Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Are you sure you really want to join?

Looking exhausted, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: "This is a truly historic day for Europe. This has been a pretty gruelling 30 hours of negotiation."The entry of such a large Muslim state was "proof that we can live, work and prosper together".

So reports The Telegraph, with Jack Straw getting a bit over-excited about the start of Turkish accession talks. At the very earliest, Turkey will not be able to join until 2015 and there is no guaranteed even that the EU will still exist by then.

More to the point, Turkey may take a leaf from Groucho Marx and decide that any club that wants it as a member is not a club worth joining. And, if the Turks have any doubts, they could always have a word with one of the newest members, Poland, to see how they have fared.

According to Reuters, Poland is at risk of losing billions of euros in cohesion fund payments because the EU Commission does not accept that the country’s newly amended environment protection law meets EU standards.

At risk is the €12 billion to be paid from 2004 to 2007, with Warsaw counting on at least €60 billion from 2007 to 2013.

The commission has already suspended payments of more than €1 billion and, because of “opaque and complicated procedures” for allocating EU aid in Poland, it may delay or even scrap other funds. “The absorption of EU structural and cohesion funds in Poland is worrying," the official said.

This has considerable political implications as the continued slow flow of EU funds would be a major blow for Poland's new centre-right government, which is due to replace the coalition of Social Democrats defeated in general elections last month.

More to the point, Poland is now between a rock and a hard place. After decades of under-investment under the Communist regime, and the application of primitive (if any) environmental standards, the costs of meeting EU environment laws will run to untold billions, and seriously handicap businesses seeking to emerge from the yoke of Communism.

Now that the commission has made the payment of aid contingent on compliance with EU law, the Poles are in a position where it costs them not to comply but, in all probability, will cost them more to comply.

For different reasons, Turkey will have just as much problem complying with EU environment law – as indeed do all existing member states – and, therefore, any hopes of a flow of easy money from the EU, should the Turks actually be mad enough to join, are likely to be dashed.

But then, the chances of that happening are exceedingly remote.

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