Germany votes: what does Poland think?

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This is the first of a series of blog posts looking at how the German elections are being viewed by some of its EU partners. 

The Polish-German relationship has proved to be counter-cyclical during the euro crisis. While most countries, most notably those in the South, looked at the German hegemon in an increasingly critical way, there has been a remarkable rapprochement between Warsaw and Berlin. The new community of interests between Warsaw and Berlin has rested on two major components. First, Poland supported the German narrative of the crisis as a debt crisis (as opposed to the Anglo Saxon reading, focusing on macroeconomic imbalances and the institutional deficits of the eurozone). Poland’s new found economic stability was seen as further supporting evidence for Berlin’s insistence that structural reforms and austerity are the key to economic success: Poland took similar medicine in the 90s, so why shouldn’t it work this time? Second, Germany offered leverage for Polish ambitions to be – despite its non-eurozone status – at the centre of the EU policy making. That Poland could preserve its “place at the table” (or “keep a foot in the door”, as you may hear in Warsaw), was partly thanks to German receptiveness to Polish demands and interests (for instance the open character of the fiscal compact). The personal harmony between Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk is the icing on the cake on this story of Polish-German relations.

If Poles now view the evolution of German policy within the EU (regardless of the outcome of the election) with some scepticism, this is due to concern that this newly developed community of interests may be crumbling. The trading relationship between Warsaw and Berlin continues to flourish, with Poland recently having overtaken Russia as a trading partner. But the Franco-German proposals presented last May, as well as a number of other signals from Berlin, have raised doubts that Germany would stick to its strategy of balancing necessary eurozone institutional reforms and efforts to keep the EU together as a whole. Several ideas that have gained traction run counter to the instincts of Polish policy makers (who define their positions bearing in mind the length of the road to eurozone membership for Poland):  a permanent president of the Eurogroup; a special eurozone budget; upgrading the European Stability Mechanism as a powerful eurozone institution that shadows the Commission; the new intergovernmentalism advanced by Angela Merkel; and the discourse about “social Europe.” After the election, Poland would expect any new German government to take into consideration the interests of the “pre-ins”, while negotiating new projects like banking union and reconfiguring the EU’s institutional set up.

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