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Friday, November 21, 1997 Published at 07:12 GMT

Despatches: Europe
William Horsley
From Warsaw

The Polish government is getting ready to press its case for early entry to the European Union when concrete negotiations get under way next year on enlargement. The BBC's European analyst William Horsley, who's now in Warsaw during a tour of central and eastern Europe for BBC TV and radio programmes, has talked to leading figures in the new Polish government, and he reflects on the ambitious goals it's setting for the nation:

Poland has come a long way in three years. In 1994, I crossed into Poland from Frankfurt-an-der-Oder in Germany, and spoke to Polish students at the European University at Slobice about their country's newly-declared ambition to join the European Union. They were shy, and most thought it would be many years before Poland could compete on level terms with their neighbours in Germany and the rest of western Europe. Today, that diffidence has gone. Nobody I've spoken to here in the past five days doubt that Poland will be a full member of the European Union by early in the next decade. The economic growth rate of about 6% reflects a surge of foreign investment in Polish industry, and the success of the reforms which are releasing Polish capital for the small businesses, the lifeblood of the whole economy. There's one very encouraging sentence in the European Commission's assessment of Poland's case for EU membership. Poland, it says, can be regarded as having a functional market economy. This transformation is not without its risks. The Polish stock market has been through stormy times, like other European bourses, since investors worldwide were made nervous by the financial crisis affecting south-east Asian countries. Polish farmers whom I spoke to, leasing land from the former state collective farms, voiced extreme frustration that there's still no proper distribution system for them to market their goods. Still, the optimism and drive that's to be seen in Poland now is strongly reminiscent of the heady days of the economic miracles in Japan in the early 1970s or South Korea ten years later. Most striking of all is the change in attitudes. Communism has become a fading memory and a dirty word. It's a communist system, a Polish doctor told us, protesting at the slow pace of reforms in the nation's health service, which mean patients still have to wait much too long for urgent operations. There is still much to do. But Poland has hope, and is going on the offensive. When I met Leszek Balcerowicz, the dynamic deputy prime minister of the incoming government, he declared that the coming negotiations on the enlargement of the European Union will require hard work on both sides by the present 15 member states, as well as those applying to join. It seems there's a real danger that the accession of countries like Poland might be delayed in part because of the slowness of the European Union to reform its agricultural support system, the common agricultural policy. On that, Leszek Balcerowicz was scathing: it is, he declared, like communism, protectionist and inefficient. This sounds like a new Poland, and its watchword is self-confidence.

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