For years, ever-closer integration into the European Union has been one of the driving forces in Polish politics, widely viewed as a process that would finalize Poland’s place in the Western order. But suddenly—what could have inspired this?—opinion has taken a sharp turn against the euro in the run-up to the country’s general election. As both the NYT and the Financial Times report, the events in Greece have become a flashpoint in Poland, where the Law and Justice party will face the Civic Platform party this October. NYT:
The governing party in Poland, Civic Platform — whose members include Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council — has long favored a move to the euro, but lately has taken a decidedly more cautious tone.
“I have never said I would adopt the euro,” Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said in a recent interview on state television. “Not today, not tomorrow, not in five years. We will introduce the euro when it will benefit Poles and Poland.”
The right-wing Law and Justice party, whose presidential candidate, Andrzej Duda, was just elected to a five-year term, has made its aversion clear.
“We reject this bad idea unless you want Poland to become a second Greece,” said Beata Szydlo, the party’s candidate for prime minister in parliamentary elections this fall. “Unless the eurozone deals with its own problems, there should be no discussion about Poland adopting the euro.”
The Polish people, t0o, seem to oppose the euro, even though their country is legally required to adopt it; the FT cites one survey of Poles showing that 54 percent of respondents don’t want the currency. Even the ruling party, for its part, is defending itself in anti-Greek terms, characterizing Law and Justice as offering “populist” and “carefree” spending prescriptions that will lead to Greek-style ruin.
Germans who believed that making an example of Greece would encourage others to follow the rules will doubtlessly be pleased by the ruling party’s criticism of Law and Justice. But the popular opposition in Poland to the euro poses a serious challenge to the traditional view of the way the EU is meant to work. The pan-European project is supposed to be a one-way ratchet. As each element of European integration falls into place, it would by internal logic—and popular appeal—drive the next. This is why Poland is still legally obligated to join the euro—the idea of ‘opt-outs’ under such a mental rubric is almost tantamount to heresy.
But the disaster that befell Greece, and the straightjacket that the single currency has proven since the crisis first struck, is impossible to deny. To see Poles telling the FT that “If [the euro] was good, English people would be the first to have it in their country” should send a chill down the spine of every good eurocrat (The English are, needless to say, the nation of heretics, from an orthodox Brussels point of view.)
The anti-euro sentiment in Poland points to why many experts claimed the Greek crisis would pose serious political risks to Europe no matter which way it was resolved. If Greece had been able to leave, the ideal of inevitable “ever-closer union” would have been falsified. But since it looks like it will have to stay under unpleasant circumstances, that ideal looks far less appealing to others.
The peoples of Europe will have plenty of opportunities to make their views felt in this ‘year of elections‘, as Poles, Spaniards, and perhaps even the Greeks (again) head to the polls. How they vote, and how the EU’s leaders respond, will tell us a lot about just how deep this crisis goes.