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The Warsaw Voice » Comments » January 9, 2008
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From the newS editor
January 9, 2008   
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Poland has joined the European Union's Schengen frontier-free zone after checks were abolished on the country's borders with Germany, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia Dec. 21. Polish leaders said the move marked the full integration of the country with the EU.

"A dream that 20 years ago seemed impossible has come true," said President Lech Kaczyński in a special speech broadcast by public television. He added that "now integration is complete" and that "the citizens of Poland are no longer second-class citizens of the European Union." Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the extension of the Schengen area "a triumph of freedom." He added that his generation of 50-year-olds once dreamed of free travel across Europe under communism but few believed that their dream would ever come true. Meanwhile, with communism long gone and the Schengen zone now enlarged, Poles may freely travel across 24 European countries, from Sweden to Italy, from Portugal to the Baltic states, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it.

However, even though checks on the EU's internal borders have been abolished, checks on the Schengen zone's external borders, such as Poland's borders with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, are being stepped up. Citizens of non-EU countries who find themselves in Poland and attempt to illegally cross into Western Europe will be sent back to Poland. Polish border guards are also expected to step up their fight against smuggling and international crime.

The decision has been made: Polish troops will remain in Iraq no longer than Oct. 31. The Polish military contingent has been stationed there since 2003, and currently numbers around 900 men. The Polish-commanded Multinational Division Center-South includes troops from eight countries. However, back home, support for the Iraqi mission is dwindling with each month as it has failed to produce the expected stabilization in that country or benefits for Polish companies in the form of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure. Instead the mission has cost the lives of 21 soldiers, two journalists, three civilians employed by an international security agency, and an officer working for the Government Protection Office.

After two fat years, the Polish economy is expected to slow down slightly this year. In 2006, the country's gross domestic product grew by 6.2 percent and the growth rate for 2007 has been put at 6.5 percent. While this high rate of growth cannot be maintained this year, there is no risk of recession: Poland will still be growing faster than most other European Union economies, experts say-at around 5.5 percent, according to both the Ministry of Finance and independent analysts.

Investment is expected to remain the key driving force behind the economy in 2008, alongside consumption. According to the central bank, domestic consumption rose by 8.6 percent in 2007 and will continue to grow at around 6.5 percent for the next few years as Poles are earning-and spending-more money.
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