Germany is often thought of as the economic backbone of the EU. However, the Polish economy is proving to be an important player in the region, as well, with The New York Times recently calling Poland “the leading symbol of regional stability and resolve.”
Poland, both a member nation of NATO and the EU, blew through the global financial crisis like no other. It is the only country with economic growth in every quarter since the crisis hit in 2008, and has a GDP 25% above its precrisis level. Exports from Poland have exploded during the past decade, up from US$53 billion in 2003 to US$203 billion in 2013.
Poland’s household debt is low, at 60% of total disposable income, compared to Germany’s level of 93%, Spain’s 140%, and Britain’s 150%.
Despite a slowing rate of GDP growth (4.5% in 2011, 1.9% in 2012, and 1.6% in 2013), Poland has gained credibility among Western European leaders. Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk was recently elected by the European heads of state as president of the Council of Europe. He is the first president of the European Council to hail from a former Soviet bloc nation. (He designated Ewa Kopacz, the minister of health from 2007–2011, as interim prime minister.)
Poland has positioned itself as the model for post-Soviet bloc nations to follow in developing a successful economy. Aided by US$180 billion in EU aid since 2005, and with another US138 billion to arrive by 2020, Poland’s path stands in stark contrast to other fellow post-Soviet bloc neighbors, such as Hungary and Lithuania.
With a long history of Russian interference, and given Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine and the ensuing tit-for-tat sanction battle between Russia and the West, Poland has been pressuring the EU to do more to end its dependence on Russian energy supplies. Given Poland’s increased political influence and economic credibility, the EU may listen.