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Last Updated: Monday, 27 June, 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Poland bids for EU Mr Fixit role
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News website

At a time of crisis in the European Union, Poland, one of the newest member states, is casting itself as a possible healer of divisions.

Polish plumber in tourism board advert
The "Polish plumber" was the bogeyman threatening French jobs in France's referendum on the EU constitution
Poland is now wooing French tourists with this ad, which says: "I am staying at home, come in large numbers"
On Monday, it attempted to bring together the French and German foreign ministers with the UK's Europe minister, Douglas Alexander.

However, the French and German ministers were not keen on the idea and the rival British delegation was kept out of their way - passing down the same corridors at different times.

In recent days Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld has suggested that Poland can both mediate in the row over the EU budget, and serve as a new motor for the bloc at a time of disarray over the constitution.

"We have a rare chance to play the role of the driving force of integration at a time when apathy is setting in," he said on Monday.

Lack of clout

Later he echoed President Aleksander Kwasniewski, blaming the latest EU crisis, which came to a head at Brussels summit on 16 and 17 June, on "national egoism" that was "starting to take the place of the values that created the EU".

Poland does not have the clout to bring people together and tell them to sit down and work it out - perhaps Italy could do it, if it invited them to Venice
Chris Bobinski, Unia and Polska think tank
Poland's offer to forego some of the money it had been promised in order to smooth the path for a deal has been seen in Poland as a gesture establishing the country's European credentials - a self-sacrificing response to the selfishness of richer countries.

The move was hailed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, at the summit's concluding press conference, who said that rather than weighing the EU down, as some had predicted, the new member states had brought a crucial injection of "enthusiasm".

But Polish commentators say the attempt to mediate also appears to owe more to enthusiasm than reality.

"It's a non-starter, when France and Britain are going at it hammer and tongs," says Chris Bobinski, of the Unia and Polska think-tank.

"The row is too fresh. But also, Poland does not have the clout to bring people together and tell them to sit down and work it out.

"Perhaps Italy could do it, if it invited them to Venice, or a nice monastery somewhere, but not Poland."

Middle position

Jacek Kucharczyk of the Institute of Public Affairs says Polish leaders would be satisfied with even a small step forward, but also doubts they can achieve even that.

Poland needs a Europe that will have strong cohesion policies, which is part of the EU budget that Britain wants to cut
Jan Kucharczyk, Polish Institute of Public Affairs
However, he says Poland is qualified for the role because of its strong interest in the outcome, and its sympathy with aspects of both the French and the British vision of the EU's priorities.

"Poland is eager for the deepening of European markets and liberalisation reforms, that Tony Blair is asking for," he says.

"But at the same time Poland needs a Europe that will have strong cohesion policies - support for agriculture, development of infrastructure - which is part of the EU budget that Britain wants to cut."

Poland sees itself as a natural spokesman for the eight Central European and Baltic states, which joined the EU in May 2004, because it is far and away the largest.

It sought to represent their interests in a battle over the reform of voting rules in 2003, and believes it can do the same again now.

Neighbourhood watch

Chris Bobinski says one thing Polish ministers can do is to help to create an atmosphere conducive to a settlement of the current crisis, if only by making sure everyone knows that Poland and the other member states are very serious about wanting a solution quickly.

Like Foreign Minister Rotfeld, he and Jacek Kucharczyk are keen to emphasise that Poland is not just in the EU for the money, but above all for national security.

They emphasise the importance of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy and the continuation of the enlargement process.

Poland sees both as key to spreading stability on the EU's eastern and southern borders and does not want them put on hold.

"We have a country to the east of us," says Chris Bobinski, "where tigers, dragons and serpents roam."

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