Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With strong growth despite longer-term sustainability concerns, Poland falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) in the area of economic policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

GDP growth has continued to be strong, showing a gain of about 5% 2017. Personal consumption is a main driver, boosted by increased social transfers, improving labor market conditions, low lending rates and low inflation. Private investment rates have declined, and a Brexit in the United Kingdom, the country’s second-largest export market, is likely to undermine future growth rates.

Unemployment rates have fallen sharply in recent years, reaching 3.9% in 2018. The government has focused on minimum-wage increases rather than on integrating youth, less-skilled workers and women into the labor market, or decreasing the still-widespread use of temporary employment contracts. Regional unemployment-rate variations are large.

A number of new tax changes have been introduced, including a “solidarity tax” for high-income earners, an “exit tax” on companies and wealthy individuals, and a fuel tax. The corporate-income tax rate for small companies has fallen. The deficit has declined below 1.5%, but longer-term fiscal-balance concerns remain. Public and private R&D spending levels remain far below the Europe 2020 target.

Social Policies

With policy shifts sparking considerable controversy, Poland scores relatively poorly (rank 31) with respect to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

A return to a two-tier school system (primary followed by upper secondary or vocational classes) has triggered teacher protests. Additional changes seek to remove liberal texts and values from the curricula. Inequality rates have fallen over time. Increases in family allowances and the minimum wage have decreased social inequality, and a social-housing construction program is underway.

The health system is being restructured, featuring a new hospital network and pilot projects seeking to improve primary care. Medical staffers have protested vigorously, but have received salary increases. Family policy has focused on child-related benefits, raising fears that labor-market participation rates among women will decline. Few children below the age of three have access to child care.

Retirement-age increases have been reversed, harming the pension-system sustainability. The PiS government has staunchly opposed the intake of Muslim immigrants, rejecting the EU’s refugee distribution mechanism. Asylum seekers, 95% of whom are from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine, are held in guarded shelters until a decision is made on their applications.

Environmental Policies

With emissions policy a particular weak point, Poland scores relatively poorly (rank 35) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

The PiS government has focused on coal, gas and nuclear energy as prime energy sources, with renewables accounting for only 1%. Three new coal power stations are being built, along with a new nuclear-power station. Current plans are to reduce coal’s share of energy production to 50% by 2030, and shift some reliance to offshore wind-energy plants. A new energy strategy is being drafted.

The government began cutting down significant areas of a protected primeval forest, citing a need to protect trees from insects. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that the logging should be stopped, and the government accepted the judgement.

The country has been one of the primary critics of the EU’s climate policy and emissions-trading system. It has faced increasing pressure to meet climate-protection goals, and has agreed to dialogue seeking compromises for countries with a high dependence on coal. The EU has sued the country for beginning shale-gas drilling without an impact assessment.



Quality of Democracy

Showing serious setbacks in recent years, Poland has fallen into the bottom ranks (rank 37) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 3.3 points relative to 2014.

New member-selection rules have increased government influence over election-oversight bodies. Government efforts to influence or control the public and private media have strongly increased partisan bias. A bill seeking to limit foreign media-ownership shares was abandoned following U.S. objection. Access to government information has become more restrictive.

The government’s efforts to control the judiciary, along with the imposition of new anti-terror legislation, have raised civil rights concerns. New NGO-financing laws will make it harder for groups campaigning against discrimination to access public funds. The government speaks out strongly against Muslims, the LGBT community, and “gender ideology.”

Legal certainty has strongly declined, with many new initiatives needing revision. The government has undermined judicial independence. The European Court of Justice declared new judge-retirement rules for the Supreme Court to be invalid, allowing the court to retain its independence. A new transparency law is ostensibly aimed at reducing corruption, but has been widely criticized.



Executive Capacity

Having shown significant deterioration in recent years, Poland scores relatively poorly (rank 32) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 2.2 points since 2014.

Policymaking under the PiS government has been guided by party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. With staffing based on political loyalty, the Chancellery has lost policy expertise and influence. Bills are often submitted by individual legislators rather than ministries, as this allows a swifter process that can be controlled by PIS leaders. Ministers’ standing is largely dependent on relationships with Kaczyński.

RIAs and consultation mechanisms are often bypassed by relying on fast-track legislation. Many municipalities have expended consultation mechanisms, however. The swift passage of bills has resulted in very low quality, with many requiring immediate amendment. Information provided by ministries tends to be propagandistic.

With an absolute parliamentary majority, the government generally been quite effective in implementing policy objectives. Local governments are often viewed as oppositional, and the PiS government has sought to reduce their role, while selectively funding cities run by allies.

Executive Accountability

With polarization increasing, Poland receives comparatively poor rankings (rank 31) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.4 points since 2014.

Parliamentarians’ oversight powers have been eroded. An expert research office increasingly toes the government line, no longer issuing critical studies, and normal legislative procedures are often circumvented, making monitoring more difficult. The ombudsman has been an active defender of civil and political rights, taking anti-government stances. A new data-protection office has been created.

While citizens’ policy knowledge remains low on average, dissatisfaction with the government’s policies has heightened many people’s interest. The public media now reflect government positions, but the quality of reporting has increased within the private media. Trust in media organizations follows the patterns of strong political polarization.

The PIS is hierarchically organized, while the rival Civic Platform offers more grassroots participation. Economic-interest associations are relatively active and developed, with unions supporting the PiS. A new social movement has united many Poles in opposition to anti-democratic government policies, with young people especially active.
Back to Top