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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Poland presses for EU action
Polish consumers
Increasing anti-European feeling among Poles
By Brussels correspondent Oana Lungescu

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has called for a referendum on Poland's membership of the European Union at the end of 2001 or 2002.

Mr Buzek stressed that Poland would be ready to join the EU in 2003, a date that many in Brussels consider unrealistic.

With 12 countries now lining up to join, EU leaders have avoided giving them any clear timetable for membership.

Enlargement candidates
First set of applicant countries: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus

Second set: Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta
Never before have so many top Polish officials expressed so much frustration with the EU.

"We're starting to wonder if the EU is taking us seriously," Poland's chief negotiator Jan Kulakowski said.

He stressed that the mood of disillusionment was now general among all the six front-running candidates, including Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Costly EU 'delays'

They started membership negotiations over two years ago, but are still waiting for the EU to spell out its terms on key issues, such as farming subsidies and the free movement of workers.

Polish PM Jerzy Buzek
Jerzy Buzek: Keen to press for early EU membership
For Poland's senior official in charge of European integration, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, these delays show an obvious lack of political will.

He complained that, by adding six more countries to the enlargement process last December, the EU had effectively put a brake on negotiations with the front-runners.

This, he said, was profoundly demobilising for countries like Poland, which had made costly reforms and were planning even more.

Anti-EU pressure building

By pushing for a referendum, the Polish Government is trying to force the EU's hand to announce a date for the end of the negotiations, something most EU leaders seem reluctant to do this year.

They are concerned about the cost and the institutional implications of almost doubling the membership of their club.

But senior Polish officials believe that, without a clear timeframe promising entry in 2005 at the latest, reforms will inevitably slow down in the largest and most buoyant candidate country.

With support for EU membership steadily decreasing, especially among farmers, Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski warned that uncertainty about the date would increase nationalistic and anti-European sentiment and create, as he said, a lot of problems.

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See also:

28 Jun 00 | Business
Summit eyes EU expansion
15 Feb 00 | Europe
EU enlargement: Second wave
15 Feb 00 | Europe
EU considers future expansion
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