Interview with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk 'I'm Incapable of Getting Angry with Angela Merkel'
Poland remains in a state of mourning for the victims of the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, but the country is also looking ahead, Prime Minister Donald Tusk says in an interview. The introduction of the euro will be Poland's next major project -- and won't be stopped either by the financial crisis or the at-times-heated domestic debate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE is currently partnering with Britain's Guardian, Spain's El Pais, France's Le Monde and Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza as a part of the Guardian's "New Europe" series. The publications conducted this joint interview with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as part of the project.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: This Sunday marks the first anniversary of the airplane crash at Smolensk. On April 10, 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other politicians, church leaders and military officials perished. Is Poland still in a state of shock?
Tusk: We are in mourning because we lost several dozen leading public figures. It's not only the immediate families who are mourning, it is an authentic, national state of mourning.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: As prime minister, how did you deal with the tragedy?
Tusk: For me as the prime minister it was of utmost importance to provide for the continuity of the government. It was important to prevent a crisis of state: The president, the head of the Bank of Poland, the leaders of both chambers of parliament and many other officials were killed. This event has proved the resilience of the Polish state. The country maintained its domestic order and its foreign policy continuity.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The historically tense relationship between Warsaw and Moscow initially appeared to have been improved by the tragedy. But serious differences of opinion relating to the accident emerged later. A Russian investigative commission placed the blame for the crash solely on the Polish pilots. How do relations stand today?
Tusk: Right after the accident, which happened on Russian territory, the most important thing was to prevent the deterioration of Polish-Russian relations. On that issue, not everyone in Poland or Russia has been helpful. Despite the fact that the Russian authorities have not always taken an appropriate stance during the investigation into the causes of the accident, one can still say that the process of reconciliation that we began four years ago has continued to move forward.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The tragedy has long since been used to make political capital. Opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the deceased president, has even said he considers you to be partially responsible for the accident. Will the tragedy play a decisive role in elections in the autumn?
Tusk: The opposition has used it as a tool to attack the government. But I believe the same thing would happen in any other country. Public opinion here is divided on this issue, but the majority of the Polish public takes a rational approach on this issue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The euro is in a state of crisis. Is it worth it for Poland to board this sinking ship?
Tusk: This nautical analogy is graphic, but the euro is not a sinking ship. I met with the prime minister of Malta (this week) and he is convinced that his country would have experienced a major financial catastrophe without the euro. The Slovaks and Estonians share similar views. I can confirm that Poland will join the euro zone, and not just because all the treaties are signed, but because I consider it of strategic interest both for Poland and the European Union. But only a fool would believe that the euro could provide a guarantee that a financial crisis would never happen again. No currency can protect against that. Still, strict criteria apply within the euro zone for financial and budgetary policies which make it possible to combat the crisis. Today Poland meets many of the Maastricht criteria better than some euro-zone countries.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the public perception of the euro in Poland? Has the crisis stirred fears in the Polish populace or has it instead fostered trust? After all, the European Union ultimately rescued the countries that were worst-hit.
Tusk: There has never been particular enthusiasm for the euro in Poland -- neither now nor before the crisis. Opinion has always been divided 50-50 and not much has changed. It could be characterized as a kind of rational skepticism. We want the euro, but we are in no hurry. We want to first see how the euro zone overcomes its problems.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And when does Poland want to join the euro zone?
Tusk: I already made the mistake once of publicly naming a date, 2012. But one month later, Lehman Brothers collapsed. I haven't named any dates since then. Unless something extraordinary happens, we will meet the criteria by 2015, which is not to say that that is the probable date for accession.
- Part 1: 'I'm Incapable of Getting Angry with Angela Merkel'
- Part 2: 'Europe Must Believe in the Point of Integration'