Six months before Poland becomes a member of the European Union the country has been taken to task for not measuring up to EU standards. The annual report of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, describes Poland as the worst prepared of the ten future members of the Union.
The shortcomings listed in the report range from failure to meet EU hygiene rules, to high unemployment, which is twice the EU average, and wide-scale corruption. I asked Polish EU expert Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, now in Brussels, which of the critical points are particularly serious:
"There are two areas actually - both related to agriculture. One is the paying agency system, so-called IACS which, if not in place by 1st May 2004, would not allow the distribution of this agricultural assistance to Polish farmers. And the other area is the area of food safety. If there is no progress in this area before the 1st of May next year, this may result in the ban on exports of Polish foods to the European Union market, and this would be very serious."
The report has raised concern in Warsaw but in official statements Polish politicians are confident that what remains to be done will be achieved in time. President Aleksander Kwa?niewski:
"We are the biggest country among the new members. I think that the scale of problems is much bigger than in other countries. But I think that is a task for the Polish government next month to eliminate all these weaknesses and I'm sure that at the end of the day, before the 1st May, Poland may be well prepared to be a full member of the European Union because it's in our interest."
In Brussels itself, the mood is not that optimistic. Mikolaj Dowgielewicz again:
"I think the reaction in Brussels is a very cautious optimism, very cautious. That means that it is true that most of those flaws or problems could be solved by the 1st of May. For example the question of the computer system of statistical systems for agricultural assistance. But in relation to food safety, there is certainly a bit of optimism since the progress that needs to be made would really have to be very dramatic, because drawbacks are both in the area of legislative adaptation and also in the area of implementation."
In its report the European Commission urged austerity measures to keep public debt in check. It also stresses that security along Poland's eastern border has to be tightened. On the brighter side, the Commission praised Poland's econonic recovery, with the GDP growth expected to reach 3.5 percent this year, over 2 percent up on last year's figure.