It's (Sorta) Official: Poland, European Darling

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/28/2012 12:12:00 PM
I add the qualifier in the title for the reason that I wish not to jinx this country. Lest we forget, it was not so long ago that the darling of European integration was Ireland (believe it or not nowadays). I remember my time in Europe when near-accession country officials would dutifully troop to Dublin in search of ideas for prosperity akin to that experienced by the erstwhile "Celtic Tiger." My former University of Birmingham colleague Nikki Smith even wrote about "Showcasing Globalization?" for her thesis sometime ago, and the book based on her thesis remains a definitive account of its days of wine and roses. Showing foresight, the title was expressed in question form since Ireland's fortunes have...not been so hot as of late.

By many twists and turns--Poland wants to join the EMU and not and back again, the Lisbon Treaty is finally signed, and various peripheral countries' dire economic situations drag the Eurozone into crisis--we arrive at its current status. I hate to say it, but evidently das neue Modell is none other than Poland. Politically, its claim to fame is not regressing to the temptations of authoritarianism. Economically, its claim to fame is being practically the only European nation not to experience recession during the global economic crisis. All the while it has kept a strong Catholic faith despite secularism creeping on the margins.

Earlier I wrote about these phenomena coupled with astute leadership forming the basis of its bid to become a European big beast. In a number of ways, however, it's already arrived. Der Spiegel has a fine piece on Poland's emergence as a central European powerhouse:
Poland is one of the world's few success stories since the fall of the Soviet bloc, a development that is particularly noticeable in comparison with other countries in Eastern Europe. One of those is Ukraine, the second host of the European Championship [Euro 2012], plagued by human rights violations and ruled by an authoritarian regime. If Poland is Europe's model pupil, Ukraine is its bad boy.

Things have been steadily improving in Poland for more than two decades. And even with other European economies stagnating, the Polish boom continues unabated. In 2009, a year of crisis, when the German, Italian and British economies each shrank by about 5 percent, Poland was the only country on the continent to experience economic growth (1.7 percent). By 2011, the Polish economy was already growing by an impressive 4.4 percent. The country's successes are on full display throughout Poland. The once-backward agricultural country has become a giant construction site, where cranes dot the skylines of major cities and some already boast high-tech paradises. No matter who wins the European Championship, if growth trends in the last decades are any indicator, the Poles are already Europe's champions.
Despite all the current gloom surrounding the single currency with various Euro-pissants debauching it with their jivey economies, it is instructive that Europe's most dynamic economy (less the Eurosceptic "We-Ain't Related-to-Ted" Kaczynski twins) has joining the Eurozone firmly in mind:
Amid speculation over Greece's future in the euro zone, the Polish government is fighting to join the common currency. Warsaw expects to fulfill the criteria by no later than the end of 2015. To do so, it is also prepared to give up sovereignty rights. Tusk and Sikorski want to assert themselves and assume a leading role in the northern alliance of Europe's economically sound countries, and they have the support of their fellow Poles. Hardly any other population is as pro-European as the Poles. In surveys, more than 80 percent say that their country has benefited from joining the European Union.
The implication here being one I have long argued: being in the Eurozone neither creates nor solves larger problems with an uncompetitive economy. Evidently, it does help if your performance is up to snuff in the--dare I say it again--Germanic sense of the word.

Lastly while speaking of jinxes and the cringeworthy "Tiger" appellation mentioned above, MarketWatch has designated Poland one of the (surprise!) New Tigers of Europe along with Turkey. Historically speaking, its transition was better managed and its industrial background made it a good springboard as a lower-cost but still good-quality manufacturing hub for Western European (read: many German) concerns:
“Shock therapy” made for often chaotic transitions across much of the former Eastern bloc after the fall of communism. Poland’s more deliberate approach, which saw the country’s new leaders move to gradually put in place a series of reforms aimed at building a banking sector and instituting a commercial code, made for a smoother transformation, economists said.

Poland attracted waves of foreign-direct investment as firms sought to tap into central Europe’s largest domestic economy. Poland, which had served as a hub of heavy industry for the Eastern bloc under Soviet domination, managed to capitalize on its large if inefficient industrial base. Poland has become a hub for German and other European firms, often exporting parts back to factories in Bavaria or elsewhere for final assembly. That’s left Poland with a relatively balanced economy, with about 40% of GDP tied to exports, and healthy domestic demand. 

Fundamentally, Poland “is far more structurally sound than most [countries] in Western Europe,” [stock analyst] Vecht said. “It’s got a hard-working labor force.” 
Having had uniformly good experiences with the Polish--from hard-working blue-collar workers in the UK to friendly classmates--I cannot but applaud these folks who stand as a counterpoint to Anglo-Saxon depravity infesting certain other parts of the European Union. However, I hope all this media coverage isn't indicative of Poland entering its post-"Celtic Tiger" stage. My belief though is that having a substantial industrial base is something sturdier to build an economy on than Ireland's flimsier low-tax appeal, as recent events have demonstrated.

After all, the humble IPE Zone never jinxed anyone. Nor is there any doubt which team I'll be pulling for in Euro 2012 ;-) Pol-ska!