Poland: country overview06 July 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 29 January 2017
Poland joined 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 has transformed itself into a democratic, market-oriented country. The most important sectors of Poland's economy in 2015 were Industry (26.1 %), wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (25.4 %), and public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (14.7 %). Poland's main export partners are Germany, UK and the Czech Republic while its main import partners are Germany, Russia and China.
Geographical size: 312 679 km2
Population: 38 005 614 (2015)
Population as % of total EU: 7.5 % (2015)
Gross domestic product (GDP): € 427.737 billion (2015)
Official EU language(s): Polish
Political system: parliamentary republic
EU member country since: 1 May 2004
Seats in the European Parliament: 51
Currency: Polish Zloty PLN
Schengen area member? Yes, Schengen Area member since 21 December 2007.
Presidency of the Council: Poland has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU once in 2011.
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 EU country 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 average and the unemployment rate is now below the EU average.
The government of Prime Minister Donald TUSK steered the Polish economy through the economic downturn by skillfully managing public finances and adopting controversial pension and tax reforms to further shore up public finances. While the Polish economy has performed well over the past five years, growth slowed in 2013 and picked back up in 2014-15. Poland's new center-right Law and Justice government plans to introduce expansionary economic policies to spur long-term growth, but social spending programs are expected to lead to increased deficit spending over the medium term.
Poland faces several challenges, which include addressing some of the remaining deficiencies in its road and rail infrastructure, business environment, rigid labor code, commercial court system, government red tape, and burdensome tax system, especially for entrepreneurs. Additional long-term challenges include diversifying Poland's energy mix and sources of supply, strengthening investments in innovation, research, and development, and as well as stemming the outflow of educated young Poles to other EU member states, especially in light of a coming demographic contraction due to emigration, persistently low fertility rates, and the aging of the Solidarity-era baby boom generation..
Source: European Commission, Your Europe, World Factbook