Poland Cannot Afford Council of Europe Membership Fee

16:51, 25 June 2009
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The Foreign Ministry...

The Foreign Ministry is PLN 243 million in deficit and searching for money to pay its membership fee in the Council of Europe, a candidate for the position of secretary general of which is ex-foreign minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, according to Gazeta Wyborcza.

`The situation is difficult but we`ll find the money for the membership fee even if we had to conjure it up,` pledges Foreign Ministry director general Rafał Wiśniewski.

Poland has already paid its back fees in the organisation, but is to pay an extra PLN 17 million (two-thirds of this year`s annual fee) by 30 June.

The whole issue is a matter of prestige for the government, because Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, ex-prime minister and foreign minister (2001-2005) is Poland`s official candidate for the position of the organisation`s secretary general. It is clear that if Poland failed to pay the membership fee, it would be an unspoken, but very strong argument against Cimoszewicz`s candidature.

`I know the Foreign Ministry is talking about its budget to finance minister Jacek Rostowski. There will be no embarrassment,` cabinet spokesperson Paweł Graś assured Gazeta yesterday.

Only the Foreign Ministry still has to pay PLN 26 million in membership fees in the Nato and PLN 72.8 million to the UN. The ministry`s 2009 budget provided for membership fees in international organisations to total some PLN 120 million - but that was at a time when the euro cost PLN 3.25. Today it costs over PLN 4.50 and the same fees have grown to an equivalent of some PLN 170 million, according to the Foreign Ministry`s calculations.

Poland is facing another nasty surprise at the year-end. The UN and the Nato are likely to start considering Poland a high-income country, meaning an automatic two- or three-fold increase in membership fees.

`We`ve become accustomed to the image of a country that is developing and therefore should receive rather than give. But the reality has changed,` comments Rafał Wiśniewski at the Foreign Ministry.

The ministry`s overall budget for 2009 is some PLN 1.18 billion. According to the parliament`s Foreign Affairs Committee, deficit currently stands at PLN 243 million, or over 20 percent of the budget. All savings from last year as well as funds earmarked for capital spending have already been used to fill the gap. That is why, according to Gazeta`s sources at the ministry, there is no chance for the construction of the Polish embassy at the prestigious Unter den Linden Allee in Berlin to be completed this year, a project that was begun back in 1997 and has dragged on ever since.

The financial position of Poland`s embassies has also deteriorated steadily. The Foreign ministry is hard pressed to come up with the funds to pay rent, utility bills, and staff. Some 60 percent of the spending is in foreign currencies, and Polish law doesn`t provide for the possibility of pegging the budget to the zloty`s exchange rate (as is the case in, for instance, the UK). According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Piotr Paszkowski, starting from the third quarter this year Polish diplomacy can find itself in trouble.

According to unofficial reports, the Foreign Ministry is on a financial red alert. Last year alone, Poland downsized about twenty of its diplomatic posts abroad.

`There isn`t much left to cut,` says one of Gazeta`s sources at the ministry.

At the same time, the year 2011 is approaching rapidly when Poland assumes the EU presidency and its embassies will de facto represent the Union as a whole.

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