Poland

   

Executive Accountability

#29
Key Findings
With polarization increasing, Poland receives comparatively poor rankings (rank 29) 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. The ombudsman has been an active defender of civil and political rights, taking anti-government stances. An independent data-protection office is limited by a lack of resources.

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 rival parties allow members a greater say in internal policies. Economic-interest associations are relatively active and developed, with unions largely supporting the PiS. Most independent NGOs are relatively small, and do not benefit from the state body charged with NGO capacity-building. However, many can still produce well-developed policy proposals.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#36

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
5
Despite recent attempts to improve access to government information, the average level of knowledge regarding government policy within the Polish public remains limited. Many citizens have little knowledge regarding major political and public institutions, and are unfamiliar with basic political facts. Reasons for this low level of policy knowledge include a tendency toward infotainment in many media outlets, the populist propaganda produced by the government party, and a general detachment from politics among the citizenry. Moreover, political parties (which for the most part lack a broad membership base), trade unions and most other professional associations do not properly perform their socialization function, and do not work to improve their members’ policy knowledge. However, a segment of society has become more interested in politics due to strong dissatisfaction with the PiS government’s policies and the polarization of society. This became visible, for example, in the increased turnout for the European and national elections.

Citations:
Pazderski, F. (2019): In the Grip of Authoritarian Populism. Polish Attitudes to an Open Society. Brussels: Open Society Foundation, European Policy Institute (https://www.isp.org.pl/pl/publikacje/in-the-grip-of-authoritarian-populism-polish-attitudes-to-an-open-society).

Gyárfášova, O., C. Molnár, P. Krekó, F. Pazderski, V. Wessenauer (2018): Youth, Politics, Democracy: Public Opinion Research in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Warsaw: Instytut Spraw Publycznych.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
5
Poland is not a member of the Open Government Partnership and the government is not much interested in fostering a social dialogue about its policy initiatives. Though the government does engage in digital access. In addition, the Ministry of Digital Affairs runs a government data portal and other mechanisms for public access, and is also engaged in opening access to administration via digital means. However, all these actions follow a technological perspective and are not necessarily driven by a motivation to truly enable citizens to participate in politics.

Citations:
Wieczorkowski, J., I. Pawełoszek (2018): Open government data, the case of Polish public sector, in: Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management 6(2): 54-71 (http://www.iiakm.org/ojakm/articles/2018/volume6_2/OJAKM_Volume6_2pp54-71.pdf).

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#32

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
6
The members of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, have permanent support staff and can draw on the Sejm’s library and the expertise of the Sejm’s Bureau of Research (BAS). In addition to researching legal issues, the BAS publishes a newsletter, discussion papers and a peer-reviewed quarterly Law Review (Zeszyty Prawnicze BAS). Since PiS’s victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections, however, the BAS has been progressively streamlined so as to reflect the political will of the ruling party. As a result, the quality of its expertise has declined, and it no longer issues critical studies. More generally, the PiS majority has made it difficult to monitor the government by circumventing normal legislative procedures, allowing individual members of parliament to submit draft laws, and passing legislation very quickly.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
6
On paper, parliamentary committees have full access to government documents. Members of parliament may demand information from government officials, either in written or verbal form, at the sitting of the Sejm plenary or at a committee meeting. Since 2015, however, it has become increasingly difficult for opposition members of the Sejm to obtain government documents and to receive them in good time. In some cases, the government has also failed to deliver the correct documents.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
8
Ministers and heads of the 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. Groups comprising at least 15 members of parliament and parliamentary party groups have the right to ask for up-to-date information from members of the government. The Sejm then issues opinions, desiderata and suggestions on these reports. The comments are not legally binding, but in a worst case scenario may lead to a vote of no confidence against a minister, and even to his or her dismissal. In the period under review, the parliamentary opposition undertook several attempts to vote the prime minister and individual ministers out of office. All of them failed because of the government’s absolute majority. The PiS government has taken the summoning of ministers less seriously than previous governments.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
7
Parliamentary committees have the right to invite experts to give statements on hearings on particular issues or to take part in normal committee proceedings. However, if bills are introduced by individual members of parliament (as has often been the case under the PiS government), the summoning of experts must be supported by a majority of members of parliament. The PiS majority in the Sejm has used this procedural rule to limit the invitation of experts close to the parliamentary opposition. Given the maneuvering of the PiS in the Sejm, some experts have refrained from participating in what they consider political manipulation.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
8
The number of Sejm committees exceeds the number of ministries, even though the cabinet is quite large. However, some committees, such as the Deputies’ Ethics Committee, deal exclusively with internal parliamentary issues. Most ministries, including the more important ones, have only a single oversight committee, a so-called branch committee. The distribution of subject areas among committees does not infringe upon parliament’s ability to monitor ministries.

Media

#37

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
Government decisions are widely covered by the country’s main TV and radio stations. Due to the media law, the public TVP is often referred to as TV-PiS. Jacek Kurski, a PiS party ideologist, was appointed as TV director and hired several party loyal journalists as anchors for the news shows and other relevant positions. In the private media, despite a tendency toward infotainment, the quality of reporting, especially of the two major TV companies, POLSAT and TVN, has increased. Rzeczpospolita, the second-largest daily paper in Poland, has benefited from a change in ownership and editorial staff, and has become less politically partisan. Still, there are few print outlets and TV and radio stations that have been able to resist political pressure, and the media is divided into pro- or anti-government camps. Public trust in the objectivity of the media has always been quite low, but has today reached a new, very low level. The leading TV news show – Wiadomosci, on TVP – has lost almost 20% of its viewers since 2015. Generally, survey respondents’ party affiliations influence the level to which they trust public TV and radio organizations: for example, 85% of PiS supporters think the TVP public TV station is “good,” while only 12% of PO supporters have the same opinion; by contrast, 84% of PO supporters trust TVN, compared to just 47% of PiS supporters.

Citations:
CBOS (2019): Oceny działalności instytucji publicznych i mediów, Komunikat z Badan, Nr 118, Warsaw.

Parties and Interest Associations

#25

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
5
For the last decade, political parties have functioned under legislation that strictly defines the role of a political party and how parties are financed. Since most funding is public, the government mandates that parties themselves are governed by democratic principles. However, the reality is mixed, with some parties meeting democratic standards while others fall short. While in the 2015 parliamentary elections, only two parties – the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO) – received more than 10% of the votes. In the parliamentary elections in October 2019, the Social Democratic Party (SLD) also managed to overcome this threshold. The three parties differ strongly from one another in their internal decision-making processes. PiS, led by Jarosław Kaczyński since 2003, is characterized by a hierarchical model of organization. Formal statutes and bodies notwithstanding, all important decisions are ultimately made directly or indirectly by Jarosław Kaczyński. By contrast, PO, the second largest party in parliament, and SLD have given members a greater say, which has allowed for more far-reaching internal debates.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
6
Poland has a relatively developed universe of interest associations. Business associations and trade unions have become increasingly professional over time. The trade unions, especially NSZZ Solidarność, have quite friendly relations with the PiS government. For example, the trade unions supported the PiS government’s pension reform, protesting against the European Union and its critique of the pension reform in Brussels, but were more critical about the school reform and supported the teachers’ strikes in spring 2019. Leading business associations such as the Konfederacja Lewiatan and the Business Center Club (BCC) have the expertise and resources to carry out research and formulate elaborate reform proposals. Konfederacja Lewiatan monitors many draft bills, and its spokespeople maintain a strong media presence. There are also a number of smaller associations that organize internationally known events such as the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI), which annually invites leading public intellectuals, academics and politicians, both Polish and European, to the EFNI conference in Sopot. All associations complain about not being involved in government policy discussions, despite the formal existence of the Council of Social Dialogue.

Citations:
Bender, B. (2017): Polnisches Puzzle. Organisation, Mitgliederentwicklung und politische Beteiligung von Gewerkschaften und Arbeitgeberverbänden aus vergleichender Perspektive. Polen-Analysen Nr. 208, Darmstadt/ Bremen (http://www.laender-analysen.de/polen/pdf/PolenAnalysen208.pdf).

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
Poland has a large number of interest associations beyond business associations and trade unions. However, compared to other countries, there are comparatively few environmental groups. Though the groups that do exist have become more important in the current discourse on how to mediate the effects of climate change.
Most independent non-governmental organizations are relatively small and do not benefit from the funds distributed by the National Freedom Institute, the official organization in charge of helping NGOs with capacity-building. However, many NGOs have good international contacts, can rely on academic expertise and are thus 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 within an increasingly secular society and has to deal with cases of sexual abuse. It currently has good access to the new government, but some of its priests also asked for more national solidarity, peaceful cooperation and a friendlier approach toward refugees.

Citations:
Pazderski, F. (2019): Indeks rozwoju i stabilności organizacji społeczeństwa obywatelskiego w Polsce. Warsaw: Instytut Spraw Publicznych (https://www.isp.org.pl/pl/publikacje/indeks-rozwoju-i-stabilnosci-organizacji-spoleczenstwa-obywatelskiego-w-polsce).

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#20

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
7
Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (Naczelna Izba Kontroli, NIK) is accountable exclusively to the Sejm. The NIK chairperson is elected by the Sejm for six years, ensuring that his or her term does not coincide with the term of the Sejm. The Senate has to approve the Sejm’s decision. The Supreme Audit Office has wide-ranging competencies and is entitled to audit all state institutions, government bodies and local-government administrative units, as well as corporate bodies and non-governmental organizations that pursue public contracts or receive government grants or guarantees. The NIK can initiate monitoring proceedings itself or do so at the request of the Sejm, its bodies or its representatives (e.g., the speaker of the Sejm, the national president or the prime minister). It is also responsible for auditing the state budget.

From 2013 to 2019, the NIK was led by Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, who had been appointed under the PO-PSL government. While the PiS government tried to obstruct the office’s functioning, the NIK was able to continue its broad audit functions in an independent and effective manner. The fact that the NIK operates professionally was demonstrated by its top showing in the competition to supervise the OECD’s financial management in 2018. When Kwiatkowski’s term in office ended in August 2019, the government was quick to nominate Marian Banas, a former minister of finance. While Banas was found to have provided irregular information on his income and to have contact to criminal circles in Cracow, he stayed on, and under his leadership the NIK has continued to behave professionally and independently.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
10
The Polish ombuds office, the Commissioner for Citizens’ Rights, is an independent state organ and is accountable exclusively to the Sejm. The commissioner is elected for five years and can be re-elected once. The office has substantial investigative powers, including the right to view relevant files or to contact the prosecutor general and to send any law to the Constitutional Court. Because of its strong engagement for citizens’ rights ever since its creation in 1987, the ombuds office has traditionally been accorded a good reputation. However, the effectiveness of the ombuds office has suffered insofar, as the institution has been assigned new tasks in the field of anti-discrimination policy, but did not achieve more funds to perform the tasks properly.
The current Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a lawyer appointed in September 2015, has become a very active defender of civil and political rights. He was responsible for appealing the Anti-Terror Law, as well as new laws on high-ranking civil servants, the Constitutional Court and the media to the Constitutional Court. He has also been fighting for the rights of his own office, since the Sejm passed a law in 2016 that makes it easier to remove the serving commissioner. In 2018, Bodnar was awarded the Rafto Prize for human rights work awarded by the Norwegian Rafto Foundation and, in 2019, the rule of law prize awarded by the U.S.-based foundation World Justice Project. The changes in the judicial system clearly impede his work because he cannot be sure that the Constitutional Tribunal would present objective judgments. Hence, he has declared that he will withdraw several cases in the meantime.
Bodnar’s term of office will end in September 2020. However, as a new commissioner can only be elected with the consent of the Senate and the opposition holds a small majority in the Senate (51 seats), the PiS cannot install their own candidate through the Sejm only. If no new commissioner is found acceptable, Adam Bodnar will remain in office.

Citations:
Grzelak, A. (2018): Choosing between two Evils: the Polish Ombudsman’s Dilemma, in: Verfassungsblog, May 6 (https://verfassungsblog.de/choosing-between-two-evils-the-polish-ombudsmans-dilemma/).

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
7
In May 2018, a new act on data protection entered into force. This replaced the 1997-era law, and is supposed to help implement the EU General Data Protection Regulation. The law has renamed the supervisory authority in Poland, the Office of Personal Data Protection, which replaced the Inspector General for Personal Data Protection. The president of this office is appointed for a four year term by the Sejm, with consent of the second chamber, the Senate. The new president, Jan Nowak, came into office in May 2019. Like his predecessor, Nowak has acted quite independently. In August 2019, the president initiated ex officio proceedings against the Ministry of Justice and the National Council of the Judiciary, following accusations that the bodies had collected and processed the personal data of judges and their families, and had shared the data with third parties. The effectiveness of the Office of Personal Data Projection has been limited by a lack of resources.
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