Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Poles apart

Back in the late nineties Bill Jamieson and I were almost the only people around who argued that enlargement to take in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe was not a very good idea for the applicant countries. There were plenty of people who whined about the effect enlargement of that kind might have on those who were already members but few agreed with us that the new ones would suffer.

Our argument was relatively straightforward. What the newly democratic countries needed and genuinely wanted was security through membership of NATO and economic growth encouraged by free-trade agreements with the rest of Europe.

What they did not need is the imposition of EU rules on fragile economies and political structures. That and having their agricultural goods priced out of the market by heavily subsidized Western ones would not produce economic development but high unemployment. And it has come to pass.

To be fair, the Poles seem to have wrecked their economy without bothering to put all of the acquis communautaire into place. As the International Herald Tribune points out:
Since 2003, Poland's jobless rate has fallen from 20.7 percent to 15 percent, but mainly due to more than one million people leaving to take up jobs in Britain, Ireland and other Western European countries.

Poland, a staunchly Catholic nation of 39 million people, still has miserably low wages across many sectors by European standards — even for doctors and scientists — and dilapidated roads, railways and houses.

Poland's per capita gross domestic product has risen slower than that of any other new EU member state between 2000-2006, according to a report by the Center of European Reform, a London-based think tank.
In other words, Poland needs a good deal of money from the rest of the European Union and does not hesitate to make its need known as we know from the negotiations, which ended in Britain losing part of the rebate.

Unfortunately, that is as far as Poland goes in acknowledging its membership of the European Union – rights but not duties, so to speak.
When the European Union reprimanded Poland over its bloated budget deficit at a meeting of finance ministers last week, Polish Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska was not there to listen to other EU countries chide her.

Her absence raised a few eyebrows but did not really come as a surprise.

Since being reappointed as finance minister last September, Gilowska has not turned up at a single ministerial meeting in Brussels, reflecting the go-it-alone attitude of the current conservative Polish government that threatens to drive Warsaw into isolation on issues ranging from the economy to the environment.
Mind you, as she is the fifth finance minister in 16 months, she may simply not know where she is supposed to be when.

According to the article “Brussels” is beginning to get impatient though whether it will introduce the ultimate sanction – a suspension of various structural funds – remains to be seen.

While, personally, I am delighted to have Polish workers over in Britain, I do appreciate that the country might want them back. As they all have ID cards, it ought not to be difficult to organize that. The only trouble is that a number of labour-intensive parts of the British economy, such as horticulture, vegetable and fruit growing and, of course, construction would not survive without them. So Poland’s future, complete with its historically normal attitude to other countries, remains somewhat uncertain.

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