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Letter from Poland :: All hot and bothered in euroland

PR dla Zagranicy
Jo Harper 08.07.2015 13:10
  • Letter from Poland 15.07.08.mp3
It seems that a more cautious approach to European integration could - for the first time in Poland's post-communist history - be an electoral asset later this year.
PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński. Photo: WikimediaPiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński. Photo: Wikimedia

Events this week in Greece and political positioning in Poland about its own euro membership will play a key role over the next four months before the general election. Jo Harper adds his five cents' worth.

Greece has seemingly given the anti-Europeans a gift, from Nigel Farage in England to other strange bedfellows all over the continent.

In Poland the traditional battle lines are being drawn. The ruling Civic Platform (PO) is strongly pro-EU and pro-euro adoption, while the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) is much more wary.

“Without membership of the euro it will be much harder, or even doubtful, to be able to dream of a stronger role for Poland in the EU,” outgoing president, Bronisław Komorowski, said this week.

“If someone has another idea about how we ensure a strong position, let them speak,” he added.

Although discussed for several years, Poland has no official deadline for adopting the euro, and in the context of a possible Greek exit from the single currency and the likely financial turmoil that that would generate, domestic support for deeper EU integration may be waning.

The president, who leaves office on 6 August after losing May’s election to PiS candidate Andrzej Duda, said that a Poland outside the eurozone would not be able to punch its weight.

Meanwhile, PiS wants a referendum before joining the euro, a senior adviser to Duda said this week.

Krzysztof Szczerski said Poland would resist "giving up more sovereignty to Brussels."

Opinion polls show if there was a vote on accession, it would be firmly rejected.

Both ruling PO and PiS have, like all political parties the world over, developed symbolic discourses that reflect their political styles and directions.

And it is on this symbolic terrain that ‘History’ and ‘The euro’ meet now.

History in Poland is a potent force, one that is used routinely as a political tool. The history referred to is, after all, very fresh. The correlation of forces that made and make ‘1989’ what it was – and is – is still a key to understanding Polish politics.

PiS’s ‘politics of history’ when last in government 10 years ago was a conscious effort to analyse, discuss and present the past in a way that led to a "strengthening" of the nation’s sense of identity and purpose.

It has been in this fertile and fragile territory that PiS again plants one of its main discursive flags, euro-scepticism. It seems to select those elements of a particular historical narrative that support, substantiate and reproduce its claims to legitimacy, a combination of nationalism and populism.

PiS’s attacks on the Round Table agreement of 1989 and what it calls the ‘pathological’ networks that stemmed directly from it, find a direct discursive link to the present. All things multi-national are suspect it seems.

It talks for example of taxing banks and supermarket chains, most of which are foreign-owned. PO meanwhile wants to show its pro-business credentials by cutting taxes.

The PiS discourse stamps a restrictive framework on a complex and multi-layered debate.

While all remembering is necessarily selective and political, some appears more than most, and the PiS narrative can be characterized as stubbornly anti-German, anti-Russian, equivocal on the EU, in particular towards the Lisbon Treaty and the euro, and above all non-apologetic on most fronts.

PiS's anti-German and anti-Russian discourses echo traditional fears about loss of sovereignty, however real or imagined they may be. But the symbolism has some hard edges, in particular in the shape of the euro, in many ways a proxy for ‘Europe’, for how the parties see the European Union, both in a short-term policy sense and a wider symbolic one.

The struggle for power between PO and PiS is of particular concern and interest in defining and determining the country’s monetary and fiscal policies, the two central planks of attempts Poland will make – or not – to join the eurozone.

PiS is ambivalent, verging at times on contemptuous, about the euro, which tends to be constructed as a symbol of un-Polishness, even anti-Polishness, a kind of Trojan horse, a means for elites (Polish and non-Polish) to continue to manipulate, to carve up power, further internationalizing Poland’s economy.

While there are strong arguments for – and against – euro-adoption, the irrational and the symbolic are PiS’s natural terrain and it is here that they fight. Thus the euro has acquired the status of a symbolic artefact, a symbolic currency. The populism of PiS finds its perfect repository in the euro.

With PiS ahead in the polls, the euro it seems could become a star of the upcoming election campaign.

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