Warsaw near Goal of Bid to Join EU

By Dougherty, Carter | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

Warsaw near Goal of Bid to Join EU


Dougherty, Carter, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Carter Dougherty

WARSAW - Poland is entering the final phase of its decade-long quest to enter the European Union, a project that has come to dominate its domestic politics and the country's relationship with the rest of Europe.

Negotiations are scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year, and the government will hold a referendum in 2003 so that Poland can enter the 15-nation European Union the following January.

But with a new anti-EU party in parliament, and support for EU membership slipping in some quarters, Polish leaders are working to shore up support at home.

"There is no alternative than the European integration of Poland," said Prime Minister Leszek Miller, a former communist turned Social Democrat, in a discussion with American journalists. "Either we join the family of nations . . . or find ourselves on the periphery of European civilization."

Lurking behind the high-minded talk of returning Poland to the European fold after 40 years of Soviet occupation is money. Membership in the European Union would offer Polish companies better access to rich markets to its west, and a piece of the billions of euros that Brussels dispenses to its poorer members each year.

Before the Russian economy fell apart in 1998, 70 percent of Poland's exports went east to former Soviet bloc countries. Now, it ships 70 percent to the west, making the markets of Germany, France and other major EU members the keys to Poland's economic future.

The debate on the European Union commands more attention domestically than any other issue, according to politicians and other observers.

"It's the key problem to be resolved in Poland's politics today," said Brontislaw Wildstein, a columnist with Rzeczpospolita, a centrist Warsaw newspaper.

Politically, the warning signs for the pro-EU camp are clear. …

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