Once the accession negotiations began in March 1998, the issue of EU membership began to develop a relatively higher political profile.
At the same time, the term Polish Eurosceptic, previ- ously considered something of an oxymoron, began to enter into the political lexicon.
The term was used in an inclusive and somewhat imprecise way to encompass both those who opposed Polish EU membership in principle, as well as those who were critically supportive, although these softer Eurosceptics often preferred to call themselves Eurorealists.
In the late 1990s, Poland saw a significant fall in support for EU membership
The number of Poles supporting EU membership declined steadily from 77% in June 1994 (the year that Poland formally submitted its application) and a peak of 80% in May 1995 to only 55% in March 2002.
In particular, the decline in overall support was also reflected in increasing uncertainty about whether or not (and by how much) Poles would actually benefit from EU membership compared with current member states.
Similarly, while most Poles continued to think that EU accession would bring their country more benefits than losses they were more uncertain when it came to whether they would benefit as individuals
Survey found that 56% of respondents said EU membership would benefit Poland and only 16% that it would be disadvantageous (10% said it would make no difference and 18% did not know)
On the other hand, only 32% felt that EU membership would benefit them personally, while 50% said it would make no difference and 11% did not know (8% said that it would be disadvantageous)
In February 2002, for example, 53% of Poles said EU would have a negative effect on individual farms while only 26% said it would be positive
Similarly, 35% of Poles said that EU membership would have a negative effect on the functioning of public sector enterprises compared with only 33% who felt it would be positive
The number who said that it would have a positive effect on their living standards fell from 57% in 1994 to 42% in 2002, while those who felt it would be negative increased from 10% to 23%
There are number of factors that account for these shifts in public attitudes towards the EU.
Firstly, the issue of Polish EU membership was, initially at least, the subject of an over- whelming consensus among the main political groupings and elites.
No major political grouping openly questioned EU membership as a primary objective of Polish foreign policy.
Given the existence of such an overwhelming consensus among political elites, Polish Eurosceptics may have been reluctant to identify themselves as such and earlier polling data may have artificially overstated the true levels of public support for EU member- ship.
Secondly, given the existence of this elite consensus, there was also very little serious debate about the potential costs and benefits of EU accession and the issue had virtually no resonance in the day-to-day lives of individual Polish citizens.
Consequently, the previous very high levels of support for EU membership may not have represented a conscious and considered declaration of support and were constructed on rather shaky foundations.