Long and hard way to UE
Poland initiated the reform of its political system and economy in 1989. In this new situation, a return to the West, as embodied in the form of the EU and NATO, became realistic. Already on 19th September 1989 Poland signed the agreement for trade and trade co-operation with the (then) European Community (EC).
That agreement was not only the basis for further relations but also a starting point for future negotiations on the subject of associating with EC. Such an intention was expressed by Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki in his speech in the European Parliament in February 1990.
Slightly later in June 1991 Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Krzysztof Skubiszewski declared in his expose in Polish Parliament that Poland was determined to become a member of the European Community.
On 19th May 1990 Poland officially applied for a beginning of negotiations for an agreement of associating, and the negotiations began in December 1990. After eleven months on 16th December 1991 the Polish government signed the Europe Agreement which established an associate relationship between the EC and the Republic of Poland.
The Europe Agreement set out the legal grounds for the pursuit and implementation of economic, political, scientific, and cultural union. The agreements signed with the EC, which at this time was preparing for its transformation into the European Union (EU), initiated Poland's process of European integration. The Europe Agreement came into force on 1st February 1994 (its III part on the mutual trade relations came into force earlier on 1st March 1992).
Despite the fact that the EC very early on signed a range of association and customs agreements with Poland, the Agreement was in practice treated as a completely new entity. It included resolutions on political dialogue, obligations related to the narrowing of the gap between the association states and EC legislative models, as well as guidelines governing co-operation in the area of culture.
The EC gave its consent to the Agreement foreword containing an additional point: "Poland's ultimate aim is membership of the Community." In this way the Polish partner established that the aim of the Agreement was the creation of frameworks for Poland's gradual integration into the Community.
The most important from Poland's point of view was that as a result of diplomatic interventions by the states of the Visegrád Group, the European Council decided at its Copenhagen summit in June 1993 that: "the associate member states from Central and Eastern Europe, if they so wish, will become members of the EU. In order to achieve this, however, they must fulfill the appropriate conditions." These became known as the Copenhagen criteria, or simply, membership criteria.
The Copenhagen criteria laid down the following EU membership requirements:
1. That candidate countries achieve stable institutions that guarantee democracy, legality, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
2. That candidate countries have a working market economy, capable of competing effectively on EU markets.
3. That candidate countries are capable of accepting all the membership responsibilities, political, economic and monetary.
Another important stage on Poland's way to EU took place at the Luxembourg summit in 1997, when the EU accepted the Commission's opinion to invite several Central and Eastern European states (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus) to start talks on their accession to the EU. The preliminary condition for the inauguration of negotiations was maintenance of the criteria by the countries operating within the Copenhagen framework.
In 1999 EU made another decision on the introduction of the access negotiations with four next candidate countries: Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Malta.
The negotiation process started on 31st March 1998, when the first sitting of the International Accession Conference took place. After the meeting, screening sessions began to determine the extent to which Polish law was in accordance with community law, followed by the two parties developing position papers for each negotiating position.
The opening of negotiations in given areas signified that the European Council has granted the European Commission the relevant mandate to conduct talks with the candidate states. After the final agreement negotiations were temporarily closed. In the final phase of all the negotiations their results took the form of entries in the accession treaty.
Poland (with other candidate countries) finished the accession negotiations in December 2002. Than the Accession Treaty was signed in Athens on 16th April 2003. After the ratification of that Treaty, Poland and other 9 countries became the members of EU on 1st May 2004.
The question arises as to what this new, enlarged, deeper and more open Europe will be like. The answers will be supplied by all participants in the process. After all the demands that it is necessary to meet affect all the parties concerned.