The Final EU Reports on Accession States: Polish View

Yesterday the European Union issued its final reports on the progress towards meeting required EU standards of the 10 accession nations scheduled to become members as of next May 1. Inevitably, the issue arose of rankings: which country was doing the best job in finally adhering fully to the EU’s vast body of laws and regulations known as the acquis communautaire, which country the worst. In this, Slovenia comes out on top, and Poland at the bottom – although, in an interview yesterday evening on the BBC World Service, enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen tried to downplay the question of rankings, claiming that it was no surprise that Poland had the most remaining problems, since it is the largest of the new member-states by far.

At the same time, Verheugen has made clear that each of these countries can face sanctions if it doesn’t get its act together. They don’t have to worry about being excluded from EU membership at the last minute, of course, but they could encounter things that could add a distinctly sour note to next May’s celebrations. These could include being hauled before the European Court of Justice or facing extraordinary “protection” measures from other EU states, such as tariffs on goods and/or restrictions on cross-border movements of their citizens.

If you’re willing to by-pass Verheugen’s “largest country” excuse, Poland’s place at the tail-end of the pack is rather ironic, considering the big trouble that country is stirring up in the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to adopt an EU Constitution. Article foretaste: In Poland Threatens a Blockade, in yesterday’s Rzeczpospolita, deputy Polish foreign minister Jan Truszczynski explained how the “quality of the document” – i.e. getting its way on the EU Constitution – is far more important to Poland than mere questions of calendars and timetables. Although, in Waiting for Mutual Concessions in today’s edition of that paper, his boss foreign minister Cimoszewicz is quoted as declaring in Berlin that “we are ready to search for rational compromises.” But he also said that he expected such “compromises” to be attained by means of the German government changing its view on the European Council voting-weights arrangement that is at the center of controversy, and there is no sign that it is about to do that.

Let’s take a look at what one of the mainstays of the Polish press is saying about Poland’s having been singled out as class dunce.

Gazeta Wyborcza’s main treatment of the issue is in Verheugen Presents Report on New Countries in the Union, with the sub-title “If Poland doesn’t catch up, it hurts itself” – specifically, it can forget about any of the long-awaited payments to its farmers. But, in a discussion with Gazeta Brussels correspondent Robert Soltyk reported in the article, Verheugen was upbeat. He repeated his rationalization that Poland, as the big country, naturally has more problems remaining, and preferred to note the great progress that all candidate countries have made, from back in the early days when the Commission pointed out some 1,400 problems that they had with national laws, regulations, standards, etc. being at variance with the acquis communautaire.

Individual EU states still have to ratify the accession treaty admitting the ten newcomers, and Soltyk raised the concern that this latest report could complicate that, that current EU member-state governments might become discouraged or alarmed that the candidate countries still weren’t fully compliant. Wouldn’t you know, the Netherlands has again been wielding a hard-core position on this question, as there has been a serious debate about it within the Dutch parliament. No worries, said Verheugen; the latest report has instead cleared the air about what is still required and what not, and so has actually eased the concern that any present member-state might balk at ratification.

Further down in the article (under the heading “The government says: Everything is under control” – where have we heard that one before?), Polish Minister for European Affairs Danuta Hübner also gladly takes up Verheugen’s refrain of “a bigger country will have bigger problems.” Overall, says Hübner, putting on a brave face, the Commission’s report is a good one for Poland. Besides, it had a cut-off of 1 October, and so failed to take into account all the progress Poland has managed since that date. You just wouldn’t believe what we have accomplished since then, she says, including 10 laws fitting Polish law to the acquis communautaire, and the approval for the privatization of the big steel firm Polskie Huty Stali. (That last is admittedly a big deal. You basically privatize big industrial firms like that in Poland over the labor unions’ dead bodies; they would much prefer to keep the status quo of over-staffing and non-demanding work conditions under state ownership – even if customers then balk at buying the company’s overly-expensive steel.)

OK, that article gave the official view – from within the EU and the Polish government. (Let me mention in passing that it also quoted Commission President Romano Prodi – he was merely bubbly enthusiastic about the upcoming accessions, as usual, and sure that everything would work out fine. If you’re looking for the proverbial “bad cop,” it’ll have to be Verheugen.) But Gazeta takes a rather less rosy-colored view in an accompanying article. Some of the serious things that the Commission complains about in its report simply can’t be dealt with in the six months that remain until May: omnipresent corruption, mainly, but also politicized and non-transparent governmental administration, incompetent courts, a budget deficit threatening to spiral out of control, and the sheer lack of will on the part of politicians to push through necessary (or even required) reforms. These things are not acute enough problems to block Poland’s entry into the EU, or even to prompt “protection” measures to spoil the occasion, but they threaten to keep Poland, in effect, at the rear of the class.

Finally, Lukasz Lipinski’s brief commentary sums everything up in uncompromising terms:

“We ourselves know our problems, if we know how to look. That report is not any punishment for our pro-American policy or for our defense of the Nice Treaty. We’re not Europe’s “tiger” anymore. [Instead] The label “dawdler” [“maruder“] has been stuck on us. And so what if no direct punishment from Brussels awaits us? If we don’t get busy with reform, we will only hurt ourselves.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.