Ask just about any Pole and they’ll tell you that the role of the Polish President is nothing more than that of a representative or figurehead.
And to many Poles who don’t pay close attention to their constitution, that’s true. He doesn’t do much other than – well, he doesn’t do much.
But when you get into the nitty-gritty, you can see that he has a lot to do with keeping the country in line with its constitution.
If you want to know more about the Polish President, his role, powers and responsibilities, you’re in the right place.
This article will take a look at the nitty-gritty details of the position, which are sourced from many official sources.
The Polish President
The President of the Republic of Poland (Prezydent RP) – according to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, the highest representative of Polish authorities, a guarantor of the continuity of state power, the highest position of the state in terms of executive power, ensuring the observance of the provisions and regulations of the Constitution, the head of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland.
The office of the President of the Republic of Poland has existed uninterruptedly since December 1922.
After 1939, its custodians were the Presidents of Poland in Exile in Paris, Angiers and London, with the first president of Poland in Exile being Władislaw Sikowrski.
After the war, the office of the President and his powers and roles became a bit unclearer, ultimately thanks to communism and the role Moscow played.
The office of the President was restored in 1989.
In 1990, the presidential insignia of the Second Republic was handed over by Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last president in exile, to the new democratically elected president of the Third Republic, Lech Wałęsa.
As of 6 August 2015, Andrzej Duda is the President of the Republic of Poland.
The seat of the President of the Republic of Poland
The location of the seat of the president has changed a lot in the last century, owing to wars, occupations and destruction.
1926-1939: The Royal Castle
1939-1940: Pignerolle Palace
since 1993: the Presidential Palace
Term of office
The President of the Republic is elected for a five-year term and may be re-elected only once.
All citizens of the Republic of Poland who are over 35 years of age, and collect at least 100,000 signatures in support of their candidature are entitled to be elected into power.
The President of the Republic takes office after being sworn in before the National Assembly. The oath of office of the newly elected President takes place on the last day of the outgoing President’s term of office.
A refusal to take the oath of office results in the Speaker of the Sejm temporarily taking over the duties of the President until a new President is elected.
The term of office of the President of the Republic of Poland commences on the day on which he takes office. The outgoing President of the Republic of Poland ceases to hold office the moment the newly elected President takes the oath.
The Presidential Oath of Office
The following oath was taken by Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lech Kaczyński, Bronisław Komorowski and Andrzej Duda.
By assuming the office of President of the Republic of Poland by the will of the Nation, I solemnly swear that I will faithfully observe the provisions of the Constitution, that I will steadfastly protect the dignity of the Nation, the independence and security of the State, and that the welfare of the Fatherland and the well-being of its citizens will always be my highest duty.
Kaczyński, Komorowski and Duda added the words “So help me God” at the end of their oaths.
Assaulting or insulting the President of the Republic of Poland
Polish law offers jail time for actively assulting the Polish President, with a minimum jail time of 3 months, up to 5 years.
For insulting him in public, there’s a jail time of up to 3 years.
It’s important to remember that the latter of these rules isn’t overly enforced or policed.
Interesting and unusual situations
In the history of the Republic of Poland, five presidents have died while in office.
In two cases, the Speaker of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland took over the position of President, as a result of the line of presidential succession until a successor was elected.
In the other three cases, the office of the President was assumed by a successor appointed during the President’s lifetime.
The first President to die during his term was Gabriel Narutowicz, who was also the shortest-serving President of the Republic (3 days). Gabriel Narutowicz was also the shortest-lived President of Poland (he died at the age of 57).
The longest-serving President of the Republic of Poland was August Zaleski (25 years), while the longest-serving President of the Republic of Poland not in exile but in the country was Ignacy Mościcki (13 years).
The last President to die during his term was Lech Kaczyński.
So far, the youngest person to assume the office of President is Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who took office at the age of 41.
The oldest person to hold the office was Edward Bernard Raczyński, who became the President of Poland at the age of 88. Edward Bernard Raczyński was also the longest living President of Poland (he died at the age of 101).
On 23rd December 1995, the office was vacant for almost 13 hours, as the term of office of President Lech Wałęsa expired at midnight the previous day and the swearing-in of President-elect Aleksander Kwaśniewski was scheduled for the following day.
In the history of the office of President of the Republic of Poland, four presidents have served more than one term:
- Ignacy Moscicki (Second Republic)
- August Zaleski (Polish Government in Exile)
- Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Third Republic)
- Andrzej Duda (Third Republic).
The only president to serve more than two terms was August Zaleski. Currently, there is no possibility for a President of the Republic of Poland to run for a third term, due to the term limit imposed by the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland.
Until now, the procedure provided for in the current Constitution for the President to be removed from office by the State Tribunal on the recommendation of the National Assembly has not been applied.
Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland
The Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland is an auxiliary body ensuring the performance of the constitutional and statutory duties of the President of Poland. The President grants the Chancellery a statute and appoints and dismisses its head.
On the basis of the statutes, the Chancellery carries out tasks connected with the competencies of the President, acts in accordance with his decisions and instructions, and provides substantive, organisational, legal and technical services to the President, the Head of the Chancellery, Secretaries and Under-Secretaries of State.
The Chancellery also provides financial services for the National Security Council and the National Security Bureau, administrative services for the Social Committee for the Renovation of Krakow Monuments, as well as legal and administrative services for the Joint Adjudicating Committee in Public Finance Discipline Cases and the Public Finance Ombudsman.
The Chancellery of the President also manages four residences of the Head of State:
Residences of the President of the Republic of Poland
The Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland owns or currently manages a number of properties that serve the President of the Republic of Poland, both for official and private purposes
The Presidential Palace in Warsaw (46/48 Krakowskie Przedmieście Street)
Since 1994, this location has been the official residence of the President of the Republic of Poland.
The largest palace in Warsaw, a classical palace (formerly a baroque palace) it was, among other things, the seat of tsarist governors in the Kingdom of Poland. The first presidential occupant was Lech Wałęsa, who moved into the Palace in 1994.
Belweder in Warsaw (Belweder Residence Complex and Belweder Hotel, 54/56 Belwederska St.)
The Presidential residence from the beginning of the Third Republic of Poland until 1994 and again in the years 2010-2015, the presidential residence, currently the residence of the President of the Republic of Poland, used for representative purposes (also as a residence for foreign guests of the Republic of Poland).
A classicist building (built in 1818-1822), located in Lazienki Park; it was the seat of the Head of State and the President of the Second Republic of Poland until 1926, and later, among others, of Józef Piłsudski.
It was the seat of Governor-General Hans Frank and President Bolesław Bierut.
President Lech Wałęsa moved his residence from the Belvedere to the Presidential Palace.
Presidential Castle in Wisła (Presidential Residence Castle – National Historic Complex in Wisła)
A residence and conference facility owned by the Chancellery, the complex consists of a castle, a wooden historic chapel from 1909 and a Lower Castle together with a Grove.
It fulfils representative and recreational functions for the Head of State, supports state visits, organises meetings and conferences, as well as provides commercial services, including hotel accommodation.
Presidential Manor House in Ciechocinek
A small manor house built in the 1930s in the immediate vicinity of a pine park, at the junction of today’s Leśna and Wojska Polskiego Streets, to commemorate the visit of the President of the Republic of Poland Ignacy Mościcki.
It served as a temporary residence for high state officials (including Józef Piłsudski), and after the war, it was owned by successive local authorities at the provincial level, used by scientific institutions and later as a guest house.
In the 1980s, it was handed over to the city and used as a kindergarten (until 2001).
Since 2002, thanks to the efforts of the Chancellery, it has been thoroughly renovated and opened as the Presidential Mansion on 2 May 2003.
It serves as an information and education centre.
Presidential Residence on Hel Spit
Built after the war as the “Mewa” complex for the needs of the communist authorities, on 1 August 1989 it was taken over by the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland and used by the Head of State for meetings with other politicians, but also for leisure purposes.
Powers of the President of Poland
You’ve read all the interesting stuff, now it’s time to take a close look at the powers and responsibilities of the Polish President.
Even just scanning, it’s easy to see how the role is more than just one of a figurehead.
The powers of the President are strictly defined. Some of his powers are also derived from statutes. His powers can be divided into categories:
Powers in relation to the Sovereign Nation
- The right to order a referendum with the consent of an absolute majority of the statutory number of senators with a quorum of 1/2.
- The right to request the Speaker of the Sejm to conduct a referendum approving the law on amending the Constitution passed by the parliament if it concerns amending the provisions of Chapter I, II, or XII of the Constitution.
Powers in relation to constitutional changes
Power to propose a bill to amend the Constitution
Powers with regard to the legislature
Orders parliamentary elections, at the same time, setting the election day
- if elections are held in the normal way, then the election day must fall on a weekend within 30 days before the expiry of the term of the parliament in session,
- if the election is the result of the shortening of the term of office of parliament by the President, then election day must be included in the act shortening the term of office of the Sejm and Senate and must also fall within 45 days from the date of the shortening
Orders elections to the European Parliament, but the date of such elections is set by the provisions of the European Union
- convenes the first sitting of the Sejm and Senate (without countersignature):
- it should normally be held within 30 days after election day
- In the case of a shortened term of office by the President, the date of the first sitting must fall no later than the 15th day after election day
Appoints the Senior Speaker in the Sejm and in the Senate
- in accordance with the Senate Rules, opens the first session of the Senate
Concerning presidential arbitration:
shortens the parliamentary term (after consulting the Speaker of the Sejm and the Senate non-bindingly, moreover, the parliamentary term may not be shortened during a state of emergency:
- optional – if within 4 months from the date of submission of the draft budget bill to the Sejm by the Council of Ministers it is not submitted to the President for signature (the President has 14 days to decide on shortening the terms of the Sejm and Senate)
- obligatory – if the primary and both reserve procedures for the appointment of the Council of Ministers fail
Has the right to address an address to the Sejm, Senate or the National Assembly, which he is obliged to listen to and may not debate due to the authority of the Head of State
Concerning the making of laws:
- has the right of legislative initiative
- has the right to propose amendments to bills submitted by him
- has the right to veto legislation. A veto is a reasoned motion referring a bill to the Sejm for reconsideration. The Sejm may override such a veto by a qualified majority of 3/5 of the votes cast in the presence of at least half the statutory number of members. A presidential veto is not selective – the President cannot challenge only some of the provisions, he must challenge the whole law.
- Before signing a law he has the right to request the Constitutional Tribunal to examine the constitutionality of the law
- If the Constitutional Tribunal adjudicates on the inconsistency of only some provisions of the Act and declares that they are not inseparable from the Act, then the President has a choice: to sign the Act excluding the unconstitutional provisions or to return it to the Sejm in order to remove the inconsistencies
- Signs the law. The signing of the law by the President signifies its coming into effect and the conformity of the signed text with the text adopted by the Parliament
- Orders the Bill to be published in the Journal of Laws
Powers in the executive power
Concerning the Council of Ministers:
- designates and appoints the Prime Minister in the principal procedure for appointment of the Government
- appoints the Prime Minister in the second reserve procedure for appointment of the Government
- appoints the full Council of Ministers on the Prime Minister’s motion in the main and in the second reserve procedure for appointing the Government and takes the oath from its members
- appoints the Prime Minister selected by the Sejm in the first reserve procedure for appointment of the Government
- on the Prime Minister’s motion, appoints members of the Government selected by the Sejm in the First Reserved Procedure for Appointment of the Government and takes the oath from them
- On the motion of the Prime Minister, makes changes to the positions of individual ministers
- Mandatorily dismisses s minister with regard to whom the Sejm has passed a vote of no confidence
- Accepts the resignation of the Council of Ministers and entrusts it with the continuation of its functions until the new Council of Ministers is appointed
- Mandatorily: if a vote of no confidence in the Government has been passed or a vote of no confidence has not been passed,
- Optional: if the resignation of the Prime Minister is the only reason for handing in the resignation of the government to the President,
Concerning the enactment of sub legislative acts:
- shall issue regulations pursuant to specific statutory authority and for the purpose of implementing the law
- shall issue regulations based on statutes
Concerning foreign policy and defence (The President cooperates in foreign policy with the Prime Minister and the relevant minister):
- ratifies and denounces international agreements (countersignature required) – however, certain international agreements may be ratified and denounced only on the basis of statutory authorisation – concerning:
- peace, alliance, military or political treaty,
- freedoms, rights or obligations of citizens, as specified in the Constitution,
- membership of the Republic of Poland in an international organisation,
- a significant financial burden for Poland,
- matters regulated by law or where the Constitution requires a law,
- shall have the right, prior to ratification of an agreement, to request the Constitutional Tribunal to examine its compliance with the Constitution
- appoints and dismisses Poland’s plenipotentiary representatives in other states
- shall accept letters of credence and dismissal of representatives of foreign states accredited to him
- shall be the supreme head of the armed forces – in peacetime, shall exercise authority over the armed forces through the Minister of National Defence
- appoints and dismisses
- on the motion of the Prime Minister during a state of war, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
- upon the motion of the Minister of National Defence – Chief of General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces
- upon the motion of the Minister of National Defence – commanders of types of the armed forces
- upon the motion of the Minister of National Defence, confer the military ranks specified in the acts
- appoints and dismisses members of the National Security Council
- upon the motion of the Minister of National Defence, determines the directions for the development of the Armed Forces
- on the motion of the Prime Minister approves the National Security Strategy
- on the motion of the Prime Minister, issues, by way of a decision, the Political and Strategic Defence Directive of the Republic of Poland and other executive documents to the National Security Strategy
- upon the motion of the Prime Minister, decides to introduce or change a specific state of national defence readiness
- upon the motion of the Council of Ministers, decides on the use of military units outside the borders of the state
Other competencies connected with the executive power
- grants Polish citizenship at his discretion. The decision may not be appealed against by anyone (external persons or bodies either).
- At the request of the person concerned, releases from citizenship
- In matters of particular importance may convene meetings of the Cabinet Council
- He motions to the Sejm to appoint the President of the National Bank of Poland
- appoints 2 members of the National Broadcasting Council
- shall have the right to dismiss members of the National Broadcasting Council appointed by him in cases specified in the law
- decides independently, in a situation when the report of the National Broadcasting Council is rejected by the Sejm and Senate, whether the term of office of this body shall be shortened
- appoints 2 members of the National Media Council from among candidates proposed by parliamentary or parliamentary clubs formed by groupings whose representatives are not members of the Council of Ministers
- Has the right to commission the Supreme Chamber of Control to conduct audits
- shall confer orders and distinctions
- is, by virtue of his office, a Grand Master of the Order of the White Eagle and the Order of Polonia Restituta, as well as a Knight of these Orders
- shall grant statutes to the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, and appoint and dismiss its Head
Powers in relation to the judiciary
- appoints judges on the motion of the National Council of the Judiciary
- appoints 1 member of the National Council of the Judiciary
- Appoints the 1st President of the Supreme Court from among candidates presented by the General Assembly of Supreme Court Judges
- Appoints the Presidents of the Supreme Court
- Appoints the President of the Supreme Administrative Court from among candidates presented by the General Assembly of Judges of the Supreme Administrative Court
- appoints Vice-Presidents of the Supreme Administrative Court
- appoints the President and Deputy President of the Constitutional Tribunal from among the candidates presented by the General Assembly of the Judges of the Constitutional Tribunal
- shall submit motions to the Constitutional Tribunal for:
- examine the constitutionality of a normative act
- resolve a competence dispute
- Has the right to submit a preliminary motion to prosecute a member of the Government for constitutional liability (without countersignature) – Article 144(3)(13) of the Constitution
- shall have the right to submit a preliminary motion to bring persons holding the following positions to constitutional accountability (requires countersignature) – Article 198(1) of the Constitution:
- President of the Supreme Chamber of Control,
- President of the National Bank of Poland,
- Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,
- minister of ministries,
- member of the National Broadcasting Council,
- Has the right of clemency (does not require countersignature) – Article 139 of the Constitution; does not apply to persons sentenced by the State Tribunal,
Powers in states of emergency
- If the Sejm cannot convene, decides on a state of war
- in case of an armed attack on the territory of the Republic of Poland,
- When an obligation to defend against aggression results from international agreements,
- On the motion of the Council of Ministers, issues regulation on the imposition of martial law or a state of emergency
- on the motion of the Prime Minister, in a situation of direct external threat to the state, orders general or partial mobilisation and use of the armed forces to defend the Republic
- on the motion of the Council of Ministers, if the Sejm cannot convene during martial law, issues regulations with the force of law
- at the request of the Council of Ministers, during the duration of martial law, decides on the transfer of public authorities to specific positions of leadership
- at the request of the Council of Ministers during the duration of martial law determines the tasks of the armed forces
- at the request of the Prime Minister, during a state of emergency he may decide to use troops and subdivisions of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland to restore the normal functioning of the state if the forces and means used so far have been exhausted
As you can no doubt see, the role of the Polish President isn’t just to be seen.
It’s a serious role that ensures that the Sejm and Senate operate in accordance with the Polish constitution.