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Poland: Delay In EU Expansion Could Harm Stability

  • Ben Partridge

London, 26 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The chief negotiator for Poland's membership in the European Union says stability in Central and Eastern Europe will be at risk if the EU's eastward enlargement is delayed.

Jan Kulakowski, who was named to the post this year, told an investment seminar in London this week (Nov. 24) that the consequences of delay could also have serious consequences for the 15-nation Union itself.

The EU has opened accession talks with five Central and East European nations -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia -- with a view to them joining early next century. Cyprus is also involved in accession talks.

Five others -- Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, and Latvia -- have been placed in a lower tier of candidates and have not yet been asked to begin formal accession talks.

Kulakowski told a seminar at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London that Poland expects to be a full member of the EU from January 2003 -- that is, just four years from now.

"As a negotiator, I cannot possibly be a pessimist, otherwise my job would be impossible. But I think I am being quite objective when I say that Poland will be a member of the EU from January 2003. This means that the negotiations will have to be finished at the latest by the end of the year 2000."

Kulakowski said it was essential to move rapidly toward EU enlargement. He said that there were people in the EU who are now saying there is no hurry, and the union can wait until later in the next decade to admit new members. But these people, in his words, have not "really thought through the consequences of delay."

Earlier this month, EU talks with the fast-track applicant states entered a new, more substantive phase. At the same time, a so-called screening process continued to concentrate on the 80,000 pages of EU rules and regulations. Kulakowski says this screening process of what is known, in EU jargon, as the 'acquis', is "a necessary but very long and tedious process" that is likely to last until next summer.

During the screening process, it is up to the applicant countries to say whether they can accept EU regulations, or whether they will have difficulties with them, or need some special arrangement. The EU may also raise problems, as it has with the application of community law to the applicants.

Media reports say several topics have been provisionally agreed on, including research, education, and rules for small businesses. Other discussions will include industrial policy and moves toward a common foreign and security policy.

Kulakowski said the negotiations so far have "generally gone smoothly and neither side has had major problems."

But media reports say discussion of the most serious problem areas still lies ahead. They include agricultural policy, border security, environmental and financial standards, and taxation. Kulakowski said reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy -- which accounts for half the EU's annual budget of some $90 billion -- is vital to enlargement. He also said the budget itself -- nearly 30 percent of which is paid by German taxpayers -- needs reform, as do structural funds which go to support poorer EU regions.

But he said it is not satisfactory that, at present, the 15 EU nations are discussing these problems alone without the applicant countries.

"The reform of the Common Agricultural Budget, of the Structural Funds, of the Community Budget and of the Community Institutions is vital to the enlargement. At the moment, the Union's member states are discussing these problems alone without the 'candidate countries.' This is not necessarily the ideal scenario, because the member states will exhaust themselves in a negotiation between the 15 and then will show little readiness to change these proposals in the negotiations with us."

Kulakowski said the EU may "also bring up other problems such as the free movement of workers." But he said it is essential that the citizens in applicant countries have the same rights to travel and work and live anywhere in the union as the citizens of the 15 current member states.

Saying there can be no second class membership of the EU, Kulakowski said: "Free movement is one of the most evident benefits of membership."