Why has Poland not managed to deal with its historic shipyards?

July 16, 2008

Lech Walesa      Why has Poland not managed to deal with its loss-making shipyards despite years of European Union warnings over billions of euros in illegal state aid?

    The answer lies largely in the enduring power of historic symbols in Poland nearly 20 years after the independent Solidarity trade union led by shipyard electrician Lech Walesa helped topple the communist regime and usher in democracy.

Announcing her decision to grant Poland a temporary but final reprieve, EU ompetition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Wednesday: “We have now entered the second half of extra time.”

   Poland must now present new plans by September to overhaul
the shipyards and avoid a huge repayment of state aid totalling
2.3 billion euros that would force them into bankruptcy.

    In a wave of protests at the ports of Gdansk, Gdynia and
Szczecin, workers have been busily pressing key emotional
buttons of the Polish psyche with their Solidarity flags, Roman
Catholic prayers and a clever blend of chivalrous charm and
patriotic defiance — handing out roses to passers-by while
letting off firecrackers and vowing to fight to the end.

    “We have earned a special place in history because we fought
for the freedom of all,” Jan Guminski, a senior labour union
official, told protesters at Gdynia shipyard on Wednesday.

    But analysts say the shipyards are in their sorry state —
they have not made a profit on a single ship built there since
at least 2004 — precisely because successive governments and
managements have been too awed by their iconic status.

    “The historic angle is hard for people outside Poland to
understand. But the shipyards are the cradle of the Solidarity
movement. Successive governments have preferred to pretend the
problem is not there rather than take on 15,000 angry shipyard
workers with all they symbolise,” one Polish diplomat said.

 Gdynia shipyard

    In its heyday, Solidarity boasted almost 10 million people and was far more than just a trade union.

    British historian Norman Davies, author of numerous books on Poland,  says  Solidarity was seen as “heir to all the nation’s freedom fighters” down the centuries in its brave struggle gainst a totalitarian regime and its paymasters in Moscow.        

    But Poland has changed enormously over the past two decades, becoming a much richer, more open and more self-confident country firmly anchored in the European Union and NATO.  Solidarity today is a shadow of its former self and has little political clout.

    For all the emotionally charged rallies and the politicians’ fiery rhetoric, the fate of the yards is not a top concern for many Poles trying to cope with rising food and fuel prices.

    And Prime Minister Donald Tusk, pro-EU and pro-market may
yet find new investors by September. By winning the reprieve, he
can at least argue he has done more than his predecessors and
political rivals to salvage Poland’s shipbuilding heritage.


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People around Europe become more and more represive about the economique decision who are taken from EU.In this case they seem to be right, but in salvation of 2.3 bilion euros , they live behind so much capital of human resource wihtou management on the wings of faith.And we know very well that those wings are the concern of EU.Sometimes i wonder if this sistem is good applyed generaly to all the member countrys…Poland after all has so many emegrants all over EU, and they did this because they had to.Nobody leaves there country because is too happy there!let’s face reality not formality and build after it!

Posted by Burca Alice Larisa | Report as abusive

1. Poland claimed in 2004 when it acceeded the EU that its shipyards would be working profitably. This was a blatant lie in order to get in. The Commission must have known that it was being cheated. The cheating has continued ever since.

2. Poland has been a pain in the neck in the EU, ignoring the rules whenever it suited. A rule-based system cannot accept this forever. And it is not that the Poles spread a lot of charme when they did this. They surely did not make friends.

3. In any normal country a historic achievement such as Solidarnosc would be honoured with a museum. Why does Poland insist on honouring Solidarnosc by building ships at a loss?

Posted by brux | Report as abusive