Poland, also called the Republic of Poland, has a population of approximately 38.4 million (2012), making it the sixth largest European Union member. Poland is bordered by Germany to the West, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic to the South; Ukraine and Belarus to the East; and Lithuania, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and the Baltic Sea to the North. The principal centres of population are Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Lodz and Poznan. Poland celebrates its National Day on 3 May.
Under the Polish Constitution, the legislative authority of the Republic is vested in the Parliament, composed of the Sejm (lower house of parliament, 460 members) and the Senate (upper house, 100 members). Executive authority is shared between the President and Prime Minister (appointed by the President). Three new tiers of regionally-based local administration were introduced in 1999: 16 voivodships (provinces), 308 poviats (counties; and 65 cities), and over 2000 gminas (municipalities).
The President is elected by popular vote for a maximum of two 5-year terms and is Head of State, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and represents Poland in the international arena. The President has the right to veto legislation, although this veto may be overridden by a three-fifths majority vote in the Sejm.
The most recent Presidential elections were held on 4 July 2010 and were won by Bronislaw Komorowski (former Speaker of the Sejm). Presidential elections were held early due to the tragic death on 10 April 2010 of former President Lech Kaczynski, who died, along with many high-ranking Polish civilian and military officials and prominent members of the Polish community, in an aeroplane crash in Russia on his way to a commemoration of the Katyn massacre. Komorowski, from the governing Civic Platform party, won 53 per cent support from voters.
Elections for the Sejm were last held on 9 October 2011. Civic Platform (PO) won 207 seats (or 39.2 per cent of the vote), and governs in coalition, the Polish People's Party (PSL), which won 28 seats (or 8.4 per cent of the vote). Other strong performances included the Law and Justice party (PiS) (136 seats or 29.9 per cent) and Palikot's Movement (RP) (40 seats or 10 per cent). The next elections for the Sejm will be held by October 2015. The last Senate elections were held on 9 October 2011. Civic Platform won a clear majority of 63 seats, followed by the Law and Justice party (PiS) claiming 29 seats. The next Senate elections will be held by October 2015.
Poland joined the European Union in 2004, and is a member of numerous other international organisations including: World Trade Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and World Health Organization.
Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalisation since 1990 and was the only country in the European Union (EU) to avoid recession as a result of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. Although EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to the economy since 2004, gross domestic product per capita remains significantly below the EU average. Following sluggish growth in 2013 (1.6 per cent), the European Commission has forecast the Polish economy will grow by 2.9 per cent in 2014 and 3.1 per cent in 2015. This places Poland as the third fastest growing economy in the EU behind Latvia and Lithuania. Poland’s improved economic outlook comes on the back of increased exports and predicted growth in private investment. Poland is one of the few emerging economies to still enjoy stable credit ratings.
Australia maintains an Embassy in Warsaw. Visa and migration issues are handled by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's office in Warsaw. Austrade is also represented in the Australian Embassy in Warsaw. Poland is represented in Australia by the Polish Embassy in Canberra. Poland has also established a Consulate General in New South Wales and Consulates in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, visited Poland in March 2014, where she signed a bilateral work and holiday visa arrangement with her Polish counterpart, Mr Radosław Sikorski. Foreign Minister Sikorski visited Australia in May 2013. Recent Australian visits to Poland include: former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith (October 2009); the Hon Alan Griffin MP, then Minister for Veterans Affairs (September 2009); and former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon (February 2009).
In 2012, the Australian Government made a contribution of A$500,000 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Fund. The funds will assist with essential preservation works at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site in Poland.
Bilateral agreements between Australia and Poland include: Investment and Promotion and Protection Agreement (1991); Double Taxation Agreement (1991); Extradition Treaty (1999); Air Services Agreement (2005); a Joint Communiqué on Cooperation in Environmental Technologies, Goods and Services (2006); a Social Security Agreement (2010); and a Memorandum of Understanding on a bilateral Work and Holiday Maker Visa Arrangement, which entered into force on 1 August 2014.
The Polish community in Australia plays an important and active role in the overall relationship. According to 2011 census figures, about 170,000 people of Polish ancestry live in Australia. The Polish community is active in promoting people-to-people contact and commercial and academic ties through a number of community organisations, bilateral business councils and institutes. Several famous Australian landmarks, including Mt Kosciuszko, were named by Polish explorer, Paul Edmond Strzelecki.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Poland is a growing market for Australia's commercial interests. Direct merchandise exports to Poland in 2013 were A$130 million, while imports from Poland were worth A$565 million. Australia's major export items to Poland in 2013 were coal (A$62 million), copper ores and concentrates (A$21 million), inorganic chemical elements (A$17 million) and medicaments (including veterinary) (A$5 million). Australia's major imports from Poland included passenger motor vehicles ($47 million), medicaments (including veterinary) (A$44 million), mechanical handling equipment and parts (A$37 million), (A$34 million) and telecom equipment and parts (A$33 million).
The total value of Australian investment stock in Poland in 2012 was estimated at A$1.46 billion. The number of major Australian investors in Poland has risen dramatically in recent years.
For advice on doing business in Poland, see Austrade's website.
Last updated: February 2015