Monday, February 28, 2011

Is Poland still a democracy?

Law and Justice (PiS) skipper Jaroslaw Kaczynski said recently that while Poland's democratic frame remains, one must seriously consider whether Poland was still a democratic country. He pointed to the "annihilation of the opposition" and the alleged liquidation of media plurality as the main reasons why democracy was being undermined. And, you know what, Kaczynski is right. Poland is indeed no longer a democracy.*

The ruling Civic Platform (PO)-Polish People's Party (PSL) coalition is clearly trying to restrict public debate. Case in point is the recent amendment of the electoral code banning political radio and TV ads in the October election campaign. PiS's TV spots are well known for being very effective and it will thus be hurt most. Media bans usually favour the incumbents, so the amendment is in a sense aimed at 'annihilating' opponents.

The PO likewise has long tried to effectively disembowel public media and take it private. Kaczynski noted that public media had seen several current affairs programs cancelled and journalists fired who asked tough questions about the government. The two big privately held TV channels and private radio stations that deal with current affairs also tend to be pro-PO and anti-PiS.

Maybe the biggest example of the PO's seeming disregard for free media was the Monday report Tomasz Arabski, head of PM Donald Tusk's office, effectively gagged a journalist from the state-owned PAP news agency at a news conference during Tusk's recent visit to Israel. A PAP journalist was going to ask the PM an uncomfortable question about compensation for prior seizures of Jewish property. The question was dropped after Arabski called the head of PAP to exert pressure.

The PO's public support has sagged of late, but it remains the only party on the political scene that caters to moderate voters. That creates, as it were, a one-party system where the only questions are whether the PO will win the autumn elections outright or who it will form a coalition with.
In sum, the PO is extremely guilty of threatening democracy. Only Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS are capable of returning democracy to Poland, just like when PiS ruled in 2005-07, the true honest-to-God glory years of Polish democracy.

* Lol.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Week in review…

Trouble in the Middle East continued to dominate headlines the world over for a week that saw the Polish political fracas touch softer issues. The Civic Platform's two leading big wigs were reported to have made up, though possibly are not yet holding hands. Law and Justice (PiS) honcho Jaroslaw Kaczynski launched a blog and amazed readers by announcing he was gay (not really). And the government dropped previously planned reforms that might actually be construed as painful in favour of measures that accentuate the positive, especially the key mission of allowing beer to be sold at football stadiums. Hurrah!

In an equally positive but more serious tone, the Economist's eye returns to Poland this past week to look at the country's chief rabbi and the improving but still precarious position of Jews in society. An amazing detail is the fact that Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich had been invited by President Lech Kaczynski to commemorate the Katyn massacres in Smolensk, Russia last April 10 but declined since the ceremonies were held on the Sabbath. Touched by an angel, indeed.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski travelled to Israel this past week for an official visit. Sikorski told the Israeli daily Haaretz something often forgotten when the situation of Jews and Poland is considered: the close Poland-Israel relations. "We feel solidarity with both people of the Holy Land who have a right to live in secure borders, but above all it was also the fact that because the Polish state was too weak in 1939 to stand up to Nazi Germany and to protect all of its citizens and Nazi Germany carried out the Holocaust on our own soil, against our will but in front of our eyes," Sikorski said.

Sikorski's wife Anna Applebaum gives me the perfect tie-in to the following question: what is the one sure way to curry favour with Poles? Write the following: "But on a recent trip [to Poland], I discovered a fascinating place whose history has several times changed the history of our world." Yes, the world! Yvonne Crittenden writes a very positive travelogue about Poland in which she notes that her daughter and Applebaum have recently written a Polish cookbook (here's hoping a few of the delicions Polish apple desserts got in there).

I'll close with a battle of the cute stories of the week. Entry one. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny recently became the massive London-based football club's top keeper. Partially to celebrate, Szczesny will bring his grandfather to a match on Sunday at London's famed Wembley Stadium. This will be the first time the grandfather has ever left Poland. Ahhhhhhh.

Entry two touches on two of my favourite subjects: models and dogs. Young Ms. Natalia Strokowska, a Polish model, jetted off to India to do the only kind of proselytising I'm cool with: spreading the word of the humane treatment of dogs. Natalia and a friend helped tend to 50 dogs at one of Ahmedabad's animal foundations centres. In a Canada-cold week here in Poland, there's a couple of stories to warm your hearts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Elections: Double your pleasure

Poles love democracy. They just don't love to vote. Turnout tends to be pretty low and anything over 50% is greeted with a joy that rather proves my point. One way to lift turnout is to give voters the chance to mark their ballots on not just one day, but two. Poland's legislators recently amended the electoral code to allow for just that possibility for the parliamentary elections that must be held by the end of this October.

President Bronislaw Komorowski is tasked with deciding whether to have elections on a Sunday (as usual) or on the Saturday as well. Komorowski of course hails from the Civic Platform (PO), so the decision will de facto be up to the PO, the senior ruling coalition party.

Komorowski recently began consultations on the issue, including with those at the Polish Electoral Commission (PKW). From the latter, he heard that one day of elections would cost 90 million zlotys (about 23 million euros) and two would set the Treasury back some 140 million zlotys (35 million euros). By no means two for one, but I think the costs are low enough money shouldn't be an issue.

For political parties, the matter is not without importance. Though this is a loose rule, the higher the turnout, the better the PO should do. Civic Platform voters tend to have a lot more on the go and be a lot less reliable in terms of actually voting. In contrast, Law and Justice's (PiS) voters are usually far more disciplined. Thus, if turnout is low, PiS tends to do better, all things considered.

This rough guide doesn't always work, but it should for this autumn's elections. The PO has seen some fatigue from ruling and has offended many of its core electorate with the lack of reform (or the wrong kind). Its voters are not dying to vote. With Smolensk always fresh in their minds, PiS voters are pumped up and will do anything to get rid of the hated Civic Platform.

The political reaction to the idea has mostly gone as expected. But PiS MP Adam Hofman got creative on one of Poland's nightly news channels on Thursday. Naturally, he didn't say "we are against 'two days' because we want turnout to be low so we can benefit." Instead, he went on about 'we are worried about the security of the ballot boxes overnight.' I can totally understand the worry. I'm sure candidates just like himself will be storming the polling centres to try to stuff ballots if they are held over two days.

So, Polish readers, the Civic Platform has not done a great deal since being elected in 2007 but they will almost surely part with at least one gift: two days of election fun.

Spring offensive

As you know (from this post), Poland's government is hard at work reforming various areas of life. According to the daily Dziennik, it is so hard at work has had enough, or almost enough.

The daily says the government is now focusing on only the really, really, really important things it wants to achieve before the October elections. These include the much maligned pension changes, but do not include changes to military and police early retirement benefits (which allow some to retire at 40) or to the disability pension system that could save some 11 billion zlotys to 2020. The government had previously pledged to do both reforms.
Instead, the government is concentrating on such key legislative initiatives as... dropping tax identification numbers for individuals, regulations regarding reverse mortgages or additional healthcare insurance. Let's be clear. I am not saying some of these things are not important to some people, but really are these THE key issues?

If this is the "legislative offensive," the government's opponents (whoever they are) will rather die of laughter than be smashed to pieces. Of course, one should also say that this is rather a delayed offensive since originally it was supposed to happen in the autumn of 2010, just after the local elections.

This is a good time to recall that this parliament only has 11 sittings left, with the first due next week. It takes two-three readings and a parliamentary commission to get a bill passed. And then it goes to the Senate. AND then it can go back to the lower house of parliament. AND then...

So, Mr. Prime Minister Donald Tusk, if you want to get these things done, you better get cracking since there is not much time left. Mr. Tusk?! Donald?! Where are you now...?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Foreign Ministry in vulgar Chopin comic snafu

Bad decisions are as part of life as good ones. Clearly. But a putridly bad decision was made at Poland's Foreign Ministry to give the green light to "New Romantic," a comic meant to teach German kids about famed Fryderyk Chopin (note the spelling French readers) but that re-imagined the life and times of everyone's favourite Polish composer in a prison with text strewn with vulgarity. Chopin apparently goes to the prison with a friend who just happens to be a skinhead.

Echoing the comic, one could rephrase the question as "what the f**k" was the Foreign Ministry individual thinking?

I haven't read the comic since it's not available and don't want to judge its actual content in anyway. Maybe it's a brilliant retelling. And, though I'm sure the bad-ass German pupils would have loved the profanity -- Poland would be "uber-cool" in this regard -- I think perhaps the Polish state itself should leave pushing the boundaries of acceptable language to others in the private sector, that is, artists.

An irate Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski agreed and ordered the comic to be spiked. The minister also showed a bit of a sadistic streak when he said, according to Polish radio's news service, the "one thing I regret is I cannot remove this person from their position for this scandalous decision since the employee no longer works for the Foreign Ministry."

A Law and Justice (PiS) MP jested that the guilty person was none other than Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski's daughter, who previously scandalised Polish readers after reports she received a cushy job at the Foreign Ministry. Though Rostowski's daughter was not to blame, considering her dad's judgement, or lack thereof, it would not be super surprising for her to have been the guilty one.

In the end, the ministry is out 27,000 euros (107,460 zlotys) for the 2,000 prints it ordered. But considering the hubbub, the comics could very well become collector items. Click here to buy your very own copy for 150 zlotys, or already about three times the 50 zlotys or so the ministry paid for each edition.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Caesar and Brutus make up?

Civic Platform (PO) leader and PM Donald Tusk and erstwhile ally Grzegorz Schetyna have been warring for some time over control of the PO. The battle has divided the party at the worst possible time. But reports suggest the pair hunkered down on Tuesday evening in an attempt to bury the hatchet.

The Tusk-Schetyna duo was the dynamic centrepiece of a PO that has not lost an election since 2007. Tusk was the friendly face who found a steely spine for political battle few thought he had. Schetyna was the organisational mastermind expert a stiffening support in a once unruly party. But the PO's largely uncontested rule chipped away at a friendship cinched on the football pitch until the current seemingly irreconcilable gulf.

The Tusk-Schetyna relationship has been in the pits since at least autumn 2009 when the so-called "gambling gate" affair broke out. This saw the PO's caucus leader and sport minister ensnared in a seeming attempt to procure favourable changes to legislation for friendly faces in the gambling business. Schetyna was caught up as well. As part of a purge, Tusk fired the caucus leader and sport minister and relegated Schetyna from being deputy PM and interior minister to caucus leader.

Many saw Tusk's move as just, but others noted he was especially harsh on Schetyna. This has since been read as Tusk's failed bid to undermine the authority of his formerly close ally. Schetyna bounced back and was able to build enough support to become the speaker of the lower house, one of the most powerful positions in Poland.

The most recent peak of hatred came in January. Schetyna criticised Tusk for being slow to react to a Russian report blaming Polish pilots for the April 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and scores more. Tusk was outraged. He was reported to have laid into Schetyna for many hours at a later meeting, warning that those who oppose him end badly. Tusk's competitors in the PO have a tendency to fast become political corpses.

The fight has been expected to spill over to the creation of the PO's electoral lists for general elections to be held in October, thereby dividing the party at a time it most needs unity and renewal.

The reports of rapprochement thus come for PO supporters at an opportune time. PO member Jaroslaw Gowin, a Schetyna ally, told radio station RMF FM on Wednesday that "everything will be okay." But he was brief.

Has the PO's Caesar really patched things up with the potential Brutus? Tusk better hope so. Any failure or perceived failure in the elections will rest on his shoulders. He would open himself up to being purged, giving Brutus cause to say "sic semper tyrannis," that is loosely, "death to tyrants."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Political chess

First we reminded you of what Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski thinks of internet users and then he starts blogging.

Later, Scott wrote about what could happen to the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) if they formed a coalition with PiS, and now the Polish edition of Newsweek reports that such a coalition already exists in the little town of Pionki, which appropriately means "pawns" in Polish.

Are they reading us or somethin'!?

Anyway, unfortunately, it seems that the "grandmasters" of Polish politics are still the ones that decide where pawns should be placed. Local pawns. I mean politicians from both PiS and the SLD believed they could build a coalition that would get something done (like the PiS-SLD agreement that got rid of the rival Civic Platform (PO) in public media, for example), but alas no. Grandmaster Kaczynski heard about the idea and then gave a simple order.

"This coalition will be dropped," PiS's Marek Suski is quoted as saying.

Bishop takes pawn? Apparently, but whether it was only a gambit we will see in November after the October parliamentary elections.

Top gear

For anyone driving, or even just walking, the streets of Poland, one thing is obvious. No, I don't mean the sorry state of the roads. Not this time. I mean something just as obvious: Poles buy better cars. For those who foreigners who have been here for some time (right Scott?) [Ed - right], all those Maluchy (Fiat 126p), Ladas, Wartburgs and even Polonezes are either in the trash bin of automotive history or on the fast track to the same place.

Replacing them are their more (or usually more) modern counterparts made by Toyota, Opel, Ford, Fiat, Skoda and whatnot. In Warsaw and other major cities, one can quite often stumble upon a Porsche or even an Aston Martin and, be it a sign of times, nobody really bats an eye.

This rather long introduction brings me to the point that Poland's Police is rather outgunned and underequipped to handle the burden as it is often stuck with cars like the "Poldek" you see in the picture.

However, fear not for your safety law-abiding citizens! Tremble all speed-loving maniacs! The Polish Police has bought a fleet of brand new top-notch Alpha Romeo 159s. But there's just one catch or two, according to the daily Dziennik.

It seems the wheels and winter tyres for these cars actually come from a Citroen...and are too wide to drive...and too big so no more than 3 people can fit inside. But even if they get out onto the streets, apparently the policemen will have a rather chilly ride: heating goes only half-ways...because it interferes with the camera used to record speeding cars. Given that it is something like -15 degrees Celsius outside these days that makes them rather unusable.

All in all this is nothing out of the ordinary -- just another Polish tender won by a reliable Italian car maker.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kaczynski launches blog!

The timing is interesting. We here at Poland X start a blog and the next thing you know Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski launches his own blog. Coincidence? I think not.

Kaczynski is by no means a natural blogger. As my partner Vasyloo noted recently, Kaczynski used to categorise all internet users as beer-drinking porn addicts (which, ahem, is totally and completely outrageous, how dare he…). He did not have a bank account until not too long ago due to the fear "someone" could just put money into it (Jaroslaw, I can honestly say you are right, this is a big problem). He doesn't drive. He lives with his mom and his cat.

But living with your mom and a cat makes you something of a nerd, and nerds these days -- ask Mark Zuckerberg -- are uber-cool. That, I guess, could explain Kaczynski's change of heart.

The launch has not gone without controversy. One veteran leftist blogger wrote that Kaczynski's conversion to the religion of blogging was not credible because of his prior "stupid comments" about the internet. A leading PO member also brought up the beer and porn comment (which I continue to be outraged by).

A former PiS member alleged Kaczynski was using a ghost writer and only wanted to be seen as "modern" and "cool." He added that Kaczynski did not have much experience using a computer and could not even surf the internet without help (I'm having difficulty imagining Kaczynski surfing at all).

In the event, Kaczynski's virgin post was a bit of a snoozer. In the shockingly entitled "Modern economic patriotism," it concluded that Polish capital is needed in Polish banks to develop Polish capitalism in order to invest in Polish roads and use Polish energy with the help of a strong Polish state run by you-know-who.

I don't know about you, but I'm dying for post number two. Maybe he'll tell us who's to blame for the Smolensk crash....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Week in review…

The FT's beyondbrics blog saw Jan Cienski interview a Deputy Finance Minister Dominik Radziwill who tried to perform a little publicity surgery. Poland's image has been hammered by negative news about a ballooning deficit, a reluctance to reform, and spats over pension reform. But Radziwill notes Poland has had little problem selling its debt to foreigners. Still, even he notes that "the era of cheap debt is ending." Inflation is rising, interest rates are rising, and, yes, Dominik, worry Poland will go from the "green island" of Europe in terms of being able to grow GDP in the crisis to just another one of the "sick men of Europe." How's that for wasted opportunity?

The WSJ's New Europe blog sees Marcin Sobczyk and Marynia Kruk cite an unnamed senior government official also trying on a little spin for size. This official notes that the government's deficit-cutting plans don't only involve rolling back the pension reform. They include a plan to reduce soldiers, police and similar personnel's pension benefits, both in terms of early retirement eligibility and actual payments. This is a red herring. The government first proposed this in early 2010 and it would only affect new recruits from January 1, 2012. That means a big "zero" in savings for 2012. According to the government's own calculations, it will save only just under 1 billion zloty to 2020 and 16 billion zlotys to the end of 2060. What's that famous John Maynard Keynes phrase about our fate in the long run?

The New Europe blog also notes that Polish consumer price growth jumped to 3.8% in January versus the previous year, hitting the highest level since April 2009. This brings inflation to well above the central bank's 2.5% target. Mounting inflation pressure is being seen the world over, sparking central banks like Poland's to raise interest rates in attempt to slow galloping price growth. Most analysts expect the National Bank of Poland (NBP) to keep raising interest rates. Increasing signs point to this happening at the central bank's Monetary Policy Council (MPC) sitting on March 2.

But ex-NBP Deputy Governor Krzysztof Rybinski, always the maverick, thinks a further hike of interest rates would be a huge mistake (ironic link here to the newspaper I have beside my desk). Rybinski notes that the current MPC is about to make the same mistake as the councils in place in 2000-01 and in 2004, both of which jacked up interest rates to counter inflation that rose due to factors outside the council's control, such as global food and fuel prices. The result of both was a sharp slowdown of economic growth, which would basically make the government's populist fiscal policy into a zoo.

Speaking of zoos (how do you like that segue), how about the Russian aviation official Oleg Smirnov's quip that even "if there weren't a single air traffic controller in the tower at Smolensk and instead a chimpanzee sat there and in a language that is not understandable to any human being, to any nationality, gave out information in gibberish, even such an absurdity would not be a reason for the catastrophe" that saw President Lech Kaczynski and dozens more die in a plane crash on April 10, 2010. Cue nasty Polish response. Considering the name of the guy who made the comment, I'd start with a tasteless jibe about vodka....

(In a special bonus final comment, I'll give you a quiz question: what has been called "brilliant, incredible," "another masterpiece," and "so relevant, yet fresh"? If you answered Radiohead's new album King of Limbs, pat yourself on the back. Head on over here to buy and download.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"What PiS touches, disappears"

Many in Poland despise the man as a symbol of communism and post-communist opportunism. Others admire his ability to survive, and not only in political terms since he lived through a helicopter crash when prime minister. But few can deny Leszek Miller has a way with words.

"What PiS touches, disappears" is how the former Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader describes in the weekly Polityka the Law and Justice's (PiS) modus operandi regarding coalitions. It is meant as a warning to SLD leader Grzegorz Napieralski and those in the party said to be considering a coalition with PiS after the October general elections.

PiS earns this 'touch of death' reputation since the cranky conservatives, when leading the coalition governments in 2005-2007, effectively destroyed the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) and infamous populist Andrzej Lepper's Samoobrona, its supposed coalition partners.

Miller's caution comes as coalitions are the name of the game in regards to the October elections since the populist Civic Platform (PO) -- I hope you enjoy the new moniker -- is very unlikely to win outright. The most likely ruling coalition continues to be a repeat of the current one, that is, the PO with fellow populists from the Polish People's Party (PSL).

But another possible pact is a coalition of the SLD and PiS. Miller obviously opposes this, but he would. One must only remember the famous 2003 clash between Miller and PiS Turk Zbigniew Ziobro when the then PM Miller called the latter "a zero." After this, Miller did indeed disappear.
A PiS-SLD coalition seems the very epitome of exotic. The two parties are sworn enemies. They are said to occupy opposite sides of the political spectrum. For the superstitious, any coalition deal would likely be a sign of the Apocalypse. The next thing you know there'd be an eclipse, an earthquake and we'd all disappear.

In actual fact, PiS and the SLD are not dissimilar. Miller notes that the SLD's traditional ex-communist support base is fairly conservative and professes views often similar to those espoused by Radio Maryja, the ultra-Catholic radio station that backs PiS. So even on social policy there is some overlap, though the SLD's young urban social democratic wing would be furious with any deal.

PiS and the SLD also see eye to eye on economics. Neither loves the free market. Both would love to hike taxes on the rich and on banks in order to increase social handouts. Both proclaim support for the average Jan and Janina, industrial policy, big families, and the fight against unemployment.

Yet the main reason a deal is possible hearkens back to that old saying about the enemy of my enemy. Yes, PiS and the SLD could find common cause in the joint desire to stick it to the PO. In so doing they could provide the rest of us with a fine Polish example of political ebony and ivory, opposites but both part of a piano.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Don't Call Me Junior!

This probably isn't the most famous Indiana Jones quote, but it's close enough and, dear reader, if you wonder why we are discussing the world's most famous archaeologist and snake hater, it's because this Law and Justice (PiS) official believes PiS is like Indiana Jones.

Honestly, I don't know if this means PiS's Adam Hofman has some fond memory of hats, boots and whips, although he might very well think the rival Civic Platform (PO) is nothing besides full of Nazis. PiS boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski with a whip? I don't know if that makes sense or does . . . .

Mr Hofman, however, raises the more interesting point that according to alleged research by pollster TNS-OBOP more young people actually prefer PiS to PO: 34 pct vs 29 pct among those aged 18-24. As you probably remember, surprisingly high turnout among young voters was key in tipping the scale in the PO's favour in the 2007 general election.

Should this poll be correct, it would be yet another warning signal for Mr. Tusk and his associates to get their act together. It is hard to imagine that the "doing nothing" strategy followed at present will work well in attracting young voters.

Hofman cites the internet as the main reason why young Poles prefer PiS. This just shows that the PO, despite its supposed modernism, has failed to capitalise on the potential of social networks, which is huge as the many anti-PiS Facebook initiatives show. This leaves the field almost entirely to PiS, whose supporters dominate comment sections and forums on the most popular Polish internet portals. This is especially ironic since Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said most internet users are beer-loving porn addicts.

In the end, the PO doesn't have to be Indiana Jones or Han Solo, but it has to get its act together and come up with an election strategy that will actually work, or after the October general elections it will be stuck with the rather uncomfortable role of being the...Joker.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PiS's days without Smolensk

Committed readers will recall the ultimately aborted attempt by an over 100,000-strong group to demand a "Day Without Smolensk" as the April 10 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and many others dominated media focus. The "Day" was abandoned after Law and Justice (PiS) politicians began accusing the group of being unpatriotic. That is, PiS used what was a protest against the political usage of Smolensk for political usage.

But PiS has seen the light. It is now reported to have de facto called its own "days with Smolensk." The cranky conservatives reportedly won't mention Smolensk until the one-year anniversary of the crash on April 10. That's days. Not just one measly day without Smolensk.

What's more, PiS has actually referenced issues not dealing with the plane crash in recent days. Yes, no Smolensk. Yes, PiS does actually have ideas that aren't related to it.

PiS will in fact reportedly organise conferences to focus on issues concerning citizens (i.e., how a nefarious network of liberals, leftists and ex-spies is responsible for grandma's tea getting colder faster; kidding). International experts will be invited. These are the Polski Tea Parties I've already referred to.

"PiS is not a party only focused on Smolensk, like they try to force us into being. We will show the public our opinions on various areas of life and point out what was done wrong," PiS member and optimist-in-chief Jaroslaw Zielinski told the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita.

PiS reportedly wants to use the tactics employed to good effect in the 2010 presidential election campaign. Then, Jaroslaw Kaczynski did not mention the crash and instead embraced a moderate message highlighting a new, improved Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It worked. He only barely lost to Bronislaw Komorowski.

But don't worry. The "new, improved" Jaroslaw Kaczynski turned out eventually to be just like the "old, bad" Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Smolensk will thus come back with a vengeance for the one-year anniversary of the crash on April 10. And there's little chance PiS won't use Smolensk in the October general elections as a bludgeon to try to beat its political enemies to a pulp. You can count on it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

PO's 'feet' trouble

Civic Platform (PO) and government members have been doing a very good job sticking their proverbial 'feet' in their mouths of late. That is, when they are not offending critics of their glorious reign. It appears they are also adept at shooting themselves in their "feet."

Prof Jerzy Hausner, a former economy minister and current central banker, noted Monday the government itself was to blame for changing public finance law in a way that made it more painful to cross a lower level of public debt. Thus, any reform now required to avoid public debt passing the threshold is in more ways than one the government's fault.

The issue centres on Poland's public-finance law, which sets out limits for public debt and then lays out mandatory actions should those levels be crossed. Three levels exist at 50% of GDP, 55% and 60%. Surpassing 50% does not do anything much. But exceeding 55% -- debt is now near this level -- does as it would force the government to slash spending and jack up taxes in search of a balanced budget. Public sector wage increases are precluded, among other actions. In short, the fit hits the shan.

The funny thing, as Hausner rightly remembers, is that the PO-led government changed the public finance law in 2008-2009 to make it tougher. In an amendment that went into effect in 2010, the key change was to make crossing the 55% level painful, not 60% as previously.

The government thus made it easier to trigger the mandatory pain at precisely a time when public debt was growing fast. This does not seem like the best of ideas. The situation is even worse since it is actively reversing a previous reform and just hiked the VAT to avoid crossing a debt level it made harsher itself just a year or so ago.

I suppose the question is the following: with one foot in its mouth and the other shot off how is the PO going to take any steps forward?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shhhh, I found out the PO's secret!

The Civic Platform's (PO) dirty little secret finally dawned on me today: innumeracy. This amazing Eureka moment came when I read a story about when the PO wants to hold parliamentary elections this autumn. According to Poland's state news agency PAP, the PO no longer wants October 23, its previous favoured date, but rather November 6.

Problem is, this does not seem to meet constitutional requirements. The constitution says the president must announce the election date by August 7 for any non-working day within 30 days of the term's expiry. The term started on November 5, 2007. That would put the acceptable dates between October 6 and November 4 with the Sundays being October 9, 16, 23 and 30. 

Readers with a keen eye will note the absence of November 6. Though the bolder out there might say the PO is simply erring on the less than competent side of the equation, I prefer the far more plausible explanation that the PO just can't count.

The innumeracy argument is especially persuasive if one looks at mounting public finance problems. The PO-led government started the term in late 2007 with the wider budget deficit at 1.9% of gross domestic product, saw this rise to 3.7% in 2008 and 7.2% in 2009 and it will likely exceed 8% in 2010. The EU's requirement is that it be below 3%.

The PO now argues it must rollback a previous reform to the pension system to handle the "crisis" with the deficit. But for the past three years it has not accepted that there was any kind of problem and hence did nothing to shrink the deficit. One might say the PO was somehow lying that the deficit was not a problem, but I'd prefer to believe it just couldn't add up the numbers.

The innumeracy argument holds in other areas well, such as how the plan to build thousands and thousands of kilometres of roads turned into something far less ambitious or how the plan to seriously cut red tape in an area like construction permits saw the time go from 311 days when the PO took office to, wait for it, 311 days in 2011. This is more of a subtraction problem.

Illiteracy usually gets all the glory, as it were, while its poorer cousin innumeracy is left in the shadows. But the inability to count is arguably just as serious, if not more so. Thankfully for the PO and other innumerates out there, an easy solution exists: Math for Dummies.

Your welcome.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Honey, let's go shoppin'

Picture this. The good cowboy Rostowski is riding his horse into the sunset with ecstatic music playing. He just won a tough battle with the evil privately managed pension funds (OFEs). He holds tight his well-earned loot while leaving behind the evil territory of the private sector.

But just when you expect to see the "The End," a woman coos from the side: "My darling Jacek. Now that you have made some coin, let me buy myself somethin' nice?! Pretty pleaaaaassse."

This is basically the current situation with Poland's pension"reform" at the moment. Only it's a bit worse since they haven't even defeated the "evil" OFEs yet and already Labour Minister Jolanta Fedak wants to spend the money they plan to "save" on pension fund fees by increasing pro-family expenditure. The Finance Ministry has apparently said "no" but this does not mean it will say "no" in the future, particularly in light of this October's elections.

One basic problem with the government's entire "reform" is not the OFEs, not the pensioners, not savings. It is HIDING debt and cooking the books. Poland will not be spending less on pensions -- it will hide the amount of money it used to disclose as OFE transfers and delayed the interest it would have to pay on that debt until Poles hit retirement age.

The whole "reform" thus does nothing else than move the responsibility for government failure to do other reforms from the administration onto future pensioners. The reform does not create any "savings." It creates accounting breathing room by hiding expenses.

And therein lies the biggest risk, one that Fedak's desires clearly bring to the fore. For the government, the hidden debt does not exist. It has vanished and will not have to be repaid. Ever.

Therefore the government, this one or the next or the next after that, will be inclined to consider the whole operation as "savings" and just spend away. Future ministers will go shopping for voter support until debt again nears the safety threshold of 55 percent of GDP. And then? They will again introduce some kind of a "reform" with the lowest possible political price instead of what actually might be good for Poland.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week in review…

Polish economists laid into each other with a fury rarely seen this past week over the government's controversial plan to "reform" the pension system by reversing reform. Methinks the next Meeting of Eminent Polish Economists will be witness to a brawl or two. But no matter the government's defence of its plan, the pendulum has clearly swung against the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO). The PO is staring into the abyss.

A good example of the PO's recent put-head-in-hands action came from one of our favourite party members, Joanna Mucha. Ms. "best legs in Polish politics" showed her saucy, sinister side when she told a PO publication that old people go to the doctor "for fun" and that there was little point operating on 85-year-olds since they are too old. Her excuse: she didn't mean it to be published. Her punishment: possible loss of the top spot on the electoral list. The PO's message: we're losing touch.

It got worse. PO MP Robert Wegrzyn dabbled in the type of homophobic, sexist humour I'm sure would have Father Tadeusz Rydzyk choking on a cheezie when he said "we can forget about gay men, but I'd be happy to watch some lesbians." Woot! Double ya pleasure! Though that is probably not the recommended discourse for a supposedly moderate liberal party. PO boss and Prime Minister Donald Tusk will be very happy to see the story got wide local and international play (here and here).

Both gaffes were a prelude of sorts to news Playboy Polska's editor in chief, Marcin Meller, a noted journalist and media celebrity, announced he would no longer support the PO. "I must unfortunately inform you my patience has run out and I won't vote for you in the upcoming election," he addressed the PO. "Even the threat Law and Justice will return doesn't work on me any longer." Two points: as noted by the WSJ's New Europe blog, the PO is no longer cool; if the PiS threat doesn't work, the PO is in deep doo-doo.

Meller's abandonment and ageist, sexist and homophobic jokes were further compounded. The conservative daily Rzeczpospolita notes that ex-Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki has again been seen shooting the sh|t with PO leaders despite the fact allegations of corruption continue to taint him. Drzewiecki was ensnared in a scandal in which he seemed to promise a gambling industry exec favourable changes to legislation.

The PO's support has duly sagged under the weight of such statements, the controversy swirling around the pension reform, missteps regarding the Smolensk plane crash, infighting and malaise. In a survey from TNS-OBOP, the PO's support dived 16 points in January and recovered only slightly in February. Its support has fallen in other polls as well.

The PO is not dead yet and still has a fair lead in many polls. But the party is looking into the abyss. Now it just has to make sure the abyss doesn't look back. If it can, it can probably walk tall into the October elections. If it can't, Polish politics are set to return to their previous stormy ways.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Faux pas or f--k you?

Check out that picture. President Bronislaw Komorowski commits what looks to be a major international faux pas. On a very rainy Warsaw morning, he brings only one umbrella, which is then chivalrously used for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Poor little President Nicolas Sarkozy is left standing in the rain.

Komorowski has shown a fine talent for gaffes in his first several months on the job. He managed to offend both women and US President Barack Obama during a recent visit to the states. His presidential campaign last June was so littered with blunders and slip-ups he probably even had former President George Bush rolling on the floor laughing his freaking head off.

But was Sarkozy really the victim of another Komorowski trip-up or is something more sinister at work?

The latter, of course, as always. Let's step into our time machine. (Whirrr.) It's suddenly 2003. Bush is cracking jokes with Rummy and Cheney and preparing to invade Iraq for, er, "democracy." Being the new kids on the NATO and soon-to-be EU block and being traditionally pro-American, Poland and other Central European countries are voicing support for the American adventure.

But French President Jacques Chirac refuses to accept such insubordination and brands as "childish" Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries. The perpetually diffident French president goes on to describe the countries' views as "dangerous" and their actions as reckless and misbehaved. "They missed a great opportunity to shut up," he hisses, warning that EU entry itself could be jeopardised.

Back to the future. (Whirrr.) France has in fact never been seen as positively in Poland as before Chirac's chastisement. Though history has probably somewhat vindicated Chirac's stance on Iraq, his treatment of Poland and the other CEE countries was completely uncalled for and I'm sure Polish officials vowed revenge on France.

How do you like them apples Sarko?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

SLD's dry spell set to end

The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) last took power in 2001-05. The ex-communist party was mandated in 2001 not to reform, but to quiet things down after a stormy right-wing rule. They did. They just tried to fleece Poland while doing so. A quiet rule thus became deafeningly loud as prosecutors and parliamentary commissions probed the many cases of pilfering. Its support still has not fully recovered.

For its sins, the SLD was punished with years of low polling levels, missteps and one false start after another. But the general elections set for October do look likely to bring an end to its ruling dry spell even if the SLD has not actually done much -- other than survive -- to bring this about.

The SLD's ex-communist past and the plethora of old guard leading lights who refuse to go gently into that good night alienates many young voters, even earnest leftists from the cities and universities. The old guard also tends to be very opportunist, further offending. The embodiment of both strains is Leszek Miller, a one-time member of the communist-era politburo and former prime minister who eventually also supported a flat rate income tax. Some leftist.

The SLD likewise suffers from the fact the leftist economic agenda is basically the Polish political economic agenda with very few exceptions and even fewer now that the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO) has embraced populism. Though outsiders see the SLD and the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) as polar opposites, the two parties in fact can happily get along on economic policy. In fact, they get along so well on so many issues talk is increasingly turning to whether they can form a coalition after the elections. Talk about a coalition of doom.

The SLD is being helped by time as well. Fewer and fewer voters remember its purse-nabbing ways. The party is also run by the enthusiastic Grzegorz Napieralski, who considering he is one of the youngest big party leaders would surely be nicknamed "Nappy" were he active in the West.

But the number one reason the SLD's prospects are a bit better is the fact the PO looks increasingly shaky and has been alienating voters left, right and centre. The centre-left vote thus has few options other than the SLD.

The election is too far away for firm predictions, but it is likely to be the SLD's best since 2001. Since I believe the PO will win but with support closer to 30% than 40%, this means it will likely have to look for bigger coalition allies. The SLD's days of atonement might finally be behind it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rostowski: See, PO is not scared of reform

Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski is a wannabe, a wannabe parliamentarian who looks sure to run in this October's elections for the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO). He is also called many other things, some not so flattering. I imagine Mrs. Balcerowicz has had to hear a few, er, choice words about Rostowski of late from her hubbie Leszek.

But it is undeniable that Rostowski is a master at spin, and he came up with a doozy on Tuesday. In an interview with TOK FM, a liberal ratio station tied to the centre-left daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Rostowski said the government's controversial plan to diminish the role of the pension system's privately managed second-pillar was proof the PO-led government is willing to do painful reforms.

"This is a really necessary reform that shows the Civic Platform is not afraid of the political consequences of implementing a reform crucial for Poland and to clean up after the mistakes of its predecessors," Rostowski said.

For good measure he also derided all opponents of the government's plan by lumping them into two camps. They are either connected to the privately managed pension funds that will lose (and thus are corrupt in some way) or are the "fathers of the reform" who are "personally insulted" that someone would touch their "genius reform."

Something is very amok when a minister uses a reform criticised by most as anti-reform to prove the government is in fact pro-reform when it has done nothing for most of its three-plus years in power and is only attempting the latest "reform" when the situation has become critical.

Rostowski also gave the impression he really enjoys his own jests, jokes and arguments. But I have a feeling that if he and the Civic Platform continue to dismiss all critics as cranks and continue on with their current arrogance, the last laugh will be on them.

Typically Polish

Each nationality has its drawbacks, yes, even Poles and Canadians. One thing that is probably most irritating in Poles is their...pettiness. One would think that if a genuinely respected competitor like race car driver Robert Kubica has a terrible car accident that nearly beheaded and de-handed him, and certainly wasted a 2011 F1 season and raises big questions about his career, condolences, good wishes and normal human sympathy would be the rule.

But here in Poland that would be...strange. Almost immediately after the accident on Sunday, on one of the F1 forums there was a discussion over whether Kubica should have been in the rally at all. Some went as far as to say the crash was actually Kubica's fault and that he was egotistical to even race in the rally.

Instead of actually wishing the guy well, we go on to say how he betrayed us fans by crashing into a wall. After all he probably did it on purpose just to destroy his fans' dream of a World Championship.

Oh, there is more. Apparently the prosecutors office has started an investigation into the crash. My bet? It's the fault of those darn Smolensk air traffic controllers.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Poland's undaunted tourists

Gunfire. Stone throwing. Charging camels. Throngs of angry protesters. Whatever. One group of Polish tourists flew to Egypt over the weekend even as the endgame of the ongoing unrest remains as clear as Baltic mud. According to Polish radio, they are heavily armed with the "been there-done that" attitude forged in Poland's own revolution just over 20 years ago.

"I'm not afraid to fly there. When riots broke out in communist Poland, in Gdansk and Warsaw, everyone at the tourist resort of Krynica Gorska were peacefully enjoying their holidays," one tourist told public radio. "I'm going to go scuba diving and play tennis."

The group of intrepid travellers flew from Warsaw to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast. Not completely immune to the dangers, they were said stocked with emergency food just in case. Considering Polish families love to travel with food from home, it is equally possible this was just a way to eat, drink and be merry properly.

"[…] We believe we will have a good time there. We're not bothered with what is going on in Cairo as we will be based in Hurghada, which is quite far from the Egyptian capital," another tourist told Polish radio.

Just to be sure, despite containing 'battle-hardedened' former dissidents of many stripes, the Polish government officially advises Polish tourists not to travel to Egypt. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski even said it was "very dangerous." Considering one of Sikorski's past exploits is having fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s, he should know.

I would conclude by saying "cheers" to a group of tourists who in some way unknowingly symbolise one of the more positive potential future results of the ongoing Egyptian protests. That is, if Egyptians are like these Poles in 20 years, the revolution of sorts will have been very successful.

But the tourists' bravado likely stems from reasons far more mundane: the fact most Polish travel agencies are too cheap to refund them their money. So come hell or high water, or anything in between, these Polish tourists are going to have a damn vacation. Chevy Chase, eat your heart out!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sad, boring election campaign

Polish MPs decided last week the campaign for the October general elections will be sad and boring. They arrived at the conclusion that voters are little kids and cannot take dirty low-down mud-slinging from politicians. In order to ensure the campaign is clean, they decided to ban political TV ads.

This of course might not change anything, but I think it will be one of those elements that in hindsight helps shape the election result.

I bet the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) still remembers well the "Mordo Ty Moja" spot run by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) in 2007 -- this is probably one of the best political ads ever done in Poland -- and probably supported the ad ban as a preemptive move to limit potential damage from similar spots.

The group of ex-PiS moderates, PJN, who proposed the change, the co-ruling Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) could also all benefit from the change. The PSL has no one to show who wouldn't actually scare away voters. The SLD is in a similar position. PJN has no money to pay for decent ads and thus a ban is certainly in its best interest.

The biggest loser is definitely PiS, which has the best track record of using TV ads to its advantage and operates best when tempers flare and people sling crap at each other. PiS needs to be aggressive, on the offensive, accusatory, and TV is the best tool for that. The last thing PiS boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski wants is a slow, quiet campaign, but the TV ad restriction will work in that direction.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Guess who...

...believes income tax and value added tax (VAT) rates should be cut and the rules simplified? Who promises to cut red tape, make public officials financially responsible for their decisions, and put time limits on administrative and legal procedures in order to make the economy more flexible? Who wants to privatise all state-owned companies except several infrastructure-related ones?

Do you think dear reader it is the Civic Platform (PO), head of a current government seemingly thrilled by the fact Poland is ranked 70th in the World Bank's Doing Business report overall (BEHIND Belarus and Namibia) and 113th in terms of red tape for starting a business (lower than such pro-business titans like Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Nigeria and Moldova) since it does nothing to address these problems?

Nope. The promises, which read as if copied and pasted from the PO's election program for 2007, were announced recently by the Law and Justice splinter group, Poland is Most Important (PJN), or, as my colleague denotes it, Poland Is the Superest Awesomest [Editor's note - indeed].

Now I know these are empty promises, but given the fact that the PO is screwing its voters over with its supposed pension overhaul while maintaining pension privileges for groups like miners and farmers, hiking taxes in order to give bonuses to teachers, threatening university teachers, journalists and artists with tax hikes, etcetera, etcetera, the PJN tactic just might work in the elections set for October.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Week in review…

Regular readers of this still spankingly fresh blog will know Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a favourite and he did not disappoint this week. Though I too took note of Kaczynski's ambitions for the zloty as a regional reserve currency, so did Marcin Sobczyk in DJ's New Europe blog. What neither of us said is that Kaczynski's view on the euro delay is not that crazy. Many economists believe the euro should not be adopted until "real" income convergence is achieved between Poland and the euro-zone, among other factors. The euro-zone periphery's ongoing travails also show caution can be prudent. (How about that? I just partly agreed with Jarek.)

DJ's Malgorzata Halaba hit the New Europe blog as well in the week past, noting some Polish economists' belief Poland has more currency reserves than it needs to counter potential market turmoil. Getting an extra USD 30bn "emergency reserve" from the IMF basically costs nothing, so what's the big deal? Unless, that is, the Finance Ministry is far more worried about the state of public finances than it lets on. Conspiracy theorists, get to work!

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, the government's own UK Conservative, has been pretty quiet for some time. This reticence lasted all through the Smolensk wars but was finally broken this past week. Sikorski returned to the limelight to hassle his favourite bugbear of late, Belarus President Hosni Mubarak. To hear Sikorski speak, Aleksandr Lukashenka will soon become like the beleaguered president of Egypt if he doesn't reform. The problem is Lukashenko appears to have read more closely Authoritarian Dictatorships for Dummies and knows you bust up mass demonstrations before they even start. I think the Belarussian nut is up to Russia's President Prime Minister Vlad Putin to crack.

"Poland" has been on a campaign for some time now to inform global minds that just because the Holocaust's concentration camps were largely found on what is now Polish soil, they were not "Polish concentration camps." In a cyber angle to this story, the Culture Ministry is calling on concentration camp websites to drop the ".pl" indicator from their names. I am sympathetic to Poland's efforts, but I would probably admire less a frenetic distancing and more a national reckoning.

Back to the lighter side of the ledger, every sports fan knows some guys have all the luck (i.e., The Great One (!) Wayne Gretzky). Others have none. Polish international footballer Lukasz Fabianski is in the latter camp. Just when the Arsenal goalkeeper finally put a spell of disastrous performances securely behind him and snatched the number one spot on one of the biggest soccer teams on the planet, boom, injury hits. He's set to undergo season-ending surgery. This tale has a more sordid turn, though, as compatriot Wojciech Szczesny might have been partly to blame.

Sticking with sports, the NBA's Marcin Gortat, the 6' 11' (211cm) basketballer known as the Polish Hammer, has been kicking some behind of late. Check out this colossal dunk. Some even talk of him as a future all-star, which would be a first for a Polish basketball player . . . But, wait, what's this? The Polish Hammer is actually Canadian lightweight mixed martial arts fighter Chris Horodecki, who's set for a bout on Apr 2. Apparently, Horodecki doesn't have an opponent. Clearly, Horodecki and Gortat should face off to see who's the real Polish Hammer.

In conclusion, I'll celebrate life. In this case, the life of elephants. It seems Polish businessman Waldemar I. is suing a travel agency because he failed to kill even one elephant on a recent hunting expedition in Zimbabwe. At issue is 32,000 zloty. All I can say is, Waldemar, fuck you! To everyone else, have a good one.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Leszek Balcerowicz, man of iron

Leszek Balcerowicz was until recently like Lech Walesa: a living symbol of change already considered historical, a living being whose ideas were thought anachronistic and whose manner was deemed brusque. But like a statue suddenly come alive, Balcerowicz has stepped out of obscurity to become the biggest threat to the Civic Platform (PO)-led government out there.

The trigger for Balcerowicz's return is the government's proposed change of the pension system that will take away from a privately managed part to add to the state-managed part. Being a committed (some say loony) backer of free markets, Balcerowicz was never going to like a plan giving more control to the state.

But the matter is also personal. Balcerowicz is in many ways the father of the reform. In 1999 when the private component of the pension system was added, Balcerowicz was deputy PM and finance minister. His spirited defence is thus that of a parent defending a child.

It has likewise become political. As now widely noted in Poland, Balcerowicz has turned into the de facto main opposition to the government. The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski continues to be fixated on Smolensk and lacks any economic wing. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) largely agrees with the government.

Both opposition parties also find the pension issue tricky because PiS did nothing on the issue when in power in 2005-2007 and the SLD did jack when in power in 2001-2005. Decisions taken by the various PiS- and SLD-led governments also did much to undermine the reform and lead to the current situation with public debt set to break legally proscribed limits. If debt does grow too big, legally mandated spending reductions and tax hikes could ensue.

Another aspect is ideological. Balcerowicz has presented a big list of counter-proposals to help cut the budget deficit and lower public debt without over-turning the pension reform. Trouble is, these would eventually rely on spending cuts and tax hikes no party relishes.

The PO's rejection of the counter-proposals highlights the losing of its liberal religion. Balcerowicz's alternate plan is based on the Hausner Plan, a reform scheme partially implemented in 2004 by the then ruling SLD-led government to try to tackle a similar debt problem. It is ironic the so-called liberal PO has chosen the "leftist" route whereas the so-called leftist SLD took the liberal way.

Once the only liberal party in Poland, the PO is slowly but surely turning into every other main political party: an amorphous small "p" populist party that backs the fight against unemployment, wants to increase spending, lower taxes (except on the rich), support business by attacking them for alleged corruption, denigrate foreign-controlled capital, and endeavour to build national champions. Someone should tell the PO this party already exists: it's called PiS-PSL-SLD-PJN-SDPL.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Komorowski, red herring

The story goes that red herrings, a heavily smoked pungent fish, were dragged along a trail to mislead hounds from the true scent of the fox or hare actually being hunted. By routes obscure and less so a "red herring" has thus come to mean anything that diverts attention away from the real goal or a clue that leads in the wrong direction. Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski is a red herring.

Komorowski and his staff have been raising the possibility he will oppose the government's controversial plan to change the pension system in a way undermining the privately run part of the system and giving more onus to the state part. The government says it is 'correcting mistakes' in the original much-lauded reform. Opponents say the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO) is trying to avoid painful decisions ahead of October's general election.

The government's defence of its "reform" is robust and often downright nasty. But many PO members are aghast. The changes seem to violate the PO's very liberal foundation. Some PO aficionados are also cringing at the strange bedfellows as leftists and radical nationalists have applauded the plan.

Komorowski, mostly a loyal PO member, and the suggestion he could go against the pension changes could signal actual unease. He might just be trying to cool Prime Minister and PO boss Donald Tusk's ever more frequent compromises that increasingly appear to undermine the PO's raison d'etre itself.

But it is far more likely Komorowski is a red herring and feels no real opposition to the bill. The changes will go a long way to easing the risk public debt crosses a key level that would legally force the government to cut spending and raise taxes, neither advisable in an election year. Any veto or delay would thus force the PO-led government to make painful moves.

Komorowski's apparent opposition is also like a release valve, letting out a little steam that allows internal opponents to vent. It also provides cover for the PO and Tusk, who can say 'it was a hard choice; we even had to go against our own party.'

In the end, nothing will stop Tusk and the government from making the pension changes their big "reform." Not the president. Not Leszek Balcerowicz. Not the sundry economists opposing it. Not the opposition. It's a done deal.