Despite the euro crisis, the single currency does not lose its supporters. Next year, the euro will be introduced in Latvia. Poland also wants to join the eurozone. This intention was announced by the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Recently, he spoke approvingly of holding a referendum on joining the euro area. “I think that the Sejm should find understanding and add an amendment to the Constitution which would say that the final decision on joining the euro area should be made at the referendum,” said he during a press conference in Warsaw.
Despite the banking crisis that struck Cyprus, the Polish prime minister believes that the introduction of the euro will soon become a matter of survival for Poland, which is the largest recipient of the EU subsidies. “At the latest at the end of this decade, being in the eurozone will mean being a member of the EU and using the EU funds,” emphasized Tusk. He thinks that very soon the introduction of the single currency will become a boon for Poland. “And at this crucial moment, I would like Poland to use the citizens’ right to vote. A constitutional blockade may be a very harsh restraint. The constitutional majority might not be enough to introduce the euro, but most Poles believe that the euro is a chance that we should use,” Tusk explained.
Let us remind that Poland with its 38 million people is the largest country that is not part of the euro. It promised to introduce the European currency back in 2004, when it joined the EU after the majority of Poles supported this decision at the referendum.
However, this time around Poles oppose this plan. In particular, the Euro-skeptical conservative oppositionist party “Law and Justice” blocked the constitutional changes necessary for making this move. The opposition states that the eurozone has undergone global changes since the referendum that took place almost 10 years ago, and this declaration of will cannot be considered obligatory.
Therefore, Tusk decided to defeat his political opponents by offering a legal solution that will give the nation an opportunity to vote on the euro at the referendum once more. In this case, a simple majority would be enough for making the decision. Meanwhile, in order to make necessary amendment to the Constitution, which currently states that zloty is the national currency, two thirds of votes in the Sejm are required. “I would prefer a compromise at the Sejm in order to change the Constitution, which should state that the final decision should be taken at the referendum,” Tusk said.
He admitted that at the moment, “the euro does not look too promising in Poland” because of the crisis in Europe and the necessity to amend the Constitution. “Our accession to the eurozone still remains a goal, at least in my office, but everyone in Poland can be assured that without the support of the majority at the referendum, required for amending the Constitution, it will be impossible to join the eurozone,” said the prime minister.
Meanwhile, the latest survey data show that in case a referendum will be held, the majority of the population will vote against the rejection of zloty and transition to the single European currency.
However, this does not mean that the outcome of the referendum will be the same. After all, Slovakia and Estonia, which are in the eurozone, do not intend to abandon the European currency. Latvia will join the euro next year. So, perhaps, everything will depend on the way the government presents this step to the citizens. Poland has successfully used the EU subsidies before, so it will need European money in the future, and this might play in Tusk’s favor.
The Day asked experts to comment upon the Polish prime minister’s initiative on the euro referendum and why it appeared at this particular moment.
REFERENDUM IS A CHALLENGE FOR BOTH SIDES
Marek SIWIEC, MEP:
“Referendum is a dangerous tool in politics. Usually the direct vote, in which voters can either approve or reject a particular proposal or a part of legislation, is used when an utterly important decision is to be made.
“Regarding the introduction of the euro in Poland, we agreed to do it in our Treaty of Accession. But in order to do this, we need to change the Constitution first.
“The matter of switching over to the euro divided the Polish public opinion. There are political parties, including the ruling one, and such organizations like Europa Plus (founded by me) that show strong support to entering the eurozone. But right-winged parties are on the other side of the political arena, and they strongly oppose this move. Thus, in this case, a referendum would be a nice opportunity for the supporters and opponents to exchange their arguments and start really important political discussions.
“If the referendum on joining the eurozone took place in Poland, it would be considered valid only if it were supported by at least 50 percent of voters, and this is a challenge for both sides.”
WE ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING IF THERE IS NO CLEAR GOAL
Michal KOBOSKO, journalist, publicist, former editor, Newsweek Polska, Wprost, Bloomberg Businessweek Polska:
“First of all, if the referendum does take place, it has to be a result of a political agreement between the two main political parties. There is no legal need to organize a referendum, since it was held in 2004, before Poland joined the European Union. The positive outcome of this referendum means that Poland will acknowledge the fact that it will also join the eurozone. And this is not a question of ‘if’ we join, but ‘when’ and ‘how’ we are going to join the mechanism of the single European policy and finally enter the eurozone.
“At the moment it is not clear whether ‘Law and Justice’ will agree to this proposal of Tusk’s. This party and Jaroslaw Kaczynski massively rely on anti-European sentiments. They proclaim loudly: if Poland joins this club, it will lose a significant part of its sovereignty and independence. And it will also experience a higher level of incertitude, considering the turbulence in the euro area. Meanwhile, Euro-enthusiasts state that Poland could be left to itself between the Russian Federation and the future European Federation – the final result of the eurozone’s transformation. Tusk’s recent promotion of the eurozone might seem rather unexpected. He personally and his two governments have never been great supporters of Poland’s membership in the euro. Their official statement was as following: we want to join this club, but we are not going to hurry, we are going to monitor the situation inside the euro area.
“The positive aspect of this push towards the euro is the growing awareness among the political elite and the public that finances and the state budget will be finally put to order. Poles are famous for achieving their goals before the deadline. We are not doing anything if there is no clear goal. That is why we finished our infrastructure projects before the start of Euro-2012. There is hope that fixing the date for our prospective euro membership will make the politicians play by to the macroeconomic rules.”