Population and society
Poland is the most populous state among the Eastern European countries that are part of the EU. However, the population has been declining since 1995 and it is estimated that, from the current 37.9 million residents, the country will continue to decline to 36.8 million in 2030. The fertility rate remains quite low (1.3 children per woman); over the years many Poles have moved to other European countries, especially since 2004, the year they joined the EU. The Polish population is quite homogeneous, although there are small German, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Roma minorities. Although minorities are protected by law and financially supported, the Roma minority has at times been the victim of discrimination. The majority of the population is Catholic (94%). There are some minorities of Orthodox Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, and Jews. The Catholic tradition is a central component in Polish society. The education system is solid: already during the Soviet era, education was a priority and the literacy rate was high. For Poland society, please check homosociety.com.
Much debated topic in recent months has been that of immigration: Poland has long opposed, along with other Eastern European states, the refugee redistribution system proposed by Brussels in the face of the 2015 crisis. Government mandate, however, the Po had given its green light to accept the new European plan: it remains to be seen whether the Pis will decide to comply with the commitments made by the previous government.
Freedom and rights
The Polish Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits censorship. The media is largely private and owned by foreigners, but state television dominates the sector. In December 2015, the government enacted a law that gives the Treasury the power to appoint the heads of the public radio and television service. Corruption is widespread and often goes unpunished. The women, despite being used in many professional fields, is weak and worse-paid management positions in public and under-represented in key political institutions, courts and universities. The high rate of domestic violence represents a serious social problem.
Poland is the eighth economy of the Eu. The GDP per capita, although still rather low, has increased in recent years to reach $ 26,000. With the transition to the market economy in the 1990s, services recorded the greatest development and now contribute to 63.5% of GDP. Agriculture, which accounts for 3.3% of GDP, is still an important sector, as it employs about 12.6% of the active population. The primary sector has been able to largely benefit from funds received under the common agricultural policy of the EU. The industry has seen its weight on the country’s economy decrease since the mid-1990s: today it contributes 33.2% of GDP and mainly produces cars, machinery and food products. The western regions of the country are richer and have attracted more investment – the top four most productive regions in Poland, out of sixteen total, together contribute about half of the entire national GDP.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Poland has experienced sustained growth: even in 2009, a year of crisis for most European economies, the Polish GDP grew by 2.6%. Among the factors that allowed this result is the reduction of the trade balance deficit, thanks to the decrease in imports and new investments in the export sector. For 2015, growth stood at 3.5%, an excellent result in the context of the European economies.
A risk element for the country’s economy, however, remains the budget deficit, which is still high (3.2% of GDP in 2014). The country continues to be above the Maastricht parameters, which are necessary for eventual access to the euro area.
To reduce the budget deficit, support development and reduce socio-economic disparities between the west and east of the country, the government has studied a package of measures useful, on the one hand, to promote credit solvency, on the other hand to guarantee growth and attraction of foreign investments: a new plan to relaunch investments (mainly in the infrastructure sector), the cancellation of some tax breaks, the introduction of taxes for specific sectors (for example excise duties on fuels and tobacco), some changes on VAT rates and the start of structural reforms (pensions and privatizations of state-owned companies, above all).
As far as international trade is concerned, Poland traditionally exports raw materials and semi-finished products. Recently, exports have extended to machinery, food, textiles and furniture. Main trading partner is Germany, followed by Italy and France. The EU as a whole has been the main trading partner since the 1990s, although Russia is still a major energy supplier and trade with China is steadily increasing.
Energy and environment
Poland is a major producer of coal (which provides 52.4% of the energy consumed by the country). It also produces small quantities of gas and oil. Warsaw has also begun to carry out a development plan for the extraction of shale gas, which it has in large reserves (among the largest in Europe). However, the new restrictive rules at European level on fracking could reduce the possibilities of exploration of unconventional hydrocarbon fields.
The oil is currently mainly imported from Russia via the Druzhba pipeline, ‘friendship’, (in the sixties to late eighties fact the pipeline linking the Soviet Union to the European countries of the Warsaw Pact) and which passes through Belarus. With the aim of diversifying its energy partners, Poland together with other European countries (Austria, Slovakia and Hungary) supports the extension of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline. Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions have been severely curtailed by the decline of heavy industry as well as the introduction of stronger environmental legislation. However, Warsaw ranks fifth in the EU for CO 2 emissions.
Although Poland has expressed a willingness to reduce the share of coal in energy consumed, this remains the only alternative to Russian gas and oil and contributes over 90% to electricity generation. The country has expressed strong doubts about the environmental objectives of the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy, which plan to reduce CO 2 emissions by 20% by that date and to obtain 20% of energy from renewable sources. Warsaw claims the need to have more time: in the Polish case, reaching the objectives within the set time frame could lead to too high prices for electricity, and therefore for economic development, or excessively increase energy dependence on Moscow.