Poland has dropped one place in this year’s ranking to 24, largely due to a fall in the Government sub-index – a decline largely unsurprising given controversy surrounding the ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) reforms over the past year. Moves to increase the government’s influence over public TV and radio broadcasters were met with widespread demonstrations, and the refusal to accept refugees has drawn significant criticism from EU institutions. Still, Poland remains an important regional player. This year, President Andrzej Duda launched the Three Seas Initiative to bring 12 Eastern European states closer together and Donald Trump’s presence at the group’s most recent summit in Warsaw was a significant success. Poland has also done well in our Culture sub-index. The country attracts more and more tourists each year and also had the honour of hosting the European Capital of Culture for 2016 in Wroclaw.
Poland’s biggest strength is its tourism sector. The country welcomed 17.5 million tourists in 2016 and was named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 travel destinations. And it’s easy to see why: Poland boasts a rich history and culture, as well as a wide range of outdoor activities. It also hosts 16 World Heritage sites, more than any of its Eastern European neighbours.
Poland’s greatest weakness is its divisive government. Domestically, it risks facing increasing opposition from the liberal youth if it continues tampering with democratic institutions and freedom of the press. On the European stage, Warsaw’s growing defiance towards Brussels could well result in reduced economic cooperation with the EU going forward. And given that Poland is the largest recipient of EU funds, growing Euroscepticism can only hurt its economic prospects in the bloc.
Though its relationship with Brussels is increasingly strained, Poland remains an integral member of the EU. It also continues to be a major regional leader, as demonstrated by its prominent role in the Three Seas Initiative. Poland should continue to balance its relationship with Brussels, Washington, and its regional neighbours. If it succeeds in this difficult balancing act, it could gain significant advantages from these different relationships.