Europe

EU referendum: Is Brexit bad news for Poland?

Young people wave Polish and European Union flags during the yearly Schumann Parade supporting EU ideas, in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, May 7, 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption Young Poles marched to support the EU in Warsaw last month

Britain's decision to leave the European Union is important for Poland because it affects so many Poles working in the UK and their families back home.

Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, about two million Poles have left in search of higher paid jobs, many of them heading to the UK, where they can earn up to four times as much doing the same job here.

It is estimated 850,000 Poles now live in the UK, making them the largest non-British nationality. Poland's National Bank reckons Poles send home more than $1bn (£728m) a year, driving consumption in many parts of the country.

For Poles in the UK, especially those who have not lived there for the five years needed to apply for permanent residency, the future is uncertain.

"People here [in the UK] feel that after Brexit there may be some restrictions on working. It's uncharted waters, we've got a home here and a mortgage," says Rafal Rozycki, who lives in Manchester with his partner Katarzyna.

Rafal and Katarzyna left Lodz in 2004 after graduating because the job market in Poland then was "very difficult". Rafal now works for an aerospace company.

"I'm waiting to see what's going to happen. I am not worried to the extent I'm thinking I might be kicked out but I am apprehensive it could affect me in a year or two. I'm going to apply for a passport," Rafal said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption What will the cost of Brexit be for Poland?

During the next two years, Britain will negotiate a new relationship with the EU and that will affect the working conditions for Poles in the UK.

In recent weeks Polish newspapers have been asking whether Poles will need work permits or visas to work in Britain in future.

Under a headline, "The great cost of Brexit", Wednesday's front page of the daily Rzeczpospolita, listed 10 possible disadvantages including work permits, higher fees for Polish students, the end of cheap flights between the UK and Poland and more expensive Scotch whisky.

Politically speaking Poland is losing a powerful ally in the EU, one with a similar outlook towards the single market and towards retaining sanctions against Russia.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski recently named Britain as Poland's number one partner.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Large numbers of Poles have moved to the UK to work

"This is bad news for Europe, for Poland. This is a great dilemma for the eurocrats, we all want to keep the EU, the question is in what shape," he told TV Republika.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda said efforts must now be made to prevent other countries from leaving.

Poland is the biggest beneficiary of EU funds, which are transforming the country. Warsaw wants to remain, but it will use Brexit to push for a looser EU based on the single market.

"The conclusion is obvious: We need a new European treaty," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the governing PiS party and the country's most powerful politician.

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