The common perception in Australia today is of Europe in decline. Greece stands on the brink of yet more debt write-offs, Portugal is teetering on the edge of the abyss, and the UK and France could soon lose their AAA credit ratings. Some commentators now openly talk of dismantling the European Union, which is claimed to be too inflexible for the economies of some countries. Yet buried underneath this frantic media speculation is the story of one country defying the odds, the only European country to avoid a recession during the Global Financial Crisis- Poland.
Central to Poland's recent success was its entry to the European Union. EU funds allowed Poland to transform its socialist style economy to a market economy, and forced all spheres of our government to embrace open and accountable public institutions and free trade. And the benefits are plain to see. EU Member States currently account for two-thirds of our trade, and thanks to new funding we have been able to make vital infrastructure investments. It's interesting to note that Poland has received the most EU regional development assistance since 2006, allowing entrepreneurs, local governments, officials and social activists to create ring roads, educational programmes and other initiatives. But Poland's role is not simply one of a passive recipient of aid, as the EU benefits from our voice on relations with our eastern neighbours such as the Ukraine and Belarus.
Many commentators have recently divided Europe between the profligate Mediterranean countries and their northern neighbours, completely ignoring the incredible rise of Eastern European countries such as Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. But this did not come easily- in Poland's case, successive governments took painful decisions, and the Polish people made big sacrifices. Privatisation, pension reform and opening our country to globalisation produced losers as well as winners. We were one of the first countries to introduce a public debt anchor in our constitution, and next year alone we intend to cut our budget deficit to 3% of GDP and overall debt to 52% of GDP. The retirement age will be lifted to 67 years for both genders and pension privileges will be cut and disability pension contribution will increase. By the end of 2013 Poland is hoped to fulfil the criteria of membership in the Euro zone. And we plan to be in it because we want the Euro zone to survive and flourish
Our desired vision of the EU was presented by Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, RadosÅ‚aw Sikorski, in Berlin last November. It is our opinion the current crisis is not only about debt but also about credibility. We need better fiscal discipline, like we have displayed in Poland, but most importantly we need to restore trust among each other. The organising dynamic of the European Union has always been that of a well-conceived contract between the member states, with the inclusion of the citizens. It is clear that this contract that is now broken, and needs to be fixed. We must look again, as Poland has, to the traditional Western values of solidarity, accountability and credibility to once again restore Europe's prestige and place in the world.
This is an edited extract taken from a speech by the Polish Ambassador to Australia, Andrzej JaroszyÅ„ski, to the University of Western Sydney.
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