In the thirty years since Poland discarded communism and the fifteen years since it joined the European Union (EU), Poland’s investment climate has continued to grow in attractiveness to foreign investors, including U.S. investors. Poland’s economy has experienced a long period of uninterrupted economic expansion since 1992. In 2018, Poland’s economy again gained momentum with approximately 5 percent growth as consumption continued to increase and spending of EU funds accelerated public investment. Most economists, however, predict a slowdown in 2019 to around 4 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Poland moved from middle to high-income status according to the FTSE Russell’s annual classification report. However, some proposed economic legislation continued to dampen optimism in some sectors (e.g. retail, media, energy, digital services), and investors have pointed 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.
Prospects for future growth, driven by domestic demand and inflows of EU funds from the 2014-2020 financial framework, will continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s dynamic market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million. 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 is estimated at around USD 6 billion by the national bank of Poland in 2017, although including indirect investment flows through subsidiaries may place it as high as USD 43 billion, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland. 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), are Poland’s fastest-growing sectors for foreign investment. The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding military tenders. There are also some investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, energy grid upgrades, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution.
Defense is another promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for U.S. defense industry. In 2018, it signed its largest-ever defense contract when committing to purchase the PATRIOT missile defense system, and in 2019 it signed a contract to buy the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). In February 2019, the Defense Ministry announced its updated technical modernization plan listing its top programmatic priorities, with defense modernization budgets forecasted to increase from approximately USD 3.3 billion in 2019 to approximately USD 7.75 billion in 2025. Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also show promise, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks. A USD 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.
In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits. The government has proposed a new law to protect household consumers from rising electricity prices, but the bill was at odds with the European Commission (EC) for the lack of notification of what amounted to state aid measures.
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. Some examples include a one-time bank holiday (to celebrate 100 years of Poland regaining independence) with less than a month warning, and a major tax overhaul passed after firms had already prepared budgets for the coming year. Previous proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, these proposals seem to be stalled for the time being.
The Polish tax system underwent many changes over the last three years with the aim of increasing budget revenues, including more effective tax auditing and collection. The November 2018 tax bill included a number of changes important for foreign investors, such as penalties for aggressive tax planning, changes to the withholding tax, incentives for R&D, and an exit tax on corporations and individuals.
As the largest recipient of EU funds (which contribute 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. Draft EU budgets foresee a 24 percent decrease in Poland’s Cohesion funds in the next cycle. Also, observers are closely watching the European Commission’s proceedings under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, initiated in December 2017, regarding rule of law and judicial reforms. These 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.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||60/100
36 of 180
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||33 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||41.70||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||USD 12,604||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||USD 12,730||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Poland welcomes foreign investment as a source of capital, growth, and jobs, and as a vehicle for technology transfer, research and development (R&D), and integration into global supply chains. The government’s Strategy for Responsible Development identifies key goals for attracting investment, including improving the investment climate, a stable macroeconomic and regulatory environment, and high-quality corporate governance, including in state-controlled companies. By the end of 2017, according to IMF and National Bank of Poland data, Poland attracted around USD 239 billion (cumulative) in foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from Western Europe and the United States. In 2017, reinvested profits dominated the net inflow of FDI to Poland. The greatest reinvestment of profits occurred in services and manufacturing, reflecting the change of Poland’s economy to a more service-oriented and less capital-intensive structure.
Foreign companies generally enjoy unrestricted access to the Polish market. However, Polish law limits foreign ownership of companies in selected strategic sectors, and limits acquisition of real estate, especially agricultural and forest land. Additionally, the current government has expressed a desire to increase the percentage of domestic ownership in some industries such as banking and retail which have large holdings by foreign companies, and has employed sectoral taxes and other measures to advance this aim. In March 2018, Sunday trading ban legislation went into effect, which is gradually phasing out Sunday retail commerce in Poland, especially for large retailers. In 2019, stores may operate an average of one Sunday a month, and in 2020 a total ban will be in effect (with the exception of seven Sundays). Polish authorities have publicly favored introducing a digital services tax. Since no draft has been released, the details of such a tax are unknown, but it would affect mainly foreign digital companies.
There is a variety of Polish agencies involved in investment promotion:
- The Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology has two departments involved in investment promotion and facilitation: the Investment Development and the Trade and International Relations Departments. The Deputy Minister supervising the Investment Development Department was appointed in 2019 to be ombudsman for foreign investors. https://www.gov.pl/web/przedsiebiorczosc-technologia/
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) promotes Poland’s foreign relations including economic relations, and along with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), organizes missions of Polish firms abroad and hosts foreign trade missions to Poland. https://www.msz.gov.pl/ ; https://kig.pl/
- The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is the main institution responsible for promotion and facilitation of foreign investment. The agency is responsible for promoting Polish exports, for inward foreign investment and for Polish investments abroad. The agency operates as part of the Polish Development Fund, which integrates government development agencies. PAIH coordinates all operational instruments, such as commercial diplomatic missions, commercial fairs and programs dedicated to specific markets and sectors. The Agency has opened offices abroad including in the United States (San Francisco and Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York. PAIH’s services are available to all investors. https://www.paih.gov.pl/en
- The Polish Chamber of Commerce in the United States (POLCHAM USA), located in Washington, D.C., promotes the strengthening of economic and trade relationships between the United States and Poland. It is an independent, non-profit organization. https://polchamusa.org/
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Poland allows both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity per the Entrepreneurs’ Law which went into effect on April 30, 2018. Forms of business activity are described in the Commercial Companies Code. Poland does place limits on foreign ownership and foreign equity for a limited number of sectors. Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, and airport and seaport operations sectors. Licenses and concessions for defense production and management of seaports are granted on the basis of national treatment for investors from OECD countries.
Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a television broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if the majority of the members of the management and supervisory boards are Polish citizens and hold permanent residence in Poland. In January 2017, a team comprised of officials from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was created in order to review and tighten restrictions on large media, and limit foreign ownership of the media. While no legislation has been introduced, there is concern that possible future proposals may limit foreign ownership of media sector.
In the insurance sector, at least two management board members, including the chair, must speak Polish. The Law on Freedom of Economic Activity (LFEA) requires companies to obtain government concessions, licenses, or permits to conduct business in certain sectors, such as broadcasting, aviation, energy, weapons/military equipment, mining, and private security services. The LFEA also requires a permit from the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology for certain major capital transactions (i.e., to establish a company when a wholly or partially Polish-owned enterprise has contributed in-kind to a company with foreign ownership by incorporating liabilities in equity, contributing assets, receivables, etc.). A detailed description of business activities that require concessions and licenses can be found here: https://www.paih.gov.pl/publications/how_to_do_business_in_Poland
Polish law restricts foreign investment in certain land and real estate. Land usage types such as technology and industrial parks, business and logistic centers, transport, housing plots, farmland in special economic zones, household gardens and plots up to two hectares are exempt from agricultural land purchase restrictions. Since May 2016, foreign citizens from European Economic Area member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland, do not need permission to purchase any type of real estate including agricultural land. Investors from outside of the EEA or Switzerland need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (with the consent of the Defense and Agriculture Ministries), pursuant to the Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners, prior to the acquisition of real estate or shares which give control of a company holding or leasing real estate. The permit is valid for two years from the day of issuance, and the ministry can issue a preliminary document valid for one year. Permits may be refused for reasons of social policy or public security. The exceptions to this rule include purchases of an apartment or garage, up to 0.4 hectares of undeveloped urban land, and “other cases provided for by law” (generally: proving a particularly close connection with Poland). Laws to restrict farmland and forest purchases came into force April 30, 2016, and are addressed in more detail in Section 6: Real Property.
Since September 2015 the Act on the Control of Certain Investments has provided for the national security-related screening of acquisitions in high-risk sectors including: energy generation and distribution; petroleum production, processing and distribution; telecommunications; media and mining; and manufacturing and trade of explosives, weapons and ammunition. Poland maintains a list of strategic companies that can be amended at any time, but is updated at least once a year, usually in January. The national security review mechanism does not appear to constitute a de facto barrier for investment, and does not unduly target U.S. investment. According to the Act, prior to the acquisition of shares of strategic companies (including the acquisition of proprietary interests in entities and/or their enterprises) the purchaser must notify the controlling government body and receive approval. The obligation to inform the controlling government body applies to transactions involving the acquisition of a “material stake” in companies subject to special protection. The Act stipulates that failure to notify carries a fine of up to PLN 100,000,000 (approx. USD 25,575,542) or a penalty of imprisonment between six months and five years (or both penalties together) for a person acting on behalf of a legal person or organizational unit that acquires a material stake without prior notification.
The Polish government has drafted an amendment to extend the list of state companies with restrictions on selling shares and to increase the powers of the Prime Minister in the area of state property management. The companies slated for additional restrictions are pipeline operator PERN, postal service Poczta Polska, aviation group PGL, railway system PKP and the Special Purpose Vehicle in charge of building Poland’s planned central airport. The amendment also sanctions possible mergers of such entities.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Poland can be found here:
Additionally, the OECD Working Group on Bribery has provided recommendations on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland: http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/poland-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm
In March 2018, the OECD published a Rural Policy Review on Poland. According to this review, Poland has seen impressive growth in recent years, and yet regional disparities in economic and social outcomes remain large by OECD standards. The review is available at: http://www.oecd.org/poland/oecd-rural-policy-reviews-poland-2018-9789264289925-en.htm
The Polish government has continued to implement reforms aimed at improving the investment climate with a special focus on the SME sector and innovations. In 2016-18, Poland reformed its R&D tax incentives with new regulations and changes encouraging wider use of the R&D tax breaks. As of January 1, 2019, a new mechanism reducing the tax rate on income derived from intellectual property rights (IP Box) was introduced. Please see Section 5 of this report for more information.
A package of five laws referred to as the “Business Constitution”—intended to facilitate the operation of small domestic enterprises—was gradually introduced in 2018. The main principle of the Business Constitution is the presumption of innocence of business owners in dealings with the government.
Poland made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an automated system to assign cases to judges randomly. Despite these reforms and others, some investors have expressed serious concerns regarding over-regulation, over-burdened courts and prosecutors, and overly-burdensome bureaucratic processes. The way tax audits are performed has changed considerably. For instance, in many cases the appeal against the findings of an audit now must be lodged with the authority that issued the initial finding rather than a higher authority or third party.
In Poland, business activity may be conducted in forms of a sole proprietor, civil law partnership, as well as commercial partnerships and companies regulated in provisions of the Commercial Partnerships and Companies Code. Sole proprietor and civil law partnerships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which is housed by the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology:
Commercial companies are classified as partnerships (registered partnership, professional partnership, limited partnership, and limited joint-stock partnership) and companies (limited liability company and joint-stock company). A partnership or company is registered in the National Court Register (KRS) and kept by the competent district court for the registered office of the established partnership or company. Local corporate lawyers report that starting a business remains costly in terms of time and money, though KRS registration in the National Court Register averages less than two weeks according to the Ministry of Justice and four weeks according to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report. A 2018 law introduced a new type of company—PSA (Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simple Joint Stock Company). PSAs are meant to facilitate start-ups with simpler and cheaper registration procedures. The minimum initial capitalization is 1 PLN (approx. USD 0.26) while other types of registration require 5,000 PLN (approx. USD 1,315) or 50,000 PLN (approx. USD 13,158). A PSA has a board of directors, which merges the responsibilities of a management board and a supervisory board. The provision for PSA will enter into force in March 2020.
New provisions of the Public Procurement Law (“PPL”) transposing provisions of EU directives coordinating the rules of public procurement came into force on October 18, 2018. These regulations apply to proceedings concerning contracts with a value equal to or exceeding the EU thresholds.
Polish lawmakers are gradually digitalizing the services of the KRS. The first change, which entered into force on March 15, 2018, was the obligation to file financial statements with the Repository of Financial Documents via the Ministry of Finance website. There is also a new requirement for representatives and shareholders of companies to submit statements on their addresses. A requirement to file financial statements exclusively in electronic form entered into force on October 1, 2018, and, beginning in March 2020, all applications will have to be filed with the commercial register electronically. A certified e-signature may be obtained from one of the commercial e-signature providers listed on the following website: https://www.nccert.pl/
- General information, National Court Register (KRS): https://ms.gov.pl/en/national-registers/national-court-register/general-information-on-the-national-court-register/
- Forms in English, National Court Register (KRS): https://ms.gov.pl/en/national-registers/national-court-register/application-forms-used-in-krs/ ;
- Electronic KRS access: https://ms.gov.pl/en/national-registers/national-court-register/electronic-access-to-the-national-court-register/
Agencies that a business will need to file with in order to register in the KRS:
- Central Statistical Office to obtain a business identification number (REGON) for civil-law partnership http://bip.stat.gov.pl/en/regon/subjects-and-data-included-in-the-register/
- ZUS – Social Insurance Agency
- Ministry of Finance
Both registers are available in English and foreign companies may use them.
Poland’s Single Point of Contact site for business registration and information is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/ and an online guide to choose a type of business registration is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/poradnik/-/scenariusz/REJESTRACJA_DZIALALNOSCI_GOSPODARCZEJ
The Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH) under the umbrella of the Polish Development Fund, plays a key role in promoting Polish investment abroad. More information on PFR can be found in Section 7 and at its website: https://pfr.pl/
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology have significantly reformed Poland’s economic diplomacy. The Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency (PAIiIZ) was reformed in February 2017 to be the Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH). Trade and Investment Promotion Sections in embassies and consulates around the world have been replaced by PAIH offices. These 70 offices worldwide constitute a global network and include six in the United States.
PAIH offices offer a range of services to include: finding potential partners for Polish manufacturers/exporters; providing information on business opportunities; assisting in the organization of business trips and study tours; and assisting in initiating first contacts between interested local importers, distributors or wholesalers and Polish manufacturers or service providers. The Agency implements pro-export projects such as the Polish Tech Bridges dedicated to expansion of innovative Polish SMEs. PAIH has a number of investment/export-oriented government programs specially developed to promote Polish companies abroad such as Go China, Go India, Go Africa, Go ASEAN and Go Arctic. Vietnam and Iran are also priority investment and export destinations for Poland, though trade with Iran has dropped off since the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions. Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Poland co-founded and actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, which seeks to improve north-south connections in road, energy and telecom infrastructure in 12 countries on NATO’s and the EU’s eastern flank. . PAIH is responsible for the promotion of Poland at the EXPO Dubai 2020.
The national development bank BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) offers support for goods with a Polish component and depending on the credit can be a minimum of 30-40 percent of net contract revenue. BGK offers a number of short-term credit instruments like documentary letters of credit for post-financing. BGK offers direct credit for importers to purchase investment goods and services. The Export Credit Insurance Corporation KUKE insures the BGK-issued credit, including for companies from countries with higher trade risk.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures. It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland. The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decision, and forms of appeal and review.
As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation. Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels. Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology. Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.
Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards. Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland. In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied. However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape. Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment. Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.
Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last years. The government introduced a central online system to provide access to the general public to regulatory impact assessment (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business. Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations. Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem. Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.
New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation. Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making. The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem. OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.
Bills can be submitted to the parliament for debate as “citizen’s bills” if authors can collect 100,000 signatures. NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue. Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized. Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.
Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees. Polish Parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads. Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the external audit agency (NIK) reports. In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention. The Ombudsman’s institution works relatively well in Poland. Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies. Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage, http://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/ and Parliament’s webpage: http://www.sejm.gov.pl/Sejm8.nsf/proces.xsp
Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/e/eb/ifd/oma/fiscaltransparency/273700.htm. Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. Poland’s supreme audit institution (NIK) audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online. The budget structure and classifications are complex and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budget encompasses only part of the public finances sector. In 2018, Poland continued its work to reform the budgetary process to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of spending and to simplify the budget structure. The completion of the first stage of these efforts is expected by the end of 2019.
International Regulatory Considerations
Since Poland’s EU accession (May 2004) Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system. Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.
In 2018, Poland saw significant increases in wholesale electricity prices due largely to an increase in the price of coal and EU emissions permits. The government’s initial plans of proposing a new law to protect household consumers from rising electricity prices put it at odds with the European Commission (EC) for the lack of notification of what amounted to state aid measures before they took effect. The Polish energy market regulator (URE) also criticized the proposed bill for household power bills not reflecting the market rate and claimed the proposed law threatened URE’s independence.
Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms. There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization. In areas not covered by the European normalization the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC. PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN is a member-founder of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.
PKN also cooperates with ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO/TBT). Poland has been a member of WTO since July 1, 1995, and was a member of GATT since October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs. PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
During the year the government continued to implement and introduce new measures related to the judiciary that drew strong criticism from some legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. Some observers have criticized in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the recently enacted Supreme Court Law, which they believe could affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 could be challenged and overturned in whole or in part over the next three years, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied. As of February 6, 2019, the Justice Minister has submitted five extraordinary complaints to the Chamber. The first complaints are to be reviewed on April 3.
In December 2017, the European Commission triggered a disciplinary proceeding under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty for what it considered “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish courts. The key concerns focused on the Polish government’s ability to remove up to 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges and the justice minister’s power to discipline judges. Separately, the Commission has sought redress through the European Court of Justice.
In April and May 2018, the Polish President signed into law amendments to the common courts law, the National Judiciary Council law, and the 2017 amendments to the Supreme Court law in response to the December 2017 European Commission rule of law recommendation and infringement procedure. In December 2017, the European Commission triggered a disciplinary proceeding under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty for what the Commission considered determined to be “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish courts. The key concerns focused on the Polish government’s ability to remove up to 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges and the justice minister’s power to discipline judges. Separately, the Commission has sought redress through the European Court of Justice. The Polish government has countered that its reforms do not infringe judicial independence and are intended to make court operations more efficient and transparent.
On July 2, 2018, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland two days before provisions of the revised Supreme Court law lowering the mandatory retirement age for judges went into effect (affecting 27 of the 74 Supreme Court justices at that time). On August 2, 2018, the Polish Supreme Court ruled to suspend further implementation of the mandatory retirement age provisions of the amended Supreme Court law, and requested that the European Court of Justice rule on whether these provisions comply with EU law. The Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to acknowledge the Supreme Court’s suspension of the mandatory retirement provisions. On September 24, the European Commission referred the country’s amended Supreme Court law to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), stating “the Polish law on the Supreme Court is incompatible with EU law as it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the “irremovability” of judges.” The European Commission asked the ECJ to review the law and order interim measures to restore the Supreme Court to its composition before the revised law was implemented. In September and October, the president continued to implement the amended Supreme Court law by appointing judges to the newly created disciplinary and extraordinary appeals chambers and to positions vacated by voluntarily retired judges. Some judicial experts, NGOs, and international organizations saw the Polish President’s appointments as an attempt to preempt any adverse ruling by the ECJ. On October 19, the ECJ issued an interim injunction requiring the government to reinstate those judges who had been retired under the amended law. On November 19, the government submitted legislation to automatically reappoint all justices retired under the Supreme Court law to fulfill the ECJ’s interim measures, and President Duda signed the legislation into law on December 17. By the end of 2018, the ECJ had not announced a date for considering the European Commission’s case against Poland’s Supreme Court law.
The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial. The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997. The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory. Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but with reservations. In civil and commercial matters first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels. District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance. When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as in intellectual property right matters), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts. Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts. Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.
The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts. Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized. However, there are many foreign court judgments which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially. One of the reasons for delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts is an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise. Generally, foreign firms are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights. Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement)
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters. Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter. The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code. The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships). These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.
With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment. Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004, and conduct, or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations. However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company. Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes. Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.
Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:
- Polish Investment and Trade Agency: https://www.paih.gov.pl/en
- Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF): https://www.knf.gov.pl/en/
- Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK): https://uokik.gov.pl/legal_regulations.php
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK. This is set to change to be in line with EU norms in 2019 with implementation of EU directive 2019/1.
All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.
Examples of competition reviews can be found at:
- https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=13882 (wood industry cartel)
- https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=14182 (UPC)
- https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=14184 (Smithfield)
In 2015, the President of UOKiK was granted the power to impose significant fines on people in management positions in companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements. The recently adopted amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights. The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million (approx. USD 526,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million (approx. USD 1.32 million).
Expropriation and Compensation
Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.” The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest. The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property. Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act. Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems. However, there have been a few cases in which inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes. Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention). Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: The 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; The 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; The 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).
The UNCTAD database lists four cases involving a U.S. party. The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with other EU member states. According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been some 19 known disputes with other foreign investors.
There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration. The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement. The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court. Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts, however, in practice; the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies. Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state owned or affiliated energy enterprises.
A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016 implements internationally recognized arbitration standards, and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland. The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016, and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings). This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the court of appeal is the only instance. In certain cases it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended, is based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing. Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations. A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over 5 million zloty (approx. USD 1.5 million). The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media, and universities.
In 2018, the Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, adjusted its arbitration rules to the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of of arbitration in Poland. Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.
On April 3, 2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint. Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).
Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years. There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25 for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2019. Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time, or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities. https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings