- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

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.
In September parliamentary elections, the League of Polish Families, an agrarian, populist conservative party that campaigned on the basis of opposition to EU membership, won representation for the first time. It warned that Poles would lose their national identity in a huge organization like the European Union, a message that EU backers frankly admit has gained currency.
"We just got out from under Moscow and now there's Brussels," said Jerzy Jaskiernia, the center-left chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Polish parliament, who supports EU membership.
Polls have shown support for EU membership slipping from about 80 percent in 1997 to around 60 percent today.
Negotiators must also decide how Poland's 2 million small farmers will fit into the complex, expensive European schemes for supporting agriculture. Poland wants to see its producers treated equally, something existing EU members are sure to fight, said Danuta Huebner, Poland's deputy foreign minister.
"The negotiations so far have not been very easy and the most difficult chapters are still ahead of us," she said.
Poland must also resolve several contentious issues with its German neighbor. EU membership would allow Polish workers to circulate freely in its member nations, something that Germany, already home to thousands of illegal Polish workers, has said it will do only after seven years. Privately, observers in Warsaw believe that Berlin will soften this demand after German elections in September.
Poland, in turn, is reluctant to sign on to EU rules that would allow citizens of other member nations to own Polish property. Poland's western provinces were part of Germany before World War II. Many Poles fear rich Germans will buy up huge swaths of property in those areas.

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