Poland celebrates 17th anniversary of EU accession

Poland celebrates the 17th anniversary of the country joining the European Union. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to Twitter to commemorate the day and wrote that the focus must now be on the future and how to best advance the European community’s development.

A similar message was posted on the ministry’s Facebook page, stating "Today marks 17 years since Poland joined the European Union, a community based on shared values and mutual respect among its members. In the face of current challenges, we must focus on the future, on further development and building a Europe made strong by its diversity!".

Poland joined the EU on the same day as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia, in the biggest EU enlargement in history.

The Central European states viewed EU accession as an important historical process that would make it possible to undo much of the damage caused by the division of the continent into competing ideological and political camps, best symbolised by the Iron Curtain that Winston Churchill argued had descended across the continent in his famous Fulton Speech in 1946.

The social and economic crisis, which affected most communist countries in the second half of the 1980s, strengthened Central Eastern European societies in their conviction that cooperation and closer ties with the more affluent countries of Western Europe was the right path forward.

This attitude and the gradual willingness of EU member states to embrace the idea of enlargement led to the start of the EU integration process for the former Soviet satellite states.

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Foreign Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and the Minister of European Affairs Danuta Hübner signed the historical Accession Treaty on behalf of Poland in Athens on April 16th, 2003.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski was also present in Athens and called the day of the signing of the Treaty "a celebration of European unity" and "a success that can be a signpost for the world and a dream come true".

The following day, the Polish Parliament passed a resolution setting the dates of the accession referendum for June 7th and June 8th, 2003. The two-day voting period, unique in Polish history, was to be a safeguard against a low turnout.

A turnout below 50 percent would make the referendum result invalid.

During the intensive referendum campaign, the vast majority of parliamentary parties (SLD, PSL, PO, PiS) supported EU membership on the terms that had been inscribed in the Accession Treaty.

The Self Defense Party was sceptical while The League of Polish Families spoke out strongly against EU membership.

Accession to the European Union was also strongly supported by the Polish Episcopal Conference, which carried a lot of weight in the majority Catholic country

The referendum result showed that more than 77 percent of votes cast had been for EU membership, with the turnout reaching 59 percent.

"A great thing has been accomplished. We are returning to the great European family. We are returning to the place that Poland and Poles deserve. - President Kwaśniewski emphasised.

The Accession Treaty was ratified on July 23rd, 2003, and then finally, at midnight on May 1st, 2004, Poland became a member of the European Union.