Polish PM looks for vote of confidence from Britain: Hanna Suchocka arrives in London today on a trade mission. Before leaving Warsaw she spoke to Adrian Bridge

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WHEN Hanna Suchocka, Poland's Prime Minister, is not trying to face down striking miners or balance the budget, or losing sleep over the fragile nature of her seven-party coalition, she conjures up an image of the country she hopes she is helping to create.

'The Poland of my dreams is a Poland of happy people, a Poland enjoying a high standard of living; an affluent society,' she says. 'That is the vision that inspires me. But the road to get there is very rough . . . I have to look down at my feet all the time to avoid falling over.'

Over the coming three days, Ms Suchocka will be urging John Major and a variety of British business leaders to help, albeit in a modest way, in the realisation of that dream. She will press for an opening up of the British market to more Polish goods and for stronger support for Warsaw's efforts to secure membership of the European Community within the next 10 years. She will be seeking to bolster the growing impression that Poland has now entered a period of political and economic stability - and that it therefore represents a good bet for would-be investors.

On the eve of her departure to London today, the 46-year-old lawyer who was plucked from relative obscurity to take up the prime ministerial reins last July, was under no illusions that the transformation from a command to a free-market economy in Poland was proving slower and more painful than anyone had expected.

But, buoyed by figures that indicate the country's industrial output has at last started to grow again, and by the successful passage through parliament last month of a tight budget that should open the door to a new loan from the International Monetary Fund, she insisted the worst was now over. 'We have turned the corner,' she said. 'I do not want to give people false hopes that their lot is about to improve overnight but, at last, the trend is upwards.'

Although few people in Poland echo such upbeat remarks, there is a general consensus that Ms Suchocka has done a good job since becoming Prime Minister and that, like it or not, the painful medicine of rigid financial policies will just have to be swallowed. 'People are certainly feeling squeezed, but they are not squealing,' said one Western observer.

To some extent, despite inflation continuing to outpace wage increases, and unemployment, at 2.6 million, set to rise further, there is a sense that there is no workable alternative. And, when Poles look further east, to the republics of the former Soviet Union, they realise that things could be worse.

The danger of an economic collapse in the republics of the Commonwelth of Independent States is acute, Ms Suchocka believes, and not taken seriously enough in Western Europe. 'You cannot assume that all the problems in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have been solved and that democracies are now firmly established in these countries,' she said. 'But rather than trying to cut off those countries by creating a new Iron Curtain in Europe dividing the rich and the poor, the West should be providing much more aid to what was the Soviet Union. The answer does not lie in shutting people out, but in creating conditions under which they will be able to prosper.'

With possible economic collapse facing it in the east, bringing with it the prospect of mass migration westwards, Poland is more anxious than ever to tie itself in with the West more firmly. One of Warsaw's main complaints to date has been the lack of a timetable or a set of conditions regulating its eventual accession to the EC. While Ms Suchocka is appreciative of Britain's support for the Polish position, the subject will undoubtedly feature high on the agenda in talks with Mr Major in London.

(Photograph omitted)