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Poland: Loss of EU Aid Shows Need For Institutional Streamlining

Prague, 27 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union (EU) has sharply reduced its 1998 aid for Poland, charging that Warsaw failed to prepare adequate projects to advance its preparations for membership. The move is unprecedented in relations between the EU and applicant countries.

The European Commission, EU's executive agency, said in a statement issued two days ago in Brussels that Poland would receive $196 million (178 million Ecus) instead of the originally earmarked $233 million (212 million Ecus) to help it to prepare for EU membership through a program called PHARE.

Hans van den Broek, European commissioner for relations with Central and Eastern Europe, said that the EU program "only funds projects that tackle priorities set out in the Accession Partnership (and) candidates are expected to show that proposals are cost-effective and that the necessary technical and institutional arrangements are ready to deliver those projects."

The statement also said that those criteria, and deadlines for submission of proposals, apply equally to all applicant countries.

It appears that the cut in the aid for Poland was made because some of the projects submitted by Warsaw were either irrelevant to its membership preparations or simply were not ready for implementation.

Moreover, the EU move might have been designed to demonstrate its determination that the criteria set out in the Accession Partnership strategy for applicant countries would be applied strictly. In this way, the Polish case may serve as a potential warning to all other applicant countries.

The Polish government has initially expressed hope that the decision could eventually be reversed.

But the EU spokeswoman, Lousewies van der Laan, yesterday said that the decision to cut the aid was "final" because the Polish proposals "failed to meet the criteria of administrative reform and restructuring." The more than $37 million cut from the aid for Poland will be put into the common fund from which all applicant countries, including Poland, may later benefit.

The EU decision was a bitter, but perhaps much needed, lesson for Poland. It showed the need seriously to prepare for entry into European institutions, without operational shortcuts.

The Polish government is supported by a coalition of various centrist and right-wing parties, some of which have only lukewarm attitude toward EU and other European bodies. The preparatory work toward EU membership is conducted through several agencies, frequently with different political orientations and priorities. To succeed in its effort to enter EU, Poland might consider some form of political streamlining and greater institutional coordination.

In a first step toward this goal, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek immediately dismissed an official directly responsible for presenting proposals to the PHARE program.

Subsequently, the Polish media reported that Ryszard Czarnecki, head of the Committee for European Integration, submitted his resignation. Buzek stopped short of accepting that resignation, however, apparently out of concern that the move would have further political implications for the ruling coalition. Instead, Buzek announced setting up a special commission to investigate the matter and prepare recommendations for future actions.

There is little doubt, however, that the work to prepare for EU membership, a priority for all Polish governments of recent years, requires sustained and coordinated efforts of all government agencies and other state bodies.

The EU decision to cut the aid provides a warning of what can happen if those efforts are either neglected or unduly influenced by domestic politics.