Tuesday

18th Dec 2018

Euro takes bashing in run-up to Polish elections

Poland could be heading for a referendum on the adoption of the euro in late 2009, as the country gets ready to vote in a new right-leaning government in Sunday's (25 September) general elections.

Centre-right group Civic Platform (PO) and the eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) both came out in favour of a referendum on the single currency in the Polish press on Monday (19 September), with Law and Justice proposing a date toward the end of the parliament's next four year-long session.

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The latest opinion polls tip Civic Platform to win the general elections by 32 percent with Law and Justice picking up 27 percent and the pair planning to form a powerful new coalition that will be less friendly toward the euro and the EU Constitution than the present left-wing government (SLD).

The far-right eurosceptic party, Self-Defence, is also making gains in the polls with recent predicions that it will take some 12 percent of votes.

Civic Platform and Law and Justice do not see eye-to-eye on the euro however, with Civic Platform keen to adopt the single currency as soon as possible (2009 or 2010) but Law and Justice wanting to stay out for at least another five years.

"We don't see any benefits in adopting the euro. Euro adoption would lead to lower exports, lower national income and higher unemployment", Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynksi told Polish newsagency PAP on Monday.

Law and Justice has a strong chance of scooping the finance ministry in the new coalition, making it harder for Civic Platform to force through its fiscal policy plans.

Self-Defence has also bashed the euro in the run-up to Sunday's vote, saying Poland should be free to shape its own financial future and that it would never have signed an accession treaty stipulating that new member states must join the eurozone.

OK to attack euro

"We will know how things look only once the new government has been formed and they have had their internal debates", a spokesman for the Polish National Bank said, adding that the bank is holding off with work on the designs of Polish euro-coins and banknotes for now.

A Eurobarometer survey taken in Spring shows that just 56 percent of Poles support euro entry, compared to 65 percent in autumn 2004.

Most financial experts agree that Poland should join the single currency quickly, but point out that it will be hard for Warsaw to rein in public spending over the next couple of years, with the Polish budget deficit currently at 4.5 percent compared to the euro-entry criterion of 3 percent.

Prominent US consultancy Morgan Stanley predicts that Poland will not enter the euro before 2012, with analyst Oliver Weeks pointing out that it has recently become "politically more respectable" to talk of staying out of the single currency altogether on the UK, Danish and Swedish models.

"There is no serious pressure from western Europe for [eastern European] countries to join", Mr Weeks told EUobserver. "There is some hesitation in the European Central Bank on this front".

He added that while Civic Platform might be able to get public finances into shape by 2009 or 2010, it could be "politically impossible" to fast-track Polish entry in the new coalition structure.

Elections fought in anti-Soviet climate

The Civic Platform-Law and Justice coalition might also see Poland's relations with Germany and Russia worsen in the coming months.

Civic Platform leader and presidential candidate Donald Tusk together with the party's prime ministerial candidate Jan Rokita are both vocal opponents of the German-Russian Baltic Sea gas pipeline deal signed on 8 September, with Mr Rokita recently calling chancellor Gerhard Schroder "obnoxious" and threatening to block the pipe from passing through the Polish-controlled zone of the Baltic.

Ms Angela Merkel's reputation in Poland has also been tarnished over her tacit support for a campaign to seek compensation for ethnic Germans exiled from Poland after World War II.

The Polish elections are being fought in a patriotic, anti-Soviet vein following the 25th anniversary of the anti-communist Solidarity movement in August and amid reports of Belarus' persecution of the ethnic Polish minority in the country.

Mr Rokita and Mr Tusk have both made capital out of their anti-Soviet activism in the 1980s, while the ex-communist SLD party has plummeted to just 7 percent support following a string of high-level corruption scandals.

In other foreign policy areas, the new coalition is likely to push for Ukrainian EU membership and to keep Polish troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

Civic Platform and Law and Justice both favour the Nice treaty over the EU Constitution and are less keen on Turkish EU membership than the outgoing SLD gang.

But Poland's drive to secure some €80 billion from the 2007-2013 EU budget is set to dominate Warsaw's European agenda no matter what the elections throw up, and the need to gain Germany's agreement on the budget deal might calm the Baltic Sea pipeline storm once budget talks get under way.

The real battle for Polish votes is not being fought over the euro or foreign policy in any case, with most parties focusing on the need to overhaul an allegedly corrupt post-SLD bureaucracy, to reduce unemployment and to cut the cost of gas, food and medicine.

Unemployment currently stands at 18 percent and the past four years have been characterised by one insider-trading or bribery revelation after another, producing a jaded electorate that could end up staying away from the polling booths on Sunday in alarming numbers.

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