EU summit dogged by history and national interests

21st June 2007, Comments 0 comments

21 June 2007, Brussels (dpa) - European Union efforts to try and clinch agreement on a new treaty are being stymied by a potentially toxic mix of historical rivalries and fears the bloc is growing too big and powerful, too fast.As EU leaders gathered Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is chairing the two-day EU summit, voiced hopes that the 27 leaders will agree on the outlines of a so-called "reform" or amended treaty to replace the draft constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 200

21 June 2007

Brussels (dpa) - European Union efforts to try and clinch agreement on a new treaty are being stymied by a potentially toxic mix of historical rivalries and fears the bloc is growing too big and powerful, too fast.

As EU leaders gathered Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is chairing the two-day EU summit, voiced hopes that the 27 leaders will agree on the outlines of a so-called "reform" or amended treaty to replace the draft constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Merkel says a treaty deal is essential to streamline decision-making in an enlarged union. She has the support of several leaders, as well as EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who says the new treaty is also needed to boost the bloc's international credibility and give it tools to deal with new challenges.

But even as EU leaders look to the future, their deliberations are being overshadowed by Europe's past.

Before talks opened in Brussels, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski upped the ante by hinting his government's demands for a change in EU voting rights to curb the power and influence of big states like Germany, had a strong historical connection.

Evoking memories of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, Kaczynski told Polish National Radio of the "unfathomable crimes" against Poles committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Poland would have had a population of 66 million, rather than 40 million, if Nazi Germany had not laid the country waste in the war, said Kaczynski, adding: "We are merely demanding what was taken from us."

Taken aback by the Polish statement, a German official insisted the dispute over voting rights must not be seen as a "German-Polish confrontation."

Poland's tough stance, however, remains a major headache for Merkel.

Warsaw has said it will veto a treaty deal unless others agree to shelve the current "double majority" voting system agreed in 2004 which requires that EU decisions have the support of 55 per cent of member states, representing 65 per cent of the population.

Instead, Poland wants a voting system based on the square root of each country's population, which it argues will give more say to medium-sized EU nations.

German EU presidency sources say Merkel will allow Polish President Lech Kaczynski - the Polish premier's twin brother who is attending the Brussels summit - to raise the voting rights issue at the meeting.

But they have warned that Polish demands will not be part of the inter-governmental conference expected to be launched in autumn to finalize details of the new treaty.

Accepting what Polish wants would encourage other states to make similar requests for treaty changes, prompting EU-wide chaos, say German officials.

Also problematic for Merkel are eurosceptic "red lines" drawn up by Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending his last EU summit before handing over power to Gordon Brown.

Seeking to allay British and other countries' fears of a European "super state," the new treaty will not include planned references to EU symbols such as a flag, anthem and "Europe Day."

But London is demanding stronger assurances that the EU will not acquire new powers.

Earlier this week Britain shocked its EU partners by saying it opposed the appointment of a first-ever EU foreign minister and the establishment of a European diplomatic service.

Other EU states, however, insist the bloc needs to speak with a strong single voice on the global stage and that Europe needs a foreign minister - or high commissioner - to increase its international clout.

Britain is also resisting moves to give the EU its own "legal personality," fearing this will allow it to join international organizations and perhaps, one day, replace Britain - and France - in the United Nations Security Council.

In addition, London is fighting hard against plans to make the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally-binding because it could guarantee the right to strike.

Meanwhile, French and Dutch concerns that the EU is expanding too fast - and may one day include Turkey - are reflected in the new treaty's insistence that would-be member states will have to respect the "values" of the EU rather than the "principles" as currently stated.

EU commission chief Barroso has urged all EU states to be constructive at the summit, adding: "It is not in the interest of any member state to be seen as a hardliner."

Seeking to protect national interests, however, most tough-talking EU leaders, however, are likely to ignore the advice.

DPA

Subject: German news

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