Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews EU Ambassadors about the euro crisis, member states' relationship with the EU and relations between Ireland and the country they represent.
The Polish Ambassador to Ireland believes negotiations on a new budget for the European Union will be Ireland’s biggest challenge when it holds the Presidency of the union from January.
The European Commission wants a significant increase in the annual budget of €140bn. This is being vociferously resisted by some members, notably Britain.
British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a recent Parliamentary vote on the issue, a fact which caused him some embarrassment and which showed how divisive the issue is.
However, Mr Nawrot said maintaining European solidarity would also be a major challenge. When asked if there are cracks in the union he replied “of course, this is a permanent process... not a finished project”.
He said “egoism” of certain member-states was a weakness of the union. Some had a desire to “make others responsible for our mistakes...”
“We (member-states) are responsible for what we are doing. But also there is a common responsibility” he said.
Mr Nawrot added he was proud of a speech the Polish Foreign Minister made recently in Berlin, where he declared: “Germany is responsible for what is going on in Europe. You can’t withdraw yourselves from responsibility. At the same time, of course, if I am responsible, it doesn’t mean I am responsible for everything.”
He said it was important to get the balance right and noted the delivery of this message was “important”.
Poland held the EU Presidency at the end of 2011. The country knows the demands of the role in difficult times, politically and economically.
When asked about the dangers of allowing crucial issues to drift without clear direction from those who hold the Presidency, the Ambassador said he didn’t doubt Ireland’s capacity to deal with the matter.
Despite a prolonged euro-crisis, the Polish Ambassador said it was still his country’s desire to join the euro.
He said it was a question of “when and not if”. Poland became an EU member in 2004, but still uses the zloty.
When asked if it really was desirable to join a common currency fighting an ongoing crisis, the Ambassador answered most affirmatively.
“The crisis is temporary. The euro area and the European Union is a much bigger concept.”
Some believe having the zloty as a currency and the power to alter interest rates shielded Poland from the worst of the widespread recession.
“As usual there are some advantages and disadvantages.” Flexibility is an advantage, he said. The disadvantage is how currency exchange affects imports and exports.
The Polish economy has stood out since the start of the euro crisis. It has experienced significant economic growth, despite the rate of growth slowing recently.
During the second quarter this year, gross domestic product expanded by 2.4% - this amidst a deep and widespread recession in Europe.
The ambassador rejects suggestions from some within the private sector however, who say Poland is a difficult place to do business: too much red tape; a tax system that’s too burdensome and labour laws that are too rigid.
In defence, he points to a relatively rapid procurement process in Poland and illustrates the benefits of regulation.
When asked to compare the business environment in Ireland and Poland, Mr Nawrot said Poland can learn a lot from Ireland, before making a case for Polish business regulations.
“One of the Irish banks which was in trouble last year (AIB) had a branch in Poland....the only profitable branch of this bank was in Poland. Why…because the banking system in Poland was more restricted than in Ireland.
“If you would like to compare the environment for business, ok. But at the same time, this control...this protection system is effective.”
Last month, 50,000 people protested in Warsaw against Government policy on a range of issues, among them, its approach to economic matters. Poland has a growing middle-class, but is still plagued by a rate of unemployment above 12%.
It has also been one of the highest recipients of funding from the EU’s Food Aid programme. Poland received €77m last month to aid the country’s poor.
Despite this, the ambassador rejects there is a widening gap between rich and poor in Poland. He also says the Government is making inroads in reducing poverty.
Mr Nawrot said he is hopeful for Poland’s future and said his country ‘should be ready’ to join the euro in 2015. Poland can make more progress within the eurozone, he added.
The series continues next week with the Danish Ambassador.