Merkel turns to brinkmanship at EU summit

25th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

25 June 2007, Brussels (dpa) - An unaccustomed show of brinkmanship by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, coupled with a midnight diplomatic initiative by other European Union leaders averted a Polish veto at a Brussels summit convened to reform the European Union's decision- making process. Merkel's threat to press ahead to a conference of EU government heads to draw up a new institutional treaty without Polish cooperation was all but unprecedented in EU history. It also marked a new departure for the Germa

25 June 2007

Brussels (dpa) - An unaccustomed show of brinkmanship by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, coupled with a midnight diplomatic initiative by other European Union leaders averted a Polish veto at a Brussels summit convened to reform the European Union's decision- making process.

Merkel's threat to press ahead to a conference of EU government heads to draw up a new institutional treaty without Polish cooperation was all but unprecedented in EU history.

It also marked a new departure for the German chancellor, who has deployed quiet diplomacy to great effect over the past six months of the German EU presidency.

"It went on for a long time, but we have achieved what we wanted to achieve," Merkel said as the summit finally broke up at dawn on Saturday.

"We are very, very satisfied," she added, but was forced to acknowledge that "the possibilities of compromise were stretched to the limit."

Poland gained a major concession in being allowed to retain its 27 votes in the EU's decision-making bodies, despite its population of only 38 million.

Germany, the largest EU nation with a population of 82 million, has 29 votes, as do other EU heavyweights Britain, France and Italy.

The arrangement, originally agreed upon in Nice in 2000, is to remain in force until 2014 and to be phased out over the period to 2017.

Poland rejected Merkel's original proposal that majority decisions could be taken by 55 per cent of member states representing at least 65 per cent of the EU's total population. This will only come into effect fully in 2017.

The Poles were particularly angry that this would give Germany much greater weight.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lashed out with a charge that it was the devastation caused by the Nazi German invasion of Poland in 1939 that had created the population imbalance.

Poland would have had a population of 66 million, but for the millions of deaths caused, he said. The outburst provoked an outraged response from many EU leaders, further heightening tensions at the summit.

The concession to the Poles came in a phone call late Friday to Kaczynski made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

Other EU leaders wary of handing increased powers to Brussels also gained concessions.

Blair secured his "red lines," such as the primacy of British law over the European bill of rights and retaining British control of social security and foreign and security policy.

His successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, who takes over next week, will not have to put the new treaty to the Euro-sceptic British electorate in a referendum.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy had a 50-year-old reference to "an internal market where competition is free and undistorted" cut from the text.

Even though the change was seen as largely cosmetic, it was aimed at assuaging French fears of a neo-liberal tilt to EU economic policy and provoked anxiety in Britain.

The French, together with the Dutch, blocked the original draft constitution in referenda held in 2005.

The Dutch, too, did not leave empty-handed. The more constitutional aspects of the original treaty - such as a flag and an anthem - have been cut from the new version, much as Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende wished.

And the powers of national parliaments have been increased.

The leaders of more strongly integrationist countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain expressed deep disappointment at the concessions made to their more Euro- sceptic fellow EU members.

And little progress was made on the central purpose of the summit - to move towards streamlining the decision-making process of a bloc that has swelled to 27 members from 15 a little more than three years ago.

Turkey is knocking at the European door and Ukraine has declared its long-term wish to join.

But as Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, has noted, further enlargement of the union is all but impossible with the current institutional arrangements.

DPA

Subject: German news

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