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EU rule-squeeze on Gdansk raises political pressure in Warsaw

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EU rule-squeeze on Gdansk raises political pressure in Warsaw

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Shipbuilding trouble in Poland is stoking political implications outside its borders. The European Commission has rejected a plan by the Gdansk shipyard to take until 2014 to complete a reduction in its capacity. This piles pressure on Warsaw. Brussels says Gdansk must slim down to avoid having to repay hefty state subsidies, which could trigger the yard’s bankruptcy. Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy takes a tough line: “Shipyards in other countries as well as other Polish shipyards have considerably reduced their capacity. Gdansk shipyards can not be an exception.”

With his country poised for an early parliamentary election this autumn, speaking in Strasbourg MEP Bronislaw Geremek pleads the case for leniency: “What we’re saying is not to close… Don’t ask for a two-thirds cut in capacity but one third. If the Commission simply answered no to that, there would be a eurosceptic or anti-European reaction during the course of the electoral campaign.”

As Polish workers protested in Brussels last Friday, the commissioner for competition affairs, Neelie Kroes, said she was acting to save the shipyard, not shut it. The yard is set to be privatised under the plan. Under EU rules, governments can give financial help to ailing companies only if the cash is accompanied by plans to make the firms viable in the long term.