“If its anything I can’t stand, it’s yes men. When I say no, I want you to say no, too.” Words attributed to studio mogul Jack L. Warner, which might be seized upon, without a trace of irony, by any leader wishing to galvanize his supporters. Especially if the no is directed against a body with whom you are no stranger to disagreement.
Thus, Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) said on Saturday, as reported by Reuters, that Poland should say ‘no’ to the euro and only adopt the common currency when its economy is as big as Germany’s. He was speaking at a PiS convention in Lublin, eastern Poland, ahead of the European Union election in May, which many consider to be a test both for PiS and the opposition parties ahead of the general election be held in Poland in October.
“We say ‘no’ to the euro, ‘no’ to European prices,” Kaczynski said. “We will adopt the euro someday, because we are committed to do so and we are and will be in the European Union, but we will accept it when it is in our interest.” “It will be in our interest when we reach a level very close to Germany (in) GDP level, standard of living.” Poland is obliged under its EU accession commitments to join the euro zone at some point.
While PiS has in the past said that Poland should not hurry to join the euro, it is repeating that argument now to attract more support for the upcoming elections. Most Poles do support Poland’s membership of the EU although they are less keen on the euro, according to opinion polls. For example, an opinion poll by pollster IBRIS for private radio station ZET showed on Saturday that PiS has the backing of 38.7 per cent of the electorate, while the European Coalition has 36.2 per cent.
The European Coalition comprises the leading opposition parties, including the Civic Platform, which came together earlier this year to fight the elections to the European parliament as a single opposition block. The Coalition has not publicly declared its policy on joining the euro, although it is widely seen as taking a more positive stance than PiS. Civic Platform has said Poland needs a debate on adopting the euro.
Be that as it may, Poland’s government does face a dilemma. As reported by Bloomberg, the economy is one of the EU’s fastest-growing – GDP grew 5 per cent last year and is on track to grow about 4 per cent in 2019 – yet the budget deficit is set to jump from 0.5. per cent of GDP in 2018 to close to the EU’s 3 per cent of gross ceiling in 2020, largely as a result of the economic programme to win voter support.
To teachers on strike over salaries – which strike does seem to enjoy a degree of popular support notwithstanding the inconvenience to parents – the government’s response has been to say, in the words of prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, that it has “exhausted” its room for manoeuvre. This after the programmes aimed at its core electorate of families, pensioners and farmers, to whom it’s now offering subsidies for livestock, albeit with the declared expectation that the EU will provide the funds for its “bovine 500+” scheme.
As Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University puts it: “For many, the message is clear – government has cash to throw at cattle and pigs but nothing for teachers”. “This may impact elections”, she said.
To put this in context, the teachers demanded salary increases worth 17 billion zloty a year before PiS announced a package worth 40 billion zloty for people with children and the elderly, which was followed by the farm proposal. The government shows no signs of backing down, although its negative campaign against teachers is seen as risky by some commentators.
The suggestion last month that teachers might share in government largesse by having more children doesn’t really seem to be the answer. “Teachers aren’t required to live in celibacy,” said Krzysztof Szczerski, who runs the office of President Andrzej Duda. “Payments for Polish families are also available for them.”
All governments face spending dilemmas in the need to balance competing interest groups, but in so doing they need to be seen to be acting fairly. The problem is to overcome the suggestion, as George Orwell identified, that: “All the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”