Poland’s strong fundamentals and timely macroeconomic policies have enabled the country’s economy to withstand several recent turbulent periods. In 2021, the Polish economy was recovering rapidly from the pandemic-induced recession, which had interrupted almost 30 years of continuous economic expansion. Policy actions including broad fiscal measures and unprecedented monetary support cushioned the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. Already in the second quarter of 2021, output returned to pre-crisis levels and annual growth in 2021 averaged 5.7 percent. The post-pandemic recovery has been sustained by robust private consumption. Despite pandemic-related challenges and the deterioration of some aspects of the investment climate, Poland remained an attractive destination for foreign investment. Solid economic fundamentals and promising post-COVID recovery forecasts continued to draw foreign, including U.S., capital. The Family 500+ program and additional pension payments continued in 2021 as key elements of the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s social welfare and inequality reduction agenda. The government increased the minimum wage and the labor market remained relatively strong, supported by a package of measures introduced in 2020 and continued in 2021 known as the “Anti-Crisis Shield.” The support measures amounted to approximately $55 billion. Prospects for future growth of the Polish economy are uncertain due to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. High inflation, the highest in 20 years, is likely to continue and interest rates, which will rise along with it, will negatively impact the economy. The approval of Poland’s National Recovery Plan (KPO), however, and the transfer of EU funds envisaged therein, should make a positive impact.
In 2021, the government introduced an “Anti-Inflation Shield’ including a temporary reduction in value added tax (VAT) on electricity, gas, and heating as well as foodstuffs to prevent significant deterioration in consumption. A fiscal stimulus program (the “Polish Deal”) was also introduced and took effect in 2022. After only a few months of its implementation, the government has radically amended it. New solutions aimed at insulating the economy from the effects of the war in Ukraine will be introduced under the banner of an “Anti-Putin Shield.” These measures will include compensation to Polish businesses that operated in Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus; subsidies to the state-owned gas pipeline operator; regulated gas tariffs for households and “sensitive recipients” such as hospitals; subsidies for farmers to combat rising fertilizer prices; and a reduction of the income tax threshold. The proposal is still subject to consultations but is expected to be enacted into law in 2022. The current anti-inflationary measures are likely to be extended until the end of 2022. All of these policies will drastically increase fiscal spending and curtail tax revenue.
The Polish government has made gradual progress in simplifying administrative processes for firms, supported by the introduction of digital public services, but weaknesses persist in the legal and regulatory framework. Implemented and proposed legislation dampened optimism in some sectors (e.g., retail, media, energy, digital services, and beverages). Investors point to lower predictability and the outsized role of state-owned and state-controlled companies in the Polish economy as an impediment to long-term balanced growth. The government continues to push for the creation of state-controlled “national champions” that are large enough to compete internationally and lead economic development. Despite a polarized political environment, and a few less business-friendly sector-specific policies, the broad structures of the Polish economy are solid. Foreign investors are not abandoning projects planned before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and some are even transferring activities from Ukraine and Belarus to Poland. Prospects for future growth will depend on the course of the war in Ukraine, but in the near-term, external and domestic demand and inflows of EU funds, as well as various government aid programs, are likely to continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million.
In mid-2021, the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology finished public consultations on its Industry Development White Paper, which identifies the government’s views on the most significant barriers to industrial activity and serves as the foundation for Poland’s Industrial Policy (PIP) – a strategic document focused on digitization, security, industrial production location, the Green Deal, and modern society which sets the direction for long-term industrial development. In early 2022, the Ministry announced there was need for further analysis and introduction of new economic solutions due to the considerable changes in the EU energy policy, supply chain disruptions, and the geopolitical situation.
Poland’s well-diversified economy reduces its vulnerability to external shocks, although it depends heavily on the EU as an export market. Foreign investors also cite Poland’s well-educated work force as a major reason to invest, as well as its proximity to major markets such as Germany. U.S. firms represent one of the largest groups of foreign investors in Poland. The volume of U.S. investment in Poland was estimated at over $4.2 billion by the National Bank of Poland in 2020 and at around $25 billion by the Warsaw-based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). With the inclusion of indirect investment flows through subsidiaries, it may reach over $62 billion, according to KPMG and AmCham. Historically, foreign direct investment (FDI) was largest in the automotive and food processing industries, followed by machinery and other metal products and petrochemicals. “Shared office” services such as accounting, legal, and information technology services, including research and development (R&D), is Poland’s fastest-growing sector for foreign investment. The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding defense-related tenders. There are also investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, hydrogen, energy grid upgrades, photovoltaics, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution. Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care industries opened wider to investments and exports as a result of the COVID-19 experience. 2021 turned out to be a record year for venture capital investment in Poland. Compared to 2020, the value of investments in this area increased by 66 percent, exceeding $800 million. Around 15 percent of these transactions were investments in the sector of medical technologies.
Defense remains a promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for the U.S. defense industry. A law increasing the defense budget was adopted in March 2022. The law also amends the mechanism of military financing, expansion, and procurement. The defense budget is to increase to 3 percent of GDP from 2023, exceeding the NATO target of 2 percent. Under the new law, the Council of Ministers will be tasked with determining, every four years, the direction of the modernization and development of the armed forces for a 15-year planning period. Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also are sectors that show promise for U.S. exports, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks. A $10 billion central airport project may present opportunities for U.S. companies in project management, consulting, communications, and construction. The government seeks to expand the economy by supporting high-tech investments, increasing productivity and foreign trade, and supporting entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation through the use of domestic and EU funding. The Polish government is interested in the development of green energy, hoping to utilize the large amounts of EU funding earmarked for this purpose in the coming years and decades.
The Polish government plans to allocate money from the EU Recovery Fund (once Poland’s plan is approved) to pro-development investments in such areas as economic resilience and competitiveness, green energy and the reduction of energy intensity, digital transformation, the availability and quality of the health care system, and green and intelligent mobility. A major EU project is to synchronize the Baltic States’ electricity grid with that of Poland and the wider European network by 2025. Another government strategy aims for a commercial fifth generation (5G) cellular network to become operational in all cities by 2025, although planned spectrum auctions have been repeatedly delayed.
Some organizations, notably private business associations and labor unions, have raised concerns that policy changes have been introduced quickly and without broad consultation, increasing uncertainty about the stability and predictability of Poland’s business environment. For example, the government had announced an “advertising tax” on media companies with only a few months warning after firms had already prepared budgets for the current year. Broadcasters were concerned the tax, if introduced, could irreparably harm media companies weakened by the pandemic and limit independent journalism. Other proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration and limitations on foreign ownership have raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, those proposals seem to have stalled for the time being. The Polish tax system has undergone a major transformation with the introduction of many changes over recent years, including more effective tax auditing and collection, with the aim of increasing budget revenues. Through updated regulations in November 2020, Poland has adopted a range of major changes concerning the taxation of doing business in the country. The changes include the double taxation of some partnerships; deferral of corporate income tax (CIT) for small companies owned by individuals; an obligation to publish tax strategies by large companies; and a new model of taxation for real estate companies. In the financial sector, legal risks stemming from foreign exchange mortgages constitute a source of uncertainty for some banks. The Polish government has supported taxing the income of Internet companies, proposed by the European Commission, considering it a possible new source of financing for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. A tax on video-on-demand services and the proposed advertising tax are two examples of this trend.
On April 8, 2021, Poland’s president signed legislation amending provisions of Poland’s customs and tax laws in an effort to simplify certain customs and tax procedures.
The “Next Generation EU” recovery package will benefit the Polish economic recovery with sizeable support. Under the 2021-2027 European Union budget, Poland will receive $78.4 billion in cohesion funds as well as approximately $27 billion in grants and $40 billion in loan access from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility. The Polish government projects this injection of funds, amounting to around 4.5 percent of Poland’s 2021 GDP, should contribute significantly to the country’s growth over the period 2021-2027. As the largest recipient of EU funds (which have contributed an estimated 1 percentage point to Poland’s GDP growth per year), any significant decrease in EU cohesion spending would have a large negative impact on Poland’s economy. The risk of a suspension of EU funds is low, but the government has refused to comply with several rulings of the European Court of Justice.
Observers are closely watching the European Commission’s three open infringement proceedings against Poland regarding rule of law and judicial reforms initiated in April 2019, April 2020, and December 2021. The Commission’s concerns include the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the enacted Supreme Court Law, which could potentially affect economic interests in that final judgments issued since 1997 can now be challenged and overturned in whole or in part, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied. Other issues regard the legitimacy of judicial appointments after a reform of the National Judicial Council that raise concerns about long-term legal certainty and the possible politicization of judicial decisions and undermining of EU law.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in economic, financial, and political risks.
Managing the fallout from the war in Ukraine will be the government’s priority. Poland faces a large-scale refugee influx and, as of April 2022, has already received close to three million refugees. The Polish government reacted rapidly, granting refugees the right of temporary residence and access to key public services (health, education), social assistance, and housing. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the war in Ukraine, if it ends within a few months, will cause a small and short slowdown in the growth of the Polish economy. The relatively limited consequences of the invasion for Poland’s economy are primarily due to the large influx of refugees to Poland. The EBRD expects this to be a strong consumption stimulus that will cushion the impact of weakening exports due to the war.
The Polish and global economies are currently operating in conditions of high uncertainty. Any forecasts, therefore, are subject to a large margin of error. The state of the Polish economy and the validity of forecasts will depend on the further course of the war in Ukraine, the decision of Ukrainian refugees on whether to stay in Poland, and the EU’s approval of Poland’s KPO.