Newsround

A mixed bunch making the headlines today.

First off, there is promising news regarding the outlook for economic growth in Poland in 2009…or is there?

Poland is set to be one of the least-affected economies by the current downturn, according to a new forecast by the OECD. The organization predicts that the GDP in Poland will rise by 5.4% this year, followed by 3% in 2009. The figure would put Poland second in Europe, only behind Slovakia. Inflation is expected to reach 4.2% on an annual basis in 2008, before dropping to 3.2% in 2009 and rising to 3.6% in 2010. However, the OECD’s rather upbeat forecast was overshadowed by a new projection by bank BNP Paribas, which expects the economy to inch up by a mere 0.4% next year. After a similarly gloomy forecast by JP Morgan, some experts have begun to question the credibility of forecasts emanating from the banking sector. Professor Dariusz Filar of the Monetary Policy Council (RPP) said, “I am skeptical – banks have their reasons to publish these kind of projections. (Puls Biznesu, p. 4-5; Parkiet, p. 1, 3; Dziennik, wall Street Journal Polska, p. 4)

Typical for the banks to be coming with all the negative waves these days. Most of them are still getting their bonuses so what’s with the long face? Suddenly coming over all ‘responsible’ now are we?

The relatively good news about the economy is not, however, going to cheer up the workers at Mr Mittal’s Polish steel plants:

Four steel mills of Arcelor Mittal Poland (AMP) will lay off over 1,000 employees in one of the most far reaching mass redundancy programs in Poland. The firm was initially announcing limiting production by 15%, but now it is mentioning a figure as high as 30%. According to Frank Schulz, president of Arcelor Mittal Europe, which incorporates AMP, the Polish plants will feel the crisis acutely due to low competitiveness of products and high prices of raw materials. The firm has already shut down its two large furnaces in Kraków and Dąbrowa Górnicza. “But we do not know whether this will be sufficient. December in general is a poor month so we should expect a further drop in orders,” said Gregor Muenstermann, president of AMP. The management board of AMP hopes that all planned savings will amount to €300 million annually. (Puls Biznesu, pp. 1, 8-9)

Still, he didn’t get to be the 4th richest man in the world by not sacking a few people ASAP, did he!

It will be interesting to see where this one ends up:

The investment strategy of insurance company PZU will be announced in mid-December. “PZU is discussing its 2009 investment strategy,” said Andrzej Ladko, managing director for financial affairs in Grupa PZU. The strategy will define foundations of activities of the group on the market of debentures, real estate and the private equity market. PZU is one of the largest investors in Poland and at the end of September the group had deposits of almost zł.57 billion. Over two thirds of this amount are funds securing payments resulting from polices, but the remainder is the company’s own capital. The director admitted that the bourse currently resembles a casino rather than an efficiently organized market, but in his opinion share prices are already low. (Rzeczpospolita, p. B9)

It really must be quite a headache in the current climate trying to work out where to stick 57 billion without worrying that you might not see it again. Or at least worrying that you’ll only have 15 billion when you come to withdraw. Two thirds is money to pay our claims so we’d better hope they do a good job. Interesting that the article does not state how much PZU lost already on their 2008 investment plan, assuming they did. Must have I’d have thought.

Back to our dear president and prime minister throwing handbags at each other again:

President Lech Kaczyński is set to veto the health care reform package on Wednesday, but the government claims to have found a way to pursue the commercialization of hospitals. According to Health Minister Ewa Kopacz and Donald Tusk’s chief adviser Michał Boni, even if the package is vetoed by the President, local councils, who own the hospitals, will still be able to turn them into commercial law companies. And the government is preparing incentives: under a program worth zł. 2.7 billion, newly commercialized hospitals would have their debts cancelled. However, even Civic Platform (PO) councillors are sceptical about the plan, noting that it is unfair on debt-free hospitals, while experts point out that unless more money is pumped into the system, debts are bound to accumulate anew, regardless of ownership. (Dziennik, p. 4)

I don’t know any details of this. Perhaps I should. Looks like the usual bull***t though.

Here’s some more cheery news:

According to early reports, Poland is poised to benefit from the stimulus package which is to be unveiled by the Economic Commission today. In an effort to kickstart investment in infrastructure, the EC plans to speed up the disbursal of structural funds next year. Thus, Poland stands to receive €2.6 billion, twice the amount originally earmarked for 2009. However, this is conditional on the funds being paid out immediately to project contractors. (Gazeta Wyborcza, p. 1)

“Early reports” might always mean “unsubstantiated and probably incorrect gossip” but, well, if true then it can only be a good thing. Straw poll – how much of the 2.6 billion is going to end up lining the pockets of those in a position to award contracts? Just how much progress has Poland made on corruption when sums like this are involved, I wonder?

Gotta love Micro$oft (sometimes)! Where’s Steve Jobs on the charitable works top 20 then, eh?

The government has enlisted the help of Microsoft owner Bill Gates as it attempts to turn local libraries into cultural hubs. “Lending books is not enough, we want village and small town libraries to host courses in Internet literacy for the elderly and serve as meeting places for NGO’s,” said Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski. The government has earmarked zł.100 million over three years for the program (split 80%-20% between central and local governments), with an additional zł.90 million to be provided by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. At present, Poland has over 8,000 local libraries, only 40% of which have internet access, and just 15% are disability-friendly. (Gazeta Wyborcza, p. 1)

And here’s one I wrote about earlier over there. Yes indeed, they have dug up the general and as far as I know finished the examination so we await the results.

The remains of General Władysław Sikorski, the leader of Poland’s wartime cabinet-in-exile, were exhumed in Kraków on Tuesday as part of an investigation by the National Remembrance Institute (IPN). Sikorski was declared to have died when his plane crashed into the sea off Gibraltar on July 3, 1943. However, allegations of foul play have persisted over the years. Now the Kraków Forensics Office will examine the corpse in a bid to furnish evidence that would finally test the various hypotheses: that he was assassinated at the behest of Stalin (the official line of the IPN inquiry); by Polish army officers acting under orders from the British secret service; or, by the British themselves – the purported reason being his anti-Russian stance upon the discovery of the Katyń massacre, perceived as an obstacle to American-Anglo-Soviet alliance. (Dziennik p. 7, Gazeta Wyborcza p. 8; Rzeczpospolita, p. A1)

What I’m finding very amusing are the veiled threats being bandied about, suggesting that something has been found that makes Brits or Russians or both a bunch of baddy baddy liars! Here’s a snippet of what I mean, this from Polskie Radio;

Officially, the air crash in which the general died had been reported as an accident and no details of the investigation then had been released. Perhaps new clues, if found, might break the long British silence on the Sikorski case, especially that what has been noticed by Polish examiners now differs considerably from British documents of over six decades ago.

And finally, my favourite of the day, yet another dummy-spitting episode from the halls of power:

President Lech Kaczyński on Tuesday vetoed legislation designed to fast-track the development of urban agricultural land. Under the bill, sponsored by Civic Platform (PO) deputy Janusz Palikot, the land would be automatically reclassified as available for investment, scrapping the existing laborious procedure. However, citing opposition from urban planning experts, the President argued that the proposed legislation would result in the disruption of natural landscapes, a rise in auto traffic and an unfettered spread of new construction projects. Kaczyński’s move was criticized, among others, by the business organization BCC and the SLD leader Wojciech Olejniczak, who said that as the legislation was important for economic growth, he would to ask his club to vote against the veto. The SLD’s support would enable the coalition to overturn the veto in Parliament. (Puls Biznesu, p.9)

I’m struggling to work out why any politician worth voting for would not be in favour of any policy that starts to generate activity in the vast wastelands that are the Polish countryside. It’s not as if Polish farmers have grasped the nettle, they’re still bent double and shooing cows down the high street. Communism is dead so all those nice little ‘cooperative’ employment opportunities are gone. So what’s Kaczyński’s alternative then…just declare the whole country a ‘world heritage – farming in the middle ages’ attraction?

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11 thoughts on “Newsround

  1. Now here’s afunny thing, i just about to post :

    your sense of surprise regarding land reclassification is odd given that you know of the restrictions on agrigultural land purchase by foreign nationals – just to remind everyone http://www.rp.pl/artykul/133522,215648_Czy_cudzoziemiec_moze_kupic_ziemie_rolna.html

    This law is one that was brought about by land grab fears after joining the EU. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out the implications of land reclassification or am I missing something? Try bringing in a law like that in the Uk and all hell would break loose!

    …when I reread this quote and it says ‘urban’ agricultural land. Now is that a way of bending the rules or is it simply a matter of urbanising withing existing urban boundaries?

  2. Scatts, I am no fan of ‘the Duck’ but in your last article snippet you completely missed the point. The “legislation was designed to fast-track the development of URBAN agricultural land” This means all those nice little pretty family garden plots in the middle of the city where you can grow your CO2 rich strawberries and basil. And I have to agree with our avian president on this one that the development of these green plots (speaking about Warsaw now) would congest the city’s already un-navigable roads with even more traffic. Tusk is becoming day by day a larger disappointment. Do you think the Americans would let us borrow Obama for a term? Or at least have Radek Sikorski (is he related to the dead one?) bunk in the White House for a term and take many many notes.

  3. Pioro-Boncza, you’re right. I was moving at quite a pace reading/writing so I missed the URBAN and saw the AGRICULTURAL. Mind you, is he really saying that building on these orgródki would mean “the disruption of natural landscapes”? It just sounds a bit grand for these allotments.

    Anyway, subject to a better definition of “urban agricultural”, I’m happy to agree with the duck if this means building on the ogródki within the confines of the already built-up areas. It would be a stupid decision.

    What I don’t understand is why the government can’t just encourage development outwards from the city instead of trying to make the inside even worse than it already is? Strange.

    Where are these “urban planning experts” they speak of?

  4. Reading the news banner on TVN (TV24? – I’m not sure) I saw that the IPN says their examination of the general has allowed them to rule out certain theories regarding his death. e.g. the theory that Martians did it, the theory that he is still alive… Sounds to me like they found zilch.

  5. The whole matter of land designation is multifaceted.

    There are the local authorities and the influence or power they presently have on planning approvals (open to corruption), there is the matter of controlling sale of agricultural land to foreign nationals, there is the matter of town limit extension (how are urban limits defined and what happens if a town or city decides to extend its limits – ditto corruption?), there is the pandoras box scenario of unforseen knock on effects or the conservative red taped status quo, and in amongst that lot there’s also Palikot (obviously the presidents most favoured ‘oposition’ politician) who’s legeslative intiative this is.

  6. There are almost a million allotments (ogrodki dzialkowe) in Poland. Apparently they account for 2.9 % of the territory of Warsaw. They’re not insignificant, in social, economic or environmental terms. And they’re under pressure from developers across Poland, for housing, roads, shopping malls and more, not least because they’re often located just on the edges of cities where development pressures are greatest. Similar processes appear to be underway in Slovakia and Hungary too.

  7. The ogródki are often in the centre of Warsaw now. They belong either to the city or some institutions i.e. Elektrociepłownia Siekierki. They were in the outskirts decades ago, but now it’s what’s called Gmina Centrum that in large covers the first post-war borders of Warsaw, and they look disgraceful. But I don’t think the law is so much about them as about the many places where there’s absolutely nothing. There are places that used to be villages, or fields around villages, that are within Warsaw borders now. You’d be surprised how many of the farming holes around are _in_ the city. It’s nearly 50% of Warsaw, 35% of Poznań, 48% of Kalisz etc. They’re still categorised as agricultural land, and one has to go through all the bureaucracy to even build a house there.

    The urban planning and recategorising look something like this:
    1. A designer looks at a map, and says: here will be a housing area, here a commercial one, here a farming one, here a forest etc.
    2. You have an agricultural piece of land and want to build there a house or an office.
    3. You go to the urząd and ask for the category of your land to be changed. If a designer had said that it’s a housing area you’re in luck, if that it’s a farming one you have to wait for new plans being drawn. This can take years and some bribes to get you there. Additionally, this decision depends entirely on the ‘good will’ of a clerk. If it’s already a housing area it can just mean a lesser bribe, and if it’s a farming one a bigger one, because the clerk has to share with the designer. I haven’t yet heard of a private person who’d manage to recategorise their land in time shorter than several years. The price of land depends on its category exactly for this reason.

    What Kaczyński objects to is that land will be recategorised without new plans being drawn. I.e. Warsaw had some plans for its old borders, then new areas were joined and there are no plans for them. But that means exactly that one won’t build more houses in the centre than already planned. Yet one will be able to buy land from a farmer in Dawidy or in the areas south from Wilanów and build there whatever one wishes.

    It’s not like Warsaw will suddenly lose all of its greenery. There are tens of parks here and many forests that can’t be touched anyway. If a land belongs to the city they can decide whether to make there another park or sell it. I.e. forests in Poland usually are national, not private. But it’d speed things up, and give everyone equal chances. Truth is those with money and connections can buy anything and build their offices, warehouses or shopping malls anywhere. If you’re a small businessman or a private person then you’re caught in the bureaucratic structures. And if you want to build a house you have to either buy a urban land that’s much more expensive, or at least 1ha of an agricultural one and keep pretending you’re a farmer. How stupid it is to have farming areas within cities that won’t be farms anyway, but one needs to go through all the paper hell to utilize them? Palikot’s role is to lessen bureaucracy, and hopefully it’s unlikely that he’ll meet with much opposition from other politicians, barring PiS of course. Kaczyński’s hobby is making us all xenophobic freaks sensing malicious plots and foreign spies in the air, but there are things that should be long abandoned, and hopefully someone will do just that.

  8. Scatts: Where are these “urban planning experts” they speak of?

    They are Towarzystwo Urbanistów Polskich and Prezydium Komitetu Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju Polskiej Akademii Nauk.

    They are those guys a city have to hire to plan its space. I’ve heard about the need of new plans being drawn for years. I say if they couldn’t be bothered to do it by now they can sit and cry.

    Of course they object to this law. It’s about their bribes.

  9. Sylwia, very comprehensive and informative comment, thanks a lot.

    as- thanks to you also.

    I always look at these ogródki as the yin to the blocks yan. If you live in a shoebox you need an allotment. When the blocks improve or disappear, the allotments will also slowly fade away. I expect there’s also an ogródki generation that will eventually die out. Can’t see the youngsters being that interested in tending their grandparent’s plots. That’s a pity because I like them.

  10. The youngsters love their grandparent’s plots when they borrow a key to invite their young girlfriends to the small houses there. ;-)

    I forgot to add that one still will need permission to build anything, so it’s not like there will be some uncontrolled construction everywhere. I don’t imagine how Kaczyński imagines that a farmer will build an autobahn on his 5 ha of natural landscape.

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