EU treaty hinges on 'unpredictable' Poland

18th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

18 June 2007, Luxembourg (dpa) - Success or failure of efforts to revive the crippled European Union constitution depend on the conduct of "unpredictable" Polish negotiators, EU diplomats said Monday. With only three days to go before EU leaders meet for make-or- break talks on resurrecting the constitution, Polish demands for a revamp of the bloc's voting system have emerged as the key obstacle facing the 27-nation bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the EU summit in Brussels on June 21-

18 June 2007

Luxembourg (dpa) - Success or failure of efforts to revive the crippled European Union constitution depend on the conduct of "unpredictable" Polish negotiators, EU diplomats said Monday.

With only three days to go before EU leaders meet for make-or- break talks on resurrecting the constitution, Polish demands for a revamp of the bloc's voting system have emerged as the key obstacle facing the 27-nation bloc.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the EU summit in Brussels on June 21-22, has warned that the Polish stance is not acceptable.

Opening the hard-fought compromise on EU voting rights included in the draft treaty would open a chaotic Pandora's box of equally difficult and contradictory demands from other EU states, the German leader has warned.

As EU foreign ministers Monday struggled to narrow down differences over the treaty, an EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the problem was simple: "We're faced with a completely unpredictable Poland."

If Polish President Lech Kaczynski continued to demand an overhaul of the institutional package, EU leaders would fail dramatically in their efforts to bring the moribund treaty back to life, the diplomat cautioned.

A more flexible Polish stance, however, would mean success for the EU and an end to two years of uncertainty triggered by the 2005 rejection of the treaty by French and Dutch voters.

It's all a question of power. Warsaw is demanding fresh EU talks on voting procedures in a bid to increase its weight in the bloc's decision-making, especially compared to larger countries such as Germany.

The "double majority" system included in the EU draft treaty says EU decisions require the support of 55 per cent of member states, representing 65 per cent of the population.

But Poland has proposed an alternative voting system based on the square root of each country's population.

"The primary goal of the Polish proposal is to ensure a balance between big, medium and small states," said a paper on "equal influence" drawn up by Warsaw ahead of the summit.

Under the square root system, "the voting power of each citizen of the Union takes into account the size of that person's home country," the Polish paper argued.

Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told reporters in Luxembourg that Warsaw was determined to press ahead with its demands at the summit.

"The double-majority system as defined within the constitutional treaty, we cannot accept that," said Fotyga.

So far, only the Czech Republic has voiced support for Poland but Alexandr Vondra, the Czech deputy minister for European affairs, said he was hoping for a compromise on the issue.

EU diplomats say that part of the problem is that Poland - which joined the EU in the bloc's 2004 "big bang" enlargement - has not yet learned that making deals in the EU involves a complex game of compromise and give and take between EU states.

Also, when making strong demands, countries need to have a so- called "plan B" or fall-back option allowing them in case of failure to save face and win concessions in another area.

Poland's "square root or death" stance leaves no such room for manoeuvre and ultimate compromise, argue EU diplomats.

Seeking to highlight the joint EU interest in ending 2 years of institutional stalemate, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted Monday that the stakes were high for all EU members at the summit.

"We will lose or win together," said Steinmier. Failure at the EU summit would mean "we have all lost," he warned.

While Polish demands are expected to dominate the Brussels meeting, other countries are also coming to the meeting with requests in hand.

The status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights remains controversial, with Britain opposing a document that is legally binding.

France and Spain are demanding the scrapping of a number of national vetoes including in justice and police matters, a move Britain opposes.

Other outstanding issues for the summit include whether the EU should have a single legal personality, enabling it to sign international agreements and Dutch demands that national parliaments have a greater say in EU policy-making.

There is agreement, however, that new constitution - to be called an "amended treaty" - will be simpler than the failed draft version. This will allow France to avoid holding another potentially risk public referendum on the document.

The treaty will also drop planned references to EU symbols such as a flag, anthem and Europe Day which are seen as giving the bloc super state status.

If EU leaders are successful in Brussels, another intergovernmental conference to negotiate details of the new treaty will start in autumn.

Negotiations are expected to be completed by the end of the year, allowing the new treaty to be ratified and enter into force by summer 2009 to coincide with elections to the EU parliament.

DPA

Subject: German news

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