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Europe

Poland's Limp into the EU

Twelve Central- and Eastern European countries plan to join the EU. Poland is the largest of them and remains the furthest behind in negotiating entry.

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Polish farmers, not pig carcasses, have been one of the main obstacles.

A few years ago, Poland was the economic darling of Eastern Europe.

It had dodged the recession and currency problems of other former Communist nations like Hungary and began posting growth percentages that wowed investors. They reacted by pumping billions into the economy. Unemployment levels were steady, direct investment was high and typically pessimistic Poles were awash in optimism as they began negotiating for EU entry in 1998.

How quickly things change.

Growth has slumped, unemployment has soared to 17 percent of the population and the people are starting to express their doubts about EU entry. All this with the deadline for 2004 entry almost upon them.

Poland is the largest and most unwieldy of the 13 countries negotiating for entry into the until-now exclusive Western European club. Polish and EU negotiators have clashed repeatedly on a number of conditions for EU entry – laid out in a 80,000 page document.

The farmer’s plight

The European Union is getting impatient with Poland’s bulldog stance on several key issues, chief among them agriculture and unemployment. Polish EU advocates are as well. But a heavy resistance among Polish farmers and a recent government change have put up major obstacles on the road to progress.

Leszek Miller

Poland's new Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance of reformed ex-communists, gives his first policy speech in parliament in Warsaw, Thursday Oct. 25. 2001. Parliament's speaker Marek Borowski is in the background. Miller pledged to overcome the crisis of the public finances and to set the country on a path of high economic growth. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The farmers are worried they will become an extinct species when Poland gets flooded by agricultural products from highly industrialized EU farms. The EU, fed up with the 20 percent share agriculture has in the Polish labor market, has done nothing to assuage their fears.

Product quotas assigned to all EU members promise to be far lower than those of the western states, meaning Polish farmers will have a limit to how much they can sell. They can’t depend on the rich subsidies enjoyed by current members either. The EU has said that candidate countries will receive only 25 percent of the subsidies out of the € 40 billion ($ 36 billion) Union agriculture budget that current countries enjoy.

What’s more, "Polish farmers are not ready to apply and fulfill all the bureaucratic requirements needed to get the subsidies," Chris Wietrzny, a farm lobbyist, told DW-WORLD. "There are only a small amount of farms who can benefit from the subsidies, around 25 percent. For the rest of the farmers, a difficult period will start, because they will not be able to compete on the external market."

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