Poland argues euro best defense against crisis

Strong public finances and quick adoption of the euro are the best remedy for Poland's deepening economic turmoil, the country's finance minister said Thursday, as new figures showed a sharp drop in industrial production.

"Secure public finances and a quick adoption of the euro are the best way out of the crisis for Poland," Jacek Rostowski told parliament.

Euro membership is still years away, but the subject gained new urgency after Eastern European currencies and stock markets were hit in recent days by continuing bad economic news.

Poland and its zloty have been suffering after initially avoiding the worst of the initial fallout triggered by the collapse of banks and financial institutions in the United States and western Europe.

The zloty stood at 4.73 to the euro on Thursday — better than Wednesday's level of 4.89. That good news, however, was tempered by the Central Statistical Office's announcement that Poland's industrial production dropped 14.9 percent in January compared with the same month last year.
It was the third consecutive month of declining industrial production — a key indicator for the overall health of the economy.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said earlier this month that Poland would stick to its plans to adopt the euro in 2012, but acknowledged that the financial crisis could threaten that goal.

The government has refused to increase the budget deficit even after the crisis pushed down 2009 growth estimates from around 3.7 percent to 1.7 percent. Instead, it opted earlier this month to find 19.7 billion zlotys ($5.5 billion) in savings in the 2009 budget.

"We are ready to find more savings, and if that doesn't suffice we don't want to raise taxes or increase the budget deficit, but we have to be prepared for a situation in which we have to choose the lesser evil," Rostowski said.

Danske Bank chief analyst Lars Christensen said Poland's public finances "are relatively strong, both in a central European and even a European perspective," and that the government is "more or less on track and moving in the right direction."

Before adopting the euro, prospective members are required to spend at least two years in an exchange rate mechanism, or ERM-II, that demands low and controlled inflation, healthy public finances and a budget deficit below 3 percent. Meeting Poland's 2012 euro target would require Warsaw to start that process this year.

Analyst Christensen said the government is veering onto a "dangerous path" with its continued talk "about ERM-2 and euro adoption when it is clear that there is no commitment on the other side of the table from the ECB (European Central Bank) or the EU Commission."

Christensen said such talk raises too many questions — such as where to peg the zloty — and "creates uncertainty rather than certainty."

Rostowski, who has been criticized by the opposition for his handling of the economy in the face of the turmoil, said adopting the euro would shield Poland's currency from pressures that have seen the zloty drop as much as 15 percent in 2009 to 4.9 against the euro and pushed up foreign debt payments.

"Our ambition to quickly join the euro stems from the fact that it is the best means to fight the crisis in Poland," Rostowski said.

The 16 countries using the euro — including Poland's neighbor Slovakia, which joined Jan. 1 — have seen growth plummet and strain on their public finances, but have not had to deal with added pain of sharp currency devaluations. Some non-euro countries, such as Iceland, Hungary, and Ukraine, have needed IMF bailouts after their currencies plunged.
Source: iht.com

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