Poles no longer at euro pole position
Poland has remained stable in the storm, along with its currency, the zloty. There is a widespread belief in the country that being outside the eurozone has helped to keep Poland well out of trouble.
“Our commodities market is not in a good shape. If we were part of the eurozone, then we would have been obliged to help out countries like Greece and Portugal. But how can we help out someone else without solving our own problems? And it is almost guaranteed that prices would go up if we join the eurozone, which would damage my business,” says Ryszard Barylinski, a store owner.
Recent opinion polls suggest that more than 60 per cent of Poles want to keep their own currency – a dramatic turnaround from just a few years back.
“A few of years ago, the euro club was seen as something very exclusive and almost. All Poles aspired to it. They wanted their country to join the eurozone. Now the name of the euro has been sullied a bit by the troubles in Greece and Italy. Poles don’t want to be dragged into this crisis. If the government forced the euro issues, tried to bring Poland into the eurozone, it could have been like a political suicide,” explains Gareth Price, an economist from the Warsaw Business Journal.
Poland has fared much better than many of its EU partners in the global crisis. Several countries, including Greece, Ireland and Portugal, are on the brink of disaster and others in big trouble, in part due to a borrowing binge allowed by euro membership and associated low interest rates.
Being outside the eurozone meant Poland could not join the party, but it now does not have the hangover poisoning that others have. Once a top political priority in the country, eurozone membership has now been put firmly on the backburner.
Poland was meant to have the euro by next year, which is when the country will be co-hosting the 2012 European Football Championship. But in the latest developments, these plans may be shelved for another four years.
EU rules say Poland is obliged to adopt the euro once it meets the economic rules for joining. But Polish politicians are now much cooler on the idea, with ministers saying the eurozone needs to get its house in order first.
“What is very important for us is the need for institutional changes in the eurozone, the economic governance of the eurozone, and also some crisis management changes. We see the need for some changes there before another target date could be set,” says Ludwik Kotecki, deputy finance minister of Poland.
The rules requiring Poland to eventually join the euro were set in an era of apparent economic prosperity, which seems a world away from the gloomy climate today.
The goalposts have moved, the game has changed, and the euro club everyone once wanted to join may now be an invitation no one wants to accept.