Poland: EU’s poster child turns Euroskeptic

Patrick Young
Patrick L Young is CEO of niche crowdfunding platform HanzaTrade and an advisor to fund managers throughout the world. Born in Ireland, he is an active investor in the “New Europe” amongst other emerging markets and is an active Co Founder of grassroots startup group "Mission ToRun." Home Page: http://patricklyoung.net Twitter: @FrontierFinance
A man holds his son as he prepares to cast his ballot at a polling station in Przecieszyn, Poland © Kacper Pempel
If you were unlucky enough to see the Polish general election at the weekend, you probably saw Western media coverage of it, which painted a story of nice, polite urban liberals who were upended by a frothing mass that epitomizes barbarianism.

The true story is that Poland - still broadly underdeveloped and in desperate need of a government which endorses economic growth - has simply grown tired of its impotent executive.

This state of affairs is not evident over the rose-tinted glasses of the Warsaw foreign correspondents dinner party circuit. Their attitude suggests an ungrateful proletariat dissatisfied with 23 percent growth since the Lehman collapse (That compares favorably to the West, but falls short of a coherent economy like China, which has grown more than twice as much).

Poles now see the euro for the failure it is and want their long-term unemployment reduced.

The outgoing government of the PO "Civic Platform" hadn't merely lost the will to govern; it was a moot point whether they had ever been in charge for any part of the last eight years. Prime Minister Donald Tusk's sole achievement was to head the first re-elected government in the post- Communist era. This he achieved via a dismally unambitious first term (think second rate ‘hopey-changey’ hype and no execution).

Tusk then had his political spine removed as he squeaked into a second term that was even less productive than his first. On the journey he slipped into economic populism before taking the Brussels carpet bag option: another unsuitable President atop legions of unelected Eurocrats.

A worker walks in front of election posters depicting Law and Justice's (PiS) candidate Marek Krukowski and party's leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Nowoczesna's leader Ryszard Petru (L-R) in Warsaw, Poland, October 26, 2015 © Kacper Pempel

Tusk was replaced by a woman history will struggle to recall aside from a few train journeys to demonstrate her ‘woman of the people’ credentials. Meanwhile, as corruption scandals lapped around the corridors of power, voters impatiently awaited an outbreak of government. Ultimately the major achievements of the eight-year coalition amount to the de facto theft of half the private pension fund assets and the deregulation of tour guides.

After years of Warsaw elite scaremongering, the PiS opposition has swept into power, first winning the presidency (after the incumbent essentially failed to turn up for his own campaign) in May and now claiming the executive arm of government. A socially reactionary, economically populist movement has swept into power driven by a cynical electorate who see government as a pocket lining exercise for the few, as opposed to a growth enabler for the people.

The Euroskepticism implicit in this victory has shocked the aloof Warsaw bubble whose blind supplication to the crumbling EU has been excruciatingly embarrassing to behold. Now the EU ignores at its peril the ongoing shifting sands of different populist political movements like PiS gaining ground throughout Europe. PiS, not unsurprisingly is strongly opposed to the current acceptance of economic migrants championed by Angela Merkel as she seeks a new German ‘volk’ to replace her stagnating population.

With a populist economic manifesto based on unsustainable spending, make no mistake, the concept that PiS is a right wing party is a weird aberration of a worldview which is eager to apply demonic labels to anybody not spouting the cant of the EU super-state.

The Polish state now has a curious government. The PiS party leader is perceived as the puppet master in the shadows while high elected office is held by his 'beards.' Whether they implement their ill-conceived socialist economics remains to be seen but the net result of a hiatus in privatization and a core anti-business message is unlikely to help Poland grow. As an investor in the grassroots Polish economy, that’s a big concern.

However, the previous government's inability to complete grand road building schemes due for the Ukraine-Poland 2012 Euro soccer championships is testament enough to the failed hubris of PO. For years now, the Polish economy has continued to grow, broadly in spite of inept government. Growth has largely emanated from the aftermath of the reformist economic course set by the far-sighted Balcerowicz 'shock therapy' during the 1990's.

PiS may have been a laughing stock in their previous government incarnation but they have regrouped. Their prickly position to Germany seems to have abated although their approach to Russia likely extends a spiky relationship. However, a prickly Polish government could be a catalyst to provoke Europe to move forward instead of adopting President Juncker's disgraceful managed decline approach which is damning a great continent into irrelevance.

Nevertheless, while Poland and the EU may stand at loggerheads on the future direction of the continent, but they are united in a strangely naive belief that a magic money tree can pay for everything.... Plus change.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.