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Poland Fights for Bigger Handout

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Poland fights for bigger handout

Money is the bottom line for 10 countries expecting to join EU

Ian Black in Copenhagen

Friday December 13, 2002

The Guardian

Poland was putting up a desperate fight to secure better terms for its EU membership last night as the Copenhagen summit began working out a final deal for the union's biggest enlargement.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister and summit host, issued a stark warning that there was no cash left to give the Poles and the nine other candidates when they join in 2004.

"At this moment I have no more money," he said.

Mr Rasmussen, whose reputation as a negotiator has been enhanced by his shrewd handling of talks, added: "I'm not saying it's a question of now or never.

"But it's a question of now or postponement for years, maybe for many years. Let's not take that risk."

Poland, with 38 million people the most populous of the candidates, has insisted that the EU's existing 15 members must should show more generosity as the price for unifying countries divided until the Berlin wall came down 13 years ago.

Leszek Miller, the social democrat Polish prime minister, flew to Copenhagen under heavy pressure from a suspicious public and vociferous rightwing and Eurosceptic parties fearful that the country is being treated as a second-class member of the club it has waited 10 years to enter.

With rising unemployment and sluggish growth to contend with, and a referendum on EU membership to win next year, he is determined to show that he hasnight as the Copenhagen summit began working out a final deal for the union's biggest enlargement.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister and summit host, issued a stark warning that there was no cash left to give the Poles and the nine other candidates when they join in 2004.

"At this moment I have no more money," he said.

Mr Rasmussen, whose reputation as a negotiator has been enhanced by his shrewd handling of talks, added: "I'm not saying it's a question of now or never.

"But it's a question of now or postponement for years, maybe for many years. Let's not take that risk."

Poland, with 38 million people the most populous of the candidates, has insisted that the EU's existing 15 members must should show more generosity as the price for unifying countries divided until the Berlin wall came down 13 years ago.

Leszek Miller, the social democrat Polish prime minister, flew to Copenhagen under heavy pressure from a suspicious public and vociferous rightwing and Eurosceptic parties fearful that the country is being treated as a second-class member of the club it has waited 10 years to enter.

With rising unemployment and sluggish growth to contend with, and a referendum on EU membership to win next year, he is determined to show that he has fought as hard as possible for Polish interests.

"He has to be seen to have negotiated hard, and not just accept a take it or leave it deal," one diplomat said.

But there were also signs in Warsaw that public opinion was being prepared for an agreement in Copenhagen that fell short of the high domestic expectations.

"If we reach an agreement it will mean that the government has done everything it could and that the admission terms are the best possible," Mr Miller said.

"We fight for Poland's interests but we also want Poland's interests to serve the union," said Danuta Huebner, the Polish European integration minister.

"At this stage, it will be possible to win concessions on only a few matters."

It is no coincidence that Mr Rasmussen's first one-to-one "confessional" meeting this morning is with Mr Miller.

EU officials believe that other candidates which have all but concluded their own negotiations are "hiding" behind Poland in the hope that any 11th-hour cash deal will benefit them too.

The other candidates - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta and Cyprus - have reached agreement on most remaining substantive issues.

The 10 will swell the EU's population by 75 million but they are only 40% as wealthy as the existing members.

It is estimated that it will take them 20 y fought as hard as possible for Polish interests.

"He has to be seen to have negotiated hard, and not just accept a take it or leave it deal," one diplomat said.

But there were also signs in Warsaw that public opinion was being prepared for an agreement in Copenhagen that fell short of the high domestic expectations.

"If we reach an agreement it will mean that the government has done everything it could and that the admission terms are the best possible," Mr Miller said.

"We fight for Poland's interests but we also want Poland's interests to serve the union," said Danuta Huebner, the Polish European integration minister.

"At this stage, it will be possible to win concessions on only a few matters."

It is no coincidence that Mr Rasmussen's first one-to-one "confessional" meeting this morning is with Mr Miller.

EU officials believe that other candidates which have all but concluded their own negotiations are "hiding" behind Poland in the hope that any 11th-hour cash deal will benefit them too.

The other candidates - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta and Cyprus - have reached agreement on most remaining substantive issues.

The 10 will swell the EU's population by 75 million but they are only 40% as wealthy as the existing members.

It is estimated that it will take them 20 years or more to catch up with the existing members. All will be expected to adopt the euro once they meet the Maastricht treaty criteria.

"This is a historic event," the Slovenian foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, said. "We used to be enclosed into Yugoslavia, now the whole EU will be our home, from Portugal to Sweden or Greece. It's a fantastic feeling."

The last areas of disagreement are about hard cash. Four years after negotiations began on a vast range of issues, from financial services to the environment, the last unresolved matter is the newcomers' demand to be given the full €42.5bn (£27.5bn) originally budgeted for the period 2004-6 at the EU Berlin summit in 1999.

Denmark's "final" offer falls some €2bn short of that - although France argues it is less - but the EU's main net contributors, led by a Germany obsessed by deepening economic gloom, insist they can afford no more. Poland would hope to get half the extra money.

"It is the least generous of offers," an east European official complained. "Ten countries are getting less than the money originally earmarked for six."

Poland has already been allowed to allot other EU and national financial flows to top up the direct subsidy payments to its inefficient farming sector beyond the level paid from the common agricultural policy, but cash remains at the heart of its coears or more to catch up with the existing members. All will be expected to adopt the euro once they meet the Maastricht treaty criteria.

"This is a historic event," the Slovenian foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, said. "We used to be enclosed into Yugoslavia, now the whole EU will be our home, from Portugal to Sweden or Greece. It's a fantastic feeling."

The last areas of disagreement are about hard cash. Four years after negotiations began on a vast range of issues, from financial services to the environment, the last unresolved matter is the newcomers' demand to be given the full €42.5bn (£27.5bn) originally budgeted for the period 2004-6 at the EU Berlin summit in 1999.

Denmark's "final" offer falls some €2bn short of that - although France argues it is less - but the EU's main net contributors, led by a Germany obsessed by deepening economic gloom, insist they can afford no more. Poland would hope to get half the extra money.

"It is the least generous of offers," an east European official complained. "Ten countries are getting less than the money originally earmarked for six."

Poland has already been allowed to allot other EU and national financial flows to top up the direct subsidy payments to its inefficient farming sector beyond the level paid from the common agricultural policy, but cash remains at the heart of its concern.

"Money is the most important issue, we have known that for a long time," its chief negotiator, Jan Truszczynski, said.

The negotiations, formally due to end tonight, are likely to continue until tomorrow.

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