Poland: country overview06 July 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 February 2013
Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force with over ten million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the Communist era to a close. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, and has transformed itself into a democratic, market-oriented country.
Year of EU entry: 2004
Member of Schengen area:Yes
Political system: Republic
Capital city: Warsaw
Total area: 312 679 km²
Population: 38.4 million
Listen to the EU official language: Polish
The north of Poland, stretching to the Baltic Sea, consists almost entirely of lowlands, while the Carpathian Mountains (including the Tatra range) form the southern border. The Masuria region forms the largest and most-visited lake district in Poland.
The Polish state is over 1 000 years old. In the 16th century Poland was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. With victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, King Jan III Sobieski of Poland was able to break the Ottoman siege of Vienna and end the threat of a possible occupation of western Europe
Poland is rich in natural mineral resources, including iron, zinc, copper and rock salt. The Wieliczka salt mine, constructed in the 13th century, contains an entire town below ground with a sanatorium, theatre, church and café! Everything from stairs to chandeliers is made from salt.
Poland’s current constitution dates from 1997. The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The 460 members of the lower house of parliament (the Sejm) and the 100 members of the senate, are directly elected by a system of proportional representation to serve four-year terms.
Poland’s traditional dishes include beetroot soup, cabbage rolls (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice) and pierogi (dumplings stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms, for example).
Famous Poles include the astronomer Copernicus, the composer Chopin, the scientist Maria Curie-Sklodowska, film-makers Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski, and the late Pope, John-Paul II.
Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalization since 1990 and Poland's economy was the only country in the European Union to avoid a recession through the 2008-09 economic downturn. Although EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to the economy since 2004, GDP per capita remains significantly below the EU everage while unemployment continues to exceed the EU average. The government of Prime Minister Donald TUSK steered the Polish economy through the economic downturn by skillfully managing public finances without stifling economic growth and adopted controversial pension and tax reforms to further shore up public finances. Poland's economic performance could improve over the longer term if the country addresses some of the remaining deficiencies in its road and rail infrastructure and its business environment. An inefficient commercial court system, a rigid labor code, bureaucratic red tape, burdensome tax system, and persistent low-level corruption keep the private sector from performing up to its full potential.
Source: Your Europe