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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 5, 2008
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Poland's Road to NATO
November 5, 2008   
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In March 1990, Poland's then Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski paid a historic visit to NATO Headquarters, thus establishing diplomatic relations between Poland and the alliance. Barely 16 months later, on July 1, 1991, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, and a new security system arose in Europe under which former East Bloc countries could join the military defense structures of the West.

March 12, 1992, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner announced on his visit to Poland: "The door to NATO is open." Two years later, Feb. 2, 1994, Polish Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak arrived at NATO Headquarters in Brussels to sign a document under which Poland joined the Partnership for Peace program. Oct. 8 that year, the U.S. Congress passed what is known as the "Brown Amendment," authorizing the U.S. president to extend military cooperation with NATO to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Oct. 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton for the first time named a date: at the latest, NATO should admit new members in Central and Eastern Europe by 1999, the year the organization would celebrate its 50th anniversary.

July 8, 1997, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland were formally invited to join NATO. The ratification process of the new countries‚ accession began in the parliaments of NATO members in February 1998. The first parliament to ratify the NATO enlargement was the Folketing in Denmark. April 30 that year, the U.S. Senate ratified the accession protocols of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary by an 80-19 majority.

Feb. 18, 1999, Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski signed a law which authorized him to ratify the North Atlantic Treaty. The previous day, the law had been passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament, with 409 deputies voting for and a mere seven against. March 12, 1999, the foreign ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary came to the town of Independence, Missouri, to hand the respective NATO accession protocols over to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Since the NATO enlargement of 1999, Polish soldiers have been taking part in NATO operations in various parts of the world. The largest Polish NATO contingent has been dispatched to the war-stricken Afghanistan.

A subsequent NATO enlargement took place March 29, 2004. The new members were more countries of the former Soviet bloc: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

...and to the European Union

Poland signed the European Union Association Agreement with the European Community and its member states Dec. 16, 1991. During the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993, EU member states officially confirmed that Central and Eastern European Countries associated with the EU at the time would become EU members once they met economic and political criteria.

April 8, 1994, the Polish government formally applied for EU membership in Athens. Oct. 3, 1996, the Office of the Committee for European Integration (UKIE) was established to coordinate the work of ministries and institutions which were directly involved in the process of Poland's integration with the EU. In January 1997, Poland adopted the National Integration Strategy to identify tasks to be fulfilled, complete with deadlines, en route to EU membership. All adjustments required by future membership were carried out under the National Program of Preparations for EU Membership, adopted June 23, 1998.

Poland declared it would be ready to join the EU as of Dec. 31, 2002. Membership negotiations began Nov. 10, 1998, and by 2000, Poland had closed talks in 25 of 30 negotiation chapters, securing transition periods in nine of the 25. The remaining five chapters were negotiated in 2001-2002. The negotiations came to a conclusion at the EU summit in Copenhagen Dec. 13, 2002.

The Polish accession treaty was approved in the European Parliament by an absolute majority of votes April 9, 2003, and unanimously by the Council of the EU five days later, April 14. The next step towards the EU enlargement was the ratification of the accession treaty by national parliaments in all EU member states except for Ireland, where the treaty had to be ratified in a referendum.

In Poland, the treaty was ratified in a nationwide referendum held June 7 and 8, 2003. Polish citizens were asked the following question: "Do you agree for the Republic of Poland to accede to the European Union?" According to official figures, the turnout in the referendum was 58.85 percent, of which 77.45 percent voted "yes" and 22.55 percent voted "no." The accession treaty was signed in Athens April 16, 2003, after which Poland officially became a member state of the European Union May 1, 2004.

Poland held the first elections to the European Parliament June 13, 2004. Dec. 21, 2007, Poland joined the Schengen Agreement and March 29, 2008 it fulfilled the Schengen criteria concerning air travel.

Another integration step for Poland in the coming years is to adopt the European currency, the euro. Declarations made by the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk suggest this will be possible as early as in 2011, but both Polish and EU economists are far more restrained in their forecasts. According to them, a more realistic date for Poland to join the eurozone is 2013-2014.
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