Poland has proven to be the best economic performer among the EU-10 countries in facing the region’s recent crisis. GDP growth was solid in the 2005-2008 period (averaging 5.5%) and declined only moderately in 2009 to 1.6%. Poland is the only EU-10 member state that maintained growth even during the peak of the global economic crisis. However, since the initial recovery in 2010 and 2011, economic growth has slowed and the overall GDP growth rates for 2012 were low at 2.35%. This economic slowdown has led to some internal conflict within Poland and is not expected to improve in 2013, with growth predictions at only 2.05%. Prime Minister Donald Tusk has introduced a program of spending reform in order to improve the economy, but it is unclear how quickly Poland will recover.
Since the end of Soviet control in Poland, the nation has undergone many years of reform and internal unrest. Overall, Poland has enjoyed success in transitioning to a market economy and in attracting foreign investment, especially since the economic crisis forced much of Europe into recession. However, not all economic practices in Poland have been successful. Even though agricultural land constitutes 60% of the Polish state, most agricultural programs lack infrastructure, are poorly managed and underfunded. Unemployment rates are expected to be over 10% in 2013.
Soon after winning a second term in October 2011, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s coalition government proposed a plan for spending reform aimed at reducing government spending and combating Poland’s economic slowdown. Notably, the plan included raising the retirement age to 67, as well as other types of pension and tax reform. The Polish government seeks greater EU integration and the eventual adoption of the Euro, although due to public opinion and rising opposition from the Law and Justice Party, a socially conservative and Euroskeptic party with economic policies bordering on socialism, Prime Minister Tusk has since eased his position on reform and austerity goals.
The democratic performance of Poland lies well within the upper ranges of “consolidated democracies”, and its score has even improved slightly since the crisis hit. The 2010 Smolensk plane crash, which killed the Polish President and a large number of other top government and military officials acted as additional test for democratic institutions in Poland. After the tragedy, the overall transfer of power and the appointment of new officials went over smoothly and without any major incidents, thus further demonstrating the effectiveness of democratic institutions in Poland. Although there was some speculation about Russia’s involvement in the plane crash, statistics indicate that very few Polish citizens subscribed to these theories and they continue to have faith in the governmental system.
Poland has shown through its success in dealing with these challenges that it is committed to democracy, to a strong market economy, and to further integration with the EU and the West. Although it is unclear what effect the ongoing economic slowdown will have on public opinion and opposition support, Poland’s Freedom House democracy rating remains well established as a “consolidated democracy” and citizens seem to support the current system as well as the continuation of the democratic processes. Especially due to the nation’s continued growth during the economic crisis, Poland has begun to develop a role as a meaningful partner in the EU policy-making process.
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