Bush Visit and EU Poll Test Divided Loyalties of Poles ; POLAND: Government Faces a Crucial 10 Days as It Seeks to Strengthen US Ties and Win a Referendum for Membership of European Union

By Castle, Stephen | The Independent (London, England), May 3, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Bush Visit and EU Poll Test Divided Loyalties of Poles ; POLAND: Government Faces a Crucial 10 Days as It Seeks to Strengthen US Ties and Win a Referendum for Membership of European Union


Castle, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)


POLAND IS hosting George Bush and Tony Blair today for visits that mark the start of a crucial 10 days for a country divided between its loyalty to America and its desire to take its place in Europe.

Mr Bush will tour Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps and deliver an address near Krakow before travelling to Russia for talks with its President, Vladimir Putin.

Mr Blair, who is styling himself as a prominent ally of the EU's new east European entrants, is making a speech in Warsaw as part of a post- war victory lap of six countries.

The visits come only eight days before Poles begin voting in a referendum on membership of the European Union, with "yes" campaigners concerned about achieving the 50 per cent turn-out needed to give the vote legal force.

Poland not only supported the American-led war on Iraq by sending special forces, such as its elite "grom" commando unit, but is now assembling a multinational military force to take over peace- keeping in a sector of central and southern Iraq. Its strong support for Washington provoked anger in Germany and France, which was compounded by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, describing eastern Europeans such as the Poles as part of "new Europe".

Recent opinion polls suggest support for EU membership has increased to more than 65 per cent. But a turn-out of at least 50 per cent is needed to make the vote valid and the government has sought to boost participation by organising the vote over two days - the weekend of 7 and 8 June. Without the required popular support, parliament would have to ratify entry by a majority of two thirds.

Supporters of membership fear that the publication of a preamble to the new draft EU constitution that makes no mention of God will provoke a dispute with the Catholic Church, whose influence could be critical to the outcome.

Poland's path to membership has not been easy. Conscious of its role as the only large country scheduled to join the EU next year, Warsaw fought hard over its terms of entry, prompting some diplomats in Brussels to note that the Poles combined the Euroscepticism of the British with the truculence of the Spanish.

With the war in Iraq now over, Poland has begun a concerted effort to rebuild its ties with France and Germany by reinvigorating the so-called "Weimar triangle", the forum in which the three countries meet.

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Bush Visit and EU Poll Test Divided Loyalties of Poles ; POLAND: Government Faces a Crucial 10 Days as It Seeks to Strengthen US Ties and Win a Referendum for Membership of European Union
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