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Poland: EU Enlargement Will End 'Unjust Division of Europe'

London, 13 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Polish Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz says the eastward expansion of the EU has a historical and moral dimension because it will mark the end of the "unjust division" of Europe after the second World War.

Speaking to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London yesterday, Balcerowicz said the enlargement of the EU to include the Central/East Europeans will seal the reunification of Europe, a process that began with the unification of Germany.

His message was clear: enlargement will be beneficial not only for the Central/East European countries but also for the West Europeans because it will lead to higher growth across the continent, and to the creation of jobs in both East and West.

Balcerowicz was on two-day visit to Britain that included talks yesterday with British Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown and the awarding of an honorary degree by Scotland's Dundee University.

Balcerowicz, who is also Poland's finance minister, is regarded as the architect of his country's market reforms, praised by World Bank and other officials as a model for post-communist societies.

Balcerowicz sought to answer critics particularly in Germany, Austria, France, and Belgium, who say EU expansion will inevitably lead to a migration of jobs to the East with its lower labor costs.

He said Poland is actually creating jobs in factories in Germany and Britain, two of its key trading partners, because it is running a huge trade deficit, importing far more goods than it exports.

Balcerowicz said Poland is not asking the Western Europeans to make sacrifices in order to accommodate it as an EU member. Rather, he insisted, the argument for enlargement is a rational one because it will be in the mutual benefit of both sides.

He said Poland's economy grew by 6 or 7 percent annually between 1993-1997 -- much higher than West European countries. He said that made it a potential source of dynamism for the EU (eds: Britain's economy is expected to grow by less than 1 percent next year).

He called for Western European politicians to show courageous leadership by explaining the benefits of EU enlargement.

EU foreign ministers began a first round of detailed enlargement negotiations in Brussels earlier this week. The six in the first wave of accession talks are Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, and Cyprus. The talks are expected to lead to the biggest change in the character of the EU since it was founded in 1957.

Balcerowicz said he believes the EU should spell out "a minimum package of reforms" to be implemented by applicant countries in order to qualify for early membership of the 15-nation union.

Balcerowicz acknowledged that many critics have said that Poland's admission to the EU is problematic because of the difficulty of accommodating its large number of farmers. But he said the real problem is not Polish farmers, but the fact that the EU's hugely-expensive Common Agricultural Policy needs reform.

Balcerowicz had been due to speak to the RIIA on the "implications for Poland of the international financial crisis."

But on emerging from a meeting with Chancellor Brown yesterday, he told reporters that the "global crisis" which looked so dangerous only a month ago now seemed less serious.

He told the RIIA that because of the Russian crisis and an economic slowdown in Western Europe, Poland has revised its forecast for economic growth next year down from 6.1 to 5.1 percent.

But he also said Poland's exposure to Russia is limited because today only 8 percent of its exports go there. Nowadays, 70 percent of Poland's exports are destined for western countries.