Poland hopes to revive faith in EU with presidency

AP News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2011 10:35 AM
Poland hopes to revive faith in EU with presidency

Poland has ambitious plans as it prepares to take over the European Union presidency on Friday _ and that includes vigorously promoting a more united Europe.

The former communist nation, which takes over the rotating six-month presidency for the first time since joining in 2004, says its priorities include keeping the door open so new members can join the 27-nation bloc and pushing for budget changes that will stimulate economic growth.

Poland hopes to inject pro-EU enthusiasm back into a union that has struggled to make quick decisions on topics like bailouts for debt-strapped nations and faced tensions between members over an influx of refugees from North Africa.

"Europe's foundations are threatened" and strong leadership is needed, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said recently. "Poland's presidency will revive a belief in the sense of EU institutions."

Although some Europeans might be increasingly cynical about the EU, support for membership is over 80 percent in Poland, according to polls. EU membership has brought economic growth to Poland _ thanks to foreign investment and greater economic integration with other EU nations _ as well as greater freedom for Poles to work and travel abroad.

"Europe is expecting a new and powerful impulse from Poland's presidency," said Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister who now heads the EU Parliament.

Poland's bold plans, however, might be a tad ambitious for the actual powers of the presidency. The country's main tasks will involve setting priorities for policy debates and making sure hundreds of meetings go smoothly.

Still, the presidency means taking "responsibility for the direction and the pace of changes in Europe," Buzek said.

Polish leaders may become distracted by a national election in the fall. Tusk's centrist pro-market party, Civic Platform, seems poised to keep power, but the campaign is certain to take much of its attention. No date has been set but the election is most likely in late October.

During the six-month presidency, which Poland takes over from Hungary, Croatia is expected to sign an accession agreement with the EU. Poland also hopes the EU will sign an association agreement with Ukraine furthering economic cooperation, part of a broader agenda to promote democracy on the EU's eastern border.

Environmentalists are worried that Poland, which is heavily dependent on its rich coal deposits, will fail to push a green agenda and have increased their lobbying efforts in Warsaw, the Polish capital.

Greenpeace activists rallied in front of Tusk's office Tuesday to urge him to support environmental causes, after Poland was the sole EU member to oppose long-term EU commitments on reducing carbon emissions.