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Greek crisis revives Polish debate over joining the euro

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2015 | 2:07 PM
File The European Central Bank, Frankfurt, Germany. The European Union is Jamaica's largest grant donor.

The possibility of a Greek exit from the euro is reviving debate in Poland about the wisdom of signing on to the joint currency, so much so that Poland's president warned this week that his country risks becoming a political lightweight if it sticks with its own currency, the zloty.

President Bronislaw Komo-rowski's comments touch on a fear in Central Europe that the ultimate result of the crisis in Greece could be a two-speed Europe, a union permanently divided between the countries able to influence its direction, most of which use the euro, and those on the outside.

The European Union has 28 countries that cooperate on issues including foreign affairs, agriculture and international trade, but only 19 that use the euro. The nine that don't include the United Kingdom and Denmark, which were allowed to opt out by the treaty that created the EU, and Sweden, which has avoided joining since its residents voted against membership more than a decade ago.

The other EU members that still use their own currencies are all former ex-communist nations in Central and Eastern Europe. Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and the Czech Republic have committed themselves to adopting the currency but none have target dates or realistic prospects for doing so anytime soon.

The dilemma over joining is perhaps most critical for Poland, the largest of the eastern members and the sixth-largest economy in the EU, which harbours ambitions to be a major power player within the bloc and has strong economic growth that makes it a contender to be the next country to join.

"Without membership in the monetary union it will be much harder, or even doubtful, to dream of a stronger role for Poland in the EU," Komorowski told an annual gathering of Polish ambassadors in Warsaw on Monday. "If anyone has another idea about how we ensure a strong position, let them say what it is."

Komorowski, who leaves office next month, spoke as the mood in Poland has turned decisively against the euro.

President-elect Andrzej Duda, who will replace Komorowski next month, and Beata Szydlo, the leading candidate to be the next prime minister, are both opponents.

- AP