The Civil Service in Poland

Theory and Experience

by Jolanta Itrich-Drabarek (Author)
©2015 Monographs 271 Pages


The book analyzes the theoretical and practical aspects of civil service in Polish public administration and discusses it in a European context. While civil service is explored from a comparative, historical and systemic perspective, the study takes a close look at the history of Polish civil service from 1922 to 2014, civil service in the Second Republic, the status of civil servants during the Polish People’s Republic and the formation of civil service after 1989. There is a special focus on solutions adopted in the light of the Civil Service Act of November 21st, 2008, and the importance of civil service for the modernisation process of public administration in Poland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Theoretical Model of the Civil Service
  • The Origin and Development of the Civil Service
  • The Nature of the Civil Service and its System of Values
  • Civil Service Models
  • The Civil Service in European Union Member States: Charting New Courses
  • Chapter 2: The Polish Civil Service: Tradition and Experience
  • The Civil Service in the Second Republic of Poland (1918–1939)
  • State Administration Employees Under the Polish People’s Republic (1945–1989)
  • The Civil Service Act of 5 July 1996: the Process of Civil Service Development in the Third Republic of Poland
  • The Operation of the Civil Service Under the 18 December 1998 Act
  • The Year 2006: A Change for the Better or the Decline of the Polish Civil Service?
  • Chapter 3: Employment Relationships as Provided for in the Civil Service Act of 21 November 2008
  • Recruitment Principles
  • Employment Relationships
  • Qualifying Procedures in the Civil Service – Nomination
  • Preparatory Service
  • The First and Successive Periodical Assessments of Employees
  • Liability and Penalties in the Civil Service
  • Change and Termination of Employment Relationships in the Civil Service
  • Chapter 4: The Organisation of the Civil Service in Poland Under the Civil Service Act of 21 November 2008
  • The Civil Service Council
  • The Head of the Civil Service
  • Senior Positions in the Civil Service
  • The Rights of Civil Servants and Civil Service Employees
  • The Duties of Civil Servants and Civil Service Employees
  • Professional Development in the Civil Service
  • Chapter 5: Modern Methods of Managing Public Institutions
  • Quality Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Management by Objectives
  • Ethical Management in the Civil Service
  • Management Tools in the Civil Service
  • Chapter 6: Several Aspects of Civil Service Operation
  • The Politicisation of the Polish Civil Service
  • Administrative Interest
  • Is this Administrative Language or Bureaucratese?
  • How the Civil Service Influences the Modernisation of Public Administration?
  • Chapter 7: Dysfunctions in the Civil Service and Tools to Contain Them
  • The Source of Violations of Civil Service Ethical Canons
  • Unethical Behaviour in the Civil Service
  • Instruments to Tackle Unethical Behaviour in the Civil Service
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


‘Wealth does not centre in the person of the wealthy. Celebrity is not inherent in any personality. To be celebrated, to be wealthy, to have power requires access to major institutions, for the institutional positions men occupy determine in large part their chances to have and to hold these valued experiences.’

Charles Wright Mills The Power Elite (1956)

It might be well to perceive the civil service as the creation of modern democracies, and, at the same time, democracy’s defining feature. Depending on the function each state choses to play the role and duties of the civil service will vary accordingly. Tradition, political culture and the state’s socio-economic development are responsible for this variety, as are state-specific arrangements and the political agenda of the government of the day.

The civil service is best understood as a body of people employed under public or private law for the purpose of fulfilling law-governed-tasks, guided by a system of norms, values and procedures for the purpose of serving society and maintaining the state’s vital functions.

Central to the raison d’être of the civil service is the mission of the public service which is based on standards such as: adherence to the constitution and the state ruled by law, political neutrality, impartiality, loyalty to one’s superiors, stability of employment, reliability, professionalism and equality of opportunities. Equal access and competitiveness in recruitment to public administration positions is seen as service to the citizens and the effective performance of state duties. The notion of ‘service’ is repeated in this statement not without reason – indeed, this very notion lies at the heart of public service. In the aftermath of WW I and the building of Polish statehood – there was a general belief that the civil service is not the place for those who want to make a fortune; it is for those who wish to serve the state as a philanthropist who sets up a foundation seeking to serve society; it is a certain type of civil heroism, as a soldier who stands the chance of becoming a hero in the battlefield. In the commercialised world we inhabit today – overrun by nihilism and cynicism – words like these seem illegible or ridiculous to some people, or simply meaningless to others. However, it is my strong belief that there are some for whom these views express a longing for a certain ideal, an attitude worthy of emulation, which could briefly be described as the ‘mission of the public service’.

Analysing the intentions of contemporary law-makers and publicly expressed social expectations, we are led to assume that, both, civil service ← 9 | 10 → employees and civil servants would be required to fulfil various social needs in the dynamically changing reality effectively, rationally and efficiently. Therefore, from the point of view of state interests, this professional group should be treated as an important one.

The essence of the civil service, according to Professor Hubert Izdebski, is the further distribution of power in public or state administration, between the recruited management (political or at least politically supported – thus changeable, following the rules of democratic play) and the permanent, professional civil service. This is a peculiar division as it presumes cooperation and at the same time subordination – professional and partially personal – of the members of the civil service. The establishment of a professional civil service, independent of the political authority chosen in democratic elections, is necessary in as much as civil servants obey and enhance democratic principles. Taking advantage of the rights they are awarded they must act in line with the policy of the government which they serve and they should recognise that the ultimate power rests with those elected by the people. This is an important step in preventing the autonomization of the civil service in the decision-making process, especially in the context of the fact the civil service corps is not an elected body, and thus lacks democratic legitimization. On the other hand, it is equally important to counteract the high party penetration of the civil service as this causes internal destabilisation and suspicions of bias and political clientelism. The situation can only be remedied by clearly worded rules governing competitive recruitment, promotions, professional competencies of administrative employees (based on professionalism, honesty, impartiality and political neutrality) as well as a clear separation between administrative and political posts.

The troubled relationship with politicians is just one problem that the civil service has to contend with; others include non-existent guarantees of employment stability, relatively low pay and frequent changes to civil service law. More often than not, the civil service has been treated as a cumbersome duty and in the Third Polish Republic, depending on the political party in power, it was either abolished, limited or marginalised. Moreover, braking the rule of political neutrality of the Polish civil service has become an everyday practice. The prospects for promotion are based on candidates’ ties with politicians, while personnel policy remains discretionary. It is a paradox of sorts that politicians point to the many achievements of the state, bragging about how effective and successful it is and at the same time complain about the disappointing performance of the administrative staff. Somehow, the link between a smoothly running state and the work carried out by employees of the service escapes their notice. Building a ← 10 | 11 → civil service corps in Poland and consolidating a sense of public service mission in the minds of civil servants is a painstaking process, and what is also important, one that is vulnerable to shifting theories and conceptions.

The rules under which the civil service currently operates in Poland are based on the 2 April 1997 Constitution. Article 153 of the Polish Constitution states that the civil service will be set up in the organs of government administration in order to ensure a professional, diligent, impartial and politically neutral discharge of the state’s obligations. Article 7 provides that the organs of public authority must function on the basis of and within the limits of the law. The civil service operates as required by administrative law, that is on the basis of the norms which regulate the organisation and conduct of government administration, as part of the state apparatus, and physical persons in the scope not regulated by other laws. In the light of the values which serve as the foundation for the Polish Constitution, public administration has four distinctive features, namely, competence, efficiency, political neutrality (apoliticality) and a subservient nature.

Since 1918, the Polish civil service has been governed by five repeatedly amended acts and regulations. The current framework for the operation of the civil service was set out by the Civil Service Act of 21 November 2008 (Journal of Laws, No. 227, item 1505 as amended). Under the Third Polish Republic, in just barely 20 years, several drafts and four acts came into being providing the grounds for the organisation and operation of the civil service. These acts rested on different assumptions. One was patterned on French arrangements (the 5 July 1996 Civil Service Act), another followed the Japanese model (the 18 December 1998 Civil Service Act) and two acts dated 24 August 2006, the Civil Service Act, and the State Staffing Pool and High-ranking Positions Act were seen, alternatively, as the breakthrough or ‘downfall’ of the civil service. It thus transpires that the typical trait of the Polish civil service is the absence of legal-institutional continuity while the solutions adopted in the laws mentioned indicate the inconsistency with which lawmakers regard the civil service, suggesting also that the legal evolution of the civil service represents a strong dependence on the fluctuating political scene in Poland.

The civil service as a subject of research calls for an interdisciplinary approach because of the choice and methodology of sources. The manner of framing the questions, analysing civil service mechanisms, and at the same time, answering the question about the nature of the Polish civil service, require the methods of political inquiry. ← 11 | 12 →

The study of the civil service (circumstances, standards and change) has been undertaken for a number of reasons. To start with, the analysis of past developments and the evolution of the civil service allows for drawing interesting conclusions for the civil service in Poland – still in its infancy. Secondly, the functioning of the civil service is interesting from an axiological perspective since among the Polish people (including members of the civil service corps) the knowledge of their ethical identity still requires systematic enrichment. Thirdly, the ongoing discourse in European academia on the dilemmas facing the civil service is an encouraging environment in which to study issues such as reforms, statutory arrangements (especially politicians vs. administrators) and ethics management. Fourthly, the Polish civil service is in need of a SWOT analysis, so presenting the overall picture, the service’s strengths and weaknesses could prove to be a valuable exercise. Fifthly, it is worthwhile to define the role of a democratic state in the organisation and management of the civil service. Sixthly, this analysis addresses the question of how ethical management affects the image of the public service sector in the eyes of the citizens/customers.

As well as a host of circumstances, amongst them historical, political and legal factors affecting the civil service, this volume aims to explore the standards which should be guiding the civil service in its quest to implement its most important mission – the mission of public service. The next stage of the research should explain the processes which map out the course of change. Thus the different tendencies present in the Polish civil service, the premises underlying the policies chosen and all available options would be studied. This is a thorough analysis and it draws upon the accepted European expertise.

This brings the following assumption: the civil service in Poland functions in an external and internal setting. The former involves the achievements of democratic states, economic processes, integration and globalisation. The internal setting includes legislation, historical heritage, a strong statist tradition, subjecting the civil service to political decisions and sweeping economic, social and cultural shifts which have affected Poland over the last 20 years.

A further assumption is that the influence of European and world achievements in the field of civil service on the establishment of quality standards in the civil service in Poland has been more important than the country’s own experiences. It is also recognised that any disorders affecting the Polish civil service – apart from those which are common in other countries – are specific and typical of Poland. Finally, it is assumed that the reorganisation of the Polish civil service is linked to the process of social and political transformation, development of information technology and trends in European and world civil service. ← 12 | 13 →

The structure of this book flows from the systematic realisation of the whole project and consists of seven chapters.

Chapter 1 offers a thorough examination of the nature of the civil service and its value system. It traces the origins of the civil service, the role of democracies in organising and managing the civil service, and examines the unique features of the civil service as it operates in European Union institutions charting out the road-map of change in member states. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the historical and cultural setting of the Polish civil service, with its formal beginnings going back to the interwar years, pointing to the way tradition, historical models, social relationships, cultural and mental determinants influenced the shape of the civil service. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse the legal and institutional arrangements in Polish civil service and the way this setup impacts the consistency and effectiveness of its operation, and also how it modifies Polish civil service identity. Modern management methods employed in the civil service are discussed in Chapter 5. Following a portrayal of these methods, focusing on quality standards and political neutrality, the author discusses how these methods contribute to the fulfilment of the prime objective of the civil service – its public mission. Chapter 6 takes up the question of the way the civil service functions, exploring many of its aspects (those factors that inhibit and facilitate its development), including civil service interest, modernisation, and the language used by the administration. In Chapter 7 there is a discussion of the ills plaguing the civil service (such as incompetence, arrogance, mobbing and corruption) and the instruments put in place in order to remedy the situation. The author assesses the impact of these problems on the quality and effectiveness of civil service employees as well as the social, institutional and economic consequences they create. Despite their number and variety, the tools designed to counteract these problems like international conventions, national laws, ethical codes, inspection, citizens’ access to information, methods of recourse and complaints and training courses often fail to bring the expected results.

The book is based on a comprehensive array of literature covering European and Polish civil service; primary sources include Polish and European legal acts, documents, inspection reports, Constitutional Court rulings, statistical data, public opinion polls and official web sites. Interpretations and analyses include books written in Polish, English and French. Foreign language literature, with its most impressive output and insight proved indispensable in exploring European civil service standards and their axiological underpinnings.

Only a handful of authors have written extensively about the Polish civil service. In this group are experts in the field, professors: Hubert Izdebski, Grzegorz ← 13 | 14 → Rydlewski and Elżbieta Ura. Parts of papers written by the author of this book are used in this publication.

Notwithstanding the demagogue arguments and populist voices, the civil service is not the cause of an ill-functioning state, but rather the outcome of internal and external circumstances under which the service operates. It faces many challenges and threats: unstable legal and social status or the standardisation of administrative services in the form of the Citizens’ Charter. Many questions remain unanswered, for instance, what methods should be used to make the civil service a vehicle for modernising the state? What conditions must be met in order to implement the idea of ethical management and introduce knowledge management methods, the tri-sector partnership, or the transparent relationship between politicians and civil servants?

In view of the considerations above it seems only natural to say that significant changes are on the horizon for the Polish civil service. Inasmuch as the status of the European civil service has become more diversified and new and more effective management methods are being sought, Polish civil service should take advantage of the time-tested workable solutions. The rigid, hierarchized system needs to become more flexible, and the changes should amount to new clear arrangements encouraging cooperation between politicians and civil servants taking account of their different status, nature and goals. ← 14 | 15 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (August)
management by objectives ethical management Second Republic personnel management
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 271 pp.

Biographical notes

Jolanta Itrich-Drabarek (Author)

Jolanta Itrich-Drabarek is Associate Professor at the Institute of Political Science, University of Warsaw. She is member of the Civil Service Council and has worked as an advisor to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and in the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland.


Title: The Civil Service in Poland
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274 pages