FAQs: Joining the European Union

When Poland joins the EU will everything in the shops be as expensive as in Paris or London?

Of course not. If Poland does join the EU, prices will gradually increase at the same rate as wages. There will be no dramatic increase in the cost of bread, beer or clothing.

Will we have to get rid of the zloty then?

No. Poland won't be ready to join the European Monetary Union (EMU) until at least 2006. Until then the official currency of Poland will be the zloty, which will be fully exchangeable in all EU countries that have adopted the euro. On entering the Euro Zone Polish tourists will not need to exchange the zloty at the borders, and business people will not need to worry about different exchange rates.
Sounds OK. What if I want to study in the EU?

Polish students can already apply to any college/university in the EU or join various programmes designed for students of member countries. The number of places available is restricted, however. Once Poland joins, our students will have the opportunity to join the European Diploma Programme.

What's that?

It's a qualification that is awarded to students who study in three consecutive member states.

But is this qualification just a bit of paper, or will it really mean something?

It's a proper qualification that will be recognized by international organizations and top European companies.

But I heard someone say recently that Polish people won't be allowed to work in EU countries for decades.

Then you are listening to the wrong people. The fact is that EU citizens can work legally in all EU countries. Some professions require special qualifications, which must be attained in each country. For instance, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer in Britain then you will have to take special exams. Some countries have also imposed their own restrictions and time-periods before those from new member states can work freely. This is especially true of Austria and Germany. They are worried that thousands of Poles will swarm into their countries and make domestic workers unemployed. They both have demanded a seven-year period before these restrictions are lifted.

Oh! So who makes all these rules? Is there a President of the EU?

There is no elected president as yet: some people think it might be a good idea, and others think that it would not. The main decision making body is the Council of the EU. The European Commission is made up of those appointed by the governments of Member States. It can make draft legislation, which it then presents to the Council and the Parliament. The EU Parliament is comprised of MEPs elected by universal suffrage. These elections take place every five years. It shares legislative and budgetary duties with the Council.

Can I keep my Polish passport after we get into the EU?

When we join we will be able to travel to Spain or Portugal, for instance, with an identity card only. You won't need your passport at all. But we will all be issued burgundy passports with the European Union inscription on the cover. It is only when entering Great Britain and Ireland that you will have to show your passport, as these countries have not signed the Schengen Treaty.

Sounds like a Japanese epic movie.

That's Shogun. The Schengen Zone was created in 1995. This allows free movement for passengers crossing borders within the zone. Its purpose is to remove all controls at internal land, sea and air frontiers.

I see. So when will Poland get into the Union? The negotiations have been going on for ages.

It seems that Poland will be ready for accession to the EU by the end of this year. By then all the chapters should be finally closed.

Chapters? Are they writing a novel or something?

Don't be silly. There are thirty different chapters in the negotiating process, each concentrating on a different area of reform. For the first time, we have actually been complimented by the EU negotiators in their parliamentary report for Poland's speedier attempts to get ready for entry. By the end of this July we had completed 26 out of the 30 chapters. Out of the four left, the agriculture/farming section seems to be the most difficult to complete. Denmark, who holds the revolving presidency at the moment, has warned us that if the process and all the chapters are not completed before the December Summit in Copenhagen, then they will not wait any longer for us.

What! Does that mean that we'll never be allowed into the Union?

No, but it would make things much, much more difficult.

Andrzej Geber, Peter Gentle