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Poland: Warsaw Cuts Key Deals With EU, Germany

Warsaw, Brussels; 21 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Poland settled two lingering disputes today with the acceptance of agreements with the European Union on the free movement of labor, and with Germany on compensation for Nazi-era enslavement. Warsaw made important progress in its negotiations to join the EU when it approved a deal on the politically sensitive issue of the free movement of workers.

The EU wants former communist candidate countries to accept restrictions of up to seven years on the movement of their workers into current EU member states after their accession.

Polish negotiator Jan Truszczynski said the Polish decision had not been an easy one: "The transitional mechanism proposed by the [current EU] member states was, for a very long time, questioned by Poland, and indeed, while accepting the transitional mechanism as it now stands we still underline our view that there is no sufficient economic basis, nor demographic basis, for having an arrangement of that nature."

Free movement of labor is one of 31 chapters, or policy areas, in which candidates must bring their domestic laws into line with those of the EU. Poland has now closed 20 chapters.

The EU imposed the restrictions under pressure from member states Germany and Austria, who fear a big influx of cheap labor from Poland, the Czech Republic, and other candidates after accession. As many as 10 states are expected to join the EU by 2004. The Czechs closed their EU chapter on the free movement of labor on 26 October after securing concessions from Brussels to protect the Czech labor market.

Meanwhile, the Polish government today settled another long-running dispute over compensation for Poles who were forced to work for the Nazi regime during World War II.

The heads of German and Polish foundations administering compensation funds say the workers deserve extra payments at the end of January because Germany used an unfavorable exchange rate when transferring the money.

The foundation boards must still approve the agreement. About 500,000 Poles are eligible for the slave-labor compensation, and each worker is expected to get the equivalent of $900-6,500.

The head of the Polish foundation, Jerzy Sulek, said the extra payments will amount to as much as $700. He said Germany will contribute $50 million to cover the extra payments, and Poland will provide $3.75 million.