Poland's Bid to Become a European Big Beast

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/09/2012 11:17:00 AM
There is much discussion about an "EMU-lite" being the likely result of current crises in the Eurozone. When all is said and done, what will supposedly remain in the eurozone are traditionally strong economies that were among the earliest joiners such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. Yet, one of the most overlooked aspects of European integration remains that, even at the current time, there are far more countries trying to get into the EMU than those trying to get out (of which there are precisely zero--at least in official discourse). Witness, for instance, the last country to join this club--Estonia at the start of 2011 doing so despite all the alarming headlines.

I am of the general opinion that adopting the euro provides more benefits than costs provided countries are willing to adopt sane fiscal and monetary policies. While it's increasingly difficult to do so in many European nations due to mounting costs dealing with aging populations, it's certainly not impossible to do so.

Hence I found a recent FT feature quite fascinating concerning the good fortunes of Poland. Aside from trying to join the euro zone, its economic performance has been exemplary--especially in recent years compared to its neighbours. Having avoided outright recession in 2009, it is now attempting to parlay its track record into joining the inner circle of influential EU voices:
...Poland stands a good chance of repeating its feat of 2009 [in 2012] and again dodging a recession. That record should translate into increasing political weight for Warsaw within the European Union – where Poland sees itself as becoming one of the bigger beasts, at least on a par with fifth-ranking Spain.
One of the ways it's trying to accomplish this feat is to move closer to Germany. Historically an iffy proposition, let's just say we live in more enlightened times and the Germans see the advantages of letting Poland in on the EU party. In modern world systems theory terminology, Poland having made the leap to the semi-periphery now seeks representation at the even-grander table of core nations. Again, there's this notion that there ought not be second-class EU membership and of Poland being well-placed to demonstrate that the EMU remains an open club to all and sundry aspirants:
This could, therefore, be a crucial year for those ambitions – and Donald Tusk, the prime minister, has been frank about what could derail them. “In recent months, we are hearing more and more boldly articulated the idea that the EU should return to its core, described today as the borders of the euro area,” he told parliament recently. “From our point of view it is very important that Poland – if only because it is outside the euro area and has not yet achieved the level of development of the richest countries in the euro area – not become part of the second or third rank.”

For Germany, Poland is now a more important trade partner than Russia; Polish factories are tightly integrated into the supply chain of Europe’s economic powerhouse. That creates some risks if Germany stumbles but the combination of strong exports and a large and so far resilient domestic market leave Poland better placed than others. As Marek Belka, the central bank governor, says: “We have managed to nurture a real entrepreneurial class which is pretty resilient. Almost half of our exports to Germany come not from big multinationals like Volkswagen or Siemens with plants in Poland but from small Polish companies providing consumer and investment goods.”
Along the way, Poland has laudably ditched its eurosceptic / fantasist-Atlanticist stylings. At the European table, you don't gain influence trying to be like standoffish Britain with its odd preoccupation with having a "special relationship" to the "indispensable nation." No, you must have your mind firmly set on Europe in the first instance:
Warsaw’s ambition is to become Berlin’s indispensable eastern neighbour in the same way that France is in the west. Mr Tusk’s centrist government has abandoned the hope of his conservative predecessors of being an eastern mirror of the UK – pro-market in its economics, standoffish about the EU and avowedly pro-American in its foreign policy.
Poland is already the EU's seventh-largest economy. Can it eventually become a Franco-German-Polish alignment? Geography certainly works in its favour:
For its part, Germany is a strong supporter of the so-called Weimar Triangle involving Poland in a regular tripartite debate with Berlin and Paris. Both because of its size and strategic location on Germany’s eastern border, Poland was always regarded by the German government as the most important new member of the EU to join in the “big bang” enlargement of 2004.
Also this video clip of Tusk explaining why former Eastern bloc nations shouldn't be marginalized. I do think the Poles--fine, God-fearing people--ultimately made the right decisions on both economic matters and geopolitical ones concerning where to align themselves. They are well-poised to reap the benefits in the EU as a consequence.