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Poland's On-going Neoliberal Transition, Inequality, and Social Crisis - Lessons for Europe?

Ania Zbyszewska

Deregulation of labour laws and adoption of austerity measures across the EU, prompted by renewed focus on budgetary discipline imposed by the 2011 "six pack" reforms, have confirmed fears that the ongoing crisis may be used to weaken the "European social model". As feminist scholars have demonstrated in the past, neoliberal reforms of the welfare state and protective legal frameworks have very particular gendered dimension and tend to result in a sharp rise in inequality and social insecurity. Taking the EU anti-crisis reforms as a starting point, this paper reflects on the response adopted in Poland, one of the EU members that is not yet a member of the Eurozone. Against the backdrop of Poland's on-going neoliberal transition and its development strategy - Poland 2030 - the paper critically analyses the Civic Platform government's 2011 package of reforms: (1) the Anti-Crisis Bill, (2) the austerity measures introduced the same year in the form of budgetary cuts to Poland's already diminished social infrastructure, and (3) the Labour Code amendments related to the regulation of working time adopted in 2013. Given EU commitment to gender mainstreaming and promotion of equality, and Poland's respective obligation to incorporate gender sensitivity in formulation of all policies, the paper asks: to what extent have gender implications of these reforms been considered and reflected in the above named policies and legislative reforms? How consistent and compatible are these reforms with Polish government's current emphasis on inclusive growth and social cohesion on the one hand, and efforts taken to counteract the impending demographic "crisis" through support of caregivers and families, on the other? What lessons can be gleaned from the Polish context for other EU members? Is Poland merely one of the EU's good students or has it become the Union's "neoliberal vanguard"?

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