bias of the public stations, their worsening financial situation and a growing inclination towards infotainment. The two largest private TV stations, Polsat and TVN, broadcast mainly entertainment programs, but also feature several political information programs with well-known journalists and high-quality reportage. However, some of the most informative public and private programs on policy issues are broadcasted late in the evening, thus reaching only a small audience.
The coherence of party programs is limited. Law and Justice (PiS), the main opposition party, employs a confrontational political style and largely refrains from articulating its own policy proposals. Emphasizing national, moral and Catholic values in addition to the need for a strong state, it has called for higher social spending, but has remained vague on financing and on economic policy in general. The two small parties in parliament, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), have also failed to present coherent policy proposals. PSL continues to focus almost exclusively on the interests of farmers and the rural population, and the SLD has yet to redefine its role after several personal and organizational changes. A good case in point is health care reform. While the more liberal wing of the party supported part of the government’s reform plans, the leftist wing opposed it and eventually turned the balance. The party with the most coherent program has been the governing PO. It has presented a number of well-designed reform proposals.
Poland has a relatively developed sector of interest associations. Business associations and trade unions have become more professional over time, and the Tusk government has taken them more seriously than its predecessor. The trade unions have largely taken an obstructive approach towards government reforms, most notably in the case of early retirement and health care. In contrast, some business associations, such as Lewiatan (PKPP) or the Business Center Club (BCC), Club) have the expertise and the resources research and formulate elaborate reform proposals.
Poland has several interest associations other than business associations and trade unions. Compared to other countries, relatively few environmental groups exist. There are only a few interest associations that focus on, and are capable of, developing full-blown policy proposals. The Catholic Church, still the most influential interest group in Poland, pursues relatively narrow interests and is largely preoccupied with stabilizing its influence in an increasingly secular society.
Governments in charge
SGI 2011 review period (May 2008 to April 2010) is outlined. Shown are: Prime minister or president, type of government, and ruling parties. Asterisks indicate national parliamentary or presidential elections.
Country scores and texts were produced by the country coordinator, based on comprehensive assessments by two country experts.
Dr. Frank Bönker University of Cooperative Education, Leipzig
Dr. Claudia Matthes Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences
Prof. Radoslaw Markowski Polish Academy of Sciences