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Will Poland make the eurozone by 2012?

Economic downturn will make membership in the common currency more difficult.

A child holds a giant model of a euro coin during a ceremony marking the adoption in 2008 of the common currency by Malta and Cyprus at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, July 10, 2007. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

WARSAW — Poland’s best defense against the full brunt of the economic crisis has been a piece of paper — namely the euro, and the pledge that it would join the common currency as early as 2012.

That promise, made by Prime Minister Donald Tusk just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September, has served to reassure investors that Poland is committed to keeping its economic house in order during the turbulence of the last few months.

“The promise to join the euro has been enormously important, and there will be a price to be paid if Poland doesn’t follow through,” said Raffaella Tenconi, a macroeconomist with Wood & Co., a Prague brokerage.

But now, as the downturn begins to bite, there are increasing doubts over whether Poland will make the deadline.

In order to join the euro, the currency shared by 16 of the European Union’s 27 members, each aspirant has to meet a set of conditions on spending and currency stability set out in the Maastricht criteria. Countries that want to join also have to spend two years in the ERM-2 exchange rate mechanism that is a precursor to euro membership (it requires the value of the currency to float within 15 percent of the value of the euro). To join the euro by 2012, Poland would have to enter the ERM-2 this year.

Officially the government says the plan is still on, but senior officials are beginning to express some doubts.

“The first of January 2012 is still realistic, but it may require some delay,” said Jacek Rostowski, Poland’s finance minister, pointing out that joining ERM-2 in the next few months was unlikely because of the variability of Poland’s exchange rate, which slumped against the euro and the dollar earlier this year before regaining some strength.

“We announced our decision to join the euro before the crisis struck, and even then we said the first of January 2012 was an ambitious but realistic aim,” he said. “Well it’s still a realistic aim but it’s become more ambitious. This world economic crisis has come along and it would be naive to pretend that that has no effect at all. We always said it was an aim that was not dogmatic. If we have to move it along by one year, that’s not the end of the world.”