EC Relations: Stormy, But No Longer Naive

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

POLAND is not happy with the way its integration with the European Community is proceeding.

Although associate EC status was granted to Poland in 1991, it has yet to be ratified by all the EC members.

The Poles are especially displeased over trade relations with the EC, since "the only chance for us is export-led growth," says Jan Bielecki, Poland's minister for European integration and a former prime minister. But with Western Europe in a recession, he says, "there is no mood now for free trade."

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The atmosphere became stormy last November when the EC slapped punitive damages on Eastern European steel tubing, arguing it was being subsidized.

The latest dispute broke out in early April when the EC banned all dairy and meat imports from Eastern Europe, claiming they were a potential source of hoof-and-mouth disease. The disease had surfaced in Italy in a shipment from the former Soviet Union.

The Eastern Europeans, who said the disease had not been detected in their countries since the mid-1970s, retaliated by banning all EC dairy and meat imports.

"We learned we were simply naive" to believe in free trade, says Jerzy Kropiwnicki, Poland's minister of central planning.

The EC lifted the ban in early May, replacing it with new regulations. Poland has resumed some meat exports, but it has not yet lifted its ban on EC meat and dairy products.

IN an interview with the Monitor, Polish Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka said that Poles, who are now experiencing the pain that accompanies economic reform, need visible support from the EC.

"People need to see that it's worth it to live in a free country, that we can actually become a part of this bigger market and benefit from it," she said.

Accused of paying only lip-service to the idea of helping Eastern Europe, the European Commission this month adopted a substantial package of measures to hasten the integration of Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania into the EC.

The package includes the accelerated dismantling of EC tariffs on a broad range of Eastern European industrial and agricultural products. It also includes a commitment to eventual EC membership for these six former communist countries.

Several EC members, however, fear competition from Eastern Europe and are not keen on the package.

It is unclear whether the plan will receive the necessary support at the EC summit in Copenhagen in June.

Political posturing in both halves of Europe is obvious. With Eastern European products accounting for only 3 percent of EC imports, and with the EC enjoying a trade surplus with the East, it is not as threatened by the East as its members imply.

Conversely, the Poles are indeed penetrating the Western market, with 60 percent of their exports going to the EC, and 18 percent to other West European countries.

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