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Poland: Nation Reconsiders Accession Issues, Seeks Greater EU Flexibility

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Brussels, 19 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Polish Foreign Minister Wlodimierz Cimoszewicz today told European Union officials in Brussels that his country has decided to soften its stance on a number of key policy issues in accession talks in a bid to revive talks which have stalled badly this year.

Poland, traditionally one of the front-runners, has been overtaken in negotiations by most second-wave candidates who started talks two years later. Last week, Poland's problems were further highlighted by a European Commission "progress report," which criticized the country's slow market reforms and said Poland's massive agriculture sector lacks a "coherent strategy."

Poland's new left-wing government has declared it wants to speed up talks and that an early EU entry remains its most important political priority.

After talks with the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, Cimoszewicz indicated that Poland is looking for a complex arrangement that would involve such negotiating "chapters" as the free movement of workers and the free movement of capital and agriculture. Final agreement, the Polish foreign minister said, would require compromise on both sides.

"We believe it is necessary to demonstrate -- for both sides, by the way -- a real determination to guarantee the success of the gigantic project to have the European Union enlarged one day. And just to demonstrate that on the Polish side there is the necessary determination, the government decided to make its position more flexible than before."

Cimoszewicz's visit follows the announcement by the Polish government last week that it has reviewed its position in the "free movement of capital" chapter. Instead of the initially demanded 18-year freeze on sales of agricultural and forestry land to foreigners after enlargement, the Polish government now wants a freeze of 12 years. It has dropped the demand for a shorter transitional period on the sale of land for industrial investment purposes.

Most other EU candidate countries have already accepted a compromise deal which allows them to freeze land sales to foreigners for up to seven years after enlargement. Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovenia have sought no restrictions on land sales.

Enlargement commissioner Verheugen said today that he did agree the "Polish case" was different, and said if Poland were to provide the EU with clearer justifications for its demand they would be considered. Verheugen indicated that he had already discussed the issue with some EU leaders and had found their response generally "positive."

To complicate matters, however, Poland is now asking the EU to reconsider its own demand for a maximum seven-year ban after enlargement on worker movement from Eastern European member countries into current EU members. The demand, pushed by Germany and Austria, was the result of an acrimonious compromise this spring. Cimoszewicz today indicated Poland now wants the EU to change its position, saying that Warsaw would not accept a ban longer than two years.

Again, most other Eastern and Central European candidate countries have already accepted the EU's demand of seven-year curbs, winning concessions that allow them to apply reciprocal curbs on EU workers. Four EU member states -- Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Ireland -- have announced they would open their borders to Eastern workers without any delay after enlargement.

Cimoszewicz also indicated Poland expects to benefit fully from the EU's existing schemes of generous agricultural subsidies. This is a highly controversial issue -- negotiations on which are not due to start before next year -- as present budget constraints would seem to make it impossible to fund present levels of subsidies beyond 2004 when up to 10 new members are expected to join.

Worried by the impact of enlargement on agricultural subsidies -- currently making up about 50 percent of the EU budget -- some member countries recently floated the idea of bringing forward the 2003 review of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to settle the matter before candidate countries acquire a full vote in the procedure.

In a calculated gesture, Verheugen today rejected claims that the candidate progress reports released last week by the commission reflected a decision to opt for a "big bang" enlargement in 2004 -- accepting all current candidates with the exception of Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.

Verheugen said that although he had fewer doubts than ever that Poland would be among the first wave of enlargement, no candidate could expect to be accepted for political reasons alone. He said the EU was still proceeding from the principle that each candidate is considered on its individual objective merits and that the commission is preparing for the accession of "up to 10 new members" in 2004.