The role of the Catholic Church
Religion is a fundamental element of Polish identity. Poland is a predominantly Catholic country and this differentiates it from its German neighbors, largely Protestant, and from the Russian, Orthodox. The Catholic Church, well branched throughout the territory with a dense network of parishes, represents not only a religious, but also a cultural and social point of reference. This latter aspect emerged during the years of the Cold War and the Communist regime, in particular after the election as pontiff of the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyła in 1978. From that moment on, the role of the Church as a unifying element of the anti-communist protest it has intensified more and more, also thanks to the support offered to the Solidarity movement. Even today the parishes act as the pivot of social life and guarantee assistance services to the population in the social, health and educational spheres. The Church also plays an active role in politics, and Polish civil society is often divided over its interference in public life. The controversy over the influence of the Church is also reflected in the legislative sphere: Warsaw, for example, has one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. Furthermore, in 2009, Poland ratified the Lisbon Treaty with an exemption clause (Warsaw, for example, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Furthermore, in 2009, Poland ratified the Lisbon Treaty with an exemption clause (Warsaw, for example, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Furthermore, in 2009, Poland ratified the Lisbon Treaty with an exemption clause (opting out) with regard to the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as the Pis feared that the country could lose its sovereignty over certain matters such as abortion, same-sex marriages and euthanasia.
A transit country
In addition to being a strong consumer of Russian gas and oil, Poland is also a transit country for both energy resources, which, in large part, are directed to Western Europe via the Yamal Europa pipeline and the Druzhba oil pipeline.. Russia, however, has an interest in diversifying energy routes to Western Europe in order to avoid transit from Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, countries that currently benefit from discounted gas prices precisely by virtue of transit rights. This is why Russia has so strongly supported the Nord Stream submarine gas pipeline project, which since 2011 has directly connected Russia and Germany (also the latter a major consumer of Russian gas) via the Baltic Sea. For Poland public policy, please check petsinclude.com.
The escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, and the consequent cut in gas supplies as an instrument of economic retaliation, had led Poland and other key transit nations (Hungary and Slovakia) to reverse flows to Kiev, which was in a situation critical, given the low level of gas reserves. However, in September 2014, Moscow, through the company Gazprom, had interrupted gas supplies for a few days also to transit countries, which were mainly supplied by the Belarusian Yamal gas pipeline. The momentary interruption – albeit officially denied by the Kremlin-controlled company – was interpreted as a warning signal, and led Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to interrupt the reverse flow to Ukraine.
Poland was the first country to produce shale gas in Europe. In summer 2013 the Lebrok well in Łebien near Gdansk started producing 8,000 cubic meters of shale gas daily as a resource test. According to the findings of the Polish Geological Institute (Pig) and the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the country’s shale gas reserves amount to 768 billion cubic meters, more than France which, between other, it has recently banned its mining activity. The Warsaw government has granted exploration permits to a dozen foreign oil companies – mainly US -, which acted in joint-venture with the national group PGNIG. However, technical difficulties, excessive costs and restrictive laws in Europe have led many companies to abandon the exploration of new wells. At a global level, so far, only two nations have the technological knowledge capable of extracting wealth from shale rocks: the USA and Canada. Other European countries are exploring the subsoil to assess its reserves: among them, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Norway.
The triumph of the nationalist right in 2015
2015 saw a sharp return of the right in Polish national politics. In May, outgoing president Bronisław Komorowski, belonging to the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, P o), was defeated in the presidential elections by challenger Andrzej Duda, representative of the Freedom and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Pis). Duda’s victory refreshed the profile of the party which in October 2015 achieved another important success in the parliamentary elections, winning 37.5% of the preferences compared to 24% of the rival P o party. The experience of cohabitation between the government of Ewa Kopacz and the Duda presidency was therefore very short and since November 2015 the new Polish prime minister is Beata Szydło, of thePis. This is a radical turnaround with respect to the government in recent years, also dictated in part by the reaction to the persistent Ukrainian crisis and growing fears relating to immigration. In fact, if both the Po and the Pis belong to the center-right area, the latter has more marked anti-European and nationalist traits; equally the party line towards Moscow has traditionally been more rigid. A peculiarity to be noted with respect to the last elections is the rise of the newborn Kukiz’15 party, founded by Paweł Kukiz, singer and punk musician of the Polish far-right scene. Kukiz’15 has established itself as the third party in the country, gaining 8.8% of the preferences, especially among the younger sections of the population.