Poland, the European Union, and the Euro: An Uncertain Landscape

By Ryan, Leo V.; Hunter, Richard J., Jr. | Sarmatian Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Poland, the European Union, and the Euro: An Uncertain Landscape


Ryan, Leo V., Hunter, Richard J., Jr., Sarmatian Review


Poland's membership in the European Union has implied eventual acceptance of the euro as Poland's national currency. It is now apparent that after many fits and starts, the two issues may not be inextricably bound together. In fact, Poland may continue its EU membership and still not convert to the use of the euro any time soon. How did Poland reach this juncture of policy and reality?

Since Poland joined the EU on May 1, 2004, even the most hard-line Eurosceptics, especially in the important agricultural sector, have had to admit that Poland has benefited from membership. On the political side, Poland now participates in certain decisions at the EU ministerial level, signaling Poland's return to Europe as a full and participating member. This change in perspective was expressed by Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski in an optimistic way: "We have reaffirmed our status as a heavyweight member state. We changed Poland's image from a country that only benefits from the EU to a country that-true-benefits, but also inspires others to act. Today when others think of Poland, they think of economic growth, a modern country, and effective governance--we have become a partner worth courting." [1]

Poland has also reaped benefits on the economic front in the form of transfers from Brussels to Warsaw. From May 2004 through February 2012, Poland received a net total of 39 billion euros from the EU. Writing for the Warsaw Voice, Andrzej Ratajczyk estimates that Poland will be eventually be the beneficiary of over 80 billion euros from various EU funding sources. [2] In fact, Poland has been the largest beneficiary of EU funding to date. Poland has gained access to both EU structural and cohesion funds. During the past seven years the Polish economy has grown faster than any other economy within the EU, recording a growth rate of over 30 percent; the EU-27 economy grew at a mere 6 percent over this same period, reflecting a severe economic downturn. Estimated GDP rise for 2012 is 2.4 percent (the first quarter of 2012 showed a growth of 3.5 percent)--still the fastest growth recorded in the European Union. [3] In the period between accession in 2004 and 2012, Poland has continued to be an attractive location for foreign direct investment, the combined value of which now exceeds 160 billion euros. In the previously quoted article Economist reports: "The free-floating zloty was an advantage in the financial crisis. A weaker currency supported exports and foreign investments; it also raised the value of EU funds, which are euro denominated."

Other indicators point to strong economic progress as well. Polish exports have nearly tripled from 47.5 billion euros in 2003 (approximately $60.61) to 136 billion euros in 2011 (approximately $173.53 billion). The EU is now Poland's main trading partner accounting for 78.6 percent of Poland's exports and 58.8 percent of Poland's imports. Wages for Polish workers have grown by one-third since 2004, but are still only one-third of the EU average. In 2011 Eurostat reported that the average gross wage in Poland was equivalent to 800 euros per month ($1,020.80), or 33 percent higher than wages recorded in 2005. The average gross wages in the EU was 2,177 euros per month (approximately $2,758 a month), which grew by 11.5 percent since 2004. However, these are Purchasing Power Parity figures; the actual dollar amount is lower. In actual dollars Poland's GDP per person is three and a half times lower than that in neighboring Germany and one of the lowest in the EU: $12,480 in Poland versus $43,980 in Germany. [4]

Polish agriculture--initially the most skeptical of all economic sectors regarding EU membership-has undergone rapid modernization mainly due to the infusion of EU funds, the introduction of new technologies, and managerial changes introduced by Marek Sawicki, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. There are approximately two million farms in Poland, which account for 27. …

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