What convergence? (The Economist, December 7th, 2002)

Poland's government still insists that it will be ready to join the euro in 2006 or 2007. But last month Grzegorz Kolodko, its finance minister, presented his EU counterparts with proposals to loosen the fiscal rules.

He argued that budgetary rules should apply to the aggregate deficit in the euro-area, rather than to each country—an extension of a British proposal. One Dutch official fumed privately that profligates would be “free-riding” on the backs of more frugal countries. But Mr Kolodko is unrepentant: “the EU should think about Italy or Belgium's public debts—not to speak of their levels on the eve of EU and [euro-zone] accession.” These are bold words, although they would carry more weight if Poland's awesome budget deficit was itself designed to stimulate economic growth not to put off reforms.

Most analysts doubt that Central Europe's biggest countries—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—have a chance of meeting the 3% deficit limit by 2007. Having secured their places in the EU, these governments may be even more inclined to let budgets and borrowing rip, delaying euro entry as late as 2010. By that time the stability pact may no longer exist, and new members may be able to enter on looser criteria. Punters betting on speedy convergence may have jumped the gun.