Poland seeks UK backing to join Community

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The Independent Online
HANNA SUCHOCKA, Poland's Prime Minister, sought assurances from the British government yesterday that it would support Poland's campaign to join the European Community.

Mrs Suchocka set out the case that Poland's radical market reforms, initiated after the fall of Communism in 1989, had turned it into the economic success story of central and eastern Europe, with industrial production and exports on the rise and inflation falling. But she also contended that Britain and other EC countries had placed restrictions on important Polish exports and said this was likely to delay full economic recovery in Poland.

Mrs Suchocka, who was making her first official visit to London and celebrated her 47th birthday yesterday, held talks with John Major. Her delegation won British support for a proposal that would enable Poland to modernise its banking system by drawing money from an international stabilisation fund. The Poles were also hoping for measures to encourage private British investment, notably a change in Poland's credit rating so that it is no longer listed as a 'high-risk'.

Like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland is anxious to develop close political, economic and even military ties with Western Europe as soon as possible. Each country fears the growing instability in Russia and other former Soviet republics could destroy its chances of building a prosperous democracy.

Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia signed association agreements with the EC in December 1991, which held out the prospect of eventual membership of the Community. Since then, the EC has relaxed some terms of trade for the Central Europeans and agreed to a closer dialogue on foreign policy. But while the EC is preparing to take in Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway as full members, it has held back from naming a specific date on which the central European countries could join.

When Britain held the EC presidency in the second half of last year, the Government pledged to make strengthening the EC's relationship with the Central Europeans a priority. In practice, the issue fell to one side as the EC plunged into crises over ratification of the Maastricht treaty, turbulence in the Exchange Rate Mechanism and how to handle the Yugoslav wars. But British officials made clear before the visit that Britain was keen to develop an already warm relationship with post-Communist Poland.

Some Western European experts argue that it would be unwise to admit Poland and its three Central European neighbours into the EC too quickly because it will take years before their economies are strong enough to compete on open international markets. In addition, existing Community members would have to bear substantial costs if the Central Europeans gained early admission. The London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research has estimated that, if the four countries joined now, it would cost the EC 8bn ecus (pounds 6.5bn) to make the necessary adjustments.

However, Polish officials say that their country's agricultural and steel sectors could increase their exports significantly if the EC lifted the protective wall around itself. Poland's economic recovery has depended heavily on exports to the West, as tight credit and higher tax policies have forced companies to sell products abroad in order to survive.

(Photograph omitted)

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