July 16, 2015
Translated from Polish by J.Hawk
“Should we at last begin a serious discussion about dismantling the eurozone in order to save the EU and preserve the peace in Europe?” That’s the question Jacek Zakowski posed to his interlocutors during a Radio TOK Morning discussion.
Polityka journalist Joanna Solska admitted she would regret the failure of the euro. “At the same time I am aware that Europe is not moving closer toperfecting its project, rather the opposite, since the centrifugal tendencies are growing ever-stronger. I’d like to remind everyone that Poland is not an exception, because before the crisis Polish supporters of joining the eurozone outnumbered the opponents.” Solska believes EU needs a single currency that could compete with the dollar. “It will be impossible to save the euro if every country continues its own fiscal policy without standardization, and nothing suggests there’s willingness to move in that direction,” she admitted.
“The Greece case shows that we are at a stage in which the European elites, especially the rich countries who have benefited the most from the euro, are not prepared to discuss the rules under which the eurozone operates,” replied Rafal Wos from the Legal Gazette Daily. In his view, so far the only idea on how to save the eurozone is to kick out or neutralize its weakest link. “In the long run, it won’t be effective,” Wos argues.
There are many possible causes, in the publicists’ view, for the EU to break up. Slawomir Sierakowski from Krytyka Polityczna listed them: “It’s the lack of solidarity with Southern Europe on the issue of immigration or on the matter of Ukraine with the countries of Eastern Europe. I hope that the Polish government understands that if it doesn’t change its policy concerning African immigrants, it can’t count on help regarding Ukraine.”
Sierakowski also reminded that Germany which is pressuring Athens to reach an agreement with creditors never paid back its own debts. “And moreover they received gigantic financial assistance. Obviously Greece must for some reason be in a different category, it’s probably too small a country. I hope that after the Greece and Portugal elections European politicians will agree to reduce the debt load,” Sierakowski emphasized.
“Poland needs a new discussion about the euro, because while until recently the main divide was between the euroenthusiasts and the euroskeptics, after what happened in Greece it’s difficult to be an EU supporter in Poland,” said Rafal Wos. “People no longer believe that Europe is a project in which rich states tell the poor states, ‘Hey, come join us, we’ll make room for you, it’s a political project. We might be bigger but we won’t crush you. Don’t be afraid of us.’ People also no longer believe that Europe is run by the technocrats who know what they are doing, or that we are moving in the right direction.”
Joanna Solska criticized Greece, however. She said that Greece had both the opportunity and the money to make its economy more competitive, but it squandered that opportunity. “I’m saying this because we are copying Greece’s errors: we are taking EU money, the Citizens’ Platform government is constantly worrying that Law and Justice will accuse it of not using all the available resources. Therefore we are only concerned about getting these funds and spending them as a means of increasing our GDP. We are forgetting that EU funding will end one day, so we need to use it in a way that would enable us to maintain a higher standard of living without EU’s money.”
Sierakowski disagreed with Wos. He did not detect any euroenthusiasm in Poland, only euroskepticism and eurorealism. “I remember the 2003 EU Constitution project, when Poland was one of the countries which blocked EU’s reform. We caused the Brussels negotiations to fail (under the memorable slogan ‘Nice or Death’). If the EU today had a constitution, it would have been able to deal with the crisis far more effectively,” Sierakowski said.
Both Sierakowski and Zakowski acknowledged that Germany’s politics pose a danger to Europe for the first time since 1945. “I have the impression that Germany adopted the wrong strategy not only on the merits, but also from the symbolic point of view. For the first time in my life I’ve felt that Germany could be dangerous. They behaved with typical German arrogance,” Zakowski summed. up.
J.Hawk’s Comment: Commenters have been known to accuse me of optimism on the pages of this blog–articles like that, which provide the view from the other side of the hill, so to speak, are a big part of the reason for it. Reading only Russian blogs can have the effect of making the world appear more menacing and dangerous than it really is, also more united against Russia that it really is. A veritable siege mentality.
But in reality we seem to be on the brink of major political changes. For starters, it is a good thing that Poles are starting to wake up to the danger, the danger posed not by Russia but by the EU and its most powerful member state. Polityka happens to be Poland’s most widely read, and therefore opinion-shaping, political newsweekly (I’ve been reading it since the ’70s…), and in general it pursues a strongly pronounced pro-European, pro-Western line. So to suddenly see some of its most prominent writers start talking about EU and especially Germany in those terms suggests there is a shift not just among the public but among the opinion leaders. But they are right to be concerned. Because it is entirely possible that, deprived of the opportunity to effect an economic expansion into Ukraine, Germany will turn on EU’s weaker members instead. It may even be that Poland’s Ukraine policy was motivated by the desire to placate Germany whose economic well-being requires captive markets. Like those of the weaker eurozone members.
I think it is also relatively evident that the US has only very limited influence over Germany whose economic power is clearly dominant on the European continent. As much was clear from the fact Germany basically brought Greece’s Tsipras government to heel, even as the Obama administration was pleading with Merkel to go easy on the Greeks. Certainly our well-informed (and pro-American) Polish commentators don’t seem to be aware of US power influencing events in their corner of the world.
So where is the EU going? I think it’s a fair prediction to make that if Germany’s policies continue, they will provoke other EU members to seek a counterweight to Germany’s power, and that counterweight can only be Russia. Which means that EU’s ability to pursue a single set of policies toward Russia may soon be replaced by friendly bilateral relations with individual EU members. And the Eurasian Union may well be just the formation that will replace the failed EU with a more equitable framework for economic cooperation.
Needless to say, the Polish journalists’ conversation would have likely taken a very different turn if there were ongoing combat operations in Ukraine at present time. None of them would have mentioned Germany, EU, euroskepticism. It would have been wall to wall Russia Russia Russia, and the EU’s centrifugal forces would have been effectively countered by the rally around the EU/NATO flag prompted by the perception of the Russian threat.
Therefore Russia’s strategy may be about as rewarding to observe as watching paint dry, but it is nevertheless effective.