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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Poles lukewarm over Europe
Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science
Old skyline: New high-rise buildings now proliferate

Driving in Poland these days, you quickly see how much the country has changed.

Since the fall of communism more than a decade ago, foreign investment has been pouring in.


In 1993, around 80% of Poles were in favour - but now Poles tend to see the EU as an overbearing institution

Krzysztof Bobinski, Unia and Polska
The streets are littered with billboards advertising big corporations - from Coca Cola to Benetton.

Even Hugh Grant has arrived - a poster of his new film, About a Boy, overlooks the Stalinist Palace of Culture and Science in the capital, Warsaw.

Down the road, there is a Marks and Spencer shop.

Dampened enthusiasm

Warsaw is still regarded as Poland's most prosperous and dynamic city.

On the border between east and west, Poles were once the loudest advocates of European Union membership, knocking at Brussels' door.

But now they are less keen - even the younger generation.

Tractor ploughing field
Farming: A mainstay of the Polish economy

Krzysztof Bobinksi, from the pro-enlargement magazine, Unia and Polska, says the opinion polls are showing that only 55% of Poles support entry into the EU.

"It's a majority, but only a small majority. In 1993, around 80% of Poles were in favour - but now Poles tend to see the EU as an overbearing institution. People here don't want to be pushed around by Brussels."

The Polish Government has attempted to instil interest in Brussels among its people by launching a series of television adverts.

But the campaign is low-key - the adverts do not explain what the European Union is, let alone why Poles should join.

Farming dispute

But the whole debate about whether Poland joins the EU or not is fairly academic unless the dispute over the Common Agricultural Policy is resolved.

With almost one in five Poles relying on agriculture as a way of life, farming is a crucial part of the economy.

You only have to drive an hour outside Warsaw to see what is at stake.

Andrzej Lepper
Lepper opposes reduced farming subsidies from the EU

Marcin Hermanowicz, who is 24, has been working on his father's farm since he left college a few years ago.

He says it is insulting that, under an EU proposal, Polish farmers will only receive a quarter of the direct subsidies that their Western European counterparts get.

"The conditions which the European Union is offering us are unfair. They're saying we can only get 25% of the direct subsidies which Western European farmers get," he says.

"The main goal of our government is to join the EU as soon as possible, at whatever price. Our politicians are not being as tough as they should be. The government must pay more attention to what farmers want."

Polish pride

As more and more Poles become disillusioned with the government, they are beginning to turn to fringe parties.


It isn't true that Polish farmers are backward

Andrzej Lepper
Take the Self-Defence Party, or Samoobrona, which Andrzej Lepper heads.

He is a former pig farmer and knows only too well how farmers in Poland have been marginalised.

Once nicknamed Elvis Presley thanks to his neat quiff, Mr Lepper is now riding high in the opinion polls ahead of the local elections this autumn.

For him, it's a question of pride.

"It isn't true that Polish farmers are backward. Under the Communists, we were producing a lot, and we still are. The subsidies which Brussels is proposing are unacceptable," he says.

Mr Lepper is warning that farmers will take to the streets over the summer if the Polish Government rushes into EU membership.

It is a threat the government should take seriously - especially in the light of next year's referendum.

See also:

29 Jun 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
30 Jan 02 | Europe
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