Poland Tarnishes The New EU

Festivities celebrating the bigger and better European Union have barely died down and already the EU's got trouble with one of its 10 new members.

And not just any newcomer. At 38 million people, Poland's population is larger than that of the other nine entrants combined. It anchors the EU strategically, with Russia to the East and Germany to the West. With about 2,400 troops in Iraq, Poland leads the multinational force there.

But on Sunday, just one day after Poland joined the EU, its prime minister resigned. His political alliance had split, and his scandal-ridden government had an approval rating of 4 percent (that's not a typo).

Marek Belka, the new interim prime minister - Poland's 10th since the fall of Communism 15 years ago - has urged political stability. He explained that calm is necessary for the economy, which is burdened by a 20 percent unemployment rate and a mammoth budget deficit.

Mr. Belka is on target with his stability message. Until 1997, Poland shed prime ministers the way most people change clothes. Now is not the time to revive this disturbing trend, especially since economic growth is back after two years of stagnation.

Poland's lower house of parliament has until mid-May to approve the appointment of Belka, who could serve until elections, due next year. Otherwise, the country could undergo a snap election as soon as August.

That would please Andrzej Lepper, a populist politician with about a third of the country behind him. Mr. Lepper denounces the European Union and "Bush's war" in Iraq, and talks up Polish pride, the reversal of privatization of industry, and Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Belka, on the other hand, wants to carry on with fiscal reforms and Poland's commitment to troops in Iraq. Twice appointed Poland's finance minister, he is a Western-educated economist who ran economic policy in Iraq for the US-led coalition. His priority for Poland, he says, is to "calm down politically and economically."

Poland showed maturity in its desire to join the EU. After decades of rule by fascists and communists, it recognized this opportunity to develop its economy and culture.

But it still has much to learn in terms of politics based on interests and compromise, instead of national pride and self-serving corruption.

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