A recent statement from Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk suggests Poland may again balk at euro zone talks. In an interview published Saturday, Mr Tusk said his country would not be able to join the euro zone anytime soon because his government lacks the parliamentary majority needed to approve constitutional changes, which would have to be made before Warsaw could adopt the common currency. Considering that the main opposition party in Poland rejects the euro, Tusk said that the country's euro zone accession could be delayed until at least 2019.
This is not the first time that Poland
has delayed plans to join the euro. Like most EU members, Poland is
technically required to join the common currency at some point (the
only exceptions are the United Kingdom and Denmark). But the European
crisis recently has made euro zone membership politically unpopular
in Poland, and leaving the złoty is not currently a priority for
Warsaw. Moreover, Poland's opposition Law and Justice party, which is
gaining popularity, is less enthusiastic about European integration
than the ruling Civic Platform party. But while Poland's decision to
delay its euro zone accession may seem like a merely financial
strategy, it could have political consequences.
Because of its location in the north European plain, Poland has for much of its history been surrounded by major powers, including Germany to the west, Russia in the east and, until the early 20th century, Austria to the south. Poland's national strategy thus revolves around a single issue: preserving its national identity and independence in a hostile region.
Polish history is marked by periods of independence, regional supremacy, conquest by its neighbors and even partition. Poland was a relatively strong power as early as the 11th century. In the mid-16th century, it was aligned with Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and felt secure as a regional power. At that time, the German peoples were fragmented in the Holy Roman Empire, and Russia was only emerging as a Eurasian power. By the end of the 18th century, Poland had been partitioned by its neighbors and ceased to exist as an independent nation. The country was independent between World War I and World War II, but that independence did not last long; it was occupied by Nazi and Soviet forces during the second world war.
This explains why Warsaw sought a foreign policy that would ensure Polish sovereignty and independence after the revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Warsaw wanted to align with the two victors of the Cold War: NATO and Western Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 hoping the alliance would provide Warsaw with a military umbrella robust enough to deter any Russian advance. Poland also joined the European Union in 2004, expecting the free trade zone to boost the Polish economy and provide Warsaw with a stable political alliance with Berlin.
Two decades after the collapse of the
Soviet Union, the global geopolitical landscape has begun to change.
The European Union's future is in doubt, and NATO is less reliable
now than it was during the Cold War. Poland managed to insulate
itself from the European crisis somewhat, but the bloc's general
economic slowdown is starting to affect the Polish economy.
This situation has put Warsaw in a dilemma. On the one hand, Poland understands that staying outside the currency union has enabled it to minimize the risk of having the euro zone's ills infect its own economy. It has also enabled Warsaw to apply monetary policy to fight the crisis and protect its exports.
At the same time, Poland's decision to delay its accession to the euro zone increases the odds that Warsaw will be isolated from EU decision-making. Poland is the sixth most populated country in the European Union, and it boasts one of the few economies that are still growing despite the crisis. Poland also relies on economic assistance from Brussels in the form of structural funds and agricultural subsidies. But with a European Union that is increasingly focused on the problems of the euro zone, isolation from EU affairs is a distinct danger for Warsaw.
Other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are currently dealing with the same dilemma. The Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary remain technically committed to eventually joining the euro zone, but political strategies and economic realities have forced these countries to delay their accession permanently. Latvia, on the contrary, has decided that euro zone accession is a priority, and the country will become the euro's 18th member in 2014.
In the past two decades, Poland has been more secure than it was in the previous two centuries. But as the multilateral institutions on which Polish strategy relies weaken, Warsaw faces key challenges, which are rooted in geography. Countries like the United Kingdom can distance themselves from Continental affairs temporarily, but Poland's geography affords Warsaw no such luxury.
This edited version of “Poland shies away from euro zone accession again” is republished with the permission of Stratfor.