Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With strong growth despite longer-term sustainability concerns, Poland falls into the middle ranks (rank 23) in the area of economic policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

Though showing a slight decline to 4.6%, GDP growth has continued to be strong. Personal consumption remains a main driver, boosted by increased social transfers, good labor market conditions, low lending rates and moderate inflation. Private investment has rebounded. Net FDI as a share of GDP has declined, reflecting uncertainty over the government’s economic policies and violations of the rule of law.

Unemployment rates have fallen sharply in recent years, reaching 5.1% in 2019. The government has focused on minimum-wage increases rather than on integrating youth, less-skilled workers and women into the labor market. A large number of women have withdrawn from the labor market following the introduction of a generous child allowance policy.

The corporate-income tax for small businesses is being reduced, and personal-income taxes are being scrapped for low-income young people. The deficit rose to about 1.0% as a result of pre-electoral spending. 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 30) with respect to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

A badly managed return to a two-tier school system (primary followed by upper secondary or vocational classes) led to a broad strike by teachers. Curriculum changes have sought to expunge liberal texts and values. Social inequalities and regional disparities have diminished. A new program provides free access to hospitals, education and other institutions for people with special needs.

Access to healthcare is highly uneven, as public health insurance covers only a limited range of services. Medical staffers have received salary increases following strikes and demonstrations. Family policy has focused on child-related benefits, with the employment rate among women declining by two to three percentage points since 2016. 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 continued to denounce Muslim immigrants as potential terrorists, a risk to public health, and a threat to Polish culture and society. However, labor immigration from Ukraine in particular has shot up.

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 0.9 points relative to 2014.

A political consensus that economic growth should take priority over the environment has led to a lack of ambition and weak implementation of environmental policy. The government has sought to protect the domestic coal industry. Renewables account for only 1% of energy production, and efforts to reduce burning of low-quality coal in domestic boilers have remained half-hearted.

A new climate ministry has been created. The government plans to reduce the share of coal in energy production to 50% by 2030, while increasing the use of renewables, shale gas and nuclear energy. However, the details of this plan are not clear.

Biodiversity is threatened by rapid infrastructure development and intensive agriculture. The government has acted as a brake within the EU, joining with several other to block an EU declaration aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Showing serious setbacks in recent years, Poland has fallen into the bottom ranks (rank 39) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 3.5 points relative to 2014.

A change in composition of the main election oversight panels has increased government influence over these bodies. Government influence over public media reporting has strongly increased, with efforts to control private media also evident. Efforts to redistrict access to government information have in part been blocked by the courts.

The government’s control over the judiciary, along with its xenophobic, discriminatory and offensive rhetoric against minorities, women activists and other opponents, has diminished respect for civil rights. NGOs that try to defend civil rights are increasingly confronted with hate speech, criticism and lawsuits. Public positions tend to be filled on the basis of political loyalty.

Legal certainty has strongly declined, with many new initiatives needing revision. The government has strongly undermined judicial independence. A new disciplinary chamber in the Supreme Court has the power to penalize judges based on the content of their decisions, further increasing legal uncertainty. Clientelistic networks have emerged, with some high-ranking politicians convicted of abuse of office.

Good Governance


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 2.3 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. Prime Minister Morawiecki has gained informal power over time.

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. 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 its 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. This has led to serious task-funding shortages particularly in the larger cities.

Executive Accountability

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.
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