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Poland welcomes EU shipyard aid

WARSAW, Jul 22 – Poland on Wednesday hailed the European Commission\’s approval of major state aid for the historic Gdansk shipyard, cradle of the Solidarity trade union.

"I\’m very happy with this decision," Treasury Minister Aleksander Grad told reporters, thanking EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

"It\’s thanks to her engagement that this decision has been taken," he said.

After years of wrangling with Warsaw, the European Commission said Wednesday it had authorised "various support measures worth 251 million euros (356 million dollars), spread over several years and extending into the future, in favour of the Gdansk shipyard."

It concluded that Warsaw\’s plan "will ensure the viability of the yard and that the distortions of competition, caused by years of subsidised operations, will be adequately reduced by production capacity closures."

Grad also said Wednesday that the sale of shipyards in Gdynia and Szczecin will be delayed until August 17 due to allegations of irregularities at the Szczecin yard which surfaced recently.

In 2005, the European Commission began an inquiry into public aid handed over to Poland\’s three major Baltic coast shipyards, Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin.

In November, Brussels ordered Poland to sell Gdynia and Szczecin after ruling Warsaw had doled out illegal state aid to keep them in business.

In the early 1980\’s the Gdansk yard was in the international spotlight when a strike against price hikes led by shipyard electrician Lech Walesa sparked a massive national strike, giving birth to Solidarity.

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As the first and only free trade union in the entire Soviet bloc, Solidarity championed the cause of basic human rights and freedoms in communist Poland before being banned in December 1981.

It re-emerged in 1989 to negotiate a peaceful end to communism in Poland, sparking the demise of the entire Soviet bloc by 1991. Having won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of Solidarity, Walesa became Poland\’s first democratically-elected post-war president in 1990.

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