Reluctant Entrant

Article excerpt

Poland and the EU

Poland applied for EU membership in April 1994 and since then has followed a program designed to adjust its legal and economic structures to EU standards.

Agriculture is the area that Poland most needs to reform in order to conform to EU standards. But this sector also stubbornly refused to collectivize during the Communist regime because of the belief that collectivization would mean a loss of identity. Polish agriculture continues to be a potent political force: agriculture accounted for over two-thirds of the private sector economy in 1989, the year the Communist regime fell, and it is still a large part of the private sector today. Polish integration into the European Union poses the same threat to farming that Communism did, and integration can thus expect the same kind of opposition.

Poland is home to roughly two million farms, most of which are located in isolated, economically underdeveloped areas. Like his predecessors 50 years ago, the average Polish farmer today still owns only two or three cows and foregoes modern sanitation and breeding processes. However, agricultural interests have been effective at political mobilization, as reflected by the generous subsidies and low-interest loans that the government consistently grants farmers.

Polish agricultural efficiency is shockingly low, partly as a result of a high supply of labor. Agriculture employed 26 percent of Poland's working population in 1991, compared to a 6.2 percent average for the entire European Union. This high rate is not shared by other Eastern and Central European nations. Thus, Poland's high agricultural-employment rate is not a general feature of Eastern European development but one that is unique to Poland. The cultural emphasis of the Polish people on traditional identities and on respecting the heritage of their ancestors seems to be an element that is distinctive enough to cause such a discrepancy.

Where EU economists see poor utilization of resources, Polish citizens see family traditions and cultural roots. Many members of younger generations have left their farms to work in the booming urban corporate sector, but they remain steadfastly loyal to their familial past. Due to Poland's agricultural tradition, loyalty to the family often means loyalty to the land, a personal attachment to the family's farms and fields. Not even these young men and women would allow their family land to be collectivized into impersonal factories that churn out produce and livestock.

This adherence to cultural roots is as much a result of fear as of sentiment. Poland's current apprehension toward external rules and its attachment to native culture can be explained by the history of the Polish people before the rebirth of the independent state. …