Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Despite policymakers’ effective response to the challenges of the pandemic, Poland falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 28) in the area of economic policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Poland’s economy fared reasonably well under COVID-19. Real GDP fell by just 2.5% in 2020, and recovered strongly in 2021. Government stimulus measures and accommodating monetary policies helped mitigate the output decline. Inflation has accelerated since 2021.

The unemployment rate did not increase in 2020, though regional variations persist. The minimum wage has been raised substantially. Labor shortages have become a pressing issue. Pandemic-era spending pushed state debt up sharply, to above 57% of GDP. Deficits are again on the decline.

A new tax policy went into force on 1 January 2022. The reform was overcomplex, and was amended frequently, leading to chaotic implementation and turning into a PR disaster. Many low-income employees’ net incomes dropped. Tax incentives for R&D and startups have been expanded, but innovation capacity remains comparatively low.

Social Policies

With recent policy shifts sparking considerable controversy, Poland scores relatively poorly (rank 34) with respect to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.7 points relative to 2014.

Initial reactions to COVID-19 were successful, as the government pumped funding into the healthcare system, reorganized hospitals and bought new equipment. However, subsequent procurement scandals led to the resignation of the health minister, and excess mortality rates were ultimately very high. Social inequality and poverty have diminished under the PiS government. Family benefits are generous.

School reforms have diminished equity in access, and led to an exodus of teachers from the system. The system was not well prepared for distance learning, and student performance suffered badly. The education minister has focused intensively on rewriting school curriculums to follow the ruling party’s nationalist-conservative ideology. Access to childcare remains problematic.

Pensions have been increased without a clear source of funding. A wave of migration across the Belarusian border, fanned by the Belarusian government, generated a harsh reaction from Polish authorities. NGOs provided various kinds of humanitarian support, while the government erected a border fence.

Environmental Policies

With emissions policy remaining a particular weak point, Poland falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 37) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.7 points relative to 2014.

The government’s climate strategy has focused on a reduction in the use of coal in electricity production from 70% today to 50% by 2030. A deal was struck with trade unions to phase out coal power by 2049, but details remain open.

Renewable-energy targets have been met largely via accounting devices. Strong fossil-fuel use and wood burning produces substantial air pollution, which increased health problems for COVID-19 patients. A national program prioritizes separate waste collection and recycling, but landfill remains the dominant form of waste management. Biodiversity is threatened by rapid infrastructure development.

Poland opposed the European Commission’s Green Deal. In collaboration with Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, it blocked a declaration to achieve environmental neutrality by 2050.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Showing very serious setbacks in recent years, Poland falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 39) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 3.8 points relative to 2014.

The government largely controls the public media, and uses it to smear opponents and promote nationalist and homophobic rhetoric. A government-allied firm has purchased a major press group, extending governing-party control. The PiS-allied president of the Supreme Court is seeking to roll back significant parts of the law on access to government information.

During the border crisis, migrants were pushed back, violating the Geneva Convention. Opposition politicians have been spied on by the state using spyware. During the pandemic, demonstrations perceived as anti-government were met with aggressive police activity. The PiS government engages in strong rhetoric against Muslims, migrants, the LGBT community and “gender ideology.”

Legal certainty has declined due to the poor quality of laws. Courts have been staffed with justices loyal to the government. The government accuses opponents of corruption, but routinely places PiS members and followers in positions in the state administration and state-owned enterprises, creating a large clientelistic network.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

Having shown significant deterioration in recent years, Poland scores relatively poorly (rank 34) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 2.6 points since 2014.

Policymaking under the PiS government has been guided by party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. The Chancellery’s gatekeeping role has declined, with Kaczyński performing an informal coordination role, recently from a position as deputy prime minister. Bills are often submitted by individual legislators rather than ministries, as this allows a swifter process that can be controlled by PIS leaders.

RIAs and consultation mechanisms are often bypassed by relying on fast-track legislation. Consultation tends to be formal, with the government’s clear majority having reduced the need to win over social actors. As conflicts within the governing coalition have increased, communication has become less coherent, and government effectiveness overall has declined.

Rifts within the government itself have diminished the effectiveness of monitoring. Kaczyński’s official entry into the government was motivated in part to keep increasingly assertive ministers in line. Numerous reforms have shifted costs to subnational governments without budgetary support. The PiS has tried to restrict the powers of local governments run by opposition parties.

Executive Accountability

With polarization levels high, Poland receives comparatively low rankings (rank 30) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.5 points since 2014.

Parliamentarians’ oversight powers have been eroded. The audit office has effectively exposed government abuses. The ombudsman, rather than the data protection authority, ultimately spoke out against pandemic-era data privacy issues and the government’s use of spyware.

While citizens’ policy knowledge remains low on average, dissatisfaction with the government’s policies has heightened many people’s interest in politics. The public media now serves as a government mouthpiece. Citizen trust in the various public or private media organizations follows the patterns of strong political polarization.

The PIS is hierarchically organized, while rival parties allow members a greater say in internal policies. The trade unions’ once-friendly relations with the PiS have deteriorated due to COVID-19 decisions. Most independent NGOs are relatively small, but many can still produce well-developed policy proposals.
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