Business, Economics and Jobs

Poland takes over EU presidency amid financial crisis

To celebrate Poland taking the EU presidency for the first time since joining the bloc in 2004, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk hosted EU leaders at a ceremony in Warsaw.

Speaking to journalists beforehand, he said Poland would take responsibility in helping steer the EU out of its sovereign debt crisis. But he said there needed to be greater cooperation between member states.

"A lot of the foundations in Europe as a community are being criticized today," said Tusk. "It is important that, despite all, what wins is the spirit for mutual assistance that is going to make Europe turn around."

The Irish Times reports that Tusk has a reputation for economic competence, with Poland avoiding recession in the financial crisis. It says Poland will be looking to strengthen the effort to expand Europe’s single market, with an emphasis on internet-based trade.

But the power of the EU presidency has diminished since Herman Van Rompuy became permanent president of the European Council last year, and Catherine Ashton took charge of EU foreign policy.

Topping Poland's priorities will be helping the EU manage the sovereign debt crisis threatening Greece and the euro zone. The BBC says differences about how to tackle the problem are expected during negotiations over the EU's next long-term budget.

While Poland has not adopted the euro, it has strong trade links with euro zone countries, and Poland is pushing for a bigger budget to encourage growth throughout the bloc.

Countries such as the U.K., which have introduced austerity packages, prefer a smaller budget.

In Warsaw on Thursday, a day before the handover of the EU presidency, several thousand members of the Solidarnosc trade union staged a street protest against rising prices, unemployment and cuts to social services.

But Deutsche Welle says the protests haven't undermined public opinion, with street surveys showing that many Poles are proud to see their country taking the leadership of the EU.

With parliamentary elections in October, Tusk has appealed to the Polish people, notably the opposition, to consider the EU presidency as an opportunity.

The opposition conservative Law and Justice party has predicted an international disgrace for the government, but opinion polls are giving the ruling centrist Civic Platform a strong lead.