“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”, so said Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide. Poles, of course, are not generally noted for Panglossian optimism – if anything they identify more closely with Candide’s disillusionment as he both witnesses and experiences great hardships, of which Polish history has delivered plenty. However, be that as it may, it does appear that while it is too early to say whether this is as good as it gets, for Poland it is certainly as good as it has been, and all the better when we survey the chaos elsewhere the EU, most recently in Cyprus.
In marked contrast to the government in Cyprus which engaged in a last ditch effort to save the banking system (and Euro membership) tries to chart a course between the Scylla of Berlin and the Charybdis of Moscow (a course not unknown to Polish politicians over the years) the Polish finance minister was able to take great satisfaction from the fact that investors still trust the Polish economy if the result of the latest auction of two and five year treasury paper is anything to go by. Despite the crisis in Cyprus Poland’s T-bonds were sold at the lowest yields in history which would suggest not only trust in the Polish economy but that to some extent Poland is seen as a safe haven in the region as far as foreign investors are concerned. In fact, such was the demand that Poland sold just over PLN 8 billion worth of paper as against the estimated PLN 4-6 billion supply range and still left some PLN 3 billion of demand unsatisfied.
And from T-bonds to the wider horizons of foreign affairs the picture seems equally rosy. According to foreign minister Radek Sikorski, delivering a speech to the Polish parliament about this year’s foreign policy priorities, Poland is in a good international position generally and the country is becoming stronger within the EU. Poland sees being at the heart of a strong EU as a foreign policy imperative and, in particular, accession to the Eurozone as a key strategic interest for Poland. Of course, and in keeping with a less Panglossian view of life, there is no guarantee given the current EU crisis that the Euro, or indeed the EU itself in its current form, will survive which would be the cruelest of ironies for Poland. Whether it does or not, as the world becomes a more dangerous place the modernization of Poland’s armed forces will be a foreign policy priority in the coming decade something his erstwhile Bullingdon Club chum David Cameron would do well to heed as he continues the destruction of HM armed forces to raise money for ever spiralling welfare payments to all and sundry (including Poles). Radek Sikorski also stressed the importance of improving Europe’s defence potential as a whole mentioning in particular Poland’s own plan to build a missile defence system.
It is no surprise, as I have written here before (please see The Fortune Teller; Executive Decision), that for Poland the adoption of the euro provides a chance for the country to be at the heart of EU decision making and to give Poland a more prominent position in the EU as a whole. According to the foreign minister if Poland remains outside the Eurozone it runs the risk of marginalization and becoming but another country in the incomplete and perhaps even the temporary European integration project. This, of course, is wholly consistent with my (and not only mine) view that the Eurozone and the EU are moving inexorably to become one and the same. Indeed, Poland does enjoy close ties to France and Germany (voluntarily with latter these days) and shares with Germany a common strategic vision for the future of the EU and of the policies necessary to deal with the crisis. The United States remains Poland’s key non-European partner but with an eye to the increasing importance of Asia Poland intends to increase its diplomatic representation in that region.
Beyond the EU Poland has certainly not forgotten its eastern neighbours (not that they are easy folk to forget) and Radek Sikorski said that Poland is keen to cooperate with Russia at both the regional and local levels. Inevitably, there is the odd fly in the ointment. He said that Poland is continuing to press Russia for the return to Poland of documents dealing with the massacre by the Soviet security forces of Polish prisoners of war – largely officers – at Katyn as well the return of the wreckage of the Polish government aeroplane which crashed near Smolensk in 2010 killing all on board, including the Polish president, who were on their way to Katyn to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre. History may not repeat itself but that seems not prevent it from rhyming from time to time.
All in all a rather upbeat assessment and Poland continues to find itself in better shape than many others. Whether it is as good as it gets is too early to say and depends, I suppose, on whether you are by disposition a Pangloss or a Candide.