by Judit Kozenkow Ph.D.
July 27, 2012
After his comments on London’s readiness for the Olympics the GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s ongoing visit to the UK is really in the media’s spotlight worldwide. This incident hopefully won’t overtake his whole trip as two countries, Israel and Poland are waiting for his arrival. From these two countries Poland usually gets less attention. Now it has the opportunity to seize this moment and highlight that its importance is far beyond the usually mentioned undecided Polish-American voters in the U.S. and the American reset policy with Russia.
Poland has always been considered to be the most Atlanticist country in the Central and Eastern European region. The use of the U.S. dollar as hard currency during the socialist era, then the commitment to integrate quickly into the transatlantic economic and political community through membership in NATO, OECD and the EU are clear evidences of close American ties. Its role as a reliable ally for the U.S. was seriously debated when Obama abandoned the plan of the missile defense system originally planned to be stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Obama’s decision was widely considered as a sacrifice in order to secure – unsuccessfully, according to many experts – the reset policy with Russia. Poland is located at the border zone of the Russian influence and is sensitive to any steps taken in this relation. However, Poland’s bilateral relationship with Russia has significantly improved in the last couple of years and the country has started to balance well between its two old enemies: Germany and Russia. This regional role of Poland, if strengthened, might be highly valued by the U.S.
Economic recovery from the crisis is a core question for Washington, Brussels and also Warsaw. Poland is the only country in the EU that has not fallen into recession during the crisis and has showed remarkable economic performance compared to its neighbors in recent years. The Polish financial system has avoided the problem of foreign currency denominated loans and the housing bubble that are considered to have been the biggest setbacks in other Central and Eastern European countries. Poland’s relatively large internal market (almost 40 million people) has also helped to avoid the shock coming from the decreasing demand on the export markets. These solid and credible economic pillars have allowed Poland to further develop during the crisis while other countries have stagnated or shrunk. Warsaw also claimed that it is able to play a bigger role in the EU’s decision-making process.
The visit to Poland can be quite promising for Romney to be able to focus on Russian reset, missile defense and national security as well as economy in order to gain more popularity at home. But what the Poles think of Romney? How promising is his visit for Poland? Lech Wa??sa, former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who formally invited Romney to Poland said: „At the time when he was elected, I considered Obama as a reformer of the United States and the world. I must say that so far, I haven’t noticed what I was hoping for. This is why I look for what could be better for Europe and Poland.”
A Polish journal, Rzeczpospolita expressed that Obama has much lower support in Poland than in Western Europe: only 50 percent of the Poles trust the current U.S. president while it reaches 80 percent in countries such as France and Germany. An expert from the Polish Institute of International Affairs was also quoted in the same journal: „The streets of Warsaw pay little attention to Romney’s travel. However, in several Polish media the visit is considered as a confirmation of the traditionally close relations between the Republican Party and Central Europe.”
If Mitt Romney has the chance after the November elections to repeat his trip to Poland in a new capacity Warsaw might have the opportunity to play a greater role in transatlantic partnership either through political sympathy or in terms of growing economic and military ties. The message of Robert Kupiecki, Polish Ambassador to the United States expressed in an interview with Central Europe Digest on July 27, is worth considering: „Never lose Poland from your sight.”