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Europe

Poland Rekindles Hopes of EU Constitution Deal

Taking its cue from Spain, Poland has now signaled it is willing to compromise on deadlocked EU constitution talks, thus raising prospects of the row finally being resolved.

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All is not lost yet.

Just three months after the disastrous breakdown of EU constitution talks in Brussels, hope is stirring among member states that the treaty might yet see the light of the day.

On Friday, Poland indicated that it was willing to compromise and that Warsaw would no longer stand in the way of a deal.

Kwasniewksi mit Ehrengarde

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski

In an interview with German business daily Financial Times Deutschland, Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski (photo) said that he found the new weighting of the "double majority" voting system as proposed by the EU's Irish Presidency "an important and interesting idea" and one that "should be reflected over."

Kwasniewski said that "before the Brussels summit (last December), there was no room for compromise" and added "but now there's a new situation."

While the under the proposed constitution 50 percent of states and 60 percent of the EU's population would have to agree, an Irish proposal would change that to 55 percent in both cases, hence preventing Germany, France and Britain from being able to block decisions.

Warsaw swayed by Spain's change of tack

The softening of Warsaw's stance on the issue of voting rights, a major sticking point in the constitution debate, is believed to be prompted by a similar change of track in Spain after a shock win for the Socialists in national elections.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Spanien

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Incoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero (photo) said he wants to see an "accelerated" adoption of an EU constitution to "define a new Europe" after his Socialist's party upset election victory. "I think we can reach an agreement which will maintain the balance of power for an enlarged Europe," he said.

Moving away from entrenched stance

The constitution, drafted by the convention chaired by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is designed to give the EU a new president and foreign minister, streamline decision-making in a union of 25 members and attempt to make the EU more democratically accountable and transparent.

Both Poland and Spain vehemently opposed a compromise deal over voting power at last year's Brussels summit, placing them on a collision course with France and Germany.

Both Warsaw and Madrid objected to how the proposed new constitution would curtail smaller countries' voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers and insisted instead on sticking to the preferential voting weights agreed at the Nice summit in 2000. Under Nice, Spain and Poland would enjoy disproportionately large influence within the bloc with the same voting rights as EU heavyweights such as Germany, whose population is twice as large.

Now however Madrid and Warsaw have changed tack and say they are prepared to negotiate a deal based on a simpler "double majority" system.

Fears of isolation in Warsaw

There were further signs this week that Poland, which joins the EU in May, is serious about reaching a deal on the constitution and wary of being isolated in its refusal to accept plans to change the voting system.

Josef Oleksy, Poland's deputy prime minister said, "I think the starting point should be an acceptance of the principle of a double majority."

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller told journalists in Brussels on Thursday that he did not want his country isolated after the new Socialist government in Spain signaled it would no longer fight alongside Poland in a battle over EU voting weights.

"For an individual loneliness is a very unpleasant mental state," Miller said. "For a country it would be very dangerous." Miller added he would suggest to Bertie Ahern, the Irish holder of the rotating EU presidency, that talks on the constitution should be renewed at next week's summit in Brussels.

Compromise could repair frayed EU ties

The change of stance in Madrid and Warsaw is not just expected to be welcomed by Brussels, but also help repair relations between EU members, which soured as a result of the Iraq war.

Both Poland and Spain supported the U.S. in Iraq much to the displeasure of Germany and France, both of whom staunchly opposed the invasion.

Galerie Cebit 2004 Gerhard Schröder Penphone

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Incoming Spanish Premier Zapatero promised "close and trusty" cooperation with France and Germany during a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (photo). Even Polish President Kwasniewski said that a planned visit by Schröder to Poland next week was "likely to be decisive for a relaunching of negotiations (on the EU constitution)."

Though it's clear it will be impossible to reach a final deal before May 1 when the EU expands to take in ten new mainly former Communist Eastern European states, the widespread view is that Ireland stands a better chance of forging an agreement than the Dutch, who take over the presidency at the end of June.

Irish officials say they are "hopeful" of a positive outcome.

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