Richard North, 03/08/2004  

Major changes are afoot in Poland. Starting on Monday, farmers who will give up their land and fishermen who get rid off their fishing boats can apply for EU-funded pensions and grants.

Relative small number of fishermen are involved. About a third of all vessel owners are expected to apply, from a fleet in excess of 600. They will be paid between £100,000 for a medium-sized boat, to £700,000 for a larger vessel.

In agriculture, the numbers are huge, despite relatively modest payments. Farmers owning 3 ha get a pension of approximately £200 per month, an annual equivalent of £2,400 against an average per capita income of over £6000.

Nevertheless, about fifty percent of all working farmers are expected to take up this pension. With 27.5 percent of the workforce in agriculture, accounting for some 4.6 million, that potentially means over 2 million workers over the two-and-a-half year programme. With wives and dependants, this number may reach five million.

The pensions are available for ten years only, and it is presumed that those of working age will attempt to find alternative employment. With manufacturing industry also undergoing heavy restructuring, however, opportunities for such a large number may be difficult to find.

Whether these workers can be absorbed in other economic enterprises, or large-scale migration will be triggered, is as yet impossible to tell. But it is likely that some additional cross-border movement will be observed.

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