The 104-page "2000 Report from the Commission on Poland's Progress towards Accession," evaluating the country's achievements in its drive for membership in the European Union, met with pleased politicians in Poland.
The government and the media expressed their pleasure; the latter did it both by widely reporting what Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and Minister for Foreign Affairs Władysław Bartoszewski said and by giving their own editorials, expressing satisfaction.
"I believe that Poland will be among the first countries to access the EU," Bartoszewski said.
"The report and the so-called 'negotiations strategy' accompanying it are a substantial change in the European Commission's attitude towards Poland," added the equally pleased Prime Minister, referring the Report's assertion that the leading candidates may expect to become EU members in 2003.
So, should the triumphant music sound? Certainly not. Even though the overall assessment has proved positive, Poland still faces a painstaking task to secure its place in the EU before its accession preparations are completed.
While the overall tone of the report is undoubtedly positive, frequent use of the word "however" indicates there is still quite a lot of work ahead for Buzek's government and its—possibly social democratic—successor. Given those considerations, the report is a friendly pat on the back rather than an uncondition invitation.
Last year's somewhat unfavorable and cold report scourged the then coalition government of Electoral Action Solidarity and Freedom Union for slowing down considerably adoption of EU-compatible legal regulations. The 2000 Report speaks of Poland in much warmer terms, even though it points out some areas in which there has been limited or simply no progress.
First of all, Poland's economy continues to develop in a way that will allow it "to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the near term."
The report does, however, point some impediments that have been plaguing Poland since 1993. These include high inflation and the current account deficit (which have both been tackled recently), delays in privatization, the difficult situation in the agriculture and state-owned enterprise sectors (which are both badly in need of restructuring).
Brussels' opinion on four big state reforms—administrative, health care, pensions and education—is positive. The Report states that, in effect, they will strengthen the competitiveness of the Polish economy. It is irnonic that, in Poland, these same reforms are mercilessly criticized.
The speed of privatization has been praised in the sectors of energy, telecommunications and insurance. There exists a quite strong and competitive banking system, although further reform is still needed. Restructuring of the mining sector has been handled well, which is contrasted with the delays in reforming the steel industry. There are considerable delays in the restructuring of agriculture and fisheries sectors as well.
Another bottleneck exists in the slow enhancement of the transportion infrastructure. Poland's economy is becoming increasingly integrated with the EU's, but, again, there is a problem: Poland's exports rely mainly on unprocessed or half-processed products.
The small enterprise sector is growing, even though some small firms do have trouble with getting credit from banks. Also, the unrestructured state-owned enterprise sector has the advantage of the state budget's money, thus giving such enterprises an upper hand in what is eventually to become a market of equal competition and opportunities.
Regarding the adoption of EU legislation, Poland has made considerable progress. The report—as if to admit that such progress was not possible after the previous 12 months—suggests that efforts to adopt EU law "will have to be further intensified and flow of legislation likewise increased."
More particularly, Poland requires fast advances in adopting legislation concerned with standards and certification, state aid (here the framework exists, but, in order to implement it, secondary bills need to be passed in the Sejm), industrial property, public procurement and movement of persons.
Poland's agricultural sector—which is bound to cause the most tribulations at the negotiations table—is a sector where "the necessary legislative work is lagging behind."
Other pesky areas in terms of new legislation are the environment, energy and transport sectors, where even the framework enactments have been neglected (with the exception of one important Environmental Impact Assessment Act, which has made it through the Parliament and now only awaits the President's signature).
Poland's progress in justice and home affairs has also been recorded, especially with regard to the border guards and border management. Border management is a crucial facet of Poland's integration, as its eastern borders will become the EU's borders as well. This may cause an unwelcome revision of Polind's foreign policy to the east, in order to maintain friendly relations with Belarus and Ukraine.
One of Poland's biggest problems is the inefficiency of its judiciary (resulting in a massive protraction of court proceedings, averaging 40 months in Warsaw), which will need the immediate attention of Polish MPs.
A game of two halves
An overall assessment of Poland's progress can be formulated as such: the country fares best in terms of the economy and internal market regulations. It also meets the political criteria set by Brussels. The current (and next) government will have to work hard to bring agriculture, environmental issues and the "reinforcement of administrative and judicial capacity, including the management and control of EC funds" up to par, as the report puts it.
One cannot forget that progress in many areas, even if substantial, is single-faceted (as is the case with agriculture, which enjoyed a noteworthy rise in standards in dairy and milk production, but virtually none elsewhere).
Even though the EC report has many reservations, it must be considered positive because of two aspects. First, a general acceleration of the legislative work has been recognized. Second, there are no negative indications concerned with the fulfillment of political criteria: Poland is seen as a stable democracy, which received further boost with the adoption of the 1997 Constitution and the implementation of administrative reform in 1999.
Aside from the report, the EC published another important document containing, at last, a concrete calendar: "The Strategy for Negotiations." In it, the EC proposes that negotiations with the most advanced candidate countries be completed in 2002 (it never said which countries that may be, though).
Interestingly, Poland announced its own strategy a few days prior to that.
The third element will be new legislation (to be passed by the Sejm in 2001) taking effect, not when it is passed, but from the moment Poland joins the EU, even if it is 2010. If Poland becomes a member of the EU later than the government assumes, the new legislation will also take effect later. The next twelve months will prove whether this strategy bears fruit or not. But, whatever happens, Poland and the EU have entered a new phase of the game.
Wojtek Kość, 13 November 2000
Also of interest:
- The 2000 Progress Reports in full
- CER update on accession candidates, May 2000
- CER commentary on the 1999 Progress Reports
- The 1999 Progress Reports in full
- Archived CER articles on EU affairs
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central and Eastern Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page