Poles threaten Merkel's EU treaty plans
12 June 2007, Berlin (dpa) - European leaders have been passing through Berlin in quick succession in recent days, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel presses the case for a roadmap to a new European treaty to replace the stalled constitution. Almost all back the chancellor in calling an inter-governmental conference in the second half of the year with the aim of hammering out a final version of the treaty for ratification before the mid- 2009 elections to the European Parliament. Success would crown German
12 June 2007
Berlin (dpa) - European leaders have been passing through Berlin in quick succession in recent days, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel presses the case for a roadmap to a new European treaty to replace the stalled constitution.
Almost all back the chancellor in calling an inter-governmental conference in the second half of the year with the aim of hammering out a final version of the treaty for ratification before the mid- 2009 elections to the European Parliament.
Success would crown Germany's EU presidency and lend powerful impetus to the Portuguese presidency that begins in July.
It would also kickstart a process that will ultimately allow the 27-member bloc, lumbered with a laborious decision-making process under the 2001 Nice Treaty, to function effectively once more.
This time even former sceptics like outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair and new French President Nicholas Sarkozy have come on board the Merkel initiative.
Blair's position is a pragmatic one: the practical problems of an enlarged EU must be dealt with in a practical way, but the British will not tolerate EU meddling in their internal affairs.
"What we have always said is that we will not surrender in any way our ability to decide our own justice and home affairs legislation and that remains the case," his spokesman said this week.
Sarkozy has dropped his disparaging references to a "mini- constitution" and is travelling to Warsaw Thursday to confer with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski to assuage Poland's concerns.
His spokesman, David Martinon, said the French president would lobby for "the adoption of a simplified treaty that would allow the implementation of the essential institutional advances contained in the EU constitution."
Sarkozy has also stressed the need for the EU to break out of its "relative paralysis."
Other European leaders have come out strongly in favour of retaining the substance of the old treaty that was convincingly rejected by the French and Dutch in referenda two years ago, although there are clear differences of emphasis all round.
The Swedish, Belgian and Irish leaders, who met Merkel on May 31, have lent their backing. "Ireland remains committed to the substance of the constitution," Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany went even further when he met Merkel Monday, along with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.
The EU was much more than just an economic community, the Hungarian leader said, insisting that the "values" enshrined in the constitution needed to remain in any new slimmed-down treaty.
This appeared to be a reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and other "constitutional" elements that the British, Dutch and Czechs are wary of, and Merkel standing at his side briefly appeared uncomfortable.
Despite all this backing, success is still far from guaranteed, with Poland the main obstacle, although the Czech Republic is also applying the brakes.
Kaczynski said Tuesday a Polish veto of Merkel's plans was "quite likely."
Poland wants to reopen the parts of the treaty dealing with the relative weighting member countries enjoy in EU votes, and by contrast with Merkel's sense of urgency, wants a full year to rework the original text.
Poland's central aim is to ensure that it and other smaller countries have their power enhanced - and that Germany has its cut.
The current double majority - at least 55 per cent of members representing at least 65 per cent of the total EU population - is unacceptable to the Polish government which proposes a scheme based on the square root of the population.
"Never, under any circumstances will we agree to what has been proposed to us now, and we feel the best solution for Europe is the square-root system," Kaczynski said Tuesday.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek objects to shifting more power to the EU. "I think that is something worth bleeding for," Topolanek said last month.
Topolanek also tends to the Polish position on voting and rejects the terms "constitution" and "EU foreign minister" along with other "symbols that suggest that it is a quasi-state," according to his spokesman, Martin Schmarcz
Merkel has a meeting on Sunday with Topolanek, and a Saturday meeting with Kaczynski was suddenly pencilled in this week.
These two meetings are set down not for the chancellery, with the press a stone's throw away, but for the government guesthouse, Schloss Meseberg, a baroque palace 70 kilometres north of Berlin.
No invitation has been extended to journalists to attend a press conference with either Kaczynski or Topolanek, whereas all the other leaders have faced the media alongside Merkel.
In the meetings, Merkel is certain to press the urgency of reforming EU institutions.
As Prodi - one of her firmest supporters on the treaty and a former European Commission president well acquainted with the institutional difficulties - said this week in Berlin: "If we don't make a step forward, we will make a step back."
Subject: German news