Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sikorski for President?

(when I wrote this, it seemed a bit outlandish. Now the WSJ describes Radek as the "Polish Obama")

Poland's strong economy

Horse power to horsepower
Jan 28th 2010
From The Economist print edition

Economic growth and a strong, stable government to boot: time to rethink old notions about Poland

OUTSIDERS often have fixed ideas of Poland: a big, poor country with shambolic governments, dreadful roads and eccentric habits. Old stereotypes die hard, but the facts paint an increasingly different picture. By the grim standards of recent centuries, Poland has never been more secure, richer or better-run. 

It was the only country in the European Union to register economic growth last year, at 1.2%. As Jacek Rostowski, Poland’s finance minister, likes to point out, GDP per head rose from 50% to 56% of the EU average in 2009—a record jump. By the same (somewhat flattering) measure, which adjusts for the greater purchasing power arising from lower prices, Poland now has Europe’s sixth-biggest economy.

Foreign investors like what they see. Whereas supposedly “west” European countries such as Greece flounder, ex-communist Poland is borrowing cheaply, for example with a $4.3 billion (€3 billion) Eurobond issue this month. Lenders’ generosity allowed the government to run a budget deficit of 7% of GDP in 2009 (though officials promise that a new public-finance law will cut spending growth sharply in the years ahead).

These good results owe much to luck. Poland’s stodgy banks came late to the wild foreign-currency lending that proved so disastrous in such countries as Latvia and Hungary. Poland’s big internal market has cushioned demand. Stimulus measures in Germany have spilled across the border. But the country has also benefited from some canny political leadership. Poland has something rare in the EU and all but unique in its ex-communist east: a sensible centre-right government with a majority in parliament.

Many criticise the government for its caution, and more recently for sleaze (a scandal about lobbying by the gambling industry is outraging Poland’s puritanical media). Some long-term problems are unsolved, such as a low rate of participation in the workforce and patchy public services. As many as 2m Poles have voted with their feet by working abroad. 

Even so, by the standards of Poland’s governments in the past, and of the rest of Europe now, the present lot look pretty good. The government has made inroads into some of Poland’s worst problems, notably with a tough, if partial, pension reform. It has belatedly started a programme to modernise roads and railways (2,000km of new fast roads will be built by 2012, when Poland and Ukraine co-host the European football championships).

It has also made some badly needed changes in the country’s stifling bureaucracy. Poland ranks low on most indices for friendliness towards business. A recent study by the World Bank put the Polish tax system at 151st out of the 183 countries it surveyed. But some improvements are under way, including online tax filing and faster customs clearance. A new law has liberalised the housing market, allowing short-hold tenancies. That should encourage Poland’s workers to move within the country in search of work, rather than emigrating. It can be easier to make a weekly commute to Britain by air than between Polish cities by road.

A big symbolic and practical change is that citizens can increasingly use a simple signed declaration (an oswiadczenia) instead of a costly, time-consuming notarised one (a zaswiadczenia) in their dealings with the state. “We assume that citizens are telling the truth unless there is evidence to the contrary. In the past, the reverse applied,” says Mr Rostowski. Sceptical Poles, scarred by their dealings with suspicious, nit-picking bureaucrats, may take some convincing of this.

A new Polish foreign policy has been a success, after a spell when the aim seemed to be to lose friends and alienate people. Under Radek Sikorski as foreign minister, Poland has managed to improve relations with all its neighbours and, despite some hiccups, won a favourable security deal from America under Barack Obama. After much haggling, a battery of American Patriot missiles will arrive in Poland in March.

Germany now claims that it wants its relations with Poland to be as close as they are with France. Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new foreign minister, chose Warsaw for his first foreign visit. Poland’s relations with Russia, once equally neurotic, have calmed down. Even the unearthing of a Russian spy, who had been living for many years under a false identity in Poland, has caused only a ripple.

Some talk of Mr Sikorski as a future president. If he ran this autumn, it would solve a problem for the prime minister, Donald Tusk. Until he ruled himself out on January 28th, Mr Tusk had been dithering about whether to run himself against the incumbent, Lech Kaczynski.

Mr Kaczynski’s record is dire (his popularity rises only when he makes no public statements). His main role has been destructive, vetoing laws and blocking appointments. He is widely believed not to want a second term, but to have been pushed into it by his bossy twin brother, Jaroslaw, who leads the main opposition party, Law and Justice.

Mr Tusk wants to unseat Mr Kaczynski as part of a long-term plan to break up Law and Justice and absorb bits of it into his own Civic Platform party. But he was uneasy about relinquishing the prime minister’s job, especially as he hopes to trim the president’s power in future. Mr Sikorski is electable. He is Poland’s most popular politician and also something of an outsider (he was educated at Oxford; his wife is American; he has worked at a Washington think-tank). So he is no threat to Mr Tusk. As president, he might even help to dispel more of those tiresome stereotypes.


Anonymous said...

Could you help me please? How has Sikorski managed to emerge as a presidential "hopeful"?. When he first became part of the PiS government he had dual citizenship. I queried this to Polish friends (after all he was Minsiter of Defence!) but they did not seem to mind. In contrast, my son was born in Poland (in 1990) with a Polish father and was brought up and educated in Poland, although he is now at university in the UK. Last year he was informed that he had permanently lost Polish citizenship as a result of the declaration that his parents had made at his birth (when we had/were forced to declare one citizenship only). He cannot therefore reappear with his Oxford degree and aspire to government office (he cannot even vote!). I respect Sikorski as a very able man and as a former colleague of yours but am decidedly irritated at what appears his unfairly privileged position politically. How did he manage to "swing" it?

Unknown said...

I don't know where from you get your information about polish politics, but you should consider changing you sources. Your article is full of flaws and mistakes, for example:
" He is widely believed not to want a second term, but to have been pushed into it by his bossy twin brother, Jaroslaw, who leads the main opposition party, Law and Justice."
Believed by who? Where did you get that info? Anyway its nonsense.
Another one:"Many criticise the government for its caution, and more recently for sleaze (a scandal about lobbying by the gambling industry is outraging Poland’s puritanical media)."
Sleaze? puritanical media!? your writing about biggest scandal since 2002 which put three important government ministers and leader of biggest political fraction in parliament out of office or was there another "sleaze" that i`m not aware of!?
I like your book but your comments on polish politics are a joke. Non polish readers may not be aware of this, but anyone who has at least some interest in whats happening in politics between Oder and bug rivers knows its one-sided bs.

Johnny S. Camerus said...

J, your comment is a rather good illustration for the "Prickly Poles" article, isn't it..

I think what often happens (to unfamiliar readers) is that Mr Lucas's views need some adjusting to. They're outside the usual domestic discourse.

I used to share your view on the value of Mr Lucas's opinion pieces, about my own country (which lies to the north from yours). I don't anymore. I find them very valuable, because they're outside the usual domestic discourse.

Food for thought, perhaps.

Certainly, that's what I've got from reading this blog.

Unknown said...

Three problems with Sikorski:

1. He does not have any views on anything apart from looking after his personal career and some childish but catching slogans “De-communised zone”, “Knock down the Soviet Palace of Science and Culture” etc.

2. Sikorski, as an adult, swore allegiance to the British Queen.

“I, Radoslaw Tomasz Sikorski, swear by Almighty God that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, according to law.”

It would be quite extraordinary if a head of a state had previously and willingly made himself a subject and subordinate to another head of state.

3. Sikorski is not loyal: his transfer from PiS to PO looked really bad, in bed test and highly non-diplomatic. Considering this, and all the above and the fact that Sikorski has his sights on an international post (after being President of Poland), like the UN Secretary General, he can even be quite dangerous to Poland: he can trade Poland’s interests for increasing his chances of getting a good “job” later. In the circumstances, whether it is right or wrong is one thing, but it is a realistic risk.

Unknown said...

@Edward Lucas

I understand that as a British citizen you would like to see Sikorski in chair of Polish president. Just remember almost every reader you Have in Poland is "Law and Justice" supporter.
This support may have effect on number of copies you sell. :)

Edward Lucas said...

I have no interest in tweaking my coverage of Poland to promote sales of my book and I find the suggestion that I would do that rather insulting.

If Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can have presidents who have at times been citizens of other countries I don't see why Poland can't. (Also Czech foreign minister, Slovene finance minister, Bulgarian prime minister--it is not that unusual in the region).

I should also note that I have declined the Bene Merito medal that I was awarded by the Polish Foreign Ministry.

Finally may I urge people posting comments here to try to maintain a minimum level of politeness.

Edward Lucas said...

Sorry--in answer to Liz, I can't comment on individual cases but I do know that Polish-born children of British parents quite often do have British passports so I don't know why it wasn't possible in your case. Have you tried asking the British consulate for a birth certificate and then a passport?

Anonymous said...

I perhaps emphasised the individual case too much. The point is that although Britain recognises British + Polish citizenship, Poland does not. The fact that my son had a British passport has, in the eyes of the Polish authorities, excluded him permanently from Polish citizenship, despite his Polish birth and education. (Just as well for Poland he is unlikely to be another Chopin). My question is, why has Sikorski been treated differently? I also share Piotr's view that dual citizenship seems an unlikely qualification for the highest office.

Unknown said...

Mr Lucas, Sikorski's problem is not that he is (or was) a citizen of another country, UK, but that he swore an Oath of Allegiance to the Head of another country, Queen Elizabeth the Second. She is his real boss and will be able to give him orders when Sikorski is President of Poland (for example through the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs). And he will have to obey them.

Liz suggested in the first comment that you are a friend of Sikorski. So you should not campaign for him: Polish people hate nepotism.

Edward Lucas said...

artur--if it is OK for Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania to have naturalised American citizens as heads of state (ie Ilves, Freiberga, Adamkus) what's the big deal with Sikorski. Yes he became a British citizen in the 1980s--but so did most refugees to the UK, because the Polish consulate wouldn't renew their passports. Now he has (also quite legally and normally) renounced that citizenship and is just as Polish as you are. Incidentally the time when the queen gave anyone orders is goneseveral centuries ago (the last one who tried it had his head chopped off in 1649).Also, I am not campaigning for Sikorski. After 25 years of travelling around and writing about the region it would be surprising if I didn't have some friends and some of them are quite prominent. But I have strongly criticised his policies in the past when I disagree with them and will do so again in future if necessary.

Unknown said...

Edward – citizenship of a country is not a joke, it is not a passport of convenience. Taking British citizenship means taking an Oath of Allegiance to the Sovereign. It is very serious undertaking contradictory to being the President of Poland. This is not a joke again. The fact the communists did not want to renew passport of Sikorski is not an excuse. Lidia Ciolkosz had the same problem after WWII but never took British citizenship as she was not prepared to swear loyalty to any country apart from Poland. She took herself as a serious Polish dissident politician in exile. So she travelled for a great part of her life on so-called Nansen’s passport. But then Ciokosz and Sikorski cannot be compared: intellectual and moral upstairs v downstairs.

Sikorski could not have renounced British citizenship as there is no way of doing so. One’s citizenship may be revoked if it “is conducive to the public good". And even if Sikorski managed to do it somehow his Oath of Allegiance still stands.

PS. It is as much OK for Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania to have naturalised American citizens as heads of state, as for them to have ex-KGB spooks in important state and civil service positions. I am sorry, I am not buying that. Either way.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if David Cameron has had time to consider the kind of captions that might accompany press photos of him as PM with Sikorski as President of Poland. If so, I would guess that he has very mixed feelings about Sikorski's candidacy.

adski said...

@Artur & @Piotr:

You guys make too big a deal of Sikorski's dual citizenship. The fact that he swore allegiance to the Old Hog doesn't mean a thing. It doesn't mean that he will be less loyal to Poland. The Oath of Allegiance is just a bunch of words you have to spew out so they give your papers. In 1984, British citizenship would have been very valuable to Sikorski, as it allowed him to travel all over the world without any visa restrictions. I don't think it made him any less of a Polish patriot. Besides, I believe Sikorski has renounced his British citizenship in 2006 under pressure from L.Kaczynski who threatened to refuse to sign Sikorski's nomination for Minister of Defense if he kept dual citizenship.

As Piotr noted, I would be more concerned with Sikorki's flip flopping (first he's with PiS, then with PO), but also with his neo-conservative views (he was a member of the ultra conservative think tank AEI) that don’t fit into the framework of left-wing European politics.

But his pledge of loyalty to the Crown is a non-issue. I pledged the same oath myself, and it meant absolutely nothing to me in terms of loyalties or national attachment.

Also, as an aside, I find the attacks on Sikorski's wife's Jewish origin despicable. That is a non-issue as well. Unfortunately, many of my compatriots get hung up on that. Sad.


You said:

"The point is that although Britain recognises British + Polish citizenship, Poland does not"

Are you sure about that? I have dual citizenship (Poland and Canada) and both countries recognize the other. If Poland recognizes Canadian citizenship, why wouldn't it recognize that of the UK?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Anonymous said...,80269,7665156,Sikorski_u_Lisa___Nie_mozna_zrzec_sie_brytyjskiego.html?skad=rss

This debate continues!

However, I go along with you adsi and Piotr that Sikorski's apparent tendency to always try to bat for the winning side gives cause to question whether he can be a man of priciple. I too find his association with the neo-cons in the USA extremely worrying in a European presidential candidate.

As regards dual citizenship, I am somewhat confused myself, but also annoyed, as indicated by my original question to Edward about his blog. It seems that if you are outside Poland you can enjoy dual citizenship. However, if you want to live in Poland as an adult you need an ID. You cannot have a Polish one unless you make it clear that you are resigning your other citizenship. This was what my son was asked to decide at 18 (last year). As he did not wish to resign his British citizenship he is as much a foreigner in Poland as everyone else, despite his Polish father, place of birth and education. This is what heppened! We checked the statutes at the time, and this seems to be in accordance with Polish law (although not, in my opinion, the constitution).

The confusion over Sikorski only goes to show that the Polish citizenship laws need a thorough overhaul.

adski said...


With Sikorski's rather shaky and loosely undefined views, it's always hard to tell if he's really a hardcore neocon or not. I would have to read some of his opinion pieces, although it is clear to me that he is more of a conservative than a social democrat.

But just his association with the AEI is worrisome. This "think tank" is home to some of the most hard headed neocons in the US. I don't know what business Sikorski had with them. Was it his views? Or was it that neocons were in power, so he jumped on the bandwagon and went for a ride? I'm leaning towards the latter.

adski said...

Sorry, I meant to say "loosely defined views".