The Republic of Poland has a population of approximately 38 million (2014), 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 and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the North. The principal centres of population are Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Lodz and Poznan. Poland celebrates its Constitution Day on 3 May.
Poland is a parliamentary democracy. Under the Polish Constitution, the legislative authority of the Republic is vested in the Parliament, composed of the Sejm (lower house, 460 members) and the Senate (upper house, 100 members). Executive authority is shared between the President and Prime Minister (appointed by the President).
The President is elected by popular vote for a maximum of two five-year terms and is Head of State, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and represents Poland in the international arena. The President enjoys limited executive powers: the right to veto legislation, although this veto may be overridden by a three-fifths majority vote in the Sejm, the right to dissolve parliament if no stable majority exists, and the right of pardon. The President appoints the Prime Minister and members of the government, Tribunal and Supreme courts judges, and members of the Monetary and Security Councils.
The most recent presidential elections were held on 24 May 2015 and were won by Andrzej Duda from the Law and Justice party (PiS) with 51.5 per cent support from voters. Mr Duda defeated incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski who was backed by the governing Civic Platform (PO).
Parliamentary elections were last held on 9 October 2011. Civic Platform (PO) won 207 seats in the Lower House with 39.2 per cent of the vote, and is governing for a second consecutive term in coalition with the Polish People's Party (PSL), which won 28 seats with 8.4 per cent of the vote. Other strong performances included the Law and Justice party (PiS), which won 136 seats with 29.9 per cent of the vote, and Palikot's Movement (RP), which won 40 seats with 10 per cent of the vote. In the Upper House, Civic Platform won a clear majority of 63 seats, followed by the Law and Justice party (PiS) with 29 seats. The next parliamentary elections will be held in October 2015.
Poland is a member of numerous international organisations including: the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Poland is also a member of the Visegrad Four, with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. The grouping aims to promote closer cooperation between these four central European countries to further their European integration. All four countries joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004.
Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalisation since 1990 and was the only country in the EU to avoid recession as a result of the global financial crisis. Although EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to the economy since 2004, making Poland one of the EU’s top performers, gross domestic product per capita remains significantly below the EU average.
Following sluggish growth in 2013 of 1.7 per cent, the Polish economy is estimated to have grown by 3.3 per cent in 2014 and is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent in 2015. These figures place Poland as the second fastest growing economy in the EU behind Ireland. 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. 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. Other high level Australian visits to Poland include: Minister for the Environment, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, in January 2015; Assistant Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, in January 2015; Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, in October 2009; Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Hon Alan Griffin MP, in September 2009; and Minister for Defence, the Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, in 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 Edmund Strzelecki.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Poland is a growing market for Australia's commercial interests. Merchandise exports to Poland in 2014 were A$316 million, while imports from Poland were worth A$761 million. Australia's major export items to Poland in 2014 were coal (A$172 million), copper ores and concentrates (A$46 million), zinc ores and concentrates (A$45 million) and medicaments (including veterinary) (A$8 million). Australia's major imports from Poland in 2014 included silver and platinum (A$125 million), mechanical handling equipment and parts (A$49 million), goods vehicles (A$41 million) and passenger motor vehicles ($39 million).
For advice on doing business in Poland, see Austrade's website.
Last updated: July 2015