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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 18:38 GMT
Poland fights land invasion
Polish land and farmhouse
Polish land is up to 30 times cheaper than in the EU
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By Nicholas Walton
BBC Warsaw reporter

One of the most controversial negotiations for expanding the European Union is set to close in Brussels on Thursday.

Germany has an agenda to take back the land that was taken from them at the end of the Second World War

Wojciech Mojzesowicz
Samoobrona Party
Poland, a country of two million farms and a long history of conflict with neighbouring countries, is worried that EU membership will mean an invasion of rich foreign farmers buying up Polish land.

The Polish are starting to wonder whether membership will result in their country being divided up once again.

The Polish negotiating team has been determined to delay foreigners' right to buy, but some outsiders have already managed to negotiate the tough bureaucracy to claim Polish land as their own.

Not welcome

Richard Phillips, for example, used to run a farm in south Wales.

He bought 1,600 hectares of unused land and derelict buildings near the Polish border with Germany six years ago, and says that he was mainly attracted by the low price of land.

The Polish are now starting to wonder whether membership of the EU will result in their country being divided up once again

Tadeusz Szkarmruk works for the government agency responsible for leasing and selling land.

He says Polish land is up to 30 times cheaper than elsewhere in the EU, which is especially attractive to the Dutch, who have very little of their own farmland left.

But he says the new farmers aren't always welcomed in Poland.

He told me about a Dutch farm near Olsztyn in the northeast of the country, where a barn full of animals was set on fire a few months ago.

The fact that many of the foreigners are German has also raised political tensions, especially in areas of Poland that historically used to be German territory.

Wojciech Mojzesowicz is the vice-president of the populist Samoobrona party.

He says Poland should be more cautious about membership of the EU, because he believes it is being used by the Germans to dominate Europe.

"Poland has always suffered from being Germany's neighbour," he argues.

"And Germany has an agenda to take back the land that was taken from them at the end of the Second World War."

Such populist fears have found an audience in the Polish countryside, where incomes have fallen sharply in recent years, and which accounts for a large proportion of Poland's record unemployment rate of almost 20%.

Mixed emotions

But the economic situation has also led to some of the newcomers being welcomed.

Armin Stockem worked as a computer dealer for twenty years, but always had ambitions to spend the second half of his working life as a farmer.

British farmers were making good money a few years ago - but now times are harder and it's unlikely they're making enough money to invest in Polish land

Richard Phillips
British farmer in Poland
Eighteen months ago he moved from Germany to the rolling, lake-filled Polish countryside just a few kilometres from the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

His farm dominates the small village of Grabowierz.

It also employs 30 local people, and that, he says, is one of the reasons why he has been welcomed by people in his village.

The question of EU membership is also an important one for the foreign farmers.

Richard Phillips is aware that most Polish farmers are unhappy with what they are being offered by the EU.

He says that he too will be affected by the low levels of subsidy that Polish farms will be entitled to if they join the EU in 2004, as the government hopes.

He also thinks fewer western farmers are also less likely to move to Poland because of financial difficulties back home.

"British farmers were making good money a few years ago," he says.

"But now times in farming are harder and it's unlikely that they're now making enough money to invest in Polish land."

For Richard Phillips, Armin Stockem and other foreign farmers in Poland, the end of negotiations with the EU on the right to buy Polish land is unlikely to mean the end of uncertainty about the future of their farms.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | Europe
Poland's farming woes
12 Jan 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Polish farmers on the bread line
30 Jan 02 | Europe
Profile: Andrzej Lepper
13 Nov 01 | Europe
EU hopefuls on track
24 Sep 01 | Europe
Left victorious in Poland
24 Sep 01 | Business
Poland's economic challenge
14 Jun 01 | Europe
The candidate countries
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
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