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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 3, 2009
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May 1, 2004: Poland Joins EU
June 3, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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On May 1, 2004, the European Union underwent its greatest enlargement to date, admitting 10 new member states, among them Poland.

Poland was the largest of the newly admitted members, with a bigger population than that of the other nine new members put together. On May 1, 2004, Polish flags were hoisted on EU buildings, while blue flags with gold stars were pulled up next to the white-and-red national colors on most Polish government buildings. As President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski put it at the time, European Union accession crowned many years of Poland's efforts to join the Western European family of free nations. It also enabled the country to make an unprecedented leap forward in terms of development.

Poland's road to the EU began when the communists were still in power. Diplomatic relations between Warsaw and the European Community, which later became the EU, were established on Sept. 16, 1988.

Road to Brussels
The political and economic changes in Poland after the fall of communism in 1989 enabled talks to commence on the country's further integration with Europe. The PHARE adjustment program was set up; an agreement on trade and economic and commercial cooperation was signed; Poland appointed an ambassador to the European Community (Jan Kułakowski, who went on to head Poland's Committee for European Integration years later) and a government official for European integration (Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who is a Eurodeputy today).

Official negotiations began on Dec. 22, 1990 and ended on Dec. 16, 1991 with the signing of an association agreement between Poland and the European Community and its member states. Poland also signed an interim commercial agreement that remained in force until March 1, 1992.

Poland's association agreement took effect on Feb. 1, 1994, three months after the Treaty on the European Union, otherwise known as the Maastricht Treaty, came into force. At a session of the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993, the EU member states officially confirmed that Central and Eastern European countries associated with the EU would become full members after meeting all the economic and political criteria.

On April 8, 1994 in Athens, the Polish government submitted a formal application for EU membership. During the European Council's summit in Essen on Dec. 9-10, 1994, the member states confirmed their intention to expand the EU to include the associated countries and adopted a pre-accession strategy defining the areas and forms of cooperation designed to facilitate speedy integration. The strategy was formally confirmed by a White Paper that was approved during a European Council summit in Cannes in June 1995. The White Paper listed the legal adjustments that candidate countries had to make to meet the requirements of the EU market. The White Paper and annual preparation programs adopted by the Polish government defined the framework of Poland's relations with the EU.

Oct. 3, 1996 marked the launch of the Office of the Committee for European Integration, which coordinated the work of all the ministries and institutions directly involved in Poland's integration with the EU.

A National Integration Strategy was adopted in January 1997, listing the tasks on the road to full EU membership and deadlines for completing them. Adaptation measures related to membership were undertaken under the National Program of Preparation for EU Membership adopted on June 23, 1998.

Talks completed
Negotiations began on Nov. 10, 1998. By 2000, Poland had completed its talks on 25 of 30 negotiation areas. Transition periods were agreed for nine areas. The remaining five areas were reviewed in 2001-2002. The negotiations concluded officially on Dec. 13, 2002 during an EU summit in Copenhagen.

The accession treaty was approved in the European Parliament by an absolute majority of votes on April 9, 2003 and unanimously by the Council of the European Union on April 14, 2003. The next stage was ratification. Except for Ireland, where the treaty was ratified after a referendum, all the member states approved the treaty in parliamentary votes.

In Poland, the treaty was approved in a nationwide referendum on June 7-8, 2003. Voters were asked to answer the following question: "Do you consent to the Republic of Poland joining the European Union?" According to official results, 58.85 percent of eligible voters went to the polls; 77.45 percent voted "yes" and 22.55 percent voted "no."

Full member
The accession treaty was signed on April 16, 2003 in Athens. Poland became a full member of the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Poland's first European Parliament election was held on June 13, 2004. Voters elected 54 Eurodeputies; the turnout was low, at under 21 percent of those eligible to vote.

Poland joined the free-travel Schengen Agreement on Dec. 21, 2007, and fulfilled all of its requirements regarding air traffic on March 29, 2008.

The next step in integration will be the adoption of the single currency, the euro. Polish economists and EU officials say that this could happen in 2013-2014. The official position of Donald Tusk's government is that Poland will adopt the euro in 2012, the year of the European soccer championships in Poland and Ukraine. The Polish prime minister is speaking of a "double euro" for that year-meaning the Euro 2012 championships and euro adoption.
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