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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Poland's uphill EU struggle
By Jan Repa
BBC central and eastern European analyst

The people of Poland have voted in a referendum, three-to-one in favour of joining the European Union.

A 50% turnout was needed for the referendum to be valid - final unofficial results suggest the turnout was about 59%.

Warsaw residents celebrate Yes vote
Many Poles see EU membership as a break with their tragic past
Poland's population, 38.5 million, is bigger than that of the remaining nine incoming candidate countries combined.

So a failure to endorse membership would have had serious repercussions.

There is much talk in Brussels and the Polish capital, Warsaw, of Poland "coming home", following more than four decades of Communist rule which came to an end in 1989.

Indeed, many Poles see the imminent prospect of EU membership as a guarantee that the tragic history of the last two centuries - a history of invasions, occupations and separation from the European "mainstream" - will not be repeated.

Enormous task

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, commenting on the referendum result, described Poland as a "proud and ambitious" country.

The pace of change will depend on the ability of Poles themselves to make the most of new opportunities and to prove themselves to an often sceptical public in Germany and elsewhere
But Poland's politicians and leading commentators are also stressing the enormous task now facing the country.

Poland is poor by West European standards - with a per capita GDP only 42% of the EU average - requiring massive investment for years to come.

Transport infrastructure is a priority - with hundreds of kilometres of motorway needing to be built.

While many younger Poles see EU membership as an opportunity to develop their personal and professional potential, Poland's antiquated farming sector will be hard hit by EU competition.

The pace of change will also depend on the ability of Poles themselves to make the most of new opportunities and to prove themselves to an often sceptical public in Germany and elsewhere.

Vote of confidence

Leszek Miller
Miller's government could be a casualty of the referendum
But impending EU membership also complicates Poland's relations with its eastern neighbours - in particular with Ukraine, which Poland has been trying to draw into a more westward direction, reducing its dependence on Russia.

From next month, at the EU's insistence, Poland will introduce visas for Ukrainians and other ex-Soviet nationals, many of whom rely on cross-border trade and work in the grey economy for a living.

Ironically, one casualty of the referendum could be Poland's prime minister, Leszek Miller, whose minority centre-left government is unpopular.

The government needs the co-operation of other parliamentary parties to push through budget and other reforms before EU entry. Mr Miller has called for a vote of confidence when parliament reconvenes later this week.

President Kwasniewski has openly questioned whether Mr Miller's government is stable enough to do the job, and has begun sounding out parliamentarians himself. Their price could be Mr Miller's resignation.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Poland is on track to join the EU"

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