I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before, but it was only while talking with a colleague this afternoon, and being asked what I thought about the unwillingness of the candidate countries to reform that it came to me: with all this coming and going on the Pact, what kind of message is being sent to the new members? Obviously if you give the impression that agreements are not to be complied with, you can get reactions you aren’t expecting, and that you don’t like. The Financial Times article you can find below, begins to give an idea of the size of the looming problem, whilst this one informs us that Standard and Poor’s has just downgraded the Polish currency rating because of concerns about deficits and rapidly growing government debt.
Poland on Wednesday came under a scathing attack by the European Commission which claimed the Warsaw government had all but stopped reforms just months ahead of Poland’s accession to the European Union.
The report, the last before next May when 10 countries will join the EU, dispensed with any diplomatic niceties and instead described how Poland was failing to deliver on implementing reforms required for membership.
The Commission also did not shy away from piling pressure on Turkey, insisting it should reach a settlement by next year over the divided island of Cyprus, whose northern part Turkey occupied in 1974.
Failing any settlement, G?nter Verheugen, enlargement commissioner, made it clear Cyprus could become an obstacle for Turkey’s bid to start formal accession negotiations by early 2005.
This was despite last minute telephone calls by Abdullah Gul, Turkish foreign minister, who asked Mr Verheugen to soften the language on Cyprus before making the reports public on Wednesday.
“Our message of Turkey [over the recent reforms] is positive,” said Mr Verheugen. “As regards Cyprus, we are trying to create a political fact. A lack of a solution to the Cyprus conflict will be a serious obstacle to Turkey’s efforts. It is an incentive for Turkey to find a solution,” he said.
The tough language on Turkey reflects a growing concern that when Cyprus joins next year, part of an EU member state will be under foreign occupation. Mr Gul said Turkey “will make a great effort to solve the problem before May 1, 2004.”
The annual reports by the enlargement commission headed by Mr Verheugen monitor in detail how all the candidate countries are preparing for accession.
Poland, along with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus, will join on May 1, 2004. Bulgaria may be ready to join by 2007 while Romania, which still hopes to join along with Bulgaria, was on Wednesday bluntly told it could not be considered a functioning market economy.
The blistering attack on Poland reflects serious concern, as well as disappointment in the Commission that had placed great store on the largest of the ten new entrants to make a final push on reform ahead of accession. “The reform path has nearly come to a halt since last year’s report,” said the Commission. It said Poland had shown “reluctance” to reduce its public expenditure, had relaxed fiscal policy and was doing little to rein in the government deficit. The promised restructuring of heavy industry and agriculture “has been modest.” The pace of privatisation had “stalled”.
Polish diplomats put a brave face on the report. “It’s a fact of life. We knew from the beginning what were the weakest points of Poland’s internal reforms,” said Daniel Rotfeld, secretary of state at the foreign ministry.