Friday, December 23, 2011

A Reflection on “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs”

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland standing with REEEC & EUC staff and faculty
Note: This article originally appeared on the blog of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Republic of Poland, gave a presentation on Poland’s place and future in the European Union. The presentation, titled “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs,” was given Friday at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. In the presentation, Pisarski highlighted the challenges facing Poland with its continuing integration into the European Union. Before explaining Poland’s exact role as President of the European Union, Pisarski gave a quick historical timeline of Poland’s economy and political situation before and after communism:

Late 1940’s – Communist party consolidates power in war-torn Poland
1951 – European Coal and Steel community formed
1957 – Treaty of Rome, establishes European Economic Community
1958 – Riots in Poznan, Hungarian Uprising
1968 – Invasion of Czechoslovakia, suppression of student movements in Poland
1981 – First Mediterranean enlargement, Solidarity movement in Poland. Martial law, economic meltdown, massive foreign debt.
1987 – Single European Act
1989 – Communism ends in Poland
1993 – Treaty of Maastricht establishes European Union
2004 – Poland becomes full member of the European Union

This timeline briefly describes how Poland eventually shook off the yoke of communism and transformed itself into the economic powerhouse it is today. This successful transition gave Poland much legitimacy and led to its warm welcome as the current European Union President.

Maciej Pisarski poses for a group photo with EUC & REEEC students and faculty
Poland has taken a particularly defensive approach to stabilizing the EU’s economy. They are active in designing stability measures to curtail the economic meltdown of other EU members. In order for Poland to effectively meld its economy with the EU’s, they must eventually adopt the Euro. Avoiding a detailed explanation of why Poland has abstained from the Euro Zone, Pisarski simply remarked, “We will adopt the Euro when the time is right.” However, as countries like Italy and Greece continually sink into debilitating debt, one has to wonder whether Poland sharing a currency with them is a wise decision. The Polish zloty is serving its purpose and keeping Poland’s economy secure from the uncertain future of the Euro. Keeping the zloty seems to be in Poland’s best economic interest considering its GDP grew by over 30% between 2004 and 2010 under the zloty. Pertaining to other EU economies, Poland seeks to lessen the amount of bureaucratic red tape hurting small businesses and increase female and youth employment.

Poland’s presidency of the EU consists of leading the EU parliament in day-to-day operations involving drafting and voting on legislation, as well as resolving economic and security-related matters. In addition to its regular duties as president, Pisarski explains that integration with Poland’s European members is crucial for future growth and stability. This makes integration a top-priority for Poland as it directs a region of the world which prides itself on travel and business friendly borders. European security is also a top priority for Poland. Since its induction into the European Union in 2004, Poland’s eastern border with Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia has become increasingly well defended. This defense has led some former Eastern Bloc countries to refer to Poland as the “Great Fortress of Europe,” characterizing it as more of a bulwark than an actual country. In a way, this characterization is not too far off.

Poland’s Presidency of the European Union has put it in a very unique and new position. A country that technically did not exist 100 years prior is now leading one of the largest unions of nation-states in history. Poland has taken the role of European Union leader and continues to strive for betterment domestically and in the European sphere.

Mat Jasieniecki currently serves as REEEC office assistant. An Iraqi war veteran, Mat is now pursuing his BA at the University of Illinois majoring in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia studies. He plans on furthering his study of the polish language by attending an oversees language program in Poland during the summer 2012 term.


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