The euro, currently shared by 17 of the 27 E.U. countries, used to be a status symbol of economic success, endowing those who gave up their pesetas and lire with cheap borrowing and quick growth. Today it’s a burden, and Europe’s debt crisis has turned upside down old assumptions about the benefits of wider integration.
In Greece, whose weakness is at the heart of Europe’s troubles, policymakers privately say they never should have adopted the euro but are now trapped, with the economic consequences of leaving the currency more perilous than the pain of staying on. Other euro members rue having to contribute to the bailouts that are propping up Portugal and Ireland as well as Greece, and resent that giant Germany is calling many of the shots.
Newer E.U. members that have not yet adopted the euro, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, are no longer lining up to do so. In 2008, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk trumpeted that his country would join the euro zone in 2011; now the diminishing enthusiasm for the idea makes the prospect so remote that few policymakers will hazard a guess about when it might happen.
“It’s not a simple decision, and for the time being in Poland, it’s not under discussion,” said Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, the prime minister’s top economic adviser. “We Poles are now maybe a little more pragmatic than before. We were historically very romantic.”
With 38 million people, Poland is the largest E.U. country besides Britain not to use the euro. Boosted by the strength of the zloty, its economy is the fastest-growing among the E.U.’s 27 countries, with robust exports and a burgeoning consumer sector. It is on track to continue on that path, with growth forecast at 2.5 percent this year, even as its peers on the euro sink into yet another recession.
‘Poland will wait and watch’
Poles who are wary about joining the euro see lessons in others’ misfortune. They say that Greece’s economic struggles are compounded by being locked into the euro zone, because it can’t devalue its currency in a way that would draw investors and tourists. They look especially cautiously at Slovakia and Estonia, two other former communist countries that did adopt the euro — and now have to chip in for the bailouts of richer countries.
And some Poles say they just prefer their pastel-hued zloty bank notes, which are reminiscent of Poland’s finely engraved Easter eggs, to the bland, generic feel of euros, whose designers slapped fictional bridges and buildings on them to avoid favoring any one country.