The dream, born of a single treaty concerning the iron trade between France and West Germany in the wake of the Second World War, of a united Europe, has also been a beacon of hope to the former slave states of the Soviet Union. The Baltics were among the foremost of the former Soviet Socialist Republics in their effort and desire to break from their Russian-dominated past; but no nation has struggled more heroically than often-beaten Poland to join the European project.
Unfortunately, much of Europe no longer believes in the European project, not as they once did, and Poland has joined the growing chorus of skeptics. Although its membership in the European Union remains a cherished fact for most Poles (though less so than ever, as the growing power of the Euroskeptic Law and Justice party shows), the euro’s appeal to the Poles has decreased dramatically. A decade ago, the idea of joining the eurozone drew supermajority support; today, it draws the support of roughly a quarter of the populace.
The Polish government, formed by the Civic Platform party, believes the euro and greater European integration are and should be Poland’s future. To say that Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister, has been blindsided by the euro’s plunging appeal is to understate the matter; so much has he been forced back on the matter that he has now agreed to a referendum on eurozone membership, conveniently scheduled for after the next parliamentary elections. (Few observers are fooled by the maneuver; if Tusk is able to draw a two-thirds mandate, he can scrap the referendum plan and simply move ahead with euro membership. If he is not, he can take the case to a popular referendum and try to work around the election result.)
The danger for the Civic Platform is not however in its politics-as-usual approach to this issue, but rather in its heartfelt belief that Poles are being tricked into hating the euro because of negative media coverage. This is a dangerous delusion for any political party, but especially one in Poland, where broad internet access and a literate populace mean that the people probably have seen not only the Greek and Cypriot (and Irish and Portuguese and Spanish and Italian and…) debacles, but the advantages and disadvantages the various eurozone members and non-members have experienced over the last decade.
It is worth noting that Poland escaped the global recession in no small party by devaluating the zloty, a move unavailable to them if they joined the eurozone. Their euro counterparts, by contrast, were battered by the inability to make currency adjustments outside the purview of the European Central Bank.
The euro’s fortunes have soured the appeal of the euro and by proxy the European Union at a dangerous time, as Russian adventurism continues and the West turns inward. Brussels and all of Europe’s member states must work harder to reinforce the value of both to peoples increasingly skeptical of their values.
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