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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 16:55 GMT
Poles win land battle in Brussels
Polish land and farmhouse
Land is a sensitive issue in farm-heavy Poland
EU hopeful Poland has struck a deal in Brussels barring foreigners from buying land in the country for up to 12 years after it joins the European Union.

This chapter has been the most difficult - politically and psychologically - in our negotiations with Poland so far

Guenter Verheugen
EU commissioner
Warsaw had lobbied hard for the right to restrict land sales, fearing an invasion by citizens of richer western countries - particularly Germany - keen to take advantage of Poland's comparatively cheap land.

Under the deal, no foreign national living outside Poland will be allowed to buy land without explicit government clearance for 12 years after the country joins, widely expected in 2004.

Foreigners who already lease land in the country will however be given an option to buy within that period.

"It's a success for the government," declared Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller in Warsaw.

However, negotiators have warned that forthcoming talks on agricultural subsidies for farm-heavy Poland will prove much tougher.

Farming headache

Land in Poland, the largest of the 10 countries hoping for 2004 entry, is up to 30 times cheaper than in EU member states, making it attractive to outside buyers.

Polish PM Leszek Miller
Mr Miller has to contend with euroscepticism at home
It is also a highly sensitive issue in Poland, where scepticism about the benefits of EU membership has been on the rise.

Poles and other east Europeans were dismayed when it was revealed that their workers may have to wait seven years before they can seek jobs in western Europe, after Germany and Austria said they feared an influx of cheap foreign labour.

But it is proposals to delay full farming aid to new members for a decade which have caused real outrage in Poland, where 20% of the population is employed in agriculture.

Many argue that eastern European farmers will find it impossible to compete with the heavily subsidised produce of their western counterparts.

Chief Polish negotiator Jan Truszcynski said while he was pleased with Thursday's result, the hard part lay ahead.

"There is some difference between what we see as a useful, equitable deal on agriculture and what is proposed as a starting point for negotiations by the European Commission," he said.

The BBC's Nicholas Walton in Warsaw
"Farm earnings have already fallen by a third over the past five years"
See also:

20 Mar 02 | Europe
Poland fights land invasion
30 Jan 02 | Europe
Poland's farming woes
12 Jan 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Polish farmers on the bread line
30 Jan 02 | Europe
Profile: Andrzej Lepper
13 Nov 01 | Europe
EU hopefuls on track
24 Sep 01 | Business
Poland's economic challenge
14 Jun 01 | Europe
The candidate countries
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
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