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Trying to bridge the gap

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The Polish Eagle

As Poland seems on the verge of yet another clash with the rest of the EU, Warsaw-based journalist and blogger The Beatroot takes a look at the ongoing difficulties of reconciling conflicting local, national and pan-European interests.

Is it recent eastern enlargement that is pushing a slightly disorientated and isolated Brussels into the arms of experiments with Deliberative consultation?

When Poland and the other ex-communist, central and eastern European countries signed up, the European Union got more heterogeneous overnight. And that means many more interests to cater for.

If the aim of Deliberative methods is to make it easier to transcend individual, local, sectional and national interests, then the job has got much harder in a 27 nation state club with wide economic and social differences between the new and old members.

The present Polish government certainly takes the idea of ‘national interest' seriously - it thinks it has the mandate to do so.

The Jaroslaw Kaczynski government's combative stance in Europe has featured as part of the election campaign here - now into it's last two weeks - when he was accused in a TV debate of bringing ‘shame' internationally to Poland.

For instance, the row over the planned by-pass around the Augustow, northeastern Poland, and into the unique natural wilderness of the Rospuda Valley, has developed into a classic struggle between local and national government, and Brussels and pan-European NGOs. And it's one typical of conflicts between the less developed new EU members to the east, and the more developed and established western half.

Poland had never seen anything like it this summer. Greenpeace camped out in Rospuda Valley, a unique European home to lynx and boar, protesting a planned highway, which will link the Baltic to Central Europe and beyond.

At the same time, down the road and back into town, we had residents of Augustow carrying crosses (the sign of the Polish cemetery) demanding that the ring road around their town be built as quickly as possible, pointing to the many fatal accidents and pollution that the heavy lorries that rumble constantly through the town leave in their wake.

Poland hasn't seen a highway road protest like it - so common in the UK in the early 1990s, for instance - simply because Poland has never built many highway before.

The state of Poland's roads are a national joke. It has only a few kilometers of motorway, and the surface of some roads in and outside the cities have more holes in them than Swiss cheese.

The opposition was taunting the government in the last debate before parliament dissolved itself three weeks ago (elections take place on October 21) by pointing out that despite all the promises, they had managed to build just 500 meters of highway since coming to power two years ago.

So the pressure to improve Poland's almost medieval infrastructure is real. The economy badly needs the controversial Via Baltic highway and many more kilometers beside. The town of Augustow badly needs a respite from the HGVs.

But despite local support for the highway, and despite the mandate an elected government in Warsaw has, it's hands are tied by the Natura 2000 agreement Poland signed up to when joining the EU. This designates certain areas of land, renowned for natural beauty and biodiversity, out of reach to developers.

It just so happens that Poland has rather a lot of these areas.

Highway building is not the only environmental issue to have created conflict between government's such as Poland's and Brussels. Carbon emissions is another.

Poland - like the other ex-communist states to have joined in 2004 - has more slack over the speed at which they must reduce their emissions, due to their need for fast economic development. But Warsaw complains that the targets, which have been set - to comply with Kyoto agreement for the EU as a whole - are too inhibitive.

And Poland is also currently involved in a battle of cod quotas with EC, which says that Warsaw exceeded its yearly quota in the east Baltic in July.

Add the environment and economy to a whole host of other areas where the present conservative, suspicious, nationalist government in Warsaw feels that its hands are tied by the EU.

The deliberative process is designed to get at ‘what people think' if they had the chance to be presented with both sides of the argument, and in the context of debate with others of opposite views.

This, in a sense, mirrors the process by which governments meet at the Council of Europe and other bodies. But in the context of an EU which now has such diverse economic and social interests, governments like the present one in Poland will be acting on the basis of the old politics based around national and local interests. Deliberation will not change that.


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