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Poles Struggle With EU Reality

After the initial euphoria of joining the EU in May, Poles are grappling with the economic consequences: While farmers and used car sellers are upbeat, consumers and fishermen seem less enthusiastic about the changes.

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Polish farmers are starting to benefit from EU accession

Open borders, EU-wide trade and cheaper products -- those were some of the hopes Poles had when their country became part of the union almost four months ago. Now EU reality has hit them -- a disappointment for many.

"Some things were meant to become cheaper -- German beer, for example, but it still costs as much as before," one woman told German public broadcaster WDR. "Phoning people and using the Internet was supposed to become cheaper, because there's more competition. But nothing's happening, which is something that I'm personally sad about, because I've been waiting for things to change."

Another woman agreed.

Warschau - Marktplatz in Warschau

Market square in Warsaw

"I'm only hearing about the positive things in radio and TV and reading about it in the newspapers -- that our exports are up and that it's going to get better and better for us," she said. "But I'm not seeing that happening."

She added that meat was a third more expensive now and prices for medicines had also increased. Pensions on the other hand had stayed the same, she said.

Beef and poultry prices have indeed increased by about 18 percent, according to a report by the National Bank of Poland. On the other hand, few things have become cheaper: Electronics, wine and beer have just gone down 0.5 percent in price.

Farming business is booming

Polish farmers on the other hand are more upbeat. A few months ago, they were still considered the problem children of Poland's EU accession. Badly organized and working on small farms, officials worried that farmers would not be able to compete internationally.

Markt in Warschau

A farmer offering vegetables in Warsaw

But business is booming: Asparagus, fruit, potatoes, wheat and mushrooms from Poland have become bestsellers in the EU. Farmers also have overcome their initial hesitation to apply for financial help from Brussels.

"If 1.3 million farmers are able to apply for funds, that's something that we can be proud of," Polish Agriculture Minister Wojciech Olejniczak told WDR. "And we'll convince those that are still hesitating -- maybe not tomorrow, but definitely by the end of the year."

Fishermen struggle to adjust

The country's fishermen, however, say they are suffering rather than benefiting from EU accession: They now have to deal with fishing limits imposed by the union and EU incentives not to fish at all.

Greenpeace prangert Fischereiindustrie an

Greenpeace activists protested against the EU fishing policies in Berlin as fishermen throw millions of fish back into the sea because they are too small

"The only thing I can do is trample on the catch and throw it back into the sea," one fisherman told WDR. "But everyone wants to work. I can't imaging giving up so quickly. It's horror for me. I'll be spending the (incentive) money and at some point there won't be any more. And what happens then?"

It's a problem Polish used car sellers don't face at the moment. In May and June alone, they imported more than 160,000 cars from western Europe -- that's five times as many as during the entire year of 2003.

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