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Sunday, 27 October, 2002, 14:07 GMT
EU entry hovers over Polish vote
Gdansk shipyard workers are told of redundancies
EU entry debated over a backdrop of 18% joblessness

Poland has gone to the polls to elect local councils and city mayors.

Some candidates have promised unusual things in their election programmes, such as more people to mend shoes and suitcases.

But such strange pledges mask a more serious issue - gauging the strength of those campaigning against Polish European Union membership.

Prime Minister Leszek Miller
Miller's coalition: challenged by Eurosceptics
Local elections are rarely important news, but this one, at a crucial point in Polish history, is attracting a lot of attention.

Second class

Poland is divided over its attempt to join the EU in 2004, and a referendum will take place on the issue next year.

These elections are seen as a test of the strength of the Eurosceptic camp.

Some believe the EU will treat Poland as a second-class member, denied full agricultural subsidies and regional funds.

They say EU membership will merely make Poland a large dumping ground for the goods of existing members, while Poland's domestic industry and agriculture either withers or is bought up by foreigners.

Farmers and families

Others argue that it is a simple surrender of a Polish independence that has been fought for over centuries.

Although the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Leszek Miller retains the edge in opinion polls, such suspicions have led to a sharp rise in popularity for the Eurosceptics.

Polish cow
Farmers feel the EU is a threat
One populist party, Samoobrona, led by an unpredictable and charismatic pig farmer, carried out a summer of attempted roadblocks, at one point reaching almost 20% in opinion polls.

Other parties include the Catholic nationalist League of Polish Families, which has a strong base in parliament.

In these elections they will be hoping to show that their arguments have deep-rooted public support, based on more than sensationalist headlines and short-term disaffection.

See also:

21 Aug 02 | Europe
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29 Jun 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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22 Aug 02 | Europe
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