Capital City: Warsaw (population: 1,932,500)
People: Polish 97.6%, German 1.3%, Ukrainian 0.6%, Byelorussian 0.5%
Religion(s): Roman Catholic (95%), Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Other (1.5%)
Currency: 1 zloty (PLN) = 100 groszys
Major political parties: Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD), Union of Labour (UP), Civic Platform (PO), Samoobronna, Law & Justice (PiS), Polish Peasant Party (PSL), League of Polish Family (LPR), Freedom Union (UW), Social Democracy Poland (SdPL)
Government: Bicameral parliamentary democracy
President: Aleksander Kwasniewski
Prime Minister: Marek Belka (independent)
Foreign Minister: Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz (SLD)
Membership of international groupings/ organisations: Australia Group, BIS, BSEC (observer), Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), CCC, CE, CEI, CERN, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Union (EU), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), International Atomic Energey Agency (IAEA), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, ICAO, IFC, IHO, International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Interpol, IOC, Non Aligned Movement (NAM) (guest), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE), Partnership for Peace (PfP), United Nations (UN), WCL, Western European UnionWEU (associate), WFTU, World Health Organisation (WHO), WIPO, WMO, WTO, WToO, WtrO
STATE VISIT (5-7 MAY 2004)
Her Majesty The Queen received His Excellency President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and his wife Madame Jolanta Kwasniewska on 5-7 May. The Visit took place fifteen years after the fall of Communism, nine years after President Kwasniewski’s election, and just four days after Poland’s long awaited accession to the EU.
President Kwasniewski and his wife last visited the UK on an official visit in March 2002. HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh visited Poland in 1996.
State Visit Aims
- To celebrate our flourishing bilateral relationship days after Poland joins the EU.
- To build on links between young people in Poland and Britain and to raise awareness of Poland in the UK as a modern, dynamic partner.
- To strengthen economic and commercial links between Britain and Poland especially between regions in both countries.
Poland became the first of the central European Countries to overthrow Communist rule in 1989. It is the most populous state in Central Europe. In 1989 it was on the verge of economic collapse, weighed down by massive foreign debt. Today, it is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and the UK's largest trading partner in the former Eastern bloc. On 13 December 2002 Poland completed negotiations to join the European Union. It signed an Accession Treaty in April 2003 and, following the public support shown in the referendum held on 8 June, became a full member of the European Union on 1 May 2004. It became a member of NATO on 12 March 1999.
Poland covers an area of about 312,677 sq km, 47% of which is arable land. It is the largest country in central Europe. It is bordered by Germany, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia. To the north Poland borders the Baltic Sea. Poland is a mainly flat country with the high Tartra and Carpathian mountain ranges in the south. Most of the country lies less than 200 metres above sea level. The highest peak - Rysy - is 2,500 metres. The country is fertile and is traversed by large and slow moving rivers such as the Vistula and the Bug.
Poland has a temperate climate with seasonal variations between -15C in winter and 35C in the summer. The extremes of temperature are more pronounced in the mountains of the south and in the lake area in the north.
The population of Poland is approximately 38.6m. The capital is Warsaw (population 1,932,500) is the financial and commercial centre. Other major cities in Poland are Lodz (786,530), Krakow (740,740), Wroclaw (634,050), Poznan (571,990) Gdansk, Bialystok, Poznan and Katowice (all population data from 2001).
Natural resources include coal, sulphur, copper, natural gas, silver, amber, lead, salt and arable land.
After World War I Poland regained its independence after over a hundred years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria. The democratic system established proved unsustainable and, after a coup in 1926, became increasingly authoritarian. The invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939 precipitated the outbreak of the Second World War. Two weeks after the Nazi invasion, Soviet forces attacked and invaded Poland from the east and set up their own occupation according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-aggression Pact. The Nazis extended their brutal occupation further east after the outbreak of the Russo-German War in 1941. During the War a Government-in-Exile was formed in London, and an underground army and administration loyal to the exiled government functioned in occupied Poland. 600,000 Poles fought on the Allied side under British or Soviet Command. Polish cryptographers were the first to break the Enigma codes facilitating an early reading of German codes.
About 6 million Poles lost their lives during the war. Warsaw was levelled to the ground. The country was liberated by the Red Army and communism was imposed by Soviet political and security forces. Poland became a communist state and member of the Warsaw Pact. Revolts against communism were staged in 1956, 1968, 1976 and 1980. It was only in 1989, as a result of the round-table talks between the communist authorities and the Solidarity opposition, that the conditions were created for partially free elections, which led to the collapse of communism. Poland has since been a democratic state with a free-market economy.
A chronology of key events
1918 - Independent Polish state created after the end of World War I.
1939 - (September) Nazi Germany and Soviet Union invade Poland.
1943 - Warsaw ghetto uprising.
1944 - Warsaw uprising.
1945 - Soviet forces capture Warsaw in January.
1956 - (June) Poznan rising. End of Stalinism in Poland.
1957 - (March) Events and suppression of student demonstrations.
1978 - Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal of Krakow, elected Pope.
1980 - Wave of strikes result in agreements allowing for the creation of the Solidarity Trade Union.
1981 - Martial law imposed.
1983 - Martial law lifted.
1989 - Round-table talks between Solidarity, the Communists and the Church. Partially democratic elections result in the collapse of the communist system
1990 - Walesa elected president of Poland.
1992 - Soviet troops start to leave Poland.
1998 - The EU opens talks on Polish membership.
1999 - Poland joins Nato.
2002 - EU summit in Copenhagen formally invites Poland to join in 2004.
2003 - Poles vote in referendum in favour of joining EU.
2004 – Poland joins the EU (1 May).
Longer Historical Perspective
Poland adopted Christianity in 966. Poland reached the zenith of its power under the Jagellonian dynasty after forming a union with Lithuania in 1386. At one stage the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Its power declined during the 16th and 17th centuries, ending with the partition of Poland by Prussia, Russia, and Austria at the end of the 18th century.
Recent Political Developments
The current parliament was elected on 23 September 2001. No party gained a majority, but the democratic Left (SLD) won most seats and was able to form a coalition government comprisng SLD, UP and PSL. On 1 March, the PSL left the government - the SLD & UP now govern as a minority. Prime Minister Miller and his Cabinet resigned on 2 May. This follows a split in the SLD, from which a new centre left party has formed called Social Democracy Poland (SdPL). The main parliamentary opposition consists of the centre right party Civic Platform (PO), Self-Defence (Samoobronna), the Law & Justice Party and the League of Polish Families (LPR).
President Kwasniewski has appointed Marek Belka as the new Prime Minister. Belka must win a vote of confidence in Parliament to retain this Post.
The cabinet currently comprises:
Prime Minister: Marek Belka (independent)
Deputy PM and Minster of Economy and Labour: Jerzy Hausner (SLD)
Deputy Prime Minister responsible for social affairs: Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka (UP)
Foreign Minister: Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz (SLD)
Defence Minister: Jerzy Szmajdzinski (SLD)
Finance Minister: Andrzej Raczko (non-party)
Agriculture Minister: Wojciech Olejniczak (SLD)
Interior Minister: Ryszard Kalisz (SLD)
Infrastructure Minister: Krzysztof Opawski (independent)
Treasury (Privatisation) Minister: Jacek Socha (independent)
Education and Sport Minister: Miroslaw Sawicki (independent)
Culture Minister: Waldemar Dabrowski (SLD)
Justice Minister: Marek Sadowski (independent)
Social Policy Minister: Krzysztof Pater (independent)
Head of Prime Minister's Office and Cabinet Minister: Slawomir Cytrycki (SLD)
Environment Minister: Jerzy Swaton (independent)
Science and Technology Minister: Michal Kleiber (independent)
Europe Minister: Danuta Hübner (aligned with the SLD)
President Kwasniewski, first elected in 1995, was one of the founders of the SLD, but has tried hard to present himself as 'the President of all Poles'. He was re-elected for a second (and final) term in October 2000, polling over 54% in the first round; his closest rival gained only 17%.
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: US$189.3bn (€160bn) (2002)
GDP per head: US$4,902 (€4,141) (2002)
Annual Growth: 3.7% (2003)
Inflation: 1.9% (2002)
Unemployment: 17.6% (2003) Most recent estimate puts unemployment at 20.6% for February 2004.
Major Industries: Machine building, iron and steel, coal mining, chemicals, shipbuilding, food processing, glass, beverages, textiles
Major trading partners: Germany, Italy, Russia, Netherlands, France, Ukraine, UK
Leading British investors include: Tesco, BP, Shell, Pilkington, Glaxo SmithKline, CGNU, BOC Group, Cadbury's Schweppes, British Sugar, Cussons and Energis.
UK Exports: £1.5 billion (2003)
UK Imports: £1.6 billion (2003)
Further information about Poland's economy can be found at .
Poland was the first country in Central Europe to regain the levels of GDP it had enjoyed before the fall of communism. Growth averaged 5% per annum from 1993-2000, but slowed down in 2001. Economic growth is now increasing once again, driven by exports, and exceeded forecasts in 2003 with actual growth of 3.7%. Growth is forecast at 5% for 2004. Inflation has declined from over 600% in 1990 to1.6% in February 2004. The main challenges for the economy are high unemployment, and a high budget deficit.
Public finance reform is key to Poland’s long-term economic stability. After a long public debate the Government approved a fiscal austerity package (the ‘Hausner Plan’, named after the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economy who proposed it) in January this year. Parliamentary procedures to implement the Hausner plan began in early March. The plan seeks to rationalise public finances, including cutting social spending.
Poland's Relations with the International Community
Poland joined the EU on 1 May 2004. The public voted in favour of accession in the referendum held on 8 June with 77% of the vote on a turnout of 59% of the electorate. It was during the Prime Minister's visit to Poland in October 2000 that he suggested in a speech in the Polish Stock Exchange, that 2004 be the target date for Enlargement of the European Union.
Poland joined NATO on 12 March 1999 and plays an active part in UN affairs and peacekeeping missions. It played a solid role in Kosovo, and supported the invocation of Article V in response to the terrorist attacks on the US.
Poland is vocally supportive of the UK/US position on Iraq and was a signatory of the 'letter of 8' which advocated strong European support for US leadership. Poland is commanding one of the multinational divisions in Iraq (the Central-South zone). Poland has approximately 2,500 troops on the ground.
Poland is also keen to form a bridge between West and East, between the EU and the Ukraine and Russia. Poland has stronger relations with its eastern neighbours than any other EU/NATO country. The development of good relations with Ukraine and Belarus is a keen part of Poland’s foreign policy. The Poles have strong interests in promoting economic growth, civil society and good government in the cross-border area. They see this as the best way to combat organised crime, notably human trafficking and smuggling, drugs and illegal immigration. The UK sponsors Polish NGOs to deliver assistance projects in these areas and engages in trilateral meetings with the Poles and Ukrainians.
POLAND'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK
Bilateral relations are excellent.
An FCO-funded Action Plan, to help Poland prepare for EU membership, was launched by Keith Vaz, then British Minister for Europe, and the Polish Foreign Minister in September 1999. It was relaunched by the then Minister for Europe, Peter Hain in March 2002. It is backed up with £125,000, demonstrating our practical support for Polish accession to the EU.The Action Plan summarises the wide range of British activities assisting Poland to meet the EU accession criteria, in areas such as Trade, Justice & Home Affairs, Agriculture, and the Environment. Further details are available on request from the .
Our relations have become especially close in the defence field, with our troops serving together in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and in Iraq. Regular joint military training infantry exercises are conducted.
Polish representation in the UK
UK representation in Poland
UK Development Assistance
The UK has offered development assistance to Poland through the Know How Fund, administered by the Department for International Development. The Know How Fund has disbursed over £100m on projects in Poland since 1989 and was wound up at the end of March 2003. A number of British pre-accession advisers have also been seconded to Poland under the EC funded institutional twinning scheme. For more information, see the website.
Trade and Investment with the UK
Two-way trade exceeded £3bn in 2003. Poland is the UK’s largest export market in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2003 the UK ranked sixth in the list of foreign investors in Poland, after Germany, the USA, France, the Netherlands and Italy. For more information, see: .
Cultural Relations with the UK
There is an active British Council in Warsaw, one of the largest British Council operations in the world. The main service is English-language teaching, and HM The Queen opened the teaching centre in 1996. There are several regional learning centres around Poland. For more information visit .
In the UK there are various cultural centres, catering for the large Polish community in the UK. They cover a wide range of interests. In London, one example is the Polish Cultural Institute, a non-profit organisation set up by the Polish Foreign Ministry. For more information visit the website.
- Leszek Miller, Prime Minister – November 2001
- Danuta Hübner, Europe Minister - November 2001
- Marek Belka Deputy Prime Minister & Finance Minister – February 2002
- Wojciech Janczyk, Deputy Infrastructure Minister - March 2002
- President Kwasniewski – March 2002
- Michal Kleiber, Minister for Science - May 2002
- Marek Borowski, Marshall of the Sejm (Speaker of the Lower House) – July 2002
- Jaroslaw Kalinowski, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Agriculture – July 2002
- Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Foreign Minister, July 2002
- Leszek Miller, Prime Minister, November 2002
- Grzegorz Kolodko, Finance Minister, February 2003
- Minister of Agriculture Plewa, February 2003
- Minister Najar, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Infrastructure, March 2003
- Danuta Hübner, Europe Minister, June 2003
- Minister Czekaj, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Finance, June 2003
- Jozef Pilarczyk, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, June 2003
- Leszek Miller, Prime Minister, 4 July 2003
- Danuta Hübner, Europe Minister, July 2003
- Leszek Miller, Prime Minister, 12 July 2003
- Aleksander Kwasniewski, President, July 2003
- Maciej Górski, Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Social Affairs, Oct 2003
- Krystyna Gurbiel, Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Economy, Labour and Social Affairs, Oct 2003
- Jaroslaw Pietras, Under-Secretary of State for Europe, Oct 2003
- Jerzy Szmajdzinski, Defence Minister, Dec 2003 Pawel Dakowski, Deputy Minister of the Interior, Dec 2003
- The Rt Hon Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary – October 2001
- Rhodri Morgan, First Minister, National Assembly of Wales, December 2001
- Mrs Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – January 2002
- Baroness Scotland, Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Dept - January 2002
- Yvette Cooper, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Dept of Health - March 2002
- Melanie Johnson, Parliamentary Under Secretary, DTI – March 2002
- Peter Hain, Minister for Europe, March 2002
- Bob Ainsworth, Home Office Minister, April 2002
- HRH The Prince of Wales, 12 –13 June 2002
- The Lord Chancellor and Lady Irvine, 13-17 September 2002
- Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, 23-25 September 2002
- Alan Johnson, Department of Trade and Industry Minister and Malcolm Wicks, Department of Works and Pensions, 24-26 September 2002
- Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, 15-16 October 2002
- Margaret Hodge, Minister for Education 5-8 November 2002
- Baroness Scotland, 6-8 November 2002
- Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons, 14-17 November 2002
- The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, 15 November 2002
- Elliot Morley, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Dept of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 3-5 March 2003
- Dr Denis MacShane MP, Minister for Europe, March 2003
- Dr Denis MacShane MP, Minister for Europe, May 2003
- The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, 29-30 May 2003
- Duke of Kent, June 2003
- Duke of York, Sept 2003
- Charles Clarke, Minister for Education and Skills, Oct 2003
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