Poles Protest EU Shipyard Decision

BRUSSELS -- Polish workers protested outside the European Union's headquarters Friday over the bloc's demands that the struggling Gdansk shipyard, birthplace of the anti-communist Solidarity movement, slash its output.

The European Commission has said Gdansk must cut capacity to avoid having to repay hefty state subsidies, which could trigger the yard's bankruptcy.

"We defended our shipyard successfully during communist times, but now we feel the danger may be coming from Brussels," protest leader Karol Guzikiewicz said at a rally of some 100 workers outside the EU executive's main building.

The collapse of the yard would be political dynamite in Poland, which is poised for an early parliamentary election in October or November.

The protesters, carrying red and white Solidarity flags and singing anti-communist songs from the 1980s, met EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who is studying Gdansk's restructuring plan.

Under EU rules, governments can give financial help to ailing companies only if the cash is accompanied by plans that would make the firms viable in the long term.

The aid paid to three Polish shipyards, including Gdansk, since Poland entered the EU in 2004 totals 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

"The Commission recognizes the crucial part in European history that Gdansk played and its part in the struggle for freedom and a reunited Europe," said Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd, but the Commission had to follow the law.

The rally was held on the 27th anniversary of the signing of "August agreements" between workers and Poland's communist government, which opened the door for the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union.

Unionists said the Commission's demand to shut two of the yard's three slipways would make it next to impossible to privatize the company and save its 3,000 jobs.

Ukrainian metals holding company Donbass Industrial Union and an Italian shipping firm have been selected as the final bidders to acquire 75 percent of the yard for some 100 million euros.