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Poland Offers Biggest Hope, Largest Problems of New EU Members - 2004-05-02


Poland, a nation of 38 million, is the largest of the 10 countries added to the European Union. By some measures Poland also has the biggest economic problems of the newcomers, but at the same time it offers the most promise.

For big businesses that depend heavily on exports, the European Union is the gateway to opportunity, to international trade and higher standards. That is the assessment of Secretary-General of the Polish Chamber of Commerce Marek Kloczko. "Those companies which were export-oriented are very much in favor. Because for them it really brings bigger markets, easier finance, common standards of the European Union which can give easier access to third international markets. There are big producers of car parts, some furniture producers, chicken and turkey producers," he said.

But for some smaller and medium sized businesses that focus on the local market, it is a different matter. Mr. Kloczko says they are not modern enough to adapt and will find it hard to compete with foreign companies that will come to Poland.

Despite the optimistic outlook from some business leaders, Poland remains plagued by high unemployment. The jobless rate has been running between 18 and 20 percent, the highest of the 10 new EU nations. While Poland's economic growth has recently picked up, Mr. Kloczko says it will take several years to improve things.

While EU membership offers promise, it also causes unease among some Poles.

"Unemployment remains the number one problem for most people," said Jacek Kucharczyk, deputy director of Warsaw's Institute of Public Affairs which monitors public opinion. "And even those who have jobs often worry about how stable their jobs are. So that is definitely a problem. Quite a lot of people worry that European integration, in the first years, could make it even worse."

Greg Piorterek, a 51-year-old engineer, is one of those worried people. He blames the European Union, along with globalization, for many of the country's economic problems. "European Union is not good deal for Poland because we have 10 years agreement with the European Union and we lose 70 percent industry, we lose 90 percent banks, [we have] about 20 percent unemployment and people are very poor. I no like this globalization. I no like this business because it not help the Polish people," he said.

Jean Lemierre, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which specializes in Eastern and Central Europe says economic transitions are frequently painful. "In Poland, and in all the countries in central Europe, people have been resilient," he said. "They have been hard-working. They have done a lot. It has not been easy. Transition hopefully means a better standard of living, but means also destruction [of] jobs. It has taken place. But they have achieved a lot. And if they move on, especially making some reforms, it will be a real success."

Poland's farmers, many of whom produce at a subsistence level, are important to the overall economic picture by their sheer numbers.

Agriculture employs more than four million people, about one-fourth of Poland's workforce, although farmers are only a small part of the economy in money terms.

With Poland part of the larger market, its small farm goods could be undercut by large international producers. Analysts say small farmers could become a social and political problem in Poland, now that it is part of the European Union.

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