Poland negotiates EU accession
By Stanisław ParzymiesNearly half a century after the end of the World War II, more than eight years after regaining sovereignty and embarking on the road to democratic change, Poland in 1997 received a big chance, which it had previously been denied - the chance to join the community of democratic states which is the European Union. On the 16 th of July, 1997, the European Commission requested the Council of Europe to agree to the start of membership talks with six countries including Poland. In its opinion on Poland, the Commission pointed to considerable progress in all areas encompassed by the adjustment process, whilst at the same time indicating issues requiring additional effort. Poland was among the first group of countries invited to accession talks by the Council of Europe at its meeting in Luxembourg on the 13 th of December, 1997 - a decision that was met with great satisfaction in Warsaw. But Poland’s entry into the European Union is not only the goal of the Polish government. Recent public opinion surveys show that it is supported by 68 percent of Poles [‘Rzeczpospolita’, 30- 31 May 1998, on the basis of data compiled by CBM Indicator].
Accession talks, begun by Poland on the 31 st of March, 1998 during the British Chairmanship, are likely to be difficult, but Poland has prepared for them very well. There exists an awareness in Poland that political sympathies and past contributions to Europe’s democratic transformation will count less in those negotiations than fulfilment of membership criteria in the economic, legal and social domains and the possibility of meeting the competitiveness standards of the world’s biggest, uniform market.
Ever since Poland regained full sovereignty in 1989, inclusion in Western Europe’s integration processes has been its strategic objective. The first step in that direction was the European Treaty establishing an associate status between Poland and the European Communities as well as their member-countries. It was concluded on the 16 th of December, 1991 and went into effect on the 1 st of February, 1994. But Part III of the Treaty, pertaining to trade in the form of the Interim Agreement, had gone into effect earlier, on the 1 st of March, 1992. It envisages the gradual creation over a period of 10 years between the Communities and Poland of a free-trade zone encompassing manufactured goods, starting the moment the agreement went into effect. Owing to the specific nature of each side, only partial liberalisation was introduced in trade in agricultural goods.
The European Treaty’s entry into force brought about a qualitative change in Poland’s relations with the European Union. Directly afterwards, the Polish Government adopted a programme of activities adjusting Poland’s economy and legal system to the requirements of the European Treaty. Poland’s formal request to join the European Union, submitted on the 8 th of April, 1994, gave Poland’s pursuit of EU membership an official character. The share of the Union in Poland’s foreign trade on the export side comes to 66.6 percent and 63.9 percent on the import side [‘European Communities’, 1997, No. 3 (68)]. Poland is thus well on its way in preparation for membership of the European Union.
What type of benefits is Poland counting on in aspiring to membership of the European Union?
The membership of Poland and the remaining Central European candidate-countries will close the post-Yalta chapter in European history once and for all. It will also foster the eastward expansion of the zone of security, stability and good-neighbourly relations now enjoyed in the European Union area. It will therefore provide benefits, which lie in the interests of all of Europe.
It is generally held in Poland that its membership of the European Union will help speed up its economic development and modernisation as well as liquidate civilisation gap between Poland and the countries of Western Europe.
As regards the political sphere, European Union membership will be the best guarantee of consolidating Poland’s democratic political model. It will ensure the irreversibility of the transformation process by consolidating those values that link Poland to the European Union states and the entire Western economic and political-defence system. These include democracy, the principles of a state of law, respect for human rights and minority rights and a market economy.
Membership of the European Union should also elevate Poland’s international rank and determine its new place in Europe. This, after all, means participation in Europe’s most serious international organisation, which has achieved tangible success in its activities to date and has impressed the world with its effective pursuit of its goals. As is now the case with all the Union’s member-states, medium-sized and smaller countries included, Poland will be able to initiate and take common decisions of vital importance to international relations and its national interests - something which would not be possible to the same extent outside the European Union.
And finally, one of the political benefits stemming for European Union membership is that Poland will be perceived differently by other countries, including its immediate neighbours, than it had been in the past. They will see that they are now dealing with a member-state of a great political, economic and, in future, possibly also a defensive bloc. Although it is still not a defence structure, already today the European Union constitutes an objectively effective factor counteracting internal threats.
Poland’s pursuit of European Union membership, even before it will be able to enjoy the benefits of integration, today means the fulfilment of specific requirements. These involve adapting to the political, economic and social standards binding in the Union.
The Council of Europe at its session in Copenhagen in June 1993 formulated five political and economic criteria, on whose fulfilment the admission of associated states to the Union will depend.
The first criterion concerns the stability of institutions guaranteeing democratic principles and respect for the law in candidate-countries, adherence to civil rights and respect for the rights of national minorities. The second involves the functioning of a market economy. The third requirement is a country’s ability to handle the competitive pressure and market forces existing within the European Union. The fourth pertains to a candidate-state’s ability to take on the obligations of a Union member. That involves above all adapting to the requirements of political, economic and monetary union as well as acceptance of the union’s legal legacy, the so-called ‘acquis communautaire’. The fifth criterion allows a candidate to join the European Union on condition that that does not jeopardise the level of integration already achieved by the Union.
As the first country to embark on the road to democratic change, Poland fulfils the first criterion to the required degree. The second, concerning the functioning of its market economy, is well on its way to fulfilment. In Agenda 2000, the European Commission has assessed Poland’s preparations for Union membership as proceeding swiftly. An important role in this regard is being played by the National Integration Strategy adopted by the government on January 1997. With regards to the political criteria of membership, the democratic nature of the Polish State has been emphasised, with its stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minority rights. As far as economic criteria are concerned, it has been established that Poland is close to fulfilling them. Poland’s economy has been termed a functioning market economy capable of meeting competition in a moderate space of time. The European Commission has positively evaluated also Poland’s ability to accept the legal legacy of the European Communities, the so-called ‘acquis communautaire’.
When it decides to accept new members, the European Union will undoubtedly be guided not only by the extent to which they fulfil set criteria, but also by the results they have achieved in the general transformation of their political and economic systems. In Poland’s case, these results have been decidedly advantageous. They are reflected by a growth rate of several percent, progress in privatisation as well as a drop in inflation and unemployment. These are indisputable trump cards in Poland’s striving to achieve EU membership.
Conscious of the requirements it must meet along the road to European Union membership, Poland has been undertaking adjustment measures that are indispensable and that it is capable of fulfilling. They pertain above al to the entire legal and institutional legacy of the European Union (‘acquis communautaire’) resulting from the hitherto process of European integration. From that point of view, the rapprochement between Polish law and the legal achievements of the European Communities is especially important. The review of the concordance of Polish law with the legal legacy of the European Communities, carried out so far as part of accession talks now under way, has been a cause for satisfaction.
Poland is making a considerable effort to incorporate community policies on competition, public assistance and government orders and to thoroughly liberalise the principles regulating the flow of gods, services and capital. Polish banking laws have gone a long way to liken themselves to solutions prevailing in the Union. Adjustment efforts are being carried out in the field of consumer protection and industrial standards, although swift and total harmonisation of laws in those areas is difficult. Some time will be needed for the complete implementation of a social packet, with which countries much wealthier than Poland have had problems. The same goes for adapting Polish agriculture to the Common Agricultural Policy, owing to the hardships that would impose on Polish consumers. Privatisation, the restructuring of industry -especially steel-making, textiles and mining - and the introduction of environmental-protection norms have been stepped up.
There exist wide possibilities for Poland to take part in inter-government political co-operation within the European Union. The co-operation to date as well as the screening carried out in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy have shown that Polish foreign policy is to a great extent convergent with the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy - a fact of key significance to our membership. As far as possible, Poland is becoming involved in the emerging co-operative structures of Pillar 3, encompassing judicial and internal affairs.
As accession talks proceed, lively discussions have been sparked off in Poland by the problem of how European Union membership will affect national sovereignty. All member-states have had to grapple with that problem from the moment the European Communities came into being. In Poland, the basis of that discussion has been the Community position formulated in the 1963 ruling of the Tribunal of European Communities which stated that the Community constitutes a legal order of international law, for the sake of which states have limited, albeit only in certain areas, their sovereign rights. Not only member-states but also their citizens are subject thereto.
In the light of that interpretation, accepted by the European Union members-states and duly reflected in their constitutions, it may be ascertained that in joining the European Union Poland is not renouncing its national sovereignty. It is only accepting self-limitation in the execution of certain matters for the sake of a specific legal order - the European Union. The practice of existing European Union members has shown that such self-limitation is dependent on at least two conditions: it should take place on a reciprocal basis and should be justified by the national interest. In other words, this is to be self-limitation in the execution of sovereignty undertaken without external pressure and on a mutual basis, motivated by the national interest and decided by a democratically-elected parliament or by a national referendum. It therefore does not harm sovereignty but - on the contrary - is an expression of a state’s sovereign decision.
What is Poland doing to ensure that European Union accession negotiations proceed harmoniously and to achieve EU membership in the early 21st century?
One cannot rule out that Poland, as the biggest of the six countries to have begun accession talks with the Fifteen, will encounter the biggest challenges in those negotiations. Poland is capable of rising to those challenges. But it expects the EU member-countries - which have their own vision of the European Union’s eastward enlargement and are primarily guided by their own self-interest - to perceive their interests also in solidarity with countries of the less developed part of the continent, in the liquidation of Europe’s division, in guarantees of security, stability and harmonious co-operation on the European continent. Poland’s membership in the European Union will serve those ends. Only then will the European Union realise the idea of a 21st-century Europe - a Europe that is united, democratic, solidary and uniform politically, economically and ideologically.
In Poland there exists an awareness that the pursuit of membership of an integration structure, which has developed specific methods of operation over nearly half a century, means their acceptance by new members cannot be subject to bargaining. The only negotiable thing is the period of time in which adjustment to those principles will occur. There is also an awareness that Poland should come to those negotiations very well prepared so as not to give member-states any cause to accuse Poland of ineptness or of being ill-prepared for membership.
When balancing the strong points Poland is bringing to the accession negotiations, in Warsaw the full awareness prevails that the country’s basic trump card should be its high degree of readiness to meet European Union requirements. However, the role played by Poland today in Central and Eastern Europe has been a highly positive one and is worthy of note. A manifestation thereof has been Poland’s achievements in propagating democratic values, human rights and economic reforms as well as its efforts to promote stability in the region and maintain good relations with its eastern neighbours. It should be emphasised that Poland’s membership of the North Atlantic Alliance in no wise lessens its interest in the European Security and Defence Identity.
Whilst engaging in accession negotiations, Poland has been simultaneously carrying out two programmes that are bringing it closer to European Union membership. The first is the National Programme of Preparation for EU Membership developed by the Polish government and envisaging ways of incorporating European Union legislation. The second, the Partnership for Membership worked out by the European Union, is a programme of priority adjustment activities, which Poland should undertake, in the pre-accession period. It also envisages mechanisms for financing those efforts.
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