The New Boogeyman in Warsaw: The Euro
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Poland’s ruling party is using anti-euro sentiment to bring voters out for the coming elections.
By James Shotter
Rallying voters against perceived threats, from migrants to LGBTQ rights, has long been an effective tool for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. As campaigning for European Union parliamentary elections enters its final stretch, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has picked another boogeyman: the euro.
Last month Kaczynski drew up a declaration pledging that Poland would not join the single currency until Polish salaries were comparable with those in the bloc’s most developed member states — something economists say will take decades. Kaczynski urged Poland’s pro-European opposition to agree.
“[The euro] works for the Germans, the Dutch, maybe you can add Austria and one or two other countries.… But others, even such big and strong countries like France, are simply losing out, and some are even falling into ruin. Greece is the best example,” Kaczynski said at a party convention in Lublin, claiming that eurozone membership risked driving up prices and leaving Poles worse off.
These kind of protective, defensive things definitely work the best because you invoke an external enemy.
Otilia Dhand, Teneo Intelligence
“No matter what the mechanism of joining the euro will be, in one way or another we will lose from it … that is why we are saying no to the euro, no to European prices,” he stated.
Like the other Central European nations that joined the EU in 2004, Poland is obliged to join the euro. However, there is no deadline, and the country does not yet meet all of the single currency’s criteria. Given the bloc’s recent crises, and Poland’s stellar growth rates, there has been little clamor for Poland to rush to join the club.
Being in the eurozone would help Poland avoid losing competitiveness due to an overly strong zloty, says Piotr Bujak, chief economist at PKO Bank Polski in Warsaw. “But I’m not sure that this outweighs the costs of being a member of the eurozone in the next five to 10 years,” he says, pointing to the single currency’s unfinished institutional framework and the lack of political agreement on a fiscal union.
However, analysts say Law and Justice is mainly interested in raising the question of eurozone membership for political ends. Unlike EU membership, which is highly popular, most Poles are opposed to joining the euro. A recent poll found that 58 percent were against the idea, and among Law and Justice voters, the level of opposition is higher still.
“The participation rate in European elections is notoriously low, so you need topics to mobilize voters. These kind of protective, defensive things definitely work the best because you invoke an external enemy and you need to turn out the vote against this,” says Otilia Dhand, from Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy.
The issue also divides the opposition to Law and Justice. Politicians from Nowoczesna, a small liberal grouping, have backed adopting the single currency within five years. By contrast, the agrarian Party for Socialism and Liberation argues that Poland should only do so when the eurozone’s problems have been resolved and Poland is ready. The biggest group, Civic Platform, has been noncommittal.
Staying cool on euro membership also allows the ruling party to appeal to voters who have misgivings about the EU, even as it runs an uncharacteristically pro-European campaign in the race for this month’s elections.
The party has spent much of the past three years at loggerheads with Brussels on issues ranging from migrants to the rule of law. But in an effort to defuse opposition claims that it risked driving Poland out of the bloc, Law and Justice has recently adopted a resolutely pro-EU stance. Kaczynski has even said that support for EU membership is a “requirement of Polish patriotism.”
Dhand says voters in Central Europe are conflicted over views of the EU. “A large majority cannot imagine the functioning of their countries outside the EU … but at the same time they do have a growing number of misgivings,” she says. “There are certain topics that voters who are otherwise very pro-European are critical of when it comes to the EU, and in the case of Poland it would be LGBT rights, migration and the euro.”
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